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Project One Runway

Local fashion scene gets a boost from Milwaukee’s inner city

Sep. 29, 2010
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Despite the maelstrom of economic ills, the heart of the local fashion community is still beating. In fact, within the global apparel industry, some believe that the next important revival could stem from a small-scale endeavor, perhaps even the Milwaukee inner-city basements where a new cut on fashion has been brewing.

Project One Runway, an independent production ensemble, set its sights on stimulating Milwaukee's "stagnated fashion arena" more than two years ago. That vision comes to life 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom (333 W. Kilbourn Ave.).

Executive producer and founder Roche' Buford aspired to create a pulsating, orchestrated fashion show highlighting local urban designers with their own spin on the mainstream.

The endeavor’s platform is “fighting to establish fashion in our great city” by bringing industry idealists together to create a foremost runway production while simultaneously taking on the fight against cancer. Net proceeds will be donated to the American Cancer Society.

“I grew up in a small, communal town that cared for one another,” says Buford, a local photographer and music major from Alligator, Miss. “I’ve lost my grandfather and best friend to cancer.”

The ballroom venue will set the stage for Buford’s multimedia presentation, thanks to its capacity to hold nearly 1,000 people.

“It was also chosen because I conveniently live next door,” he says with a laugh.

“Our fashion scene is aggressive and progressive,” continues Buford, who trained at the New York Institute of Photography before establishing Studio One PhotoArt on North Teutonia Avenue. “But Milwaukee has yet to recognize the value of its own talent.”

Some local fashion promoters have earned a reputation for bringing in crowds, but filling seats for a debut production is always a challenge. With so much pro-bono energy required on the part of designers, boutiques, models, stylists, photographers, videographers and graphic artists, the loss of momentum and burnout within fashion circles seems justified.

Since much of the time invested behind the scenes does not translate directly into sales or profit, Buford says offering compensation to those involved may be the antidote.

“Traditionally, the industry has worked on the barter system,” Buford says. “We hope to enhance the community and encourage others in this area by employing talent and related personnel.”

Project One is a collaborative effort with Navada Davis, whocomposedthe musical theme, and Byron Lampkins, director of the string orchestra at A.G. Bell Accelerated Academy in Milwaukee. Lampkins will conduct the orchestra—comprised of string instruments, keyboards and bass guitar—as it performs live.

“Models strutting to an orchestral sound have always been in vogue,” Buford says. “Our intent is not to entice the audience to dance, but to sit back and experience as the music complements the designers’ creations. I want it to be heart-pounding.”

The work of featured designer Deborah Render (Gg Couture Collections) will emerge as the music begins its crescendo. Buford says her line captures a streamlined, mainstream, ready-to-wear look—the quintessential element of the show.

“We were definitely on the same vibe,” Render says. “I’m inspired by the refined quality of chiffon and lace and the visual interest of mixing patterns. The dresses are avant-garde and elegant with an air of fluidity and drama to flow into the camera at the end of the runway. It’s high fashion with a touch of color.”

Three other designers sharing the spotlight are Pamela Graham (Nandi), Claire Ann Shillingburg (Gypsy Couture) and Val Jones (Vgal Designs). Cancer survivor John Kowalkowski will be walking the runway.

The Sept. 30 show will add another element to Milwaukee’s growing fashion scene. Moreover, Render notes, events like this can help Milwaukee—both designers and customers—by giving the city more confidence.

“When attracted to a particular outfit, customers can be overly concerned with, ‘Where can I wear that?’” Render says. “My philosophy is dress how you feel. I once had a lady from Paris who visited my boutique and bought one of my more flamboyant coats with a dramatic fur collar. She was looking for an outfit just to walk her dog. That’s what I mean by confidence.”


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