Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Christian Fashion Week 2015

“Is modesty really the deepest we can go? Is policing hemlines the best we can do?” 

These words, spoken by Christian Fashion Week co-founder Jose Gomez, solidified the evolution of CFW over the last three years. Having attended since their debut, I have witnessed this maturity first-hand and it has been inspiring to see how CFW has developed and grown.

Christian Fashion Week Co-Founder Jose Gomez.
“We’ve found our note – what God wanted us to do with fashion week,” Jose said as he opened the runway show last Friday evening. CFW wants to be “a voice for those who can’t speak for themselves.”

The fashion show encapsulated a week of events ranging from a national day of prayer for the fashion industry to workshops and panel discussions regarding the state of fashion today – all from a Christian perspective.

As I’ve stated in the past, CFW takes the position that there is no such thing as “Christian fashion.” In fact, most of the designers presenting this year are not Christian. There was diversity in the clothing – from athleticwear to bridal to formal to plus size to casual to menswear – and in the models themselves. CFW promotes a view of beauty that comes in all shapes and sizes, not the teeny-tiny definition of beauty that most of our society promotes.

The show opened with Bosnian-born designer Tatjana Sladojevic’s dancewear line, Noka Posh. From bolder colors to pastels, this line presented dresses, coats and dancewear in velvet and tulle. It was a fun and different way to start the show.

Next came designs from ckfcreate by Constance Franklin. This Georgia-based designer opened with a bridal look, included men’s looks, and showed real versatility in her bright, perfect-for-the-Florida-sun outfits. I loved her high-waisted red wide-legged pants and rainbow overcoat with aqua pants underneath. The skirt Constance herself was wearing was a Mondrian-inspired beauty I wish I could have stolen for myself.

Loved this look from Constance Franklin. Wouldn't these pants look great on me?
CFW alum Angel Myers presented her line of plus designs from swimwear to resort-inspired dresses, accessorized with statement jewelry and sun hats. The Miami-based designer’s motto is, “True style has no size,” and she proved it ten times on the runway.

Hailing from Utah, Russian-born designer Aleksandra Salo of Aleksandra Classic Design sent the most beautifully-tailored dresses and suits down the catwalk. Classy and elegant for the modern woman – and I can’t overemphasize how perfect her seams were!
Elegant skirt from Aleksandra Salo.
Although CFW alum Katie Myers of Elegantees (New York) couldn’t be with us the night of the show, she presented a classic collection of casual, wearable clothes in muted colors, from tops and maxi skirts to cotton dresses, for women of all sizes. What’s so special about Elegantees is their desire to help victims of human sex trafficking. The company has teamed up with the Nepali Rescue Project which rescues 20,000 lives each year, and their sewing operations are now exclusively in Nepal. Their long-term goal is “to see every sex trafficking victim in New York City and in Nepal receive a safe housing option and an employment opportunity.”

A casual, wearable look from Elegantees.
Closing out the first half of the show was CFW alum Sumita Bhojwani of KalaXpress. Sumita is a burst of energy, with her two beautiful young daughters in tow. Her Indian-inspired designs were more contemporary than traditional this year, with metallic shimmer and modern silhouettes. One of my favorite looks of the entire night was her sheath dress in green lace with touches of purple. Stunning!

Sumita, I'm a size 2 (hint, hint).
After a brief intermission, the audience was treated to a surprise. CFW star Julia Chew of Xiaolin Design presented a one-of-a-kind creation just for guests of the show. Named after the Russian ballet Firebird, and inspired by the mythical phoenix, the red gown was a sight to behold. With a strapless corset covered in feathers and a floor-length gown that was open in the front, covered in layers and layers of tulle, the model glided down the runway at once powerful and light. Julia also created a gold headpiece and gold-embellished platform shoes to complete the look. I visited Julia’s studio the day before and got a sneak peek of the gown on a form, but seeing it come to life at the show was truly an experience. This unique showstopper is available from her etsy shop.

Designer Julia Chew describing her inspiration for the Firebird.
Those feathers, though.
Ohio-based designer Kirsten Warner of OnePrize Performance opened the second half of the show with athleticwear. I happily watched yoga pants come down the runway, as these have been the subject of much debate in Christian and non-Christian circles recently! I especially loved her purple puffer vest and white coat.

