At Christian Fashion Week, the Higher the Heel, the Closer to Heaven

JoJo Shaw, center, 34, of Tampa, Fla., bowed her head in a backstage prayer. Leading the prayer, Mayra Gomez, a founder of Christian Fashion Week, asked for everyone on the runway to be safe and for God to allow everyone in the audience to be open-minded about what Christian fashion is all about. (Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times)
JoJo Shaw, center, 34, of Tampa, Fla., bowed her head in a backstage prayer. Leading the prayer, Mayra Gomez, a founder of Christian Fashion Week, asked for everyone on the runway to be safe and for God to allow everyone in the audience to be open-minded about what Christian fashion is all about. (Melissa Lyttle for The New York Times)

As Tom Ford presented his fall 2015 collection in the modern Sodom of Los Angeles, and Marc Jacobs tended his “garden in hell” in Gotham-Gomorrah, around 300 Christians were gathering here for a fashion extravaganza of their own.

There were no buyers from Bergdorf Goodman, or celebrities moving in slow security phalanxes. But Jayson and Silva Emerian, a Presbyterian couple from Fresno, Calif., were among the spectators Feb. 20 at the Vault, a bank turned party space downtown. “I’m just here to support my wife,” said Mr. Emerian, a general contractor.

Mrs. Emerian was gathering material for her blog, On My Shoebox.

“She’s big on shoes,” Mr. Emerian explained.

“Who isn’t?” said Mrs. Emerian, nudging him playfully before turning serious. “I think fashion is so important because it really represents yourself — how you see yourself, how you want others to see you. I want to show the young girls in our church that you can be stylish and still have a strong faith.”

Or, as Mr. Emerian said, “You don’t have to look like a slut.”

The models who would come down the runway shortly thereafter, however, were hardly dressed like nuns. Though none of the 11 designers scheduled for the hourlong presentation showed anything as outré as the utterly transparent dress Mr. Jacobs had offered, or Mr. Ford’s top cut to the solar plexus, there were plenty of skintight leggings, thigh-grazing miniskirts and clingy T-shirts among the women, even as many of the men donned monastic hoods.

Ah, well, as the old throw pillow goes, “The higher the heel, the closer to heaven.”

The issue of feminine modesty has bedeviled Christian Fashion Week, as it is known, though this year the runway show was confined to one evening. The rest is a series of parties, panels and prayer circles, founded three years ago by two other married couples: Jose Gomez, an entrepreneur who, among many other projects, helps churches amp up their Web presence; Mayra Gomez, a former model who once appeared on Janice Dickinson’s reality show and now runs TruModel, a mentoring program for young women; Tamy Lugo, a stylist; and Wil Lugo, a graphic designer.

In their objective to remake the cold and cruel fashion world with love, sweet love, they summon to mind the Paul Mazursky movie “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” minus the infidelity and wife-swapping.

Mr. Gomez, who has a goatee and kindly manner, and is also an ordained minister, is the obvious leader of the group. The night before the fashion show, he huddled on a stiff modernist couch in the lobby of the Aloft hotel at a “V.I.P. Rendezvous” attended by models, stylists and audience members paying up to $50 for admission, and explained how his creation has evolved from a simple showcase for designers who happened to be Christian.

“Really quickly we found out how hard that was,” he said. “The designers that wear Christianity on their sleeve are not that good, and the ones that are really good don’t wear it on their sleeves.” (Indeed, only one of this year’s designers, Jean Huni of London, had an overt religious reference in her brand, Messiah Couture, which offered gowns to rival Badgley Mischka’s. Another, Constance Franklin, with a trousseau-inspired collection that included high-waist red pants and a big white hat, said she had been inspired by the futuristic, geometric buildings she saw on trips to Abu Dhabi and Dubai.)

The four then decided to challenge designers, secular ones as well, to make conservative clothes “for that modest, covered Christian woman,” Mr. Gomez said. “We’re not talking about Muslim Fashion Week.” (And yes, Virginia, there is such a thing.) “Just a little more conservative.”

But policing hems and necklines proved “highly subjective and culturally relative,” as another Christian fashion blogger, Whitney Bauck of Unwrinkling, posted after the shows in 2014. Online critiques like this, some rather more fiery, drove the Gomezes and Lugos back to their Bibles. “What we found was that what we were promoting and advocating was very weakly enforced in Scripture,” Mr. Gomez said. “There’s not really a lot about covering up. It’s mostly about not acting gaudy.”

Like Scripture itself, the gaudiness of conventional fashion is open to infinite interpretation. But curiously enough, both theological language and missionary zeal have been ringing through the high temples of retail lately, from Net-a-Porter’s Bless (Be the Best, etc.) to Zappos’s commandment-like set of 10 family core values.

Christian Fashion Week’s organizers have produced their own abbreviation, CARE, which stands for contextual modesty (“there’s different things you wear at different times, and that’s absolutely O.K.,” as Mr. Gomez put it), affordability, responsible use of natural resources and ethical hiring and casting.

“Those things are much closer to the heart of God than cleavage is,” Mr. Gomez said firmly.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Alexandra Jacobs

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