Philadelphia kicks off first of fall fashion events

    This week is the first of many designated fashion weeks scheduled between now and October, along with dozens of one-day events. The city is showing its residents how to dress.

    Fall Fashion is about to hit Philadelphia in a big way. This week is the first of many designated fashion weeks scheduled between now and October, along with dozens of one-day events. From WHYY’s Arts and Culture desk, Peter Crimmins reports the city is showing its residents how to dress. [audio:100801PCFASHION.mp3]

    On Monday about a hundred craned their necks to see the latest clothes on a runway set up in the back of a shop on Walnut Street. All around them racks were filled with the same clothes for sale.

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    This is the third year the FBH agency organized shopping events highlighting local designers and greasing the gears of commerce. It has not cornered the market. In October another week of fashion events, put on by a different organization, will also be called Philadelphia Fashion Week. And the city of Philadelphia is sponsoring another week of fashion which it is calling The Philadelphia Collection.

    That’s a lot of vogue-ing for a city which does not have a reputation for being stylish. Many lament that Philadelphians have an unofficial uniform of an oversized sports t-shirt, cargo shorts, and flip flops – regardless of gender. Recently Travel and Leisure magazine ranked Philadelphians as the nation’s least attractive people. Retailer Matthew Izzo says it’s a reputation he fights against daily.

    Izzo: “…since the day I moved here from New York.”

    When this former interior designer opened shop in Old City eight years ago, Izzo was told by a local retailer that he must show Philadelphians what good taste is.

    Izzo: You’re job is to educate. I started something in Philadelphia that was new and edgy – with a New York twist to it. OK. I can roll with that.

    Izzo and his own fashion week in October might be getting the job done: earlier this year a major modeling agency opened an office in Philadelphia. The city announced another fashion week in September that it has branded The Philadelphia Collection.

    City Representative Melanie Johnson said the city is coming into its own.

    Johnson: For those of you who remember the 70’s, it’s the same thing the Sound of Philadelphia did for us by putting us on the map with music.

    The Philadelphia Sound was characterized by its soulful take on funk. Johnson says Philadelphia fashion is harder to pin down.

    Johnson: What I do like that’s emerging strongly is the greening of design. Fashion students are really doing environmental designs.

    If that’s the case, Philadelphia fashion might sound like this…

    That is an industrial sewing machine making a dress. It’s not in an overseas sweatshop but in the city’s most posh shopping corridor. A manufacturer called SVA Holding Company designs, manufactures, and sells 90 percent of its product in a building at 17th and Sansom. Founder and CEO Sarah Van Aken says that allows her to run an ethically and environmentally sound company.

    Van Aken: It’s easier to solve a problem next door than go to Bangladesh, which is what I used to do. From a socialy conscious standpoint – controlling as much of the product life cycle as we can, knowing where things come from.

    Van Aken gives the city lots of credit for the loans and tax incentives that put her in business. She says hyping retail with New York-style runway shows and champagne trays does little to promote the local industry.

    Van Aken: The fashion and garment industry is huge – what you see on runways in New York is a small part. If we can find a way to create a fashion industry instead of a fashion scene, that’s the most sensible thing to do.

    Van Aken says local fashion is well served by encouraging manufacturing entrepreneurs, but she is not opposed to shopping. Her line of clothes will be part of the Philadelphia Collection in September.

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