Choosing to launch her debut collection at CFW, London-based Jean Huni of Messiah Couture blew us away with her sophisticated and elegant gowns. The Leading Ladies Collection was inspired by ladies from the Bible: Mary, Ruth, Tamar, Elizabeth, Hannah, Miriam, Rahab, Bathsheba, Esther and Naomi. I happened to be sitting next to NY Times fashion writer and critic Alexandra Jacobs, who tweeted of Huni’s designs: “Move over Badgley Mischka!” Her designs were modern with a futuristic edge (think extended shoulders and high collars). I would easily (and gladly) wear at least half of her dresses in a heartbeat.

If you could only see the sequins on this Jean Huni gown up close - a stunner!
David President of D. PresidentAttire started his menswear presentation with an all-white look, followed by futuristic and military-inspired sportswear. There was one pair of black pants that I especially loved, and lots of scarves for a different touch. This was more than a jeans and t-shirt collection. David’s philosophy is “Stay true to yourself and God, never give up, step out in faith and you just might be surprised what you find.”

Viji Reddy of Alamwar - Walk the Earth is a multi-media artist and textile designer. Her collection was extensive – 18 looks – including menswear. Inspired by her international travels, it was a breezy collection of wearable separates and resortwear with an Asian influence. My favorite look was brown wide-legged pants paired with a cape top.

Chic, cool clothes from Viji Reddy.
The show ended with a bang with Florida native Essence Flowers of Essence Flowers Design. She sent an edgy, all-black collection of eight looks down the runway. Leather, lace, and a variety of silhouettes caught everyone’s attention – especially Look 3, which was a lace capelet over a bra. Yup – a bra. I leaned over to Alexandra Jacobs and whispered, “How’s THAT for Christian fashion?” It was a defining – and divisive – moment for CFW this year, but one that will certainly lead to much discussion about artistic freedom, interpretation, and how we can apply a Christian perspective to creativity in every form.

The final walk from Essence Flowers Design.

Saturday morning I hosted the CFW Inner Circle Brunch, comprised of the founders, designers, models, and bloggers. After prayer and introductions, we discussed the runway show – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There was a lively discussion of our likes and dislikes, with excellent constructive criticism on how we can improve for next year. Although this year was dubbed the FINAL Christian Fashion Week, we’re hopeful that funding will come through to continue this ministry for years to come.

Moderating a lively discussion at the Inner Circle Brunch.
Co-founder Jose Gomez then shared CFW’s mission and future. As he stated on the runway, CFW’s mission has evolved to include a wider scope of important topics concerning the fashion industry. CFW CAREs:

C – Contextual modesty
A – Affordable, sustainable fashion
R – Responsible use of natural resources
E – Ethical hiring, casting and labor practices

These are the areas on which CFW wants to focus. Model Angie chimed in on the “E,” sharing with everyone that CFW took good care of its models: “We were fed!” she said, enthusiastically.

To keep CFW going, there are three things we can all do:

  1. Funding. Producing a runway show costs money. The venue, seating, risers, lighting, sound, publicity – it all costs money. CFW is seeking one or multiple sponsors for each aspect of CARE.
  2. Education. We need to convey the mission and message of CFW and promote multicultural fashion.
  3. Activism. CFW wants to impact and affect policies and practices in the fashion industry worldwide. There needs to be collective poking and provoking to keep the discussion going. People have to be educated and interested.

Christian Fashion Week has become something more to me than just another fashion show. I have profound respect for founders Jose, Mayra, Will and Tamy – I’m proud to call them my friends. They are doing a good thing, an important thing, for the fashion community and the faith community. They are showing that there is another way (a better way) to do fashion.

Christian Fashion Week founders Will, Tamy, Mayra and Jose.
I’ve met designers, models, and bloggers who have shown me many perspectives on creativity and expression that have further pushed the borders of my own thoughts. I’ve seen doubters and haters come around and be won over by open hearts and caring dialogue. It’s been an inspiring experience.

If you’d like to support or sponsor CFW, please let me know. I’m already looking forward to CFW 2016.

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bikini Banter

I had been waiting for a week, and yesterday it finally came. I opened the mailbox and there it was – this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

Please don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t excited to receive it. I was anticipating its arrival so I could intercept it before Jayson or the boys could see it. Out of the mailbox and into my bag it went.

I had seen the new cover online when it was released last week, and it made my blood boil. But seeing it on glossy paper in my hands made me so angry I couldn’t shake the feeling all day.

