I love how fashion has given me opportunities to meet new people and explore new places. I’m super excited looking forward to my first visit to the Bronx in May when we attend two Bronx Fashion Week events on May 6th and 13th.
On Saturday, May 6, BXFW presents Couture Cuisine & More at Bronx Museum of the Arts (1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY 10457), followed up the next Saturday by Mommy & Me at Bay Plaza New Mall.
I’m a Mets fan, so I know the Bronx as the home of that other baseball team. I wanted to know more about what makes Bronx fashion worth watching, so I spoke with the founder of Bronx Fashion Week, Flora Montes, and asked what excites her about fashion in her favorite borough.
“Exciting things are always happening in the Bronx,” Flora told me. “However, if I had to name one it would be the “fashion revolution” that is evolving in the borough. Many fashion retail stores are opening up. In addition, many new and up-and-coming designers are returning to showcase their fashion lines.
“I am proud of the fact that Bronx Fashion Week has re-awakened the fashion industry. There is nothing more rewarding than to have models who have never walked the runway trained under Bronx Fashion workshops accomplish many great things under our Creative Director, Andres Chulisi. I am inspired daily by young designers who reach out to showcase their designs. Many who otherwise would not be able to [are] now are able to showcase in their hometown of the Bronx.”
That sounds wonderful. I have my tickets to attend the two BXFW events in May 2017. What can I look forward to?
“On May 6, 2017, at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Couture Cuisine & More is a fashion networking event announcing the Exclusive Partnership of Affinity Health Plan with Bronx Fashion Week. We are showcasing some amazing fashion designers, in addition to raising money through a silent auction to benefit the American Cancer Society.
“Partnering with Affinity Health, a community-based health plan, Affinity Health Plan is focused on supporting efforts towards having a healthy, mind, body & spirit. Affinity has built one of the area’s largest physician networks, which includes 30,000 providers and more than 85 of the top hospitals in the Greater New York Region. Affinity offers a variety of programs under Medicare, Medicaid, Child Health Plus, Essential Plan and Qualified Health Plans on the New York State of Health Marketplace for members in New York City boroughs and Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Orange counties. Affinity is dedicated to continuously supporting its community partners and we are pleased to announce our partnership in an event that combines our love of health, fashion, food and networking.”
“Our next showcase following the May 6th event is ‘’Mommy & Me’’ on May 13. It is a celebration of fashion and the beauty of motherhood and all that it entails in being a woman, whether you are a working mom in the office or a stay-at-home mom running a household of six children. Mommy & Me will highlight the beauty in every woman across the world.”
Bronx Fashion Week will be hosted by Caridad De La Luz, known as LaBruja, who’s considered one of America’s leading spoken word poets and recently appeared on Broadway in “I Like It Like That”.
Featured designers showcasing at BXFW will include Baqash Wilson, Bronx-born international fashion designer and co-editor of Rare Fashion Magazine; fashion designer & cover model – and my amazing friend! – Avadora Mimouni, the absolutely fabulous Queen of Fashion Sofia Davis, Editor-in-Chief of Fashion Avenue News, Michi Walden, Kevin Carlyle Smith, Stefania David, Klosetique Designs, Bharati Kemraj, and seven-year-old accessory designer Miracle. Bay Plaza Mall retail stores such as GAP, Old Navy, Monsoon and more will also be represented.
I’m sure that both of these Saturday events will be fun, fabulous and fashionable! Get your tickets now at:
One of the misconceptions about fashion is that it’s shallow. People who aren’t in the fashion world often see it as over-priced clothes, worn by too-perfect models. At its best, though, the fashion world can help people be more confident, feel better about themselves and use their talents to raise awareness and be a force for good.
On Saturday, April 29, I will be attending the Shop. Sell. Strut! event in Lakewood, NJ. This special event is notable not just for the exciting concept, but for the impressive young women who created it and the incredibly important mission it is focusing on.
Shop. Sell. Strut! is going to be a high-profile event, combining a fashion marketplace – featuring racks of pageant & prom gowns – with an exciting runway show. The afternoon will benefit Autism New Jersey, the largest statewide network of parents and dedicated to improving lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorders.
