Hub designers shine in Fashion Week’s final act
Local fashion designer Prajje Jean-Baptiste had a dream: He wanted to produce an event that would show Bostonians that New York City isn’t the only place to find hot fashion.
Jean-Baptiste brought that dream to life last Friday in the final chapter of Boston Fashion Week, with a show featuring designs from nine of the Hub’s best-kept fashion secrets — himself included.
“This is why I call the show ‘Fashion Exposé.’ We are exposing Boston to deserving young designers — like myself,” the Haitian-born, Boston-bred master of ceremonies quipped to an audience of more than 400 people at the Courtyard Boston Tremont Hotel.
Jean-Baptiste, a 24-year-old graduate of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, says he planned the “Boston Fashion Exposé” to broaden industry experience for new local designers and to showcase up-and-coming international designers.
Not everyone can be a part of the New York fashion scene, Jean-Baptiste explains, but he did his best to bring as much New York glitz and glamour as possible to last Friday’s proceedings.
More than 80 models graced the 60-foot runway, outfitted in everything from ready-to-wear and swimwear to couture and bridal wear by designers and labels such as Kosibah Creations, Sparklle Thames, Tiffany Fitzgerald, Ines Antigua and Ty Scott. Jean-Baptiste closed the show with his couture collection, Prajje Couture.
Among the fresh fashionistas was Paula Koumoundouros, another recent MassArt grad. She presented her senior thesis collection for a second time at the event.
Koumoundouros says the seven pieces in her collection were inspired by the Eastern African garb worn by Sudanese refugees in her native town of Lynn.
“The women would just walk around wrapped up in these crazy printed fabrics and bare feet, and I just thought they were the most beautiful thing I had ever seen,” Koumoundouros said. “They were powerful and graceful at the same time, and it struck me because it just wasn’t the combination of power and grace that you see every day in this country.”
The next step for Koumoundouros was to bring her vision to life in the form of a high-end, ready-to-wear collection.
“I wanted to put my own twist on it, put elegance to it, put sophistication to it and make it look like how I feel when I see it,” Koumoundouros said. “It’s a basic personification of power and grace.”
Koumoundouros says she was able to capture the spirit of these women by using earth-toned fabrics to illustrate the richness of soil and creating silhouettes that compliment the elongated proportions of Eastern African women. For example, many of her pieces featured generous hoods and turtlenecks.
Although Koumoundouros was inspired by African women, she says her designs are for women of every color.
“That’s why I had black girls and white girls in the show,” she said. “I wanted it to have a very celebratory, feminine feel.”
Koumoundouros’ models had another thing linking them together — jewelry designed by Lana Barakat, sold in Boylston Street’s Lazuli Jewelry.
“I got to play around with jewelry and makeup this time,” Koumoundouros said. “It made presenting my collection more fun.”
Koumoundouros recently worked in New York City for Marc Jacobs before returning to Boston to work as a color and fabrics designer at Converse. Like Jean-Baptiste, she says she appreciates the quieter ambience Boston has to offer.
“New York is so full of inspiration, but at the same time you can really get lost in the shuffle,” Koumoundouros said. “Boston gives you room to breathe and nourish your talent, not only by working on your own stuff, but by seeing the other stuff that’s quietly happening here. It’s like a peaceful storm of creativity.”
The only problem, as Jean-Baptiste sees it, is that Boston needs to be more supportive of local designers. He says he struggled with finding sponsors for last Friday’s show, and had to finance the event largely on his own.
However, the show eventually found several sponsors, including Taj Hotels, Boston Fashion Week and FACE Africa, a Cambridge-based nonprofit organization that aims to help communities in Africa by addressing education, health and poverty issues.
“I planned this show hoping that it would open the eyes of some people in Boston,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I want them to say, ‘You know what, somebody’s trying to do something and there is hope.’”
Despite the obstacles, including a last-minute change of location and a late start, Jean-Baptiste says he is happy with the outcome of the show.
“It wasn’t what I designed in terms of the tiniest details, but judging [by] the response we got from the crowd, it went quite well,” he said.
And there’s always room to improve next year, Jean-Baptiste says.
Next year’s Boston Fashion Exposé will span four days and will feature show favorite Yemi Osunkoya of Kosibah Creations, who came all the way from England for this year’s show. Jean-Baptiste says the 2009 event will feature more designers, a hair show, urban streetwear, and of course, more couture.
“You best believe next year is going to be bigger and bigger and better and better in every way,” Jean-Baptiste said.