Inspired by a trip to Charleston Fashion Week, Jeana Lee Thompson and Heidi Elnora started Birmingham’s own fashion week in 2011. The community embraced it, and it’s grown every year. Here’s what they have to say about this year’s runway lineup Aug. 25-27.
What aspect of the week are you most looking forward to about this year’s event?
JLF: I am most looking forward to our new venue! Being able to partner our brand with a historic city landmark such as Boutwell Auditorium is such an honor. Boutwell is much more functional for our event, more comfortable for our guest with a climate controlled environment (can you say air conditioning?) and more accommodating with ample parking and real bathrooms. The venue’s layout allows us the opportunity to introduce several new aspects to the show and the Birmingham Fashion Week experience that we otherwise have been unable to due in the past in part to the physical space restraint of the tents. AND to be honest, I am looking very forward to not having to stalk the Farmer’s Almanac this year for the months leading up to the event since we have moved the event indoors!
If you had to describe the feel or vibe of fashion week in five words, what would they be?
JLF: Exhilarating, inspirational, unexpected, vibrant, diverse
HE: Community, opportunity, creativity, passion, raw
What’s going on behind the runway that the audience can’t see?
JLF: (It’s an) organized mass chaos at its finest. To an outsider I would imagine that it looks like an ant colony with a million worker ants each carrying out their individual tasks. There are a million moving parts with each one relying on the next to ensure a seamless show. To describe backstage as sheer pandemonium is a grave understatement, but somehow it has become quite the well-oiled chaotic machine over the last five years.
If you had to pick just one that stands out from past years, what would it be?
HE: It would have to go to last years’ show. As I was walking down the stage after my last model walked, the entire crowd stood to give me a standing ovation. I literally just stood still and cried. I was extremely humbled by the moment and thankful for the opportunity to create such an amazing event that gives art kids like me an opportunity to dream BIGGER.
JLF: Two years ago during the Saturday Night Fashion Finale I called the hair and makeup teams up on the stage so that the audience could acknowledge them for all that they do backstage to create an amazing show as they are on their feet 12 to 14 hours per day backstage in 90-degree weather, working tirelessly on hundreds of models. That year many of them had taken unpaid leave from work just to be able to participate and others were using vacation days to be able to be there. It just hit me when they came on stage how grateful I am for every single volunteer that takes part and contributes in their own way to the success of the show. We all sacrifice time away from our families and paying jobs, and it wears us out mentally, physically, and emotionally. Yet we keep coming back for more.
What makes BFW a distinctly Birmingham event?
HE: It’s our diversity. I believe that fashion, just like music, is an art form that anyone can easily understand and appreciate. It’s something that is essential to daily life. At BFW, we create an event that embodies the spirit of Alabama. It’s welcoming in creative and opportunistic environment.
How does fashion week benefit the community?
HE: Over the past five years, BFW has become a staple in our community because of the impact that it has made on our youth. It’s an event that people look forward to all year long. It gives opportunities that were not there before. It encourages collaboration while affecting our economy in a positive manner.
How do you decide what to wear during Fashion Week?
HE: I usually grab 1 of the 10,000 black dresses that I have in my closet. Preparing for the show is so intense. I am responsible for the entire event, making sure that every single detail is handled—from tickets to models to hair and makeup, lighting, sound, runway rehearsal, the host script, schedules, concessions. All the while (I’m trying to keep) everyone sane, focused, and calm. I literally run for three days straight, with my cell phone in one pocket, a walkie talkie in the other, and a back-up battery in my sports bra.
JLF: I normally choose something that represents my personality whether it be bright bold colors or big statement accessories, and due to time constraints, it is usually something that I already own in my closet. This may sound crazy, but I honestly do not put a whole lot of thought or emphasis into what I wear each night simply because I spend 99 percent of my time backstage running around barefoot doing whatever needs to be done to help ensure a seamless show.
What does Heidi uniquely bring to making fashion week what it has become?
JLF: Heidi brings a unique energy that is simply contagious. She has a way of motivating people with her enthusiastic spirit and breathing new life into them with encouragement.
What does Jeana Lee uniquely bring to making fashion week what it has become?
HE: Jeana Lee loves fashion. She always knows who is trending and works so hard to make sure that BFW always has the best designers, showcasing current styles on the BFW runway.
What about what the event has become makes you the proudest?
JLF: I would have to say the fact that we have become so well respected within the fashion community. Being acknowledged as a true fashion organization by professionals in the fashion industry on a local, regional, and national level has been so encouraging.
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