The following is a contributed article to The Art Quarterly. The feature writer is Katy Hamann-Boothe. Photographs courtesy of The Art Quarterly, Jim Bailey and Becky Laschanzky.
As my Fabulously Fashionable Friend and photographer Jim Bailey and I entered the second Denver Fashion Weekend (DFW) show last Saturday evening, held at the downtown venue “City Hall”, we sensed an inspiring high-energy. It was a vibe that exemplifies the impressive growth of Denver fashion culture. This growth is obvious when considering where Denver’s fashion culture once stood.
In the late 1980s, Denver’s fashion culture seemed non-existent. The environment forced many to choose alternate careers paths or to find their way matching their passion with their pursuits. One such individual, Colorado native Jim Bailey, decided to (temporarily) exit a decade-long career as a reportage, celebrity, and editorial photographer here and in southern California (my home state). While there were a handful of “fashion” photographers, most that did so were, like Jim, viewed as editorial or commercial specialists. He was one of the handful of independent professional photographers in Denver that actively shot runway shows–when they happened.
Back then large-scale productions like Denver Fashion Week (DFW) did not exist. Most “shows” were trunk previews at department stores (the old Joslins held many) and high-end Cherry Creek salons, shows at Denver Merchandise Mart, small shows at clubs (RIP Rock Island), society-page soirees, or specialty shows like bridal fairs. These shows rarely featured local designers, and were too small-scale to garner national attention.
It was as if Denver was some remote, dusty colonial outpost on America’s fashion frontier.
In the 1990’s I lived in California and Jim in Phoenix and Las Vegas. We did not witness Denver’s initial transformation from this embryonic state. Jim visited often, and noticed more larger shows, with more local designers and promoters. Then, about the time he returned in 2003, and I three years later–and coupled with the exponential growth of the Internet and digital media–we sensed a major transformation had transpired.
Now, as we are absorbing the heady DFW vibe, Denver is brimming with exciting designers, hair/makeup artists, photo stylists, models, photographers, and publications that help showcase this talented fashion milieu.
We have both experienced recent moments of revelation. Jim’s “ah-HAH” moment came last December, when he was a sponsoring photographer for Red Ball Colorado. It is here the transformation seemed complete to him: Red Ball was the closest he had seen to a major fashion market show in Denver, with talented Coloradoans contributing to all of the show’s planning and production phases.
My “ah-HAH” moment came when I was cordially asked to be a hair model for a NAHA (North American Hairstyling Awards) submission last year. I went from my usual blonde vixen ways to a punk rocker sporting a rainbow Mohawk ‘do. While I shocked all of my family and friends, it was then that I realized sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone to embrace the Fashion of Life. Maybe that is what Denver has done here in the last couple decades, stepped out of its fashion comfort zone.
While this is good, some critics have observed that Denver is trying too hard be New York City (or NYC’s lesser sibling Los Angeles). In doing so there is no sense of cohesion or uniqueness. This is too harsh an assessment, one that rejects historic context. After all, Denver does not have the large-scale, fashion-centric industrial/economic base that NYC has, nor does Denver have that century-long historic cultural tradition of being a fashion industry powerhouse. Even Los Angeles cannot make that claim.
Denver, however, has caught the attention of major markets across America; several influential people from NYC in attendance Saturday night were impressed with the talent and vision we offer. Denver’s spring trends, as evidenced by the fashion show, such as lace, prints, and black and white, reflect a “funky” up-and-coming trend that may have played a role in this attention.
So rather than expending our creative energies parroting another market, Denver must maintain its momentum and continue building on its fashion culture transformation.
Jim and I agree we have the local talent and inspired direction to grow further. DFW was testimony to what this talent and inspiration can accomplish.