.A World Apart

San Francisco Fashion Week touts bay eclecticism to the larger fashion scene.

From large local clothiers like Levi Strauss, bebe, and the Gap to boutique talent like Jessica McClintock and Eileen West, the very eclecticism of Bay Area fashion is what makes it so challenging to pin down its style aesthetic. And yet that’s just what San Francisco Fashion Week has set out to do the last three years.

This year, the program includes a Citywide Style campaign that highlights area trendsetters from haute socialites to fixie-bound nomads with a series of professional fashion shows, industry workshops, and a boutique featuring homegrown designers. The week is an opportunity for hungry fashionistas to get to know an ever-growing contingent of up-and-coming local talent and top fashion influencers.

Similar weeks in New York, Paris, and Milan feature celebrity designers, models, and guests surrounded by big-money store-buyers and top fashion journalists. It took the San Francisco version two years to even get noticed by publications ranging from Vogue and Women’s Wear Daily to Lucky, and although things have improved, a fashion fervor like that surrounding New York City runways hasn’t been so forthcoming.

It’s an open secret that the fashion world glimpses Los Angeles, overlooks San Francisco, and gives the East Bay, with all its flavor, the cold, bare shoulder. Which is why it’s noteworthy that two East Bay labels made the cut for 2007.

Vallejo-based Daniel and David Concepcion will unveil their streetwear label Dcepcion this week. The identical twins created the line as a response to the unflattering cookie-cutter designs of contemporary streetwear, and focus on tailored and slim silhouettes inspired equally by 1990s comic books and bebop styles of the ’30s and ’40s. They graduated from San Francisco State University’s Apparel Design and Merchandising program, and were selected as Fashion Week’s “Emerging Stars” in 2006.

Then there’s Berkeley designer Erica Varize, who embodies many of the elements that could help define Bay Area style and substance. Selling her pieces through grassroots distribution, the self-taught mother of two quit her job at Wells Fargo to focus on design in 2002. After being featured in the first SF Fashion Week in 2004, she opened EVarize Fashion Cafe in 2005.

Walking the precarious line between ready-to-wear and haute couture, the cut-and-sew element of the Fashion Cafe lets clients hand-pick one of Varize’s designs and have it tailored to their taste, while the rest of her selections focus on other local designers. Her eclectic mix of ’70s swank, Asian influences, and hot soccer mom in her ready-to-wear line was inspired by her busy lifestyle as a wife, mother, and entrepreneur who juggles creating urban retro-chic with PTA meetings and ballet recitals. It’s an edgy, body-conscious look. Varize says she’s heard from clients that it “makes a woman feel sexy and just on the edge of being bad.” Today her creations are carried by more than a dozen boutiques throughout California, as well as in Chicago and Las Vegas, and have been featured in many fashion shows.

Accompanying her prêt-a-porter line is a Measu’RED Red Knit Line developed by Erica and her husband Darryel to bring attention to the global fight against HIV and AIDS. She will give a portion of the proceeds from the line directly to AIDS-related charities, a socially conscious side that got her recognized in this paper’s 2007 Best of the East Bay issue.

While the East Bay is getting some regional props, the relative neglect of Northern California in the fashion world raises larger questions about where diversity fits into the whole scene. For while Vivienne Westwood, Jeremy Scott, John Galliano, and Alexander McQueen borrow heavily from traditional and street styles of the Americas, Caribbean, Africa, and Asia, often the only living representations of those cultures are found either walking on the runway or in the fey, imposing form of Vogue editor-at-large Leon Talley. Eclecticism may be the hallmark of contemporary haute couture, but its exclusivity is anathema to the inclusive ready-to-wear spirit of the vision these designers present.

San Francisco Fashion Week’s effort to include the East Bay will send a message to the city’s fashion community, and in time the eclectic, diverse, and inventive Bay Area style can start representing to the world at large.

D. Scot Miller
Managing Editor of The East Bay Express, Former Associate Editor of Oakland Magazine and Alameda Magazine, Columnist-In-Residence at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)'s Open Space, Advisory Board Member of Nocturnes Journal of Literary Arts, and regular contributor to several newspapers, websites and magazines. Miller is the founder of The Afrosurreal Arts Movement through his publication of The Afrosurreal Manifesto in The San Francisco Bay Guardian, May 20, 2009.
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