Glitter, Glamour and More at Fashion Week's Finale Show

Nicholas Youngblood

The grand finale of the evening was a parade of the newest releases and greatest hits from British celebrity designer Christian Cowan, who was the highlight of last Thursday’s Fashion and Philanthropy event at the Columbus College of Art and Design.

The chilly night didn’t keep the city’s fashionistas from donning their most fashion forward fits and gathering around the glowing runway stage. Featured sponsor Glenlivet sold spirits to help fight the cold as Karina Nova, 10TV anchor and Columbus Fashion Council board member, hosted the event in an elegant gown by Joan Madison of Joan’s Bridal Couture, one of the featured local designers of the night.

Also speaking at the start of the show, while draped in a glamorous Joan Madison gown, was Columbus Fashion Council president and Il Moda Brand Development CEO Lubna Najjar. Najjar has her own success story thanks to Fashion Week, where she debuted her designs in 2013. Soon after, her clothing was sold in national stores. Now, she is focused on helping other local designers. She said buyers—from Macy’s, Madison-USA, Vamp Official, Thread, Samson Men’s Emporium, Jolie Occasions and other retailers—were in attendance, scouting for designs that can be sold in stores.

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First up Saturday was Gerardo Encinas, a Mexican-born designer who has shown at the finale every year since 2016. Encinas was recently contracted to design theatrical costumes for Opera Columbus, and it’s no surprise why. Encinas’ designs are nothing if not theatrical. Headpieces sat atop models covered head-to-toe in metallic fabrics and glittering patterns.

Next was designing duo Matthew Chess and Rian Ismadia. The partnership began just two years ago, when Chess and Ismadia began sewing classes together. Now, they run a men’s swimwear brand, Maris Equi, producing speedos and short-sleeved wetsuits in vibrant, geometric patterns