What is it about fashion? Garland Gravely, president and co-founder of Fashionista Roanoke, lights up, sits up, and stays like this throughout the interview.
“Fashion’s about expression. There are seven billion people on the earth. Fashion is a way to express yourself. Your body is a blank canvas. Your clothing is the art. Everyone has their unique way of expressing themselves. Open your eyes and look around when walking, fashion is everywhere, it’s in the air! Coco Chanel said this, ‘Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.’”
Gravely’s passion for fashion is strong and contagious. Combined with his laid-back and warm conversational manner, it’s easy to see how folks have been attracted to the Fashionista Roanoke. And starting Sept. 29 through Oct. 2, Fashionista Roanoke is hosting its annual Roanoke Fashion Week. Gravely says, “It’s an event promoting and highlighting fashion in the Roanoke area. Also, a portion of the funds raised are going to Center in the Square.”
Gravely has always loved fashion.
"As a kid I’d read fashion magazines. But what really sparked my interest in it was living in Miami on South Beach in the early ’90s. South Beach was becoming the hot place to be and a lot of designers and models were relocating there. Agencies were opening up there. By being in that world, the clubs, and walking down the beach watching this photo shoot and then seeing it in Vogue magazine, wow! That’s what inspired me. I wanted to be in that world.”
The impact was lasting and continues to this day.
“After South Beach I went to major in fashion merchandising at Virginia Commonwealth University [VCU] Richmond. When I finished school I moved to D.C., then planned to move to New York. But I came to Roanoke instead! I wanted to do something in fashion but with a charitable bent to it. The fashion world is often regarded as exclusive and elitist and I always wanted to break down those perceptions. Which is what I’m doing now. This is how Fashionista Roanoke came about, along with Claudia de Franko, the co-founder, in 2008.”
I show Garland a video I recently watched, a summary of the Gucci 2017 menswear collection in Paris. “I love it!” he exclaims. And it was terrific for sure. But as much as I’d like to, I don’t think I’m going be walking downtown Roanoke anytime soon seeing anything remotely related.
“Ah, but no! That’s not accurate!” Gravely jumps in. “Let me explain. You won’t see people wearing the same clothes as in that video, just as you won’t see folks wearing the same clothes in one city as in another. The people of Roanoke dress differently than the people of New York. But this is not a bad on Roanoke, is it? No, I don’t mean it that way at all.”
“This is what I’m trying to say. It’s all about trends. All cities will be impacted by that Gucci show. By the feel of it, the shapes, attitudes, colors and cut. It will trickle down to the most quaint little city in the middle of nowhere. Trust me.”
I’m caught up in Gravely’s certainty but am not convinced. Here are some more questions for him.
Q. What are the current New York and Paris trends from recent fashion shows?
A. “Velvet! Velvet jackets, velvet shoes. And animal prints! Asymmetrical hemlines. Dark denims and close fits. All-over prints. Sheer sleeves. Wide-legged cropped pants. Really, the ’70s influence continues. And shearling jackets. And the androgynous ’90s sweats never seem to end!”
He stops, then throws this out to me, addressing my doubts towards Roanoke’s participation in all this. “Last fall, ’70s fringed bags were a big trend and lo and behold I’ve seen several in Roanoke! I bet shearling jackets are already on trucks to Roanoke!”
“Here’s the exciting thing. Folks may say they have no interest in the fashion trends, but whether they know it or not, their choice of clothes in the high street stores will be reflecting the clothes that were launched on the catwalks in London, Paris, Milan and New York. Crazy and wild on the catwalk, but toned down, perhaps adapted is a better word, for Roanoke. Roanoke has different people living here than in New York, different attitudes, different lifestyle. Every city is unique. But you’ll soon be seeing clothes at H&M, Old Navy that will remind you of that Gucci catwalk show!”
“And you’d be surprised, there are people here paying attention to what is happening at those fashion shows in London, Paris and other places. They really are.”
Q. So who do you admire in the fashion and style world?
A. “How many names do you want?! My no doubt number one is Coco Chanel. There is only one Coco! Others include designer Karl Lagerfeld, fashion editor Andre Leon Talley, designer Azzedine Alaia, fashion icon Daphne Guinness, and Tim Gunn, the mentor on Project Runway TV show. These people inspire me personally.”
Q. Roanoke Fashion Week is now in its fourth year. Where are you looking for the show to go?
A. “I’d like it to become one of the biggest events nationally and internationally. There’s a Charlotte fashion week, Charleston fashion week; D.C. and Asheville have them. I want Roanoke Fashion Week to be recognized by other cities around the country and at least be on a par with them.”
Q. I occasionally put events together for the public; they can be challenging in almost all ways. What goes into putting on a fashion show?
A. “The team – the hair and the makeup, stylists, photographers, models, designers and more. That is what makes it work. People working together. And marketing, PR, social media.”
Q. And for you, what makes a fashion show successful?
A. “The people that come out and support the show. Not simply the number of people. It’s their passion and enthusiasm. The support from the community is very important to me. That determines success to me. It’s open to everyone who wants to watch and who wants to take part. We’re not looking to shock, unsettle, alienate or offend folks. We celebrate the creativity through fashion of Roanokers. This is to support the community, and Fashionista Roanoke reflects the diversity of Roanoke.”
Fashionista Roanoke has a monthly fashion segment on WSLS Daytime Blue Ridge, the last Wednesday of the month, at 12:30 p.m. Garland Gravely is president and co-founder of Fashionista Roanoke.