by Madeleine Zinn

When my lovely editor at Tango Diva suggested I cover San Francisco Fashion Week, I jumped at the chance. The closest I came while in New York was trolling the outside of tents at Bryant Park. I saw no clothing, no models or designers. But it was exhilarating nonetheless. So to actually attend the shows in San Francisco was a thrill in and of itself. But make no mistake; San Francisco is not New York. Or Paris or Milan. It is its own entity.

The word eclectic is used far too often in describing San Francisco, from its style to its neighborhoods and residents. And yet it’s a fair assessment. San Francisco is innovative in a way that New York is not. It’s too easy to say that the west coast is more laid back than it’s eastern counterpart, when really it boils down to a difference in aesthetic. For all its hemming and hawing as the center of all things fabulous, New York is far less accepting of diversity than it would have you believe (this is not meant as a criticism but merely an observation, as New York is one of my favorite places and I dearly miss it).

That is not to say that miscellany isn’t appreciated, but having worked in the world of high fashion magazines, I can personally attest to the fact that San Francisco has a much broader notion of what style can be. And so I was looking forward to seeing what would be presented at this year’s fashion week.

The show itself was held at The Galleria, a wonderful venue indeed. The space was utilized to its fullest, with a DJ poised two stories above the catwalk, and a bar dead centre as you entered. At said bar I had something of a, “Hello I’m drunk” moment, immediately upon taking my first sip. That is to say, they were very strong drinks. After about thirty minutes and plenty of melted ice, I was able to actually drink my cocktail without fear of making a fool of myself in front of many. Stingy with the liquor they were not.

Before the show I took the time to absorb my surroundings. Tables decorated with black stilettos and pearl necklaces, a catwalk with an understated backdrop, and of course the aforementioned “eclectic” mix of people. The beauty of San Francisco is this city’s acceptance of others differences. Under one roof (housing a fashion show mind you), one could find people decked out in Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dresses and Christian Louboutin heels to nondescript tees and Converse All Stars and everywhere in between.

When at intermission the DJ inquired, “Are there any hot men here I can sleep with?” and the spectators (men and women alike) erupted into cheers, my level of appreciation for this city only deepened. As a whole the audience, as well as participants of the show itself, was a raucous bunch. There was little polite clapping, as one may find at a couture show in Paris. This group was of the hollering and whistling variety, which only made it more fun.

When the show began, the first designer out was Kelly B. Using environmentally friendly materials, Kelly B’s designs were perhaps reminiscent of American Apparel, only with far more sass. The clothes were very wearable, yet stood out without being overwhelming. Her designs, in keeping with au courant fashion of today, drew heavily on influences from the 80’s. Her models rocked leggings, shift dresses, and even a sweatband or two. My favorite piece was a fabulously long hooded top that was equal parts comfort and flattering fit.

Next up was Teresa Romero of Dichotomy. Romero’s pieces were feminine with a hard edge. She worked mainly with black while incorporating various shades of red and pink throughout. I went gaga over one piece in particular, whose entrance elicited cheers from the audience as well. A strapless dress of luscious fuchsia with a black tie at the waist and black hem, this number was nearly flawless. It moved beautifully and the colour absolutely popped onstage.

Had I consumed a second cocktail, I may have been tempted to take down the model on the catwalk and steal her dress right then and there. Fortunately, sobriety prevailed and I was able to restrain myself and merely appreciate the dress from a distance.

After the intermission, Katherine Noyes showed her collection, which was described as being influenced by the mid 20th century. While it started out a bit shaky, Noyes’ work hit its stride with well-tailored Bermuda shorts and feminine, flattering silk tops. While I’m generally not the biggest fan of sequins (they remind me of the 80’s when, as a child, I would put on my mother’s sequined dress, shoulder pads and all, and strut around the house), Noyes managed to sway me toward accepting sequins as something fabulously new and vintage at once.

The model practically glided in a 1920’s style spangled dress that draped effortlessly over her body. I may have to rummage through my mom’s closet to see if that dress is still there…

After the sophisticated grace of Noyes’ pieces, it was time to amp things up with a swimsuit collection by Croatian designer Anazara. To the beat of salsa blended house music, the suits burst off the runway in bright, punchy colours like hot pink and neon green, and really got the crowd going. The most inspired pieces were the bandeaus, whose ties floated down the back in a cascade of colour.

The show ended with Richard Hallmarq’s collection of risqué, almost Derelicte (for those of us who love Zoolander) garments. The first to take a real risk that night, Hallmarq sent male models down the runway in barely there shorts and his female models in shiny pants and tops slit up- and down- to there. His dresses had a Roberto Cavalli feel to them, and his swimsuits were racy but fun and actually wearable for those who want to stand out.

While SF Fashion Week has a ways to go before it reaches the echelon of, say, New York, perhaps it’s better if it doesn’t. San Francisco has never felt the need to conform, and it shouldn’t start now. I can only hope that as the event grows (as it most certainly will), that it remains true to its roots and continues to embrace this city’s uniqueness and, yes, eclectic spirit.

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