Long, narrow runway? Check. Hard-stomping models? Check. Pulsing lights and pounding music? Check and check.
On the surface, fashionSPARK appears to mirror other runway shows popping up across the Triangle. So what sets the SPARKcon offshoot apart from other fashionable gatherings in the area?
"Lately, you can barely swing a handbag without hitting a fashion show in the Triangle," said Allison Beale, who spearheads the event. "But with fashionSPARK, we set out to showcase local fashion talent in a pure, honest way. We support our designers all year long."
Beale, who modeled for Raleigh bag designer Holly Aiken in the inaugural fashionSPARK show, has taken the helm for the last two years, overseeing the show's stylists, talent, media promotion, music and selection process.
This year, 30 local designers submitted applications with images of past work and statements of intent for their fashionSPARK creations. Fifteen made the cut and are set to send a variety of clothes, body art and accessories down the runway on Friday, Sept. 18. Out of those 15, 11 are fashionSPARK alumni, three are new and five have been a part of the show for its entire four-year run.
Two designers who made it through the juried selection process are Zac Schell and Susannah Cox, whose accessories-driven collections will return to the fashionSPARK stage for the second time.
Zac Schell, whose line, Metallic Spiral, can be found in Raleigh's Get Dressed, Galetea, Catch 22 and SoHo stores, is a literal example of SPARKcon's "creative connections" theme. His designs are constructed out of thousands of tiny rings that make up the chain mail fabric so beloved by Knights of the Round Table and Lord of the Rings extras alike.
"One day I picked up chain mail and discovered there are about a million tutorials on the Internet," said the self-taught Raleigh resident about his unusual talent. "Two pounds of rings and two pliers later, I was hooked."
During the last few weeks, the 26-year-old has devoted hundreds of hours to piecing together the tiny metal rings that make up the fabric of his designs. One 5-pound dress in particular took roughly 160 hours and 16,000 rings to complete. (Schell will be the first to wryly note that gravity is a friend of his, since "chain mail doesn't exactly stretch.")
"What I make falls into two categories: Art wear and jewelry," said Schell, who favors vintage stores for his own clothes. "My jewelry is what sells, and my art wear is what I love."
Susannah Cox is another self-taught advocate for accessorizing with unusual fabrications, colors and scales.
"Why not wear that huge piece of jewelry on a random Tuesday?" said the 25-year-old designer. "Who knows who might see you or what you might end up doing?"
Cox, who came to the Triangle from Monroe to attend N.C. State, now shuttles between Raleigh and Atlanta and devotes her time to her jewelry line, Goods. While in college, Cox spent summers in Barcelona, where she was inspired by the siesta-driven lifestyle—"I'm not the most punctual person," she admits—and Spanish fashion. It was in New York, though, where she was bitten by the design bug.
"There is a little matchbox shop in Chinatown where this woman works making jewelry," Cox said. "You can pick out any of the pieces available, and she puts them together for you right there. I thought, 'I can do this.'"
Last year she sent dyed turkey and peacock feathers down the runway, but Cox is now drawn to feminine accessories and the thrill of what she refers to as "seeking," the sometimes serendipitous process of tracking down bits of vintage lace and chains with backstories older than Cox herself.
"At fashionSPARK, people need to be able to see my work from their seats, and I need it to pop," said Cox, who mixes Alexis Bittar's Lucite bangles in with her own creations. "Similarly, for me, form follows function. If a piece of jewelry is going to snag your sweater or fall into your dinner plate, you have to reevaluate."
Like Cox's custom pieces, all of the couture in fashionSPARK is original. The audience will be treated to never-before-seen looks from designers like Raleigh Denim, who has catapulted into the national fashion scene with features on Daily Candy and style.com and pickup from Barneys, Marie Cordella and DRC Clothing.
Like the self-professed "potluck creative conference" of SPARKcon itself, fashionSPARK is about bringing together the inspired minds of the Triangle. The event, which drew about 1,100 people to Moore Square last year, is one of SPARKcon's most well-attended events. Beale expects to "up the ante a few notches this year" with the fashion show's move to Fayetteville Street.
"The creativity is already here in the Triangle," said Beale. "But fashionSPARK supports the connectivity."