The 2021 “West 18th Street Fashion Show” hit the pavement with style
On June 12, West 18th Street between Baltimore and Wyandotte was transformed into an interactive fashion experience. It was a living, breathing, psychedelic, neon-go-go boot-wearing, socially conscious and self-aware, kink-friendly, and full of fantasy experience. In short, it was a spectacle to behold.
The “West 18th Street Fashion Show” was back in person for its 21st annual show, after a year on the silver screen, and Kansas Citians were here for it.
The show has a history of being more than an event. An amalgamation of designers, musicians, artists, models, and of course, the observers come together as an experience unlike a traditional runway show. In the past, models have used the pavement of 18th street as an improvised runway, with onlookers standing on the sidewalk taking in the designer’s clothes.
This year, the show’s theme was “Summer Tableau” and featured elaborate backdrops that designers and onlookers were able to interact with. Instead of a runway, visitors would walk by each tableau, which featured a group of models or motionless figures representing a scene from a story or from history.
“The tableaus were each so unique, the designs were so polished, and I don’t think the models will ever have as great of a time as they did at this show,” says Celeste Lupercio, senior producer for the event. “I am so blessed to be a part of a Kansas City community that includes the architects and designers that partnered with us. I wish the night had lasted longer.”
The seven scenes were made in conjunction with the designers’ collections and completed primarily with JE Dunn Construction. In all, the show came together using seven award-winning architecural teams—Helix, BNIM, Dake Wells Architecture, DRAW Architecture + Urban Design, Gould Evans, Hufft, and Pendulum—and the well-established construction teams of JE Dunn, A.L. Huber, McCownGordon Construction, Monarch Build, PARIC, and Straub Construction.
“The fashion designers, architects, and contractors all worked as teams. The goal was to make a spectacular event, but we all recognized that the temporary nature of this shouldn’t be resource-inefficient,” Architect Jay Tomlinson says. “Everyone did a lot with a little, and almost everything we created was either made from recycled materials, could be recycled itself, or both. The collaboration was really cool.”
Each installation served as a backdrop for the artists’ collections and space for the models to pose as well as being built in coordination with each artist’s theme. The laissez-faire format created more free movement within the event, which allowed for a unique interaction that a traditional runway show lacks. Viewers were able to meander and explore each of the seven tableaus at their own pace while the models remained in the same space.
The themes of the tableaus ranged from county fair chic to futuristic barbie doll, to BLSFM (Black Lives Still Fucking Matter). The common thread along the installations was the clothing—all collections from local Kansas City artists.
Marley Polka was exhibiting her collection, The Cult of Polka, for the first time after working her way up to a featured designer.
“For a couple of years I’ve volunteered, modeled, I’ve done everything I could to work my way up into being a featured designer,” Polka, a 2021 graduate of KCAI says. “This is kind of like a personal story, talking about growth and evolution and metamorphosis. The butterfly is part of the theme, like ‘growing and evolving,’ and you see the straps that represent constraints within yourself, and then you’re growing and you’re finding your light.”
Polka’s theme was especially poignant as Kansas City slowly starts to break out of its COVID-19 shell.
Not all that were attending were there for the fashion. Quinton Dancer said he was attending the event after his girlfriend won tickets at her work.
“I’m excited just to be out and doing something like this,” Dancer says. “I don’t know a lot about fashion, but we’re happy just to be here, with the music and everyone.”
Birdies, a longstanding lingerie store on West 18th St, joined with KC artist BoundtoNothing to create a sensual, speakeasy mood interlacing shibari and lingerie.
“This is an art form called shibari, and it’s based a lot in kink and the BDSM realm,” BoundtoNothing says. “My intention is to bring this into a more beautiful, artistic light, instead of leaving it in that dark realm. Because I think this is accessible as an art form for many people.”
The models faced onlookers on an ornate couch with lace lingerie and rope fashioned in the shibari technique—like a Greek portrait with a modern twist.
Mason Minc, the creator and designer of 3Minc, does not fit the profile of a conventional fashion designer. He’s tall, has an athletic build, and confessed that he played basketball growing up before deciding to become a designer. He challenges the norms of what a fashion designer looks like and his work calls out the stereotypes of masculinity in fashion. His design for the event, All The Juice, focused on showcasing what would happen if the fashion of the 1960s and 1970s took place a century later in 2069. The models adorned the tableau in garments highlighted in bold, neon colors reminiscent of the disco era, but with futuristic designs. They stood on platforms facing the crowd conjuring a space-age barbie theme.
Craig Rhoner’s collection, Blue Ribbon, evoked county fair and down-home, barnyard emotions.
“In my youth, being 15 or 16-years-old, I loved to go to the county fair for a couple of reasons, and most of them were to look at hot women,” Rhoner says. “I’m not interested in creating a brand, I’m more interested in creating experiences like what you’re having right now.”
The model’s worn t-shirts cut hard at the waist to emphasize the curves of their bodies. The tableau evoked emotions of daydreaming about your crush—and included phallic imagery.
While the event explored the fashion of inner and outer beauty, Designer Dionne Holt drew inspiration from the silent gesture at the podium of the 1968 Olympics along with the civil and women’s rights movements of the 1960s.
Her design, S’il Vous Plait, showcased plus-sized women sporting 1960s style afros and bright-colored clothing styled in a fashion similar to blaxploitation films of the past. The models held posters with faces of black men and women killed by police buoyed by the letters BLSFM—Black Lives Still Fucking Matter.
“The women are plus-sized, which you don’t see a lot in fashion,” Holt elaborated. “You either support these women or you don’t, you can’t do that quietly. You either stand for something or fall for anything. With what’s going on in the world today, if you’re quiet about it then you agree with it, you are complacent about what’s going it.”
The event was capped by musical performances by Calvin Arsenia, Mike Dillon, and Nikki Glaspie.
The fashion show was a big step toward normalcy post-COVID-19, and an important opportunity to platform local artists’ voices about important issues. The variety of tableaus highlighted the importance of having a diversity of voices and artistic styles, which was magnified by the diversity of people in attendance.
Photos by Chris Ortiz