FAYETTEVILLE — With all the flashing lights and heart-thumping music of a New York City dance club, NWA Fashion Week’s runway shows kicked off in earnest Thursday night (March 8) at East Square Plaza.
Veteran and would-be fashionistas showed up to see and be seen, wearing a mix of styles and colors from both winter and spring as temperatures hovered above freezing at showtime. Seasonal disorientation be damned, the fashion-forward in the crowd opted for short, clingy skirts; short dresses in floral patterns and open-toed heels and wedges. Those who wished to play it safe stuck to cocktail attire.
Thursday night’s shows revolved around local designers, and thus, a sense of community pervaded those crowding the end of the 50-foot runway. (The sides of the runway were sectioned off for VIP ticketholders.) Friends and family of the models and designers “whooped” and hollered for their pals’ homegrown clothes and accessories, as well as the gals — and guys — wearing them.
The event opened with a show of clothing created by students of the University of Arkansas Apparel Studies program, followed by a runway display featuring goods from JOYN India, a development-based textile company founded in Arkansas by Melody Murray and based in Rajpur, India. The JOYN show consisted of handbags, scarves, headbands, and jewelry, all of which are handmade by artisans in India and then sold in the United States. Masons at Bellafont provided clothing to round out the JOYN presentation, but it was the bold chevron patterns of the accessories that popped under the spotlight.
After a short break, Wayne Bell and Daniel Bonner’s BonnerBell showed its line consisting largely of vintage pieces reworked into modern silhouettes. There was a lot of pre-show buzz surrounding BonerBell’s first major showing, and the pair did not disappoint. Some day wear and separates were featured, but the crowd responded mostly to BonnerBell’s cocktail dresses, accented with sequins, darts, pleats, gold piping and even a train or two. The pair rounded out their show with one of the boldest moves of the night: a wedding dress.
Judging by audience reaction and applause, the hit of the night was Leslie Pennel’s latest collection for her line, Esque. It was truly show-worthy of any runway, with details like twisted beehive hair that resembled soft serve yogurt (styled by Sunshine Broder and Shine Salon), classic showgirls dancing on the video screens, and a circus ringmaster escort, adding to the conceptual drama and vibrancy of Pennel’s presentation. Esque’s signature Grecian dresses were on display, but Pennel outdid herself with some voluminous skirts: a black and red flamenco design, a white and black polka dot number, and a billowing black and white embroidered silk taffeta piece.
Pennel’s Facebook page was overloaded with praise the next morning. Messages gushed: “Mind. Blowing.” “You have an amazing mind.” “BRAVO!”
The night wrapped with a headline show from the Art Amiss Fashion collective. The nonprofit organization’s show led with yet more designs from BonnerBell. Strapping young lads sporting nothing but BonnerBell ties and skimpy boxer brief underwear strolled bravely down the runway.
Two standouts of the Art Amiss show: a segment featuring models covered head to toe in metallic body paint (the brainchild of artist Matt Miller) and a run of unique pirate chic wear by Venice, Calif.‘s 2013 A.D.
Other designers featured in the lineup included Lauren Embree Jewelry, Onemanband, Nicolia Jacobia Jewelry, Beth Chambers Designs, J Marie by Jennifer Simmons and Tibetan Fox Screenprinting. In addition, Mayapple Salon & Boutique showed off its avant-garde makeup and hair designs.
In between shows, patrons sipped spirits in the atrium by candlelight under live trees and decor by Chris Goddard. Certain patrons relaxed with champagne in the L’Oreal and Mertins Eye Care VIP lounges.
NWA Fashion Week continues tonight (March 9), though tickets are sold out. Proceeds from ticket sales and other revenue sources go toward several area nonprofits, many of whom had previously held fashion shows of their own as fundraisers.