Nashville Fashion Week: A Real Education for Emerging Designers

By Nina Thomas

Nashville Fashion Week– a riot of nonstop events teeming with glamour and good times–may be over, but its effect on emerging designers lives on.

Every night brought the fantasy of fashion to the runway. During the day, events were scheduled to educate and support independent designers. The business side of fashion was discussed in panels and lectures, bringing to light the harsh realities of a seemingly glamorous, yet extremely tough industry.

Panel discussions on Web 2.0/social media and American/Ethical luxury featured Project Artisan’s own marketing director Rachel Lang and PA founder Robin Keyser.

Rachel offered practical advice about using the Internet and social media as part of an overall marketing campaign.

Robin talked about American luxury and how the term “ethical” has been added to the mix: sophisticated shoppers are concerned about how the merchandise is made; the use of local, eco-friendly materials, and the fair treatment of those who bring the products to life. There is a new-found appreciation for progressive design made with old-world craftsmanship. Logo-laden goods are losing appeal as people find that true luxury is getting to know the designers’ back-story and acquiring unique, finely-crafted pieces from them. Soulful shopping has re-defined the true meaning of luxury!

Kelly Cutrone, PR maven, author and reality TV star, was greeted by a packed house at the Belcourt Theatre, filled with emerging designers, fans, and other fashion industry folk.

Her presentation was candid, brutally honest, and sprinkled with many F-words– a few being “fashion”. Her delivery was a mix of stand-up comedy and practical advice for emerging designers. She highlighted the many steps and obstacles faced to get a line produced and sold including creating the design; researching fabrics and embellishments; solving manufacturing issues; and ultimately, dealing with marketing and sales. Yet she emphasized how important it is to follow your passion–at all costs.

And costs there are. She spoke in concrete terms about the financial and emotional toll of breaking into the fashion industry—a reality check which was both discouraging and inspiring.

Encouragement came by way of Robin Keyser, founder of Project Artisan. If you are reading this blog, you have an idea of how PA helps emerging designers bypass many of those obstacles. PA is a web portal for a tribe of designers who want to market their lines directly to the consumer and use the PA brand to connect with others in the industry who are socially conscious and progressive in their design.

It is fitting that Robin, who has a company that offers support and connectedness to like-minded fashion talent, sponsored and hosted Kelly’s visit Nashville.

The week brought connections in so many ways. PA designers Elizabeth Brunner of Piece x Piece, Pamela Tuohy, and Steven Oo were able to collaborate and feel part of a collective of like-minded souls. I personally felt a strong connection with the designers represented, my dear Nashville community, and to the enlightened future of the fashion industry….what true inspiration!

Kelly Cutrone speaks her mind at The Belcourt

Project Artisan marketing director Rachel Lang speaks about the power of social media.

Project Artisan's Rachel and Robin shared their industry expertise with emerging designers.


Nashville Fashion Week Video Recap

Nashville Fashion Week has ended, but the excitement and energy is still alive. The week had several highlights, including runway presentations with Sylvia Heisel and Steven Oo. We have captured our favorites in this video.


Nashville Fashion Week

Nashville, TN, is becoming more of a force within the fashion industry. Music City, USA, is home to brilliant new designers and talented artisans who cater to a more refined Southern style. Designers from Paris, LA, New York, Nashville, and everywhere in-between have all converged in Nashville for Nashville Fashion Week (NFW).

Margaret Ellis and Robin Keyser review looks at the morning’s fitting

We are honored to be a part of this event because we who have spent significant time in Music City know that this town breathes fashion.

Tonight marked the kick-off of NFW with a runway presentation featuring designers: Jamie and the Jones, Akiko, Sylvia Heisel, Kevork Kiledjian, and Loretta Jane; with jewelry by Margaret Ellis and handbags from Indiana Abandon. Afterward, the crowd headed to Suzy Wong’s House of Yum for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails at a kick-off party celebrating by famed clothing designer, Manuel, with special guest Cheryl Tiegs.

See photos of today’s fitting and tonight’s presentation of Sylvia Heisel’s collection here:

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This week, Project Artisan has a presence at a number of shows and presentations. We will keep you posted as the week unfolds.


Steven Oo’s Knitwear Collection is Now on PA

Steven Oo is the newest designer to be added to Project Artisan. His knitwear collection is truly original. Each item in this collection is made individually, with care and detail. Watch this video to learn more about Steven and then shop Project Artisan to see his collection for yourself. www.projectartisan.com


Nina Thomas on Operation Smile and Fashion in India

Indian families from the neglected state of Assam traveled days  on rickety buses through rut strewn streets ISO of hope.
Their hope is to be seen by an Operation Smile medical team for a surgical repair of a cleft lip, palate, or some other facial deformity.