If you want to sell swimsuits, then sell swimsuits. Women have to wear something to the beach, right? And I’m not opposed to bathing suits – not even bikinis.

But 24-year-old Hannah Davis is practically naked on the cover. Honestly. As if her bikini isn’t skimpy enough, she’s pulling her bottom down way WAY low. I am a woman, I know woman parts. And she’s dangerously close to revealing hers.

So what is Sports Illustrated really selling here? A visual treat, a bonus, a goody bag, a reward to its male subscribers? Because they’re definitely not selling swimsuits.

I did a quick count of the swimsuits featured. Roughly:
  • 66 bikinis
  • 11 one-piece swimsuits
  • 8 poses with the swimsuit being pulled down or off
  • 20 topless photos, with just a bikini bottom (one creative shot offers grapes up top; another, oars)
  • 2 shots of completely naked women

This is objectification at its finest. Straight up porn disguised as sporty fun, supposedly more palatable because it’s presented in a legitimate format. Does Sports Illustrated really value women? No. They are presented as objects to be looked at, ogled, and worse.

Am I supposed to be impressed that, for the first time, two plus-size models are featured in the issue? (Ashley Graham is featured in an advertisement and Robyn Lawley models several looks.) This is not a real achievement, friends. In the words of Beauty Redefined, “We absolutely do not see the inclusion of one ‘plus-size’ (6’2”, size 12) model in the 2015 issue as a victory. We see this is a slight expansion of who SI deems ‘objectifiable,’ which still upholds dozens of beauty ideals sold through every other image, even if she embodies a size slightly larger than her objectified counterparts. Additionally, we absolutely do not see the inclusion of a plus-size model in a $455,000 paid advertisement as a victory. We are not equal opportunity objectifiers and we can’t applaud anyone who is.”

If Sports Illustrated truly valued women, they would highlight characteristics other than our appearance, as they do men: strength, skill, athleticism, determination. How many female athletes has Sports Illustrated put on their cover? “Researchers found that of the 716 SI issues published between 2000 and 2011, a mere 35 of them had covers featuring female athletes. That’s only 4.9%.”

5%. What an insult. But women get an entire issue – a double-issue, even – promoting our assets for the male gaze? This is rubbish.

As I ranted yesterday, a friend of mine made an important point. He said, essentially, that no one was holding a gun to these women’s heads and they were choosing to objectify themselves. This is a valid argument that points to the deeper issues of objectification in our society. Women will often look at themselves the way men look at them, and let their actions and appearance be dictated by how they want to be seen by others. This type of attention is glorified and coveted. It is also dangerous. It eats up how we truly view ourselves and buries it under how others view us.

This outward view contributes to self worth issues, eating disorders, and a slew of other problems. We cannot determine our worth by how others look at us, which mostly involves our outer appearance. If you want to have a killer body and wear a tiny bikini, do that of your own volition. But please do not let others’ perception of you lie on the surface of your skin. There is so much more to you than that – your thoughts, beliefs, ideas, purpose, motivations, accomplishments, grades, skills, achievements, desires and opinions are so valuable. These are the things that determine who you are in a complete way.

Can women look hot? Of course. Is that all we are capable of? Of course not.

No one forced those women into those bikinis (or out of them). We all have a choice.

Choose to not be something to be looked at – because you aren’t a person being looked at in these cases, you are a THING.

Choose to define your worth inwardly.

Choose to value those who value your mind over your body.

Choose to accept beauty in all of its meanings, not the narrowly-defined version our culture depicts.

Choose better than what our society offers – a disrespectful, misogynistic view of women as objects to be pieced apart and consumed.

My choice? To toss the SI Swimsuit Issue into the trash where it belongs.

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Don't Be An Ostrich

  • 114.4 million people watched Super Bowl XLIX last weekend.
  • The gossip site TMZ.com gets an estimated 25,000,000 unique monthly visitors.
  • Kim Kardashian West has 25.6 million followers on Instagram.
Friends, it’s time to get our head out of the sand.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t watch the news and I don’t read the newspaper. It’s so depressing, especially negative news involving children. I have nightmares and I’ve had to pull over while driving because of a panic attack.

But this week I have felt especially burdened by what’s happening in our world. I can pretend that my world consists of my immediate family going about our daily activities in my little suburb in this corner of the earth – the end. But it doesn’t. My world consists of people I don’t know and places I haven’t been. My world consists of pain and ugliness and hurt and truth that I fight to ignore on a daily basis. But I can’t ignore it any longer.

