In the tradition of such renowned cities as New York, London and Milan, local designers teamed up with Union Station to kick off Kansas City’s Fashion Week (KCFW), which lasted Sept. 19 to Sept. 26 and showcased spring and summer collections for 2016. The event sought to mark Kansas City’s quest to rise in the world of fashion design, an industry which it originally dominated during the mid-20th century.

While the surprising influence of this area over fashion truly peaked in the 1940s, the movement was originally born in the aftermath of World War I. After having witnessed the glamour and splendor of European city life, soldiers and other overseas Americans aspired for Kansas City to achieve a similar atmosphere. The industrialization and urbanization movements soon left the once-agricultural, now-metropolitan area eager to prove itself in a changing world, and as such, downtown soon became home to the burgeoning Garments District. Through a blend of assembly-line efficiency and rigid standards of quality, Kansas City was the second-highest clothing producing city in the United States by the middle of the century. At its highest point, the city was producing one seventh of all women’s clothing purchased. But a new interstate highway in the 1960s and the rise of casual workwear brought an end to the factories and a stalling of the Kansas City fashion industry in general. However, it is currently going through a renaissance.

“I would say that designers in Kansas City stay a little more casual than designers in bigger cities,” said Leah Rutliff, William Jewell College junior communications, French and ACT-In major and KCFW’s Assistant to the Director of Media. “As a designer, you really need to focus on your target audience. While some of the designs are a little out there, most of our designers create ‘ready-to-wear’ looks.”

Rutliff, who mainly worked to generate interest for the event through social media, inviting media outlets and planning exclusive media events, received her first taste of the fashion world as Jewell’s first-ever Style Guru for the website College Fashionista, an internship she garnered from starting her own fashion blog. Having used her Journey Grant to experience London Fashion Week, she quickly embraced the hands-on work KCFW provides and aims to continue her work putting Kansas City on the style map. Despite past desires to move to a large city and work as a brand ambassador, the unique designers of the metropolitan area were a large factor in her decision to pursue a local fashion career, instead.

Courtesy of Leah Rutliff
Courtesy of Leah Rutliff

“My favorite KCFW designer is always Nataliya Meyer of Lucia’s Sarto. She’s very ‘Betsey Johnson meets DVF.’ Her designs are edgy and elegant. It’s a beautiful combination when done correctly,” said Rutliff.

Other attendees of the event included menswear label Paulie Gibson, Sarah Teresinki of the upcycled children’s brand Redeux Kidz, members of the accessories design house House of Cochon and women’s apparel and home décor designer Alexis Cook. Collections at the event spanned a variety of demographics and styles, showing both casual and formalwear items for men, women and children. During this show, KCFW also sought to give back to the community, teaming up with the organization Fair and Fashionable to raise awareness of tanning-induced skin cancer. All-in-all, the experience was not only a blend of creative expression and promotion of healthy beauty methods, but also a potential opportunity for Kansas City’s future reentry into the fashion world.

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