The contrast between abject poverty and sartorial beauty is striking. Against a backdrop of garbage laden streets emerges a line of women wrapped in colorful saris, and men in sedate scarves.

There is something about the drape of Indian fabrics that exudes grace. With postures reminiscent of runway models these women and men carry themselves with patience and dignity.

Operation Smile had many local volunteers who served as translators. Pictured is Ms. Das who dresses in the manner of the traditional middle to upper class (caste!)

The traditional tunic is called a kurta and may be paired with a fitted pant called a churidar, which gathers at the ankle. Another popular silhouette is the shorter kurta with a kameez pyjama, or full flowing leg. Either style is called a suit.
A sari is composed of 5-6 yards of luxe fabric with a cap sleeve underblouse call a choli, and a scarf called a dupatta. Pleating and wrapping a sari is a skill foreign to most westerners!

After  several 12-15 hour days dedicated to humanitarian concerns, it was time for a break in the form of a little retail therapy. Dressed in scrubs I walked the red carpet, making the transition from patient care to personal care.

Inspired by the colors, fabrics, and sense of style exhibited by all castes of Indian people, I decided to treat myself  by visiting the Ritu Kumar boutique in downtown Guwahati.

You may recognize the top Indian designer’s name: her “Label Ritu Kumar” has a presence in the US at our own Anthropologie stores.

I coerced an Indian friend to come along with me to translate and make sure I made smart purchases while boosting the local economy!

Although I am not sure when I will have occasion to wear it, I just had to buy this traditional silk suit with flowing scarf (positioned strategically over the bust line for modesty!)

The silk and cotton parachute shaped dress I found in olive gold with aubergine piping and knit leggings translates easily into Americanstyle.

And this sundress is a classic silhouette in a fabric that is definitely ethnic, yet subtle.

Back on American soil, I will always carry with me the images of these Indian people from all backgrounds, who move with dignity and great posture, united by a reverence for traditional style, color, and fabric.


Mary Kincaid, owner of Zuburbia Vintage, Discusses All Things Vintage- Including Fur

Fur has been a bit of a hot topic on the PA blog, and so we wanted to feature an interview with Zuburbia owner Mary Kincaid. Mary knows vintage and has spent her life studying and procuring vintage goods. In this interview, she talks about her passion for and ideas about vintage clothing, including her ideas about fur-vintage and new.

1.) How did you originally become inspired to work with vintage clothing?

Initially I began purchasing vintage clothing because I discovered that vintage clothes simply fit my petite body better than current fashions. Plus I could get “more bang for my buck,” that is higher quality at a lower cost. Eventually it became difficult for me to just pass up fantastic vintage items that weren’t my size, so I began purchasing and re-selling them—first to friends and family and then to a larger audience. Now I’ve shipped items to clients in countries around the world.

2.) Who are your favorite style icons?

I tend to gravitate toward classic, elegant, sophisticated style—think Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelley, and Jackie O. But I’m also a huge fan of Iris Apfel and hope to have even a smidgen of her style when I’m her age! Ultimately, I think regardless of their aesthetic, women who become style icons have a strong sense of their authentic selves and that translates into a personal sense of style that we can’t help but notice.

3.) When choosing vintage pieces for your collection, what do you look for?

I look for pieces that transcend time–items with great style, quality construction and interesting details that look fresh and contemporary when integrated into a modern wardrobe even though they are decades old. I am not a label snob–some great designers created ho-hum pieces and some no-name seamstresses created some extraordinary items. So I like to keep an open mind about a garment before peeking at its label. As Michelle Obama says, “I don’t buy a designer, I buy a dress.”

4.) When it comes to vintage fur, there’s a big debate going on about what is ethical. What are your thoughts on that?

Fur is such a polarizing issue in fashion. And yet I find it interesting that often the same women who so vehemently condemn others for wearing fur often don’t think twice about carrying a leather handbag or wearing leather shoes.

6.) What are your beliefs about fur in general?

I would love to live in a world where animals are treated with dignity, where there are no factory farms and where animals aren’t harmed for the sake of fashion. I personally don’t wear fur anymore and I try to purchase only vintage leather pieces. I do, however, acquire vintage fur items for my own collection as a means of preserving pieces of our fashion history. (I don’t see how tossing these garments in a landfill or shredding them for animal beds honors the animal who gave its life or the seamstress who toiled to create the garment.)

