If Berny Martin has one core message for the citizens of Indiana, it's that fashion isn't just about garments. The garments have a lot to do with it, for sure; the Midwest Fashion Week founder is also the owner of Catou, a boutique that produces quite a few garments, for both men and women. But his vision is of an Indianapolis where the average man and woman breathes in an air of cosmopolitanism and fashion — taking in contemporary art; eating authentic foods from around the world; wearing clothes with a little heart and soul.
Thus, Midwest Fashion Week — the spring edition of which runs from March 10 (the Shop Midwest bazaar at the Artsgarden) to March 17 (the culminating Design for Change gala at the downtown Sheraton) — is defined by a multi-disciplinary approach that incorporates food, visual arts, sports and music.
And if Martin feels that Indianapolis has “only touched the tip of the iceberg” in terms of its cultural potential, he has a lot to be proud with respect to MFW, which launched in 2006 with not a whole lot of fanfare. Back in those days, press coverage was scant, participants were exclusively local and crowds were small.
As years passed, MFW gained steam, with Martin opening the doors to a wider selection of designers. “What I quickly realized was that our market is growing beyond Indiana, so why wouldn't we show work from beyond Indiana,” he says.
Not that some of that cross-cultural work isn't made by Indiana residents. Several designers presenting at this year's gala moved to the state after first establishing themselves abroad, including the wedding gown designer Antonio Fermin (born in Spain), the Fort Wayne-based haute couture designer Marlene Thomas (South Africa) — and Martin himself, a native of Haiti who abandoned the pursuit of a computer engineering degree at Purdue University to pursue his first love of fashion design.
And add Nataliya Kitic, founder of the apparel design and manufacturing company Studio NTK, to that list. Born in Bulgaria, Kitic arrived in the U.S. in 2004 via a student exchange program with little knowledge of English. A few years passed before she decided to continue her education in fashion design. The Art Institute of Indianapolis turned out to be the right fit, and after a year spent commuting from Louisville, she moved to Indy.
Martin describes Kitic's work as incorporating “a lot of leather, in a punk rock look.” For her part, Kitic — a long-time participant in MFW whose collection for Saturday's gala will feature ready-to-wear jackets, high-waisted skirts, pants and tops — describes her designs as “fresh, wearable and marketable.” She should know about marketability: Studio NTK is both a clothing line and a small-run manufacturing company helping start-up businesses with consulting, design and implementation of those designs. “We manufacture everything: from pet toys to accessories to ready-to-wear garments,” Kitic says.
Kitic's story is characteristic of the Indianapolis fashion world, as Martin describes it. He notes that just because people aren't launching clothing lines out of the state doesn't mean they're not working in the fashion world; perhaps they're working in parallel industries, as stylists or interior designers. Part of Martin's goal is to bring together these not-so-disparate elements of the fashion world. He's set out to unite designer and boutique at the Shop Midwest bazaar (“an opportunity for both sides to have a better dialogue” and to “support one another,” even if a given designer can't always meet a boutique's need for high-volume manufacturing). And to bring together stylist and clothing designer at the March 14 Fashion Inside Out event, during which a group of stylists will share their perspective on what constitutes a professional look.
Not that Indianapolis couldn't stand to develop the infrastructure that would make it possible for the average Jane or Joe to launch a clothing line. But that's going to take some convincing. “The problem we have in Indiana is to educate the corporate side that the fashion industry can offer a sustainable business model,” Martin says. The old guard isn't so ready to change, but “we're making big strides in convincing people that those students who are designing can be the next big thing — and can create big opportunities in our backyard.” A March 13 student fashion show is a showcase for those next big things, drawn from schools around the state: Ball State to IU-Bloomington, the Art Institute of Indianapolis to IUPUI.
The city also needs the help of marketing and PR firms, Martin says, not to mention the activation of more journalists who comprehend the business of the garment industry. And Hoosiers need to get more comfortable with moving beyond their comfort zones — even those who can't afford comfort on an everyday basis.
“For lower-income Hoosiers, instead of saying, 'This isn't for me,' I'd say you should go on and explore things, because there are some great designs out there that are very, very affordable,” he explains. “And if you're buying from a local designer, it may not be as expensive.”
Midwest Fashion Week, by the day
March 10: Shop Midwest @ Indianapolis Artsgarden (12-9 p.m., free)
MFW kicks off with a bazaar marrying boutique and designer. Featured designers include JealousyJane Couture, Popy seeds, n'chole feroce, Carole A. Toole, The Secret Ingredient and AH Collection.
March 11: Children's Fashion Show @ Bella Vita Ristorante at the Marina (11 a.m.-4 p.m.; $30 adult, $15 children under 12)
The most charming event on the schedule, according to Martin, is also a chance for children's designers to strut their stuff, including Erica Hawkins, a recent transplant from Baltimore, and Sugar Baby Bowtique founder Rachel Kozikowski.
March 12: Monday Night Fashion @ Colts Pavilion (6 p.m., $35)
Monday Night Football meets the fashion world with a night of business networking, spirit tasting, golf simulating, silent auctioning and autograph signing, capped off by a fashion show featuring activewear and sportswear. Colts, Colts cheerleaders and Blue Crew will be on hand; and like so many other events during MFW, this one is, in part, a fundraiser for Down Syndrome Indiana.
March 13: The New School of Fashion @ Madame Walker Theatre Center (6-9:30 p.m., $15 general admission, $75 VIP)
High school, college and graduate students will bring their work before a jury at the MFW's student show, which will feature students from Purdue, Ball State and IU-Bloomington, among other schools.
March 14: Fashion Inside Out @ Hilton North (6 p.m., $65 includes dinner)
Fashion professionals — including image consultants, beauty consultants and stylists — will explain what it takes to dress for success, before giving each attendee personal image coaching and a makeover experience.
March 15: The Art of Fashion @ Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (6:30-9:30 p.m., donations accepted); Tiara Thomas concert @ Bartini's (10 p.m., $15 general admission, $75 VIP)
Martin calls The Art of Fashion MFW's avant-garde night, when a series of designers will bring out “not wearable clothes, but wearable art; think Lady Gaga tenfold.” iMOCA is the host, with their current exhibition, Hard Targets, still on the walls. A concert by R&B singer, Wale protege and Ball State student Tiara Thomas will follow at Bartini's.
March 16: Food Meets Fashion in downtown Indianapolis (5:30 p.m., $85 general admission, $150 VIP)
Only 100 will be accepted for Food Meets Fashion, which will offer attendees a moveable dinner featuring fashion-inspired dishes made by local restaurants.
March 17: DSI Design for Change Gala @ Downtown Sheraton (5 p.m. reception, 6.30 p.m. dinner and program, 8 p.m. fashion show; $100)
MFW's culminating gala has become a big fundraiser for Down Syndrome Indianapolis; last year's event raised over $70,000 for the non-profit. Featured designers include Catou, Antonio Fermin, Michael Alan Stein, Natalya Kitic and Marlene Haute Couture.