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Launch Fashion
By Ashley B. Holmes                                                                      
September 2009
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San Francisco can be a jaded city when it comes to fashion. Not as jaded as say, New York, but definitely jaded. When one lives in any high-paced city known for art, culture, and (though some may disagree for SF) fashion, it’s easy to be jaded. When the Vhcle team started to plan the LAUNCH event, we were all excited. We were excited to get our vision out there - to bring local musicians and designers to our peers. Now, I like to consider myself open-minded, but even I can be jaded at times. When I heard the LAUNCH event was being held in Sacramento, I honestly was hesitant. And yes, this makes me sound like a snob, but the few times I had been to Sacramento (or as the locals say Sac) were to visit friends at Sac State or to go to Old Sac. I naturally assumed no style resided in the city. But as any fashionista learns, you can find style anywhere and everywhere.
LAUNCH took place in a very stylish boutique hotel called the Greens Hotel. It is set in an area of Sacramento slated for redevelopment, so it was a surprise to enter and see how stylish and forward it was. My main job during the event was to organize the fashion show and make sure it went smoothly. I started my day around noon by meeting all of the designers, making sure they knew when they were to go on stage, getting their music, rehearsing the runway with them, and getting them anything they needed. Meeting all of the designers before actually seeing their designs was great. It’s easy to judge an artist on their art before seeing them as a person first. I loved getting a tiny feel for their personalities and then seeing their work in action.
The fashion show didn’t start until about ten-thirty in the evening and the event started at six, so I had some time to kill. I walked around with M, the designer of SF-based Booji, a female sneaker house, and checked out the vendor spaces and people watched. Both of us were pleasantly surprised at the amount of well-styled personalities at the event. We became camera happy with all of the fantastically-dressed women, musicians, and designers at the party.
We did a little shopping too! We fell in love with a couple of vintage pieces at Atelier. One in particular was a wedding dress that had been cut into an avant-garde blouse. M tried it on and was sold. This was one of the coolest things either of us had stumbled upon in a very long time…and I scour a lot of vintage. Another great spot was the room occupied that evening by jewelry designer Pamela Tuohy, whose jewelry has appeared in W Magazine and Nylon. Her jewelry is reminiscent of the Baroque period with a modern edge. Her elaborate necklaces look like enamel black lace and her earrings beg to be worn with an exquisitely dark evening gown or crazy, wild, and artfully messy hair. My favorite pieces were her rings; they looked like little picture frames edged in gold. The best part about the rings were the amazing drawings in the frames, which I learned were all drawn by her husband. My favorite was the lion portrait in a sepia color - it was so beautiful and regal looking. I smartly left my credit card behind, or he would be in place on my finger as I write. All of the vendors had great things to offer; I especially loved the vintage boutiques, and am now planning shopping trips to Sacramento specifically to shop them again.
The thing that really surprised me, and reminded me once again that loving fashion means being open-minded and finding style where you least expect it, were the people at the event. There were many moments where M and I were stopping people and snapping their pictures. Whether dressed in something fresh and young and perfect for the sultry weather, or wearing a jumpsuit so iconically reminiscent of Coco Chanel - our guests brought their style and did not disappoint.
The designers were catching my eye well before the show too. Before I even met Laura Carter of Velvet Leaf - I met her dress. It was one of her own designs and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Adrienne Cheng of Reject was running around pre-show in little leather shorts and a billowy sequined black top - her hair in long blonde waves. The best thing about designers is seeing them transform from work mode to show mode. Jeanette of Altered Betty’s and Nicole Kniss of Van de Neer came ready to work early in the afternoon, but come show time, they were looking just as fabulous as their models. The musicians had great style too! It is always a wonderful  experience when you gather together artists and designers with people who appreciate art and design. Personal style reigns supreme and everywhere you look you see someone expressing themselves outwardly.
