RVA Fashion Week returns: Local designers bring individuality to in-person events

RJ Brands Custom presents looks from their spring collection at RVA Fashion Week’s Look Good, Feel Good streetwear fashion show on April 27. Photos by Megan Lee

Ebonique Little, Spectrum Editor

With gowns featuring large hoop skirts, oversized puff sleeves, ruffles and feathers, designer Azi Blas knows no bounds. 

“I’m global,” said Blas, who has been designing clothes since the ’70s. “My mentality is not dictated by a person, place or thing.”

At the 13th Annual Richmond Fashion Week, Blas presented his Blas Couture six-piece spring collection, which featured couture evening wear. The livestreamed and in-person event, which ran from April 24 to May 2, also hosted nearly 20 other designers and fashion retailers with an array of styles. 

“I don’t really carry an aesthetic,” Blas said. “It’s what my customer wants. Sometimes it’s simple, sometimes it’s eclectic, sometimes it’s super chic, cutting edge.”

This year’s lineup included a print release party for fashion magazine VA Style, streetwear and vintage fashion shows, a high-fashion runway show and a fashion panel discussion, which focused on inspiring a new generation of creatives.

“I’ve been doing it for a long time,” Blas said. “Sometimes it’s exciting and sometimes it’s very stressful. It’s real life, and life on its terms.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year’s RVAFW event was moved to October and held mostly online. However, this spring’s iteration of fashion week used a blend of virtual, outdoor and limited capacity indoor events.

Ryan Azia, executive director of RVAFW, said the preparation this year was challenging. The executive team had to “strike a delicate balance” of how many people they actually needed to perform the show versus how many guests could safely attend.

“Regulations played a massive role in what we could and could not do, so timing and having a dynamic team ready to go once decisions were made was so important for everyone,” Azia stated in an email interview.

Education, wellness and charity were prominent themes of this year’s curated events; a sewing workshop and sunrise yoga session that focused on mental health concluded the week. The group donated proceeds of Wednesday’s Arts District Dinner Fashion show ticket sales to Feed More, a food bank that services central Virginia. 

“We’re proud to contribute to our economy, community, arts and culture,” Jimmy Budd, executive producer of RVAFW, stated in a press release. “Since our launch more than a decade ago, we continue to see synergy among fashion designers, hair and makeup artists, photographers, models and entrepreneurs.”

Tirtha Ratnam, a senior interdisciplinary studies major at VCU, said she has been modeling for RVAFW since her freshman year. She said she had always been curious about modeling and was happy to get her start through an open call.

At this year’s show, Ratnam said she participated in two shows — Tuesday’s Look Good, Feel Good show at the Hofheimer Venue and Saturday’s Designer Fashion Show at Common House. Ratnam said the former show had an energetic crowd and felt like a “party,” while the latter was a sit-down dinner, with more sophisticated designs.

“It was really fun,” Ratnam said. “The vibes of each of the shows were super different.”

Ratnam walked for several brands, including TT the Brand, Mama Jo’s, Rumors Boutique, Blas Couture and Talia Addie. She said the runway looks from Mama Jo’s were the most special to her.

“The designer’s mother was like the artist that inspired his whole collection, which was very sweet,” Ratnam said.

Ratnam said the preparation for this year’s show was different than what she experienced in years past. She said the models generally spend a lot of time together at dress fittings and workshops that teach them how to walk, but this year they scheduled these appointments individually.

Despite the infrequent interaction, Ratnam said she still felt very connected to the other participants.

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“There was just a really great energy between all of the designers and all of the models,” Ratnam said. “Even though we were only there for a few hours, by the end of it, everyone was just super cool, kind of like wanting to link up again.”

James Crump, co-owner of The Spot, said the opportunity to connect with other businesses was an exciting factor of RVAFW.

“As a Black-owned brand, just being able to collaborate with different brands in Virginia, different brands in other places — other than Richmond is cool,” Crump said. “And we try to focus on collaborating with other Black-owned businesses as well, just so people know we can work together and still create good products.”

The Spot is a streetwear retail store in Richmond’s Arts District, founded in 2020 by seven local entrepreneurs. The Spot is a collective brand, while the store also acts as a hub for the owners’ individual clothing lines, Crump said.

Crump owns Original Players, a nostalgic streetwear brand. Its clothing makes reference to notable figures in pop culture, such as Michael Jordan.

“Basically our focus is on paying homage to the people who came before us and kind of started stuff in various industries, whether it’s sports, music, entertainment, politics,” Crump said.

Crump said RVAFW was The Spot’s first fashion show, and the owners mixed and matched their different brands in the runway looks to reflect their collaborative efforts. He said one of his favorite looks — a “modern ’70s vintage vibe” which featured a tie-dye logo shirt, bell bottoms and Nike Dunk Low sneakers — received high praise.

“One of The Spot’s main goals is to bring awareness to Virginia creatives and put Virginia on the map,” Crump said.

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