SAN FRANCISCO — This city’s second annual fashion week redefined its lineup to focus on local talent and reposition itself as an emerging showcase.
“The photographs taken here are useful and press exposure is good for me,” said Christina Hurvis, 36, before showing her spring collection last Friday night for evening and wedding, such as a white silk chiffon tuxedo halter gown with ruffle train, her finale. Hurvis, who learned tailoring in Paris and worked for Dior, Gaultier and Balmain, also made sure to invite clients and their friends — key for her busy word-of-mouth business.
The homegrown San Francisco Fashion Week made its debut last year as the brainchild of local event planner Erika Gessin, 28, and her Mystery Girl Productions. The first show included designers from Los Angeles and New York. But this year’s shows, which closed Sunday, had a clearer identity by featuring just Bay Area talent.
“We’re doing this to support and promote only local designers, to give them a forum for exposure,” Gessin said, lamenting how “our designers now feel they have to be in New York or L.A. to get noticed.”
Gessin would like the end-of-summer fashion week to become a must-go-to stop for retail buyers, including those already heading west to attend the mega-apparel trade show MAGIC in Las Vegas this week.
For SFFW’s second installment, the emphasis on area designers appeared mainly aimed at locals, tourists and boutique buyers. Tickets for each of the four nights ran $35 to $65 and the site, the 1,000-seat Palace of Fine Arts, was half to two-thirds filled depending on the show. The crowd was well-heeled and fashionable.
“The point in coming is to see things you’re not going to see anywhere else,” said San Franciscan Kelly Lisbakkan, 24, accompanied by Cameron Phleger, 23, explaining how they personally mix A-list designers with local finds from the Bay Area and elsewhere.
“I’m wearing Armani, but my purse comes from here, by Maria Purses,” Phleger said, showing off her black leather pocketbook inlaid with mother-of-pearl discs she held up against her rust-colored sundress.
Leisel Quamie, the stylist for model and television personality Tyra Banks, showed up for Saturday’s shows to see designer Colleen Quen’s spring line of silk evening gowns and cocktail dresses, a collection the designer calls The Empresses’ New Clothes.
“Colleen’s attention to detail and the structure is wonderful. I love the colors,” said Quamie, known as Q. “There’s no question there is room for more exposure of San Francisco designers.”
Like other designers at fashion week, Quen said she recognized a commercial need to seek recognition elsewhere, like when she participates at the New York emerging designer showroom, 30 Van Dam.
But Quen said that joining forces locally with fashion week could help further “brand my name,” especially important now because in two weeks she opens her first store, in San Francisco’s artsy South of Market neighborhood in a space designed by her industrial designer husband, Rick Lee.
Quen, 40, said they are already scouting potential locations elsewhere, perhaps New York or Paris, but San Francisco will remain her base.
“I feel like we have a good design community. I can come here and unwind and be creative,” said Quen, a third-generation Bay Area resident whose work is equally influenced by French haute couture and traditional Asian fashions. The blend was evident in her fashion week opener, a dramatic floor-length “Chinese empress” bell-sleeved evening coat cloaked in rows of gold ribbon tabs that covered a flirty, matching minidress.
Designer Hurvis also said she made San Francisco her base as a lifestyle choice, after ending a six-year stint in New York designing high-end sportswear under her label for specialty stores nationally. “I hit my 30s and I wanted a different, calmer lifestyle. But I also wanted culture and sophistication,” Hurvis said.
Another established local designer, Lily Samii, with 30 years in the fashion industry — 11 spent designing her own locally produced high-end evening and bridal line — said she participated in SFFW mainly to lend support to emerging Bay Area designers in the show. Saks Fifth Avenue carries her gowns and she has a boutique in the heart of the city’s Union Square retail district.
But Samii said she was also scouting for licensing agreements and fashion week could help her quest.
Most designers showing their work were relatively new to pursuing fashion as a business, even as they’ve found success selling to the sizable cadre of Bay Area independent fashion boutiques.
San Francisco designer Erin Mahoney, 29, who has been in business for two years and sells to three local independents, said she hoped fashion week would give her further exposure. Her Twenties-glam and theater-inspired spring line has already caught the eye of Luckymag.com editors, who put her $480 Rocket Ship coat and $260 Poppy skirt in its September Listings column.
Designers paid $2,050 to $2,850 to show their collections.
Aside from the runway shows, there was a battery of how-to seminars for $35 to $50 each, and included a Model Boot Camp and Makeup 101. There were parties nightly for fashion week attendees, including one at the Levi’s Flagship at Union Square. This was hometown Levi’s first time as a fashion week participant, and the denim brand showed its made-to-order sportswear, available only at the Union Square location, on the runway.
“There’s no reason a young designer can’t stay in San Francisco,” said Mary Gehlar, New York-based fashion division director of GenArt. Gehlar, author of the newly published “The Fashion Designer Survival Guide,” was a panelist on “How to Break Into the Fashion Business” workshop.
Being based in the Bay Area may be fine, but for Simon Ungless, director of fashion at the Academy of Art University here, all roads to commercial success still lead to New York or even Los Angeles.
Ungless has not attended a fashion week here. This year he would be with students in New York, readying their collections to show at that city’s fashion week.
“I think the San Francisco Fashion Week is morale-building for local designers and I wish them well,” Ungless said. “For some of the younger designers, it’s a good opportunity to start the process.”