Last Thursday I had the great opportunity to attend the first ever National Aboriginal Fashion Week held in Regina. For a more positive review, click here. If you're not into constructive criticism, this post isn't for you.
But if you're interested in hosting a Native fashion event in the future, or being a part of one, and want some tips, keep on reading. Hopefully this is semi-constructive (that's the hope!).
1. Doing Things on Indian Time is Ok, except when you are five minutes shy of being an hour behind schedule and you're charging folks $30 a seat. An option?: You can host a cocktail hour before the event, which gives you flexibility when it comes to start time, because the audience is too busy mingling to care if you're running late. Also, hire a host who is in charge of supplying us with witty banter on the mic when we're gearing up in the last minutes before the show starts.
2. Invest in a Good DJ. I can't stress this enough. People have said over and over again that fashion and music go hand in hand. And yes they do. I'm not sure who the DJ was at this event, but I can take a wild stab at it: I bet he's an older guy who loves Classic Rock. Because that's all we heard for an hour while the show was running late. And the play list wasn't the popular Classic Rock hits either, it was like the B side of the cassette tape single of the hits. Like, B-side Fleetwood Mac, Dire Straits, Tom Petty? Which, I love, but not at a fashion show event, unless you're being ironic - but if you don't know what I'm talking about when I say 'ironic,' then don't chance it.
Secondly, once the show gets started, there should NEVER BE DEAD AIR. NEVER. We should never hear the models' shoes hitting the runway to silence. NEVER. But, this DJ didn't know how to mix, and so after each song, there was dead air. It's awkward. Third, the music selection was like 6-year-old Beyonce. Which, like the Classic Rock, unless you are being ironic, just doesn't fly at a fashion event. It's cool at a wedding, but not a fashion show. I don't want to hear 2008 Rihanna. Invest in a DJ who knows how to mix (and not just 'fade out' a song while 'fading in' another, but actual, legit, mixing) and knows more than just Top 40 radio hits.
3. Create a Solid Program. Ok so by now you know how this post is gonna go. So let's just keep moving forward. Number 3 on this list has to do with creating a good program. See, when you're working with multiple designers, there's going to be 'change time,' and this is when you should put an INTERMISSION into your program. There will always be this awkward time when the models and designer just aren't ready for the next collection yet. This is when you schedule your performers.
For NAFW, the performers started the show. So it went: Drum song, Flute music, Hoop Dancer, designer A, designer B, designer C, (insert awkward time when they weren't ready for designer D) designer D, designer E, etc. Instead, it should go: Drum song, designer A, designer B, Flute music (and let the models change and get styled), designer C, designer D, Hoop dancer (and let the models change and get styled), designer E, designer F. See how that goes? A well-planned schedule will appear seamless to the audience while giving the models and designers necessary time to change and prep for the next collection.
4. Invest In Our Models. I've seen the huge amount of effort that goes into modeling, and oftentimes with little to no pay or compensation. We really need to invest in our models because we need them. They are the bodies that bring the designs to life on the runway; they need to be good and their walk needs to be clean. If a model is clunking down the runway and can't walk in those shoes, the audience can't focus on the clothing or the designs.
At NAFW, the difference between the experienced and inexperienced models was noticeable. For an event claiming to be 'thee' First Nations national fashion event, the models need to be killer. And I am well aware that this is not an easy feat, and it takes years of experience to be at the level that is needed for a national event, and that's why I say we need to invest in our models.
5. Spice up the Runway Format. This one isn't necessary to follow, but it's totally on my wish list for event hosts to take into consideration. The problem with the standard runway format is this: The models get nervous and they practically run to the end and back, and the audience barely gets to see the garments, let alone snap any pics. If you insist on continuing with the runway format, please ask your models to pose before and after the runway (and at the end of the runway), and ask them to slow 'er down.
But, here's the cool deal: We don't need to copy New York to host a legit fashion event. We're Native American/Aboriginal, we CAN break out of the expected format. Sexy it up, man. Even the big shots don't stick to the regular runway style of presenting fashion. Think of Grand Entry at a powwow, think of Crow Fair. How do they enter in? How do we get to feast our eyes on their gear? The onlookers get to see their ensembles just fine and dandy.
The one thing to be aware of when spicing up the runway format is that it needs to be slick and cool or else it will look generic. To get inspired, check out Siki Im's FW11 collection presentation (Side Note: He hired a legit drummer (actually Native American!) and collaborated with Navajo hotshot weaver TahNibaa Naat'aanii).
6. Fill the Seats. This is always an important part of any event. Theater companies, rock bands, comedians... everyone is trying to figure out how to fill the seats. Ticket prices need to be on point because, here's the deal, upping the ticket prices too high will discourage ticket sales and this will in turn affect your advertising sales and sponsorship, because, if no one is there, then purchasing ad space is a waste of money. Furthermore, if no one is there, really, you are doing a huge disservice to the designers and models who depend on events like these to give them greater recognition on a national/international level. But if you can consistently host a great event, participation will increase, because everyone will want to see what the buzz is all about.
7. Create Opportunities. This one is probably the most important point. One problem with the way Native American fashion shows are set up now is that organizers focus on just presenting the work and/or having a party. Fashion shows are actually meant to be more than that.
If you look at New York Fashion Week, for example, it is all about 1) getting press coverage and getting into fashion magazines so that the clothes will sell, and 2) getting department stores and boutiques interested in selling the designs. These runway fashion shows are about creating opportunities for the designers by getting them press coverage and sales. So contact as many media outlets as possible - local news, campus news, Facebook pages, whatever, create buzz buzz buzz.
Overall, NAFW12 was a success, and I anticipate NAFW13 being bigger and better, so mark your calendars because the next National Aboriginal Fashion Week is slated to happen June 27-29, 2013, back at the beautiful Turvey Center in Regina, Saskatchewan.