The founders of Shop. Sell. Strut! are Alyssa Lego and Amanda Witkowski. Alyssa began her charitable work when she founded My Name Is, which is dedicated to removing labels and negative stereotypes for children with special needs. I had an opportunity to interview Alyssa and Amanda about the upcoming show, and started by asking Alyssa why she felt compelled to create My Name Is.
“I believe there are three main reasons that make it challenging to remove negative labeling. The first is the fear of the unknown. Children with special needs may act differently. And when that behavior is not as predictable as a typically developing young person, there may be an immediate fear (fear of being uncomfortable, fear of danger) which then controls perception and leads to judgement. It’s easier to just say, “He’s weird,” and walk away to a more comfortable place as opposed face the fear and work through it.
“Another reason for the challenge is the lack of integrated programs. Sadly, children with special needs and their families live a very isolated life. There does not exist sufficient opportunities for the two worlds, differently-abled and typically-abled, to co-mingle. There’s value and reward in having a typically-abled child to work/play closely with the differently-abled. But education on the value and on the disability as a whole is lacking, leaving programs sparse.
“The third challenge that I see is how fast we move as a society. The pace with almost everything is get it done yesterday. We move fast, and we’re very competitive. The community with special needs requires patience, tolerance, understanding – all things that are typically slower paced. The two rhythms just do not jive.”
I am so impressed by Alyssa’s maturity and understanding of these issues. Her family has a deep personal connection, since her younger brother Michael has special needs himself. I asked her what are some of the biggest misconceptions children like Michael face.
“I can name two profound misconceptions that may be helpful to people reading this blog. Sometimes children with special needs have a behavior that seems peculiar or socially unacceptable. But the behavior may actually be something else. That child may be trying to seek or avoid sensory which ultimately regulates them in society. They could be coping with an uncomfortable social situation, or they could be communicating in their own way. Therefore, a behavior does not mean that the child is being difficult. It could mean they may need sensory input or for their peer or caregiver to take the time to understand and resolve the situation.
“The other misconception that comes to mind is an individual with special needs does not understand. My younger brother is a good example. He is non verbal. But he is very smart, very aware, very keen and understands most things. We try very hard to never talk about him when in front of him. We address my brother like we do with anyone else. And I would encourage people to do the same. Just because a child with special needs does not respond or express him/herself as you and I do, does not mean he/she does not understand. They understand much more than you know. And remember, they have feelings just like you and I.”
How has she worked to help kids deals with those misconceptions?
“Appreciation starts with two things. Understanding yourself and how you are different and understanding that being different is OK. In my Kindergarten Tour, “Friends Who Are Different,” one of the first questions I ask young students is “Name three ways you are different.” Then we talk about why those differences are special and how it’s OK. We’re so busy trying to be the same that we forget to celebrate the difference. When we touch on the delicate subject of being ridiculed about being different and ask the tough question, “If being different is special and important, then why would you make fun of it?” and “How does it feel to be poked fun of?,” there’s a new understanding. Once this realization comes to light, it becomes easier to take the concept and apply to more profound differences such as disabilities.”
With so many important issues to address and having already created a successful program, why is Shop. Sell. Strut! the next step in your mission?
“If you know my Mom, I’ve been raised with “Go Big or Go Bigger!” It was the right time for me to take my non-profit work into a fundraising direction so that I could have more impact. But I wanted to be successful in a big way. Both my parents are very creative and I am fortunate to have inherited that gene. As most conversations start in my house, it was a thought after dinner when we relax and unwind as a family. My mom was suggesting we needed a better avenue to resell my pageant wardrobe. I mentioned a fashion show. The three S words were like a light bulb and the next thing I knew I was in logo maker creating the current Shop. Sell. Strut! logo. So my “why” is the desire to do more coupled with a great idea at the right time – I just seized the moment. I want to make a difference. I want to inspire change. I can’t do that unless I take action, leverage what I know and love, and keep going bigger.”
Amanda, how did you become involved?
