By Emily Williams
Six years have passed since childhood friends Heidi Elnora and Jeana Lee Thompson celebrated their first Birmingham Fashion Week and, according to Thompson, those years of experience haven’t lightened the workload.
“Every year has been amazing, but as it’s grown it has become more and more difficult to organize,” Thompson said. “Here at year number six we’re able to add some great new features and surprises. You start to realize just how much hard work it takes to make everything bigger and better each year, but it’s also very exciting.”
Both co-founders are fashionistas in their own right. Thompson and her sister co-own Bella Bridesmaid in Homewood. Elnora keeps a flagship store in downtown Birmingham for her international bridal brand heidi elnora. Over the years, the two women have seen their one-night fashion show evolve into a three-night extravaganza.
This year’s showcase will take place Aug. 25-27 in Boutwell Auditorium.
One of the aspects of the show that has most notably evolved, Thompson said, is the level of talent being showcased on the main runway. Last year, the headlining designers were mostly Project Runway contestants. But this year guests will see designers that can be found in stores across the country.
“The talent that we have this year is far more recognizable,” Thompson said. “One of the biggest names is Rails. They are huge and worn by almost every celebrity.” Thompson added that Forbes in an article a year ago named Rails one of the top brands in contemporary fashion.
The fashions that will grace the runway won’t be too far out of reach. Though designers hail from far-off places such as Los Angeles and New York, the brands are available at local retailers. Thompson and the Birmingham Fashion Week staff coordinate with local runway retailers Gus Mayer and The Clothes Tree to find out which are their favorite brands before they begin recruiting designers.
Birmingham Fashion Week veteran and Vestavia Hills High School sophomore Bradford Billingsley, featured on “Project Runway: Threads,” will graduate to the main stage this year and show a collection of runway gowns. Billingsley previously participated in the fashion week’s Rising Design Star competition for local middle and high school students.
“We just love (Billingsley) and I’m so excited to have him back,” Thompson said. “I feel like we’ve seen him really grow up and come into his own. When he first started competing in the competition, he was just a small child and now he has this phenomenal collection that he has been working on for a year.”
Giving local talent the opportunity to shine is what Thompson describes as the mission of Birmingham Fashion Week. Kids can showcase their skills through the Rising Design Star competition and up-and-coming talent through the Emerging Designer competition.
It doesn’t stop at design, the 140 models walking the runway had to audition for their spots on stage in the Fresh Face of Fashion: Model Search competition. Last year’s winner, Ellie Martin of Mountain Brook, has gone on to work for big names such as Forever 21.
“When we started this event, we did it because we felt like there was so much talent in Birmingham that flew under the radar,” Thompson said. “There are so many different aspects of this weekend that make it such a great event and it provides a platform for so many. Even hair and makeup artists are given the opportunity to showcase their talents.”
Each evening beginning at 7 p.m., the fashion week runway in Boutwell Auditorium will feature fall/winter and holiday looks from professional brands including Hale Bob, by Smith, Abbey Glass, Benjamin Jay, Rails, Alice & Trixie and, of course, heidi elnora.
“This year, the show is a more comprehensive collection,” Thompson said. “I’ve only caught a glimpse of some of the designs, but as far as holiday trends go, expect to see a lot of sequins and flowing caftans.”
Thanks to the extra space, air conditioning and plethora of parking spaces, Thompson and her crew expect this to be the best fashion week yet, with some secret surprises in store. Tickets begin at $20 per night.
“Birmingham Fashion Week is a great opportunity that was simply never here before,” Thompson said. “It takes a whole community to help this run smoothly, but it never ceases to come off flawlessly.”
For more information and a full schedule, visit bhamfashionweek.com.
Rising to the Occasion – OTM Students Show Futuristic Designs at Birmingham Fashion Week
Local students will be taking their design creations to the stage for the Rising Design Star Competition, presented in conjunction with Birmingham Fashion Week.
Sixty semifinalists from middle and high schools around the state will have the opportunity to present their themed design submissions.
“This is one of my favorite aspects of the weekend,” fashion week co-founder Jeana Lee Thompson said. “It’s unbelievable the talent we have seen this year and I expect people to be blown away. Anybody that has ever been to this show before knows just how amazing these kids are.”
This year’s theme is “Future of Fashion,” which asked the designer to create a piece that embodied their vision of how fashion will evolve over the next century. The garments were created using pieces of recycled or alternative material such as glue, staples, tape, safety pins and paper clips.
Models will walk the runway at Boutwell Auditorium, showcasing each piece for judging, on Aug. 25 and 26. The top three winning garments will be announced on Saturday evening, Aug. 27 at the “Fashion Finale.” The top three designers will receive cash prizes, and the first place winner will receive a college scholarship and editorial coverage.
Rising Star Competition semi-finalists from the Over the Mountain area include, from Homewood: Anna Lee, Camille Colter, Demi Shamsi-Basha, Madeline Kline, Matthew Pierce, Rigdon Hendrix, Harlan Alford, and Saliva Almansoob.
From Hoover: Anna Cate Weeks, Charity Kent, Chloe Annadkin, Francesca Dichiara, Karley Wilson, Ontra Awad and Lola Waldrop.
From Mountain Brook: Ellen Landy, John Price and Mary Frances Torbert.
From Vestavia Hills: Brooke Lindsey, Camille Miceli, Liz Link and McKinley Rohrer.