An Ever-Evolving Boston Fashion Week Turns 25
Boston Fashion Week is turning 25 this year.
As he did last year, founder and executive director Jay Calderin is rounding up some big brands to celebrate the milestone, including designers Nubia Williams of Brand Nubia and Joelle Wendy Fontaine of I am Kréyol. “I try not to have themes, but this year, we’re celebrating a quarter of a century. So we’re looking at the past, what’s happening now, and what’s happening in the future,” he says.
Held every year, the week has become somewhat of a tradition that features runway and trunk shows, as well as installations that come to life. For example, in 2015 local designer Luke Aaron showcased his spring and summer collection with models posing like statues as they stood on pedestals among chandeliers and artwork at the Union Club. Past shows have also embraced technology-driven fashion, such as a display of 3D-printed jewelry presented by Design Museum Boston.
But for Calderin, fashion week is more than just showing off cool clothes, and says “it should always be a reflection of where the city and the community is at that given point in time. I’ve never liked the idea of thinking that there’s one thing that makes a city fashionable because when you bring together different people and different styles, that’s what give it its identity.”
In addition to founding BFW, for the last 17 years Calderin has taught at the School of Fashion Design on Newbury Street, where his job involves assigning fashion courses, including sketching and illustration, techniques to craft a collection, and the history of fashion. A transplant from New York, he moved to Boston in 1989 with prior experience working at fashion shows.
When the idea to bring fashion week to Boston came about, Calderin had to rethink the concept, explaining that BFW was founded as a civic initiative dedicated to creating opportunities that increase the viability and visibility of the local fashion industry. “We’re not IMG who produces a part of NYFW. Our goal is to inspire people, to help facilitate things. It’s really about community.”
The annual celebration, this year from Sept. 22 to 28, is designed to engage the community directly at the grassroots level. Once approved, designers select models, stylists, hair and makeup, and whoever else they want to be a part of the event. More than that, Calderin wants to overcome the boundless challenges of fashion designers in the city. To set designers on their fashion journey, he offers a wide range of resources as well as network with peers and the public.
“Fashion is just like an extra thing for most people. It’s like, ‘Cool, I’ll go to that fashion show, I’ll buy that outfit.’ It’s not like for us that we’re living in it every day,” he says. “All these designers are not making millions. They’re struggling, they’re working full-time jobs, and they may be doing things on a small scale. But that doesn’t make their work any less amazing.”
Calderin isn’t the only Bostonian working to make fashion week more representative of the city’s diverse population. For Anna Foster, founder and CEO of A Maven’s World Lifestyle Brand, local designers are essential to the industry.
Foster has kicked off a number of fashion shows in the city, including in 2016 when she co-hosted BFW alongside “America’s Next Top Model” winner Eva Marcille. The following year Naturi Naughton, who stars on the STARZ series “Power" and the former managing editor of the Boston Herald Gustavo Leon, joined Foster on stage to welcome the audience.
“It really showed and displayed what Boston could be if we came together,” Foster says over the phone.
Foster recognizes challenges local designers face, and is frustrated by the lack of event space to host shows as well as sponsorship to help spread the word about their work. “I sponsor several designers to fashion week in London, Vancouver, Rhode Island, because it’s not easy here in Boston,” she says. “It takes collaboration and people who have the strategy and resources that can get people through the door.”
Nevertheless, BFW will continue to bring awareness to the city’s local talent, says Calderin. “Every year has its heroes, people who come through all the time. And the beauty of Boston Fashion Week is that it changes and will continue to morph into whatever is important at that given time.”