A few days ago I posted this update on facebook:

“I woke up this morning in my comfy bed under my warm electric blanket after a good night's sleep. I fed my kids breakfast, kissed my husband good bye, and drove my kids to private school in my middle class minivan. I sit in Starbucks sipping my tea posting pictures of my favorite couture looks and returning emails. MEANWHILE a Japanese journalist is beheaded, a Jordanian pilot is burned alive in a cage, and a woman is buried chest-deep and stoned under Sharia law. What.The.Hell. Lord Jesus, have mercy, and help me not be complacent in the perceived safety of my smug little world.”

I’m tired of feeling helpless. I’m tired of feeling overwhelmed. I refuse to despair. But I can’t just keep going along my jolly way when in 2015 men are being burned alive and women are being stoned to death. Swallowing my tears is no longer sufficient.

Injustice is everywhere. Persecution is everywhere. And I’m not talking about, “Wah, someone called me a Bible thumper.” I’m talking Boko Haram and ISIL and Al-Qaeda.

So, practically speaking, what can we do?
  1. Be aware. It’s time to get our collective head out of the sand and get informed on what’s happening in the world. Visit allnewspipeline.com, dailycaller.com, therealnews.com, indymedia.org, or wn.com for non-corporate international coverage. If we don’t know what’s happening all around us, we can’t take the next steps to do anything about it.
  2. Open your eyes. I don’t want to see what’s really happening. I don’t want to watch the footage. I don’t want to accept the suffering innocent people are enduring. But my wants aren’t exactly important anymore. Instead of turning away, I have to take what I’m seeing and use it to motivate me toward action.
  3. Balance what you take in. You want to like Kim K.’s pictures on Instagram and read your gossip mags? Fine. I’m not trying to take the fun out of your life. But balance it with something real, something relevant, something that actually impacts life as we know it (whether positive or negative) and the future of our society and civilization.
  4. Put fear aside. Fear can paralyze it. It can overwhelm us to the point of inaction. That’s not good enough anymore. What’s happening all over the world is bad. Really, really bad. Being afraid won’t make it go away. It will only incapacitate us which in turn will put us in an extremely vulnerable and dangerous position.
  5. Pray. I cannot underscore the importance of praying individually and corporately. Our prayers are effective and impactful. Pray specifically and daily. Our God hears.
  6. Donate. Do your research and be a wise steward of your blessings. A few options: rescuechristians.org, opendoorsusa.org, and persecution.org. These organizations directly support and aid Christians being persecuted worldwide.
  7. Vote. I’m not as politically aware as I should be, but there cannot be any more excuses to not practice our civil duty. If you don’t like what’s happening in our country and government, your hands are not tied. There is something you can do. Your voice can be heard at the ballot box.
  8. Speak up and be bold. Not talking about painful things won’t make painful things go away. I want to escape reality as much as the next person (hello, Hallmark Channel), because reality can be hideous, cruel and anxiety-inducing. But the persecuted church is a REAL THING and ignoring it, or worse – speaking of it casually – is inexcusable. We have to speak boldly against injustice or we are complicit in these crimes. What good is there in throwing up our hands? How does that help the children in Nigeria or the Syrian refugees? It doesn’t.
  9. Stand for faith. We are all human beings and should stand for humanity. But as a Christian, I am called – CALLED – to love my neighbor, my fellow man. Will I not answer to God for how I treated (or mistreated, or non-treated) others? Jesus said we would be persecuted in His name; that we would be hated. He said we would suffer for Him. Are you suffering? The Apostle Paul tells us to put on the armor of God (Galatians 5). Then what? Do we put on our armor and then hide? We have to stand for our faith and fight. We have to speak truth, take risks, inconvenience ourselves, and stick out our necks to win souls for Christ. Because there is no doubt in my mind that we are in the battle. It’s not coming – it’s already here.
I don’t mean to be all doom and gloom, but we are living in dangerous times. There are horrific things happening right now. Just because it’s not happening to us, or in front of us, or to someone we know directly, doesn’t negate the fact that atrocities are happening every single day. We share this world – we can’t turn our back on those who are most vulnerable. We can’t shield our eyes anymore or we will drown in our own ignorance.

Please do something. Anything.

OK, I’m getting off my shoebox now.