Nothing quite says Paris like a sixty-foot runway, now does it? And with the massive Eiffel Tower replica freshly placed in the middle of the Kimmel Center, Commonwealth Plaza can now acquire even more precious euro-cred by throwing in gorgeous models strutting down the catwalk in retro-inspired Parisian fashions to the mix. A Philly fashion event for the ages, this will be the penultimate style moment for PIFA this April, so come the 8th, if you haven’t bought yourself un billet, you’re going to miss it. Mais, c’est la vie–n’est-ce pas? Not only will nine local talents be showcasing a collection inspired by early 20th century Paris, but students from five local universities will also be putting forth ensembles—all with their best Francophile foot forward, of course. Mirroring French fashion’s Belle Époque (before the turn of the century, through WWII), the designs and designers are sure to display a mixed bag of visual goodies.

Let’s travel back in fashion time for a minute. With the founding of Vogue in 1892, French couturier houses basically said It’s on! to the rest of the world. Some of today’s most relevant, desirable, and fashion-forward labels were born around this time. Coco Chanel–ever heard of her? She began her eponymous line around 1925 and designers such as Cristobal Balenciaga started the ball rolling around the same time, in 1937; both houses have been churning out mouth-watering couture ever since. Now, what you maybe didn’t know is that the designers behind these now infamous labels may have used none other than Josephine Baker (1906-1975) as their muse and model. The American-born singer/dancer/actress found huge success in France during this time, became a veritable American Civil Rights hero, and was even was awarded a French military honor. And you thought your resumé was impressive.

In fact, Baker’s overall aesthetic is a good entry point for what you’ll be witnessing come April 8th: long lines, elegance, glamour, timeless grace, and a little sexual ambiguity/intrigue. As a performer, Baker has donned some truly extravagant costumes, including enormous head-pieces, flapper hair with curls and floral accessories, feathers sprouting from her back, piles of pearls, and, on occasion, even some nipple-bearing sexpot showgirl style. Ooh la la. Baker’s oftentimes short hair also spoke to a new wave of women–females who wanted to play with femininity but not necessarily be objectified by it. This all culminated in the creation of a sexy, modern woman with dark eyeliner whose alluring gaze could communicate a multitude of gestures, not one of them being Take me but more along the lines of, I can do better than you or The world is at my fingertips.

That being said, Philadelphia’s modern ‘couturiers’ certainly have plenty of inspirational material to mine. Standouts like Carmelita Martell for Carmelita Couture have already been churning out Paris-friendly fashion for years. Katie Ermilio‘s self-titled line is clearly capable of working with flirty profiles that include flourishes of menswear details, and Ralph Rucci, a Philadelphia native and Temple graduate, will be on hand as well,  receiving the Visionary Award for Fashion, presented by PIFA. This is an event truly bursting with visual intrigue, with over a dozen designers using sixty feet to echo the magic that surrounded the French capital over a century ago.

Tickets are $25-100, ranging from spectator to VIP, and are available for purchase via the PIFA Fashion page.

Disclaimer: PIFA, the Philadelphia International Festival of Arts, based in the Kimmel Center, is sponsoring the writing of a series of blog posts. Bill Chenevert will be contributing previews and event spotlights leading up to the actual festival, which will take place all over the city of Philadelphia, in numerous venues.



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