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STYLE: Sixth Midwest Fashion Week rolls up its sleeves

March 13, 2010

When Berny Martin, founder of the clothing line Catou Couture, put together the first Midwest Fashion Week in 2006, it was a great party. It seemed everyone in Indianapolis with a sewing machine wanted to participate and everyone with an evening gown wanted to attend.

The four events he’s spearheaded in the years since have yielded growing crowds and interest. But he says the 2010 event, which runs through March 20 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, is less about the party and more about the business.  

“I want designers to have a chance at selling something this year,” Martin said. “It’s taken me three years to convince boutique owners I have something to offer them.” Martin’s move toward a more seller-friendly event is opposite of the spectacle New York Fashion Week has become. There, the clamoring for the famed “front row” now has less to do with retail credentials and more to do with celebrity status.

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People like Rihanna and Beyonce would not have occupied a front-row seat in the early days (when it was called Press Week). In fact, they wouldn’t have been invited at all. Fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert created the event in 1943 to prove American fashion could thrive without French influence.

Before the Germans occupied France in 1940, American fashion professionals traveled to Paris to view the runway. With those resources no longer available, Lambert made the first push for editors to write about American designers and their independent genius.

Fashion Week began as a publicity tool, something meant only for those who would later broadcast the latest trends, either through retail or published means.

In Lambert’s day, all the shows took place in a central location, like the Plaza hotel. Martin hopes to use similar tactics for Midwest Fashion Week. He plans to incorporate elements of Indianapolis culture into this year’s show, with race car drivers appearing as runway models, IndyFringe hosting a fashion theater event, and local boutiques housing other events.

Style This gown by Jorge Del Busto, is among the eyecatchers at Midwest Fashion Week, led by Berny Martin. (Photo Courtesy Polina Osherov)

“Eventually, I’d like Indianapolis to be a hub for Midwestern buyers,” Martin said. “They won’t have to fly to New York to find merchandise if I bring it to them here.”

But it’s not all about Indianapolis. Martin has widened his scope of models, designers and targeted sales markets. Models from Louisville and Chicago will walk the runway, designers from New York and Alaska will show their collections, and boutique owners from neighboring states will attend.

The talent may be largely Midwestern, but sometimes publicity strategies have to take on an East Coast mentality, Martin said.

“I took a more serious approach this year. Instead of asking personally, I had a PR firm in New York call boutique owners to generate interest.”

Designers showing their collections this week include Emilliner, Catherine Fritsch, Gaby Couture and Martin’s collection, Catou Couture.

Despite the strides Martin has made with Midwest Fashion Week, he knows there’s still much work to be done.

“I’d like [Indianapolis] to become part of the shopping elite, where people fly in to view collections and make purchases. It’s completely possible,” he said.•

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If you’d like to share your own style ideas or know anyone who’s making waves in the fashion community, contact Gabrielle at gposhadlo@ibj.com. This column appears monthly.

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