“I’ve known Alyssa and her mother Dawn for a few years through pageantry. Last spring I went to a fashion event to support Alyssa, and she and her mom helped select my wardrobe for a pageant I was going in to. During the summer we were talking about pageants, appearances, clothes, and gowns and Alyssa started on the idea of selling what we had to get new things. It started out as more of a resale event. We have both tried pageant resale sites and that has worked a little. But we like to try things on, walk in them, and really consider the fit. Somehow we got to the idea that if a group of girls got together it might be more exciting, some swapping, some selling, etc. We toyed a little with the idea of putting our own things on the runway, but our ideas started to grow and evolve. The idea went through a few permutations, but always had some form of community service attached to it because that is what we do best. Each of us has done and continues to do other work in support to the autistic community. That was always the assumed community we would support. I don’t think we ever considered any alternatives.”
And the fashion show?
“I mentioned pageantry,” Amanda continued, “but another interest and big part of my life is figure skating. I had an idea a number of years ago about doing a fashion show but changed that to a skate-thon, because that was more in my comfort zone to organize, plan and host. I did two events, Autism Skates 2014 and Autism Skates 2016. But always thought that a fashion show at some point would be fun. Once Alyssa raised it again, I knew it was time to move forward. Together we’ve been able to do the project I had always dreamed of just bigger and better than I had ever imagined.”
Ok, I’m excited! What can we expect?
Amanda: “Participants can expect vendors, boutiques, an amazing gift auction, a live pearl party, photoshoots, step and repeats, our original idea of a resale shop, and then a couture runway show! We are stating it much like one would find at a New York Fashion Week Event with lighting, and a great DJ!”
Alyssa: “I can hardly believe how Shop. Sell. Strut! has evolved and grown in such a short time. I’m grateful to my mom, Dawn Lego, my partner, Amanda Witkowski and her mom, Maria Witkowski, and our event committee and media director. It seems that every day a new idea pops up. Fortunately we are very forward thinking and open minded. Being that this is our inaugural year, we trying it all. I’m so pleased that we’ve executed on most all of our wish list items.
“Shop. Sell. Strut! is offering a vendor market place, couture fashion show, auction gift raffle, awards program, pearl party. press conference, runway pit, swag, mini photo shoots, sessions with Matt Boyd Photography, theme song, growing tree, 50/50 raffle, birthday board… I hope I did not leave anything out.
“I’m looking forward to the press conference for obvious reasons – it will help spread our message and mission to a wider audience through media channels. But I am especially looking forward to the runway show where we are showcasing an autism-inspired, custom-made gown designed, created and donated by Talisha White. Talisha made the gown in three different sizes and we selected models in our castings. We plan to play a inspirational song as the models hit the runway. I’m sure it will be a touching and emotional moment.”
Thank you Alyssa and Amanda for giving us so much information about Shop. Sell. Strut! and educating us on the special mission that you are so dedicated to. I cannot wait to attend and hope that lots of people who read this will purchase tickets and be involved!
Here are the details one more time. I hope to see many of you there!
We first witnessed Burning Guitars on the runway at Atlantic City Fashion Week a few years back, and immediately knew they are something special. The brand that lets you ‘Live Life Like A Rockstar’ draws inspiration from music, art and pop culture to create a unique image. I bought one of their amazing jackets for my husband and whenever he wears it, there are constant comments and photos taken by people who are impressed by it.
The Burning Guitars team is lead by their CEO and founder Smiley Jonez, designer Saiyd Muhammed, and executive Kenneth Jackson. They are supported by a wonderful team of models who bring their vision to life on runways around the world.
We’ve been fortunate to see their collection evolve since then, but they truly took things to a new level at their February runway show for Philadelphia Fashion Week. From an innovative use of sports jerseys, to some of their most beautiful evening gowns, their collection has become stunningly diverse, ranging from dope street wear to high-end couture.
I asked Smiley about the philosophy underlying the Burning Guitars brand.
