NBA All-Star event puts spotlight on diverse designers

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Langston Christopher is one of three Indianapolis-based fashion designers who will be featured at “Indy Noire.” His company, Langston Christopher Atelier, will present 12 examples of women’s wear in the show. (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Fashion designer Langston Christopher describes his style as Old Hollywood jutting against 1980s party vibe. A woman wearing a gown he designed exudes cool, perhaps casually holding a hot dog while making her way to a Brooklyn nightclub.

“She doesn’t have to try so hard,” Christopher said. “She’s wearing the most scandalous of items, but it’s also very clean and looks high fashion. But you can tell that she’s not going to the opera.”

Christopher, 29, makes clothes—literally, by sewing his own fabric—in Indianapolis. During NBA All-Star Weekend, a high-profile couture event will come to town and provide a platform for his work.

He’s one of three Indianapolis designers, along with Monty Matuka and Berny Martin, participating in Sip & Marvel’s “Indy Noire” show Feb. 15 at the Indiana Roof Ballroom.

DeAndra Alex

The NBA weekend has become a destination for Sip & Marvel because it’s a place where athletes, entertainers and influencers gather, said co-founder De’Andra Alex.

“The celebrities are already there,” said Alex, who organized past Sip & Marvel fashion shows when the NBA All-Star Game was played in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2019 and in Chicago in 2020.

The “Indy Noire” edition of Sip & Marvel also will showcase designers from New York and Los Angeles. Tickets are priced at $75 to $200.

Alex said Sip & Marvel was established to highlight the work of Black designers, who are underrepresented in their industry. In 2022, Black designers made up 4% of the members of the Council of Fashion Designers trade association.

“I plan to shake up the fashion industry in my own way and provide this upscale, New York Fashion Week-style platform that designers of color can present on,” Alex said.

Martin, who designs clothes for his company, Catou LLC, founded Midwest Fashion Week in Indianapolis in 2006.

Matuka’s company, MELI, established partnerships with the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Motor Speedway to design upscale sportswear in 2023. The company’s name is an acronym for “More Equality, Less Ignorance.”

Alex said Matuka, Sip & Marvel’s fashion director, helped spark the event’s revival.

Although the pandemic could be perceived as the primary factor for no Sip & Marvel shows since 2020, personal reasons played a bigger role.

Alex was diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer in April 2020, and Sip & Marvel co-founder and former NFL player Chris Smith died last April at age 31.

Without Matuka encouraging her to present a Sip & Marvel event in Indianapolis, Alex said, it likely would not have happened.

A new purpose of the event is to extend Smith’s legacy, Alex said.

“He was a close friend to me,” she said. “He became a brother for me.”

Smith, a defensive end on seven NFL teams, initially hired public relations specialist Alex to help increase his involvement in communities where he played.

“Chris loved fashion,” Alex said. Together, they established Chris’ Closet Creative Arts Program for underserved youth, and Sip & Marvel was founded to fund that initiative.

Sip & Marvel attracts NFL players, Alex said, and ads for the event include imagery of footballs and basketballs.

Athletes in both the NBA and NFL have heightened roles in the world of fashion, thanks to blanket documentation of what players wear when arriving at arenas and stadiums—also known as “tunnel fits.”

At the beginning of the current NBA season, two-time MVP Stephen Curry partnered with shopping platform Rakuten and the Black in Fashion Council to commit to wearing clothes by Black designers such as New York-based Head of State and Savant Studios.

“We’re not just seeing athletes in your typical Balmain or Balenciaga,” Alex said. “They’re wearing New York Fashion Week-style clothing. It also creates opportunities for the stylists who work with these athletes because they’re more relevant. They can go out to different designers to dress these athletes.”

Glitz and glamour

Christopher’s company, Langston Christopher Atelier, will present 12 examples of women’s wear for Sip & Marvel in Indianapolis.

Leather, lace and diamonds is the theme for “Indy Noire,” and Christopher said he’s drawing design inspiration from Harry Winston—the jeweler name-checked in the song “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” sung by Marilyn Monroe in the 1953 film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

Alex said she’s impressed by Christopher’s ability to create dresses from scratch.

“Artists design on canvases,” she said. “Designers are artists through textiles and fabrics.”

