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Milwaukee Fashion Week Takes Flight

Couture event with giving at its heart

Sep. 15, 2015
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Photo by Abe Van Dyke

Last fall I set out to cover the inaugural Milwaukee Fashion Week celebrating our area’s vibrant array of clothing creatives. Unfortunately, the event was postponed for logistical reasons, and the article instead focused on Milwaukee’s historic and current fashion scene, drawing on the expertise of Third Coast Style founder Patrice Procopio and Mount Mary University Fashion Department Chair Sandra Keiser for perspective. This month, under new leadership, Fashion Week makes its debut Sept. 24-26 at three historic Milwaukee venues.

Fashion Week’s board is made up of event planner Deborah Reimer of Infinity Productions, fashion designer Stephanie Schultz of Silversärk, and national photojournalist and author Abe Van Dyke.

On Procopio’s recommendation, the three chose the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Pathfinders as the recipient of all net proceeds from the event. Over the last four decades, Pathfinders has provided lodging, emotional support and practical resources to youth age 25 and younger, many of whom are homeless, runaways or recovering from trauma. The board hopes to make Milwaukee Fashion Week an annual—or even biannual—event with Pathfinders remaining its beneficiary.

In addition to receiving financial support, Pathfinders youth will be directly involved in Fashion Week. Dressed in fashions by Mackenzie Allen’s Urban Reclaim, they will carry plaques announcing designers’ names during the runway shows. Additionally, one of Pathfinders’ young people will receive a head-to-toe makeover showcased on opening night. 

“It’s important for us to show that fashion is not just something that is superfluous or about vanity. It’s about self-expression, about feeling good about yourself and the way that you project yourself to the world,” says Schultz. “A lot of the kids that are being helped by Pathfinders are in a tough position and they don’t always have access to the coolest clothes or the latest fashions.” Pathfinders Director of Development and Communications Genise Lindner adds, “This experience could be life changing for some of our young people and Pathfinders is so appreciative of this opportunity.”


On the Runway

Schultz describes the three venues chosen for Fashion Week as “the epitome of Milwaukee either in their architecture or their historical significance or in the view that they offer.” On Thursday, Sept. 24 the Milwaukee Athletic Club’s grand ballroom will play host to a runway show themed on casual and street wear. Look forward to a performance by local musician and fashion plate Lex Allen (likely wearing Asia Minor designs by Milwaukee native Larry Andrew). Friday’s focus is eveningwear and the show takes place in the Hyatt Regency Hotel’s atrium. The week closes on Saturday at the Milwaukee Theatre with an emphasis on avant-garde/couture with a performance by local drag legend B.J. Daniels.

Preceding the final runway show is a fashion marketplace in which boutique buyers, retailers and the public will have the opportunity to meet and purchase from the participating designers from 3-6:30 p.m. Of the importance of this component, Schultz notes, “I did a lot of digging and discovered there are over 40 fashion designers in the [Milwaukee] area. Nobody knows this and this is problematic! It’s really great to do fashion shows, but if there’s no way to get that product to the community or to the clients, what’s the purpose of that? It’s a business.”

Over the course of the week, audiences will be exposed to the collections of 22 designers hailing from the greater Milwaukee area, Madison and Chicago. Reimer describes the participants as “a wonderful mix of fresh talent to seasoned talent,” ranging from established names, such as Schultz, to Mount Mary students.

Models will be hired individually by designers or drawn from a pool created by the board, and salon services will likewise come from diverse sources, including the Paul Mitchell Academy and Le Ciseaux Salon.

Asked what she finds most exciting about the event, Reimer returns to the importance of Milwaukee Fashion Week’s partnership with Pathfinders: “One of the things that I’m looking forward to is how this will affect Pathfinders. Giving is at the heart of the event.”

For more information about Milwaukee Fashion Week, volunteer opportunities and tickets, visit milwaukeefashionweek.com.


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