Now, let’s talk about this fashion show - the highlight of the evening in my opinion. Altered Betty’s was the first to go on, and they truly got the crowd pumped. Jeanette, the designer of the line, sent a fire dancer (sans fire) down the runway first. And though there were no actual flames to be seen, her dancer was heating up the dance floor with her moves. The music was heavy with drums and the perfect beat to start the show. Altered Betty’s is a nice mix of color and vintage fabrics. It was a fine example of the way modern women wear their vintage. One of my favorite pieces Jeanette showed was a purple, fuchsia, and yellow floral print mini-dress with slightly padded shoulders and a very deep v down to above the belly button. Another was a white chiffon dress that looked like something Kate Moss would wear to Studio 54 if it was still around; it  was designed with gold tiger stripes on the torso and slashed chiffon on the skirt piece, topped with a white and gold-braided turban on the model’s head.
Next out was the boutique, Artifacts. They sent fabulous little summer pieces from the likes of Ben Sherman and Insight down the runway, and gave us the only part of the show with male models. The models looked adorable and perfect for summer in straw fedoras, high-waisted floral shorts, and cute little dresses and button-ups.
I know as a fashion writer, I cannot be biased or pick favorites, but Velvet Leaf was the one show that I would buy every piece from if I had the money. Velvet Leaf’s designs were so incredibly girly in shape, but still minimal in the choice of graphics and muted pastels and jewel tones. The fabrics were raw silk, cotton, and wool with little details like appliquéd bows, subtle ruffles, and short bib and caplet necklines. One of my absolute favorite outfits was the black wool leggings with white ruffle piping on the ankles paired with a black-hooded pullover with white bows and ruffles down the front. It reminded me of a modern day Parisian Little Red Riding Hood. Another favorite was the black, high-wasted pencil skirt paired with the fitted, grey, long-sleeved top with a ruff collar reminiscent of Elizabeth I. I could describe every piece in detail if left to it, but this article is about the whole fashion show, not just Velvet Leaf.
Reject was the next label to follow. With Santigold pumping on the sound system, the girls walked down the runway with attitude in pieces that paired lux materials with shredded knit gloves - pieces of yarn trailing behind as they walked. My favorite pieces were two feathered skirts. Adrienne later told me those were the two hardest pieces to sell, which was shocking to me; they were so on point with today’s styles, and looked just as fabulous as the Louis Vuitton ostrich feather skirts. I say, if anyone wants the look of Vuitton without the price, visit Adrienne and snap one up. She paired them with cool, structured tops. But even with a little white t-shirt, they would look smart.
And finally, Van der Neer truly closed out the show with a whimsical bang. Playing ever so appropriately on screens behind the runway, were scenes of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. The music was fantastic in a dark, guitar heavy, electronic way. The designs transported us all to Storybook land. I loved this part of the show! I am a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and also a huge fan of the theatrics of a fashion show. She did not disappoint. The models were made up to look like disheveled dolls with messy curls pinned into turn of the century updos, with extremely long fake eyelashes and dark khol smudged around the eye. The lips were nude and the makeup a bit streaky. Her designs were pastel, candy-colored lederhosen in tan, pink, and robin’s egg blue. Lavender jumpsuits and dresses with white stockings and short ruffled collars. It was like a dream - completely original; and as I said, the perfect ending to a perfect night of fashion.
In the end, it was a great experience for me. I was able to meet truly talented local designers and get excited about the fashion in Northern California, and not just San Francisco. I’ve met quite a few people that wrinkle their noses when I say I’m pursuing a career in fashion in San Francisco. A majority of the nay-sayers ask me why I’m not in New York or Los Angeles. Despite my personal reasons for staying in SF, the biggest one is to prove these people wrong. I believe in Northern California and I know that there is great design, art, and architecture coming out of it. To those that wrinkle their noses, I remind you of how I felt pre-Launch. To truly be involved in fashion, one needs to remember that it is EVERYWHERE. Fashion, design, and especially style are not limited to only the major cities. And if you really want to see something new, sometimes it's best to look where you least expect to find it.
Ashley B. Holmes is an editorial and personal stylist out of San Francisco, CA. Her recent inspirations include the history and pulse of her beautiful city, French films circa 1960s, The Velvet Underground, Wes Anderson movies, and Roald Dahl books. Her recommendations for daily blog checking include: The Sartorialist, Garance Doré, FashionToast, Jak and Jil, and StyleState.
Read other articles by Ashley B. Holmes:
Photos courtesy of The Classic Penguin
Photo courtesy of The Classic Penguin  |  Melissa Vanni