After working as a wardrobe stylist for the Michael Kors store at the Fashion Mall at Keystone, Christopher launched his design company in 2019.

“I can go into sewing mode and look up, and it’s three days later,” said the Arsenal Tech High School alum. “It’s so enjoyable to me because it’s such an art form.”

Christopher said he appreciates Sip & Marvel’s mission to promote designers of color. The former model said he’s seen an increase in the number of models, photographers, makeup artists and hair stylists of color in recent years.

There’s a bottom-line argument for inclusion, Christopher said.

“If you’re trying to sell a product to one demographic, you don’t have people of other races looking at your work, and they’re not seeing themselves in your work,” he said. “I feel like it’s a disservice to your brand and your business.”

The Sip & Marvel fashion show at Chicago’s Adler Planetarium during the 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend was the last presented. “Indy Noire” will end the four-year drought. (Photo courtesy of Sip & Marvel)

A $70 billion issue

According to a 2023 report published by the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, Black Americans are expected to spend $70 billion a year on apparel and footwear by 2030—reflecting an annual growth rate of 6%.

Alex said it’s discouraging to see companies not owned by Black entrepreneurs use Black culture for brand-building.

“They go to the athletes or entertainers to build their brands, but those same companies don’t give back to the very communities they use to help them scale and promote their business,” she said.

Meanwhile, less than 10% of undergraduates at the top six U.S. fashion schools were Black students in 2020, according to a report published by the Council of Fashion Designers of America and PVH Corp., parent company of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.

When Alex speaks with Black designers about what they need to succeed, they mention access to manufacturing and financing, she said.

Once clothes are made and ready to sell, designers frequently face retail roadblocks.

“In order to get into a retail store, there has to be a section for Black designers,” she said. “That’s a problem. It should not be about that racial divide.”

Matuka launched MELI in 2020 after the first-generation Congolese American worked as an image consultant for the Saks Fifth Avenue store at the Fashion Mall at Keystone. Alex said she met Matuka when he traveled with a Saks team to work at the Chicago edition of Sip & Marvel.

In addition to presenting clothes as part of the “Indy Noire” show at the Indiana Roof Ballroom, 140 W. Washington St., Matuka will have MELI items for sale at All-Star pop-ups in Circle Centre Mall and the former Rock Bottom Brewery location, 10 W. Washington St.

“We have to create our own table and not ask for other people to let us sit at their table,” Alex said.

Stepping out

Laura Walters

Erica Scott

Erica Scott and Laura Walters work as personal wardrobe consultants in Indianapolis. Scott said many of her clients are “everyday women” seeking advice after the pandemic dissipated.

“A lot of people feel like they’ve lost their grasp on what their style is,” Scott said. “My job is to reignite that love or even rebrand them if they have had changes.”

Walters, who specializes in luxury clothing, said this is a time to be less inhibited.

“I’ve seen a lot of people want to dress up again,” she said. “When you get dressed for an event or you get dressed to go out to dinner, it creates an energy. I think people were missing that. I love seeing all of the events happening in Indianapolis, and All-Star is a perfect example.”

Scott said she produced her first fashion show when she was a student at Broad Ripple High School.

“Fashion has been a way for me to express myself,” she said. “When I was of age to work behind the scenes and produce something, I jumped at the chance.”

Scott presently owns Fly’s Nest Vintage, an online resale boutique focused on vintage clothing and sustainable fashion for women. She founded the concept in 2007.

“Thrifting vintage and sustainable fashion is far more well-received than it was when I was growing up,” Scott said. “It was looked down on and shunned. But now it is just burgeoning, and a lot of people are going down that route, which I love to see.”

Zionsville native Walters has made her Style Riot company a full-time job for nine years.

It’s not easy, she acknowledged, to build a fashion career here.

“You have to hustle a bit, but I worked hard at getting connected within the fashion community as much as possible and trying to have my hands in a lot of different veins of the creative community of Indianapolis,” Walters said. “I think it opened a lot of doors to working with some amazing individuals who are very interested in fashion.”

Walters said she gravitates toward authentic, singular designers.

“I love designers who are courageous and stay true to themselves,” she said. “I don’t want to see anything that looks like anything else. I want to see people make their individual mark in what they’re doing.”•

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