Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

Jessica McKinley of Sacramento, center, stands as instructed by Gerry Simpson, fashion choreographer for LA Fashion Week, as he leads a workshop during Sacramento Fashion Week.

Fashion Week offers city a makeover

Published: Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014 - 12:00 am

Sacramento has a Vogue Cleaners, an Ell a and had a Cosmopolitan Cabaret, but the question of the week is: Does the capital city have style?

The Mix Downtown is one of a handful of Sacramento nightspots with a dress code aimed at ensuring an upscale clientele. Ascend the staircase to the rooftop bar on any given night and you’ll see ladies in fashionable dresses and men in crisp button-down shirts, but it won’t be hard to find more than a few patrons that barely fit the definition of “dressed up.” By any objective measure, Sacramento is no Las Vegas, New York or Los Angeles, where everyone is seemingly on audition or ready to shoot a magazine spread. It’s not even San Francisco.

“In Sacramento, there are not that many people who dress up,” said Jon Wayne, professional stage director and self-proclaimed fashionista. “There are very few places where you can dress up and not feel overdressed.”

The people behind Sacramento Fashion Week are trying to change that casual culture. The week of events, which concludes today with the fall-winter designer showcase at the California Automobile Museum, aims to elevate the capital city’s style sense while highlighting some of the best Northern California designers, said Duane Ram, who started Fashion Week eight years ago.

“People need something to inspire them,” Ram said. “You don’t really see a lot of people dressing up. I’m trying to bring some color and life (to the city).”

Sacramento Fashion Week bears little resemblance to its counterparts in trendsetting New York, London, Milan and Paris, where world-renowned designers showcase their works to the world’s top retailers and fashion journalists. Sacramento Fashion Week is more like the Sacramento International Auto Show or Sacramento Beer Week. The auto show brings the world’s automakers to Sacramento, while Beer Week celebrates local brewmasters. Fashion week does a bit of both.

Fashion Week isn’t the only game in town. The Pavilions shopping center has hosted a number of successful fashion events, and the late summer Launch Festival included a fashion show featuring designers from television design shows “Project Runway” and “Fashion Star.”

“Platforms like Sacramento Fashion Week and Launch elevate (fashion) awareness,” said Clay Nutting, owner of Sacramento’s Lowbrau Bierhall and one of the Launch producers. “It’s an opportunity to highlight something that isn’t on people’s radar.”

This year’s Sacramento Fashion Week included a fashion forum; a film event; and workshops on runway modeling, hair and makeup and social media. Tickets to the main events start at $50 and the event has a healthy number of sponsors.

“As interesting as the super-scale ones like New York and London are, there’s something so authentic about the ones that tout local artists and designers. A real voice of the area itself, in a way,” offered Elizabeth Hebda, a Washington D.C.-based spokeswoman for LivingSocial, the online coupon service whose 2011 survey found Sacramento among the least vain of major American cities.

It may come as a shock to those who view Sacramento as a backwater outpost in an ill-fitting suit, but the city does have a number of clothing designers who call it home, as well as a smattering of boutiques with clothing lines not offered by the major mainstream fashion players. Both enjoy the spotlight of Sacramento Fashion Week.

Sacramento designer Jon Stevenson, whose baby clothing line Trumpette is sold at Nordstrom, Amazon and other retailers in addition to his I Street boutique, represents one end of the spectrum of clothiers involved in the event. At the other end are fledgling designers like Rachel Lewis, a recent graduate of Sacramento’s International Academy of Design & Technology, which is no longer accepting new students. The showcases Thursday, Friday and tonight also feature designers from as far away as Russia and several from San Francisco.

Thursday’s boutique show in the cavernous auto museum offered local clothing shops a chance to expand their audience. Chipotle Mexican Grill provided the nibbles, and martinis were served in plastic cups. There were some hiccups. The large velvet-roped VIP area left little room for non-VIP guests to navigate the pre-show party area. And Trumpette designer Stevenson, who is also a sponsor of Fashion Week, left in a huff, unhappy with his seat allotment.

“They get an ‘A’ for trying. We should be doing stuff like this. I think it’s vital,” Stevenson said in an interview earlier in the week.

As he left before Thursday’s event, however, the Stockton native – who started in fashion in San Francisco before moving the business to Sacramento – declared the organizers “amateurs.”

Ram said Stevenson was the wrong person to upset and he’s working to smooth things over.

Another Sacramento designer with a brick-and-mortar store who participated in Friday’s show was Ryan Hammonds. When Hammonds started his business in 2003, he would drive to a client’s office to design a suit, take measurements and deliver the finished product.

“That is what got my business started,” said Hammonds, who grew up in Galt. “It got to the point where I couldn’t keep up with the demand.”

In 2009, he started designing clothes full time. In May, he opened a physical location on 12th Street in downtown Sacramento. Local celebrities modeling his Ryan Douglas suits on Friday included television personality Mark S. Allen, Sacramento Kings player Jason Thompson and restaurateur Taro Arai.

“We do have a burgeoning designers community. They don’t stay very long, (but) there is talent here,” said Mary Gonsalves Kinney, the Sacramento-based fashion stylist who produces the Pavilion events. She said there is pressure on designers such as Richard Hallmarq, a native Sacramento designer who appeared on “Project Runway,” to move to larger markets for networking purposes.

Phoebe Verkouw, who writes the fashion blog The Dress Fiend, said she thinks Sacramento’s style scene is improving, thanks in part to Fashion Week and boutiques working together to put on “pop-up” shopping experiences.

“It is getting a lot more fashionable,” Verkouw said. “It has gone from nothing to something. (Sacramento) is trying to make its mark in the fashion world.”

Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.

Read more articles by Ed Fletcher

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