Washington’s Half-High Fashion

People in New York and Los Angeles are fond of labeling Washington “Hollywood for ugly people,” mainly because of the drab wardrobes of its inhabitants.

Even D.C. cave dwellers haven’t always disputed their less than chic reputations.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever lived in a city where the residents are so quick to trash talk their own,” explained Pulitzer Prize winning fashion critic Robin Givhan.

Well, things are changing, and a new documentary is challenging Washington’s dowdy image.

“The Politics of Fashion” is from writer and director Elaine Mensah, who worked at Deloitte as a management consultant for six years while writing about fashion for her own website.

In 2012, she was inspired to take the site to the next level with a film to counter a refrain she heard far too often: “There’s no fashion in D.C.”

“I wanted to show people that there is something here in D.C. that’s more than meets the eye.”

She interviewed some of the city’s best-known writers, bloggers, and scene-sters for their take on how the Washington aesthetic has evolved from power suits to a “a place where glamour can exist, ” explained Givhan.

Public relations executive and fashion-lover Aba Kwawu said she’d never consider “wearing my five-inch Louboutin heels” to a meeting on Capitol Hill 10 years ago, but today she doesn’t think twice.

In particular, Kwawu credits the luxury lifestyle magazines in the city that have cropped up the last several years for more fashion spreads featuring “local celebrities” and for writing about local fashion.

“Ten years ago 14th street was all hookers and heroin,” said Christopher Reiter, the owner of Muleh, a boutique in the area, which has become a prime shopping destination, along with Wisconsin Avenue, the city’s new “Rodeo Drive” thanks to a slew of new, luxury shops.

“We are one of the most economically sound cities, growing by leaps and bounds, ” said Lynda Erkiletian, who has run a modelling agency for twenty-five years.

All of the film’s commentators agreed that Michelle Obama, a fashion industry favorite, is a factor in raising Washington’s style quotient. “The Obamas widened the lens, but the icing was already on the cake,” said Reiter.

Fashion shows, however, in Washington got low marks from the film’s experts.

“There are so many people here who consider themselves fashionistas and they put on fashion shows that are horrible,” said event planner Andre Wells. “It’s embarrassing for the city. It’s not supposed to be a variety show.”

As the city makes progress and improves its standing among fashion observers, some speculate that Washington may one day have its own fashion week, like London and New York.

“I look forward to that day,” said Erkiletian.

“The Politics of Fashion” will be screened again at E Street Cinema on June 17 and soon be available on DVD.

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