7.) Is there ever an occasion when you think it’s ethical to buy new fur?

I personally don’t believe there’s any reason to buy new fur products.  (Although Mary does think Nutria fur is an exception. She says: Same idea as with vintage fur, the fur of the killed animals might as well be put to use if the animals are being killed anyway for other ecologically sound reasons. Again, same idea that someone who is going to buy new fur anyway now has a more eco-friendly alternative.)

After much thought and deliberation, though, I decided to continue to offer vintage fur items to my clients and to consider fur items for my Weekly eBay Roundup of Vintage Clothing Finds (Donating 10% of all fur, feather, leather and reptile sales to animal activist charities). While some may argue that this fuels the demand for fur, I believe that the few vintage fur items I sell or promote each year has no real impact on a US fur industry which generates sales of over $1 BILLION dollars a year!  That’s billion with a “B!”

According to Fur.org, one in five women owns a fur coat and 55% of buyers are under 44 years old. Also, Gallup reports that US social acceptance of fur is actually increasing among designers and consumers. While I find these statistics disturbing, for these women who have already made a decision to purchase fur, I believe vintage fur is a viable alternative that is more eco-friendly than purchasing new.

8.) What is your favorite piece in your collection and why?

Oh, it’s so hard to pick just one!  I actually just sold one of my all-time favorite Lanvin dresses. But then I acquired an amazing Pierre Cardin vintage beaded evening bag that literally made my heart beat faster when I spied it in a display case at the Santa Monica Vintage Expo. I don’t believe in becoming attached to items because I believe we never really “own” anything. We are just stewards while items are in our possession. And particularly with vintage items, I find it fascinating that each one has a story and a prior owner who lived with the item before me.

9.) How have you seen vintage evolve?

I believe you don’t have to sacrifice one ounce of style to be a good green citizen. If you don’t have access to great vintage stores in your area, there are many fine places to shop for vintage in cyberspace and I feature one great vintage item each day on my blog. Reputable dealers spend a great deal of effort sourcing vintage items and then making sure they are in tip-top condition, cleaned, pressed and ready-to-wear. Compared to years ago when vintage buying might have been viewed as a budgetary option only, today vintage has gone mainstream with celebrities, stylists and women worldwide adopting it as a stylish, eco-friendly alternative. I encourage everyone to give it a try! Dip your feet into the vintage clothing waters with something simple like a vintage scarf or a fab piece of vintage costume jewelry. But be forewarned: once you discover the joys and treasures hidden in the wonderful world of vintage, you may find it difficult to go back to shopping for cookie-cutter fashion at your local mall.


Nutria: The Kudzu of the Furry Animal Kingdom

By Nina Thomas

Kind-hearted animal lovers often wrestle with the issue of whether or not to wear vintage fur. The eco-friendly argument is that fur is organic and formaldehyde free; and vintage fur means that since the damage has been done, it is more ethical to re-use and avoid the landfill. Others will argue that fur is fur and represents animal cruelty; the only use for vintage fur should be to offer warmth and comfort to rescue animals.

And then there’s the debate about Nutria

Words from Anna Jane Grossman, for the NYT: Is Their Pest Your Clean Conscience?

[U]nlike other soft and furry animals, nutria is being rebranded as a socially acceptable and environmentally friendly alternative way to wear fur.

In the 1980s, the nutria population soared and started to endanger the fragile ecosystem. The invasive rodent eats away the bottom of the plants that hold the coastal wetlands together.

In 2002, Louisiana started paying trappers and hunters $5 for every nutria killed. The effort to control the nutria population had some success, with bounty hunters killing about 400,000 animals last year. But the carcasses were simply discarded or left to rot in the swamp.

As early Native Americans were committed to using every bit of a hunted animal, should we not follow suit?  (Or coat, or hat or even a sofa?) Lenny Kravitz, full-time musician, and part time interior designer, has a nutria sofa is his NYC apt. Billy Reid has used it in a collection and calls it “bad ass” fur. Oscar de La Renta may not refer to it in those terms, but has used nutria in some of his pieces too.

Project Artisan just added a new designer, Indiana Abandon, that uses Nutria fur in his gorgeous collection of handbags. It brings the issue of ethics and fur just a bit closer to home.

Whether you buy the idea that “pork is the other white meat’ or that nutria is ethical fur, how we choose to feed and clothe ourselves is a personal decision. I’m just sayin’. What say you? Please comment and let us know your thoughts!

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