Story by Christina Amano Dolan
Photos by Allyson Gailey
The night began with an old brick building of sheer black – simple and modest from the outside – but as the doors opened, I was immediately immersed in the atmosphere of booming music, stimulating club lights, excited movements of models being pampered and polished, and racks and racks of colorful clothing. I had walked backstage into the world of fashion – both chaotic and glamorous – watching as young talent swirled in an excited blur around me, racing to add the finishing touches to a night of pure perfection.
The Broadberry concert venue set the perfect stage for a charming night. Its chic, modern layout combined with vintage artwork, elegant glass chandeliers, and intimate space surrounding the walkway added to the fashion show’s charisma. The locally-famous and talented DJ Syren blared her catchy, unique remixes through the club speakers, entertaining the trickling-in crowd of all ages before the show even began. The night’s host was , Kelli Lemon, a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) alumnus and popular figure in Richmond, with an impressive background of hosting and arranging events. Lemon constantly kept the crowd energetic, laughing, and seated in between sets. Without Lemon’s knack for entertaining a crowd, the Model Your Heart Charity Fashion Show wouldn’t have been the same.
It was a night of endless excitement, flourishing with inspired fashion, fresh music performances, and, of course, charity – all made possible by the young talent of Richmond. The Executive Director of Model Your Heart (and recent VCU alumnus), Rondell Tucker, was especially instrumental in the success of the second annual charity fashion show. Although he is young, he already has expertise in the world of fashion, as he spent much of his college life modeling for GroupMODA – Richmond’s first student-run fashion organization – and other local events. He used his connections and leadership skills to collaborate with young talent all over the city. “My goal is to help develop models and other young talent,” Tucker explained over a phone interview with me. “I’m a person who loves collaboration… My goal, as I have already developed a platform, is to share my platform with the young, talented minds of Richmond.”
He accomplished just that, as the night was far from amateur work. It was hard to believe many of the designers and stylists had never showcased their work in a fashion show before, the tech and stage crew were not much older than myself, and many of the models were even VCU students. The two music performances by Mic (not yet available on iTunes) and SwitchinLanes (album out on iTunes: Rhythm of Heaven) were young, up-and-coming local artists with exciting spins on hip hop and R&B music, keeping the crowd bumping their heads and some even singing along. With a night jam-packed with young talent, Model Your Heart successfully exemplified how the city of Richmond and other areas of the East Coast are truly rich in culture, creativity, and gifted young minds.
But of course, the night wouldn’t be as impressive and admirable without its main purpose: giving back to the community. Built from the ground-up, the program started out extremely successful, with sold-out tickets for the first-annual fashion show. This year, Rondell Tucker was recruited by Ernest M. Weaver III, the founder of Model Your Heart, as they had met through mutual connections from GroupMODA.
As Tucker has always been philanthropic in the past, he was able to partner Model Your Heart with other proactive organizations: FeedTheStreetsRVA and Richmond Cycling Corps. FeedTheStreetsRVA’s president, Cory Jones, had taken the mic at the event to describe the nature of his organization and its immense impact on the poverty-ridden community of Richmond. His organization aims at improving the lives of both children and their families with tremendous results.
Richmond Cycling Corps is an extremely impactful organization as well, investing in inner-city youth over the past eight years, training them to cycle and ultimately changing their lives for the better. Its president, Craig Dodson, later introduced his organization to the crowd. He modestly explained his charity but instead touched the crowd with his personal connections to Rondell Tucker, as Dodson is a mentor to his little brother, and how in awe he was of the sense of community in the room. With all three organizations partnering with one another, it is plain to see how connected and compassionate our community can be in changing the lives of those around us – in fun and light-hearted ways such as hosting a fashion show! From the words of Rondell Tucker: “Fashion is just a way to connect other people – to connect nonprofits with one another.”
Now onto the main attraction: the clothes! All eye-catching and intricate, honoring the autumn season with mostly dark pastel colors. The first line introduced was by Masako Yamaguchi, a men’s clothing designer, from her Militia lookbook. The line’s clothing were all variations of the same outfit, yet unique in their own ways. The first look was an olive green jacket and matching pants fused with stripes of khaki, popping colors of red, and subtly-colored patches stitched into the chest and sleeves, tying the fall colors together. Another look, keeping the theme of a soft olive green, was a long trench coat with an arresting tiger patch on the back. The staple piece of Masako’s line was the blending of the soft and the striking – with autumn colors and a flash of red, and with a fairly simple outfit with elaborate patches.
Twelve Boat, a line by Matthew Jonathan, steered the fashion show in a different direction. Breaking slightly away from the theme of subtle fall colors, he introduced a variety of different looks. The first was a look of neon, with a vibrant orange shirt decorated with a red wallet sewn into the front and busy neon-pink zigzagged pants. The next look was entirely different as it was a denim outfit, fairly simple with a jean jacket and pants with white paint stripes down the side of each sleeve and leg. Another was a sweatshirt outfit, with a cropped top paired boldly with a bright red winter jacket tied around the waist. The most unique look of the line was a neon orange cropped sweatshirt with its sleeves very long and draped down each leg, green sweatpants, and buckled pink ties wrapped around a leg and an arm. Matthew Jonathon also introduced his men’s clothing with looks and colors fairly similar to the women’s clothing. Each of his looks were so carefully crafted, touched with a stylized element unique to Jonathon’s artistic vision. Matthew Jonathan explored many different styles in a single clothing line, making each outfit an exciting surprise.
A Brief line showcased was a pageant line by (stunning the audience) a five-year-old named, Brooklyn! The gowns were breathtaking, embroidered with glittering jewels and paired always with petite tiaras. Brooklyn herself left the crowd in awe as she glided down the runway in a beautiful blue gown and a giant tiara, throwing up a little peace sign as the cameras adored her.
The last but certainly-not-least line introduced was by Destin’ee Nicole. Nicole’s line seemed to follow a bird theme, as she explored many different variations of peacock designs and feathered material. The first look was a shimmery blue dress paired with a feathered cardigan of navy blue and bright gold sequins. The next one kept the same colors, with a sparkled gold, tight-fit dress with a peacock-feathered trim. Nicole varied her line, contrasting inspired feather-themed outfits with an outfit of midnight black: a velvet black dress paired with a black fur coat, black velvet hat, and black sunglasses. Destin’ee Nicole’s line was the perfect way to conclude the fashion show, as her work was a flourish of distinct and artistic trends, revealing the limitless nature of the art of fashion.