From mid-life career changes to side hustles, designers showing their first fashion week collections are set to become breakout stars.
D.C. Fashion Week will showcase 38 fashion designers from around the DMV area at various venues Thursday through Sunday. The shows will feature fall and winter collections for 2018. At the press preview Wednesday night, the freshest looks came from designers with the least runway experience.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the newest designers turning heads on the fashion week runway:
Malcolm’s Custom-Made-to-Fit by Malcolm Staples
LaMarr Woodley, former linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers and other NFL teams, displays wedding photos featuring 23 groomsmen in iridescent, dark gray tuxedos. Donning identical suits lined up shoulder-to-shoulder, the wedding party models the work of local designer and his uncle, Malcolm Staples.
Born into a family of tailors, Staples left his job in finance to create custom suits. After making suits for his NFL player nephew, Staples quickly expanded to work with other famous clients like former MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts, Atlanta Falcons linebacker Courtney Upshaw and Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green.
“It was always something burning on the inside,” Staples said. “I hit the ground running and haven’t looked back since.”
At his first appearance in D.C. Fashion Week, Staples will present his style of menswear which he defines as “vintage elegance.” Staples, who grew up alongside his tailor grandfather, said he looked up to him as a role model for style.
“I’ve always been enamored with men and women who dressed up and put jackets on,” Staples said. “As a young kid, I would only see my grandfather wearing immaculate suits.”
Staples worked in finance for nine years before he began his business based in Clinton, Mass. – Malcolm’s Custom-Made-to-Fit.
“I don’t see this as work, I just see it as a continuation of something I love doing. I put everything that I have into a suit,” he said.
Staples’ suits can range from $600 to $1,200. They are priced on the higher end because he avoids machinery in his work and hand sews the majority of his suits.
At Malcolm’s Custom-Made-to-Fit, each suit includes Staples’ signature detail: wide peak lapels, which are most often seen on tuxedo suits.
“Style is an attitude, fashion will evolve. But it will always come back to its foundation,” Staples said. “No matter what the trends are at that time, a really strong suit will never be irrelevant.”
Maison Chazelle by Chaza Betenjane
In her home country of Syria, Chaza Betenjane served as a personal stylist. After she immigrated to the U.S. with her children several years ago, Betenjane decided fashion was her future.
At D.C. Fashion Week, Betenjane will debut her favorite designs on the runway. Betenjane’s Georgetown company, Maison Chazelle, designs tops that women can wear at any occasion.
As a personal stylist, Betenjane discovered that most women couldn’t find basic, comfortable tops to wear on a daily basis. As a designer, she made it her personal duty to create the ideal shirt for any outfit or ocassion.
“I combine the sophistications of an old couture top and the soft feeling of a comfy t-shirt,” she said. “You can wear them with jeans, with sneakers. You can wear them with a dressy bottom and heels. You can wear them day or night.”
Ultimately, Betenjane wants her shirts to give women more time to focus on themselves and less time to worry about how to dress.
“My message in this show is to let a woman be a woman,” Betenjane said.
Betenjane’s debut at D.C. Fashion week also includes a ladybug on each of her designs as a reminder of her symbol of inner strength.
“For me, she’s the fashionista of the animals,” she said. “She always behaves with love and life. She’s so brave. A drop of rain is as big as she is and she survives.”
Stéphane Koerwyn by Stéphane Koerwyn
After three years as a French marketing director for Coca-Cola, designer Stéphane Koerwyn changed his career path and began creating dresses out of aluminum instead.
Featured across the world in cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Paris, Koerwyn’s new career started in the visual arts and launched at full speed into the fashion world three years ago.
His signature works are dresses that he makes from painted aluminum, which can be bought for 2,000 euros each. The dress is lightweight but does not allow for sitting, so customers often display Koerwyn’s works as sculptures.
“I love aluminum because it’s so smooth and I love the light it reflects. It’s easier to paint on aluminum than canvas. After I painted on aluminum, I discovered I can shape it,” Koerwyn said. “It’s like going to my old job. I used to think out-of-the-box. Now, I think out-of-the-frame.”
For his debut at D.C. Fashion Week, Koerwyn will feature 18 different dresses. Some of the models wear pure aluminum dresses, while others will don styles like aluminum corsets with feathered skirts or headbands fashioned from the metal.
Flowerbaum by Donna Henderson
Donna Henderson’s career as a fashion designer is more of an alter ego. By day, Henderson works as a management specialist at the Smithsonian, but after work, she recreates the wardrobes of classic movies.
Inspired by the 1957 movie “An Affair to Remember,” Henderson decided to open a business that would bring the dresses of the post-war era to the modern age.
“I am a lover of classic movies and I’ve always admired the beautiful garments and the dresses the women wore,” Henderson said. “They just had these clothes on that just embodied feminism as well as showed character. They looked like they felt good in them.”
Henderson’s postwar aesthetic is not the only inspiration for Flowerbaum. She makes her clothes out of wrinkle-free fabrics and designs her dresses without buttons or zippers.
“I found myself so uncomfortable in today’s clothes,” Henderson said. “I would have to hold my stomach in, pulling my clothes and tucking in. So, I use strong fabrics that adapt to your body. They stretch with any body shape, any body type.”
This year marks Henderson’s first time in D.C. Fashion Week where she will show a black two-piece fringed playsuit as well as a sequined two-piece outfit.
With fashion as her second career, Henderson said it shows that anyone can follow their passions.
“Look at me,” Henderson said. “I am doing D.C. Fashion Week and I could barely sew a basic top two years ago.”