“My philosophy is simple. Burning Guitars is for everybody. So each show I try to take the onlooker thru a journey of fashion and subliminal messages. Whether it’s dealing with political issues or just displaying a trendsetting collection, my overall goal is for our runway to never look like any other runway. I believe in breaking the rules respectfully.”
Music is a constant presence in all of their work. Smiley is a talented performer and MC, who sometimes performs on the runway as the models do their thing. They talk in terms of touring, travelling the world like a rock band playing the hits at packed arenas.
“Music is energy in the form of sound and sound sends waves,” Jonez continued. “Those waves can be energy of positivity or energy of negativity. Either way you look at it, sound waves create a feeling. I like to make sure that my collection matches the music so that the onlooker is having a fashion/listening experience as well as viewing experience.”
The hard work is paying off with increasing visibility for their label, a growing list of celebrity fans, including Yazz The Greatest, Tyson Beckford and CeeLo Green, and their first show in Paris coming up later this year. I asked Smiley what such high-profile support has meant to him.
“Celebrity attention means nothing to me if true friendship isn’t attached to it. I am inspired by love and friendships. I truly genuinely want for others what I want for myself. I display that in every gesture. When I meet a celebrity I treat them how they yearn to be treated, which is like ordinary people. The moment I connect with them on that level we automatically become friends.
“In reference to what it means to me for the brand I would have to say it means everything. It wasn’t until celebrities like B.O.B., Yazz and now CeeLo Green started wearing the B.G. brand that everything really began to take off. To go from everybody laughing at me and calling me Mr. Brown to now everybody wanting to wear the clothes is kind of different and scary, but I embrace it and I am thrilled that everybody is starting to represent the brand. It makes me feel like “I’M NOT CRAZY AFTER ALL!”
“My overall goal for B.G. is to change the world through fashion one needle and thread at a time and give everybody in the world the feeling of what it means to ‘Live Life As A Rockstar’.”
Catch the tour when it hits a runway in your town, join their 43.5k followers on Instagram @burningguitars and let’s all watch them change the world!
DJ Siaani Love rocked this special custom Sixers jersey.
Model Elona Hope Mitchell-Strong Nlm is an amazing presence and practically floats down the runway.
Model John Alex Gaines III.
Model Tiffani D. McLoyd absolutely slays every time she walks.
Seasonal weather is finally showing up. Today was an almost spring-like 63 degrees, so it’s time to start looking forward to all of the wonderful fashion events that fill the warmer months. One of the events I’m most looking forward to is “John Ablaza 30 Years Behind the Seams NY 2017” in Stony Point, NY on May 20, 2017.
I’m excited to see John’s designs in person for the first time. He had a very successful Couture & Culture NYC 2016 show in December, and he’s hosting this special event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his work.
His stunning collections have been shown around the world, from Hong Kong to Bahrain. What may be most notable about this international designer is his long-standing dedication to “eco-fashion,” and his amazing garments are often fabricated using sustainable, local materials, like seeds, bark reeds and coconut shells. A native of the Philippines, John has worked with the local Mangyan Tribe to use native sustainable materials, which has not only enhanced what he is able to do with his designs, but also given the members of the tribe the opportunity to build better futures for their families.
The gala event on May 20 will continue Ablaza’s long commitment to social and charitable causes. Beneficiaries from the show will include the Toto Love Orphanage, Kenya and Make-A-Wish Foundation. This socially-conscious fashion icon has also been an active supporter of local designers from around the world, most notably artisans in the Philippines and Zimbawbe, where he spent time conducting workshops and mentoring some of the talented designers he met there.
The evening will feature his masterful eco-couture gowns and bow-tie design creations. It will be amazing to see how he presents the story of his career and experience how such an accomplished designer still at the height of his creative energy tells the story of his journey so far. I’m told that the show will include both legacy work, as well as an all-new collection, and feature his John Ablaza Couture Pour Homme Collection.
“John Ablaza 30 Years Behind the Seams NY 2017” is being held at the spectacular Amar Estate (8 Sgt Schwarz Court, Stony Point, NY) and is expected to draw an exclusive crowd. I am thrilled that we’re attending to be part of his vision to bring fashion and culture together.