Half-filled champagne glasses, some tagged with red lipstick impressions on the rims, were put down onto the nearest table’s surface. Crumbs from French cheese and crackers and petite cucumber, cream cheese sandwiches were quickly dusted off fingertips. Thirteen women of varying sizes and ages quickly lined up, one behind the other, in fashionable ensembles. No, it wasn’t a day at The Plaza Hotel for afternoon tea. It was the final call for a small Brooklyn boutique’s first-ever fashion show, which highlighted all of these women – just for being themselves.
Lilith Outlet’s idea to involve everyday women in its business model strategy is part of a larger trend. The lack of diversity and representation within the fashion world has led to major lines calling for more inclusivity and relatability. During this year’s New York Fashion Week (NYFW), Italian designers Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce had amateur models walk the runway, instead of professionals. Their team featured their favorite clients, social media celebrities and members of royal families.
Michael Kors and Prabal Gurung also had plus-size models Ashley Graham and Candice Huffine walk in their NYFW shows respectively this year. Halima Aden, 19, made her runway debut in Kanye West’s “Yeezy Season 5” show, wearing a hijab on the catwalk during this year’s NYFW.
The store manager of Lilith Outlet, located on Fifth Avenue between Union and President Streets, felt it was about time that her clientele should be in the spotlight.
“Since we are a neighborhood store, we’ve gotten to have a great relationship with our clients,” said store manager Sarah Cabral. “They’re all so different, coming from so many different backgrounds, that we wanted to celebrate them. I thought it would be a great idea to have a fashion show with our own clients modeling.”
Lilith Outlet sells avant-garde fashions at lower prices from past seasons’ collections by the eponymous Paris-based designer, who has been known for her polka dots and mixtures of non-traditional colors since 1987. The clothes run between sizes zero and 14, allowing a wider range of women to wear these high-end outfits.
The fashion show took place outside the storefront and on the sidewalk of one of the neighborhood's busiest avenues, Fifth Avenue, on May 7, 2017. It highlighted the 13 best ensembles, including pants, skirts and jackets from last season’s spring and summer collections. Employee Emily Furnas opened the show in a one-shouldered, red and olive striped dress and pant, which gave a flowing effect off her figure.
Twelve female clients followed, each wearing handpicked outfits that matched their personalities and personal preferences. The women, all coming from different ethnicities and occupational backgrounds such as artist, teacher and lawyer, were tall, short, curvy, full-figured, thin, young and old.
“Having real women walk the runway makes a statement. It shows women even if the clothing is more avant-garde it is still wearable,” said Dawn Del Russo, a fashion and lifestyle expert based in New York City. “Having them in the show also starts a conversation about the brand. These women will want to talk about the show they were in and the clothing they wore.”
The show closed with a bridal outfit worn by longtime customer Barbara Gerard. She says she has been wearing Lilith clothes since the late 1980s when she was a “Vogue” magazine sittings editor, who prepared the clothes and accessories and made sure the models were camera-ready for the magazine’s photo shoots. Gerard proposed herself as the model to conclude Lilith’s portion of the show.
“I said to Sarah, ‘You know in France every couture show ends with a bride and it’s tradition,’” said Gerard, 81.
Cabral liked the idea and decided that Gerard should wear a modern twist on the traditional wedding gown – an oversized, white-on-white polka dotted rain jacket over a knee-length lace and tulle skirt.
Gerard was eager to be walking on the runway this time, after years of always being behind it, in her favorite brand and with her new friends from the show.
“Lilith caters to women who want to be individuals and somehow reflect their individuality through their clothes,” Gerard said. “And these women who will be in the show are not just women; they’re the heartbeat of Brooklyn – attractive, dynamic, lovable, creative.”
Nelsena Burt-Spano, an artist and another model for Lilith, has been shopping at the Park Slope location since it opened in April 2016. She sported a three-piece pant set, blue sneakers, blue sunglasses and blue hair. Because the fashion show was originally postponed due to inclement weather, she was even more nervous before it began.
“I don’t want to model. I’m not a model,” said Burt-Spano, 69, when she stopped by the store two weeks before the big day.
Burt-Spano does not embody what the typical model looks like in magazines and on television. Her insecurity about how she would look is exactly what Cabral wants to change.
“People that really don’t know the line say, ‘Oh I could not wear these clothes’ or ‘These clothes are for tall people,’” says Cabral. “But we really have such a great range that we wanted to show that everyone can wear them.”
With a diverse line-up of models behind her, Cabral was just as excited to be part of the moment too before the show began.
“This is a celebration of Park Slope and of the women of all backgrounds, sizes, shapes,” she said. “We hope to inspire the people that are watching.”
Photographed by Erin DeGregorio
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Erin DeGregorio is a student pursuing an M.A. Degree in Journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (New York, New York). She has a focus in arts and culture reporting and will be graduating in December 2017. Her portfolio of select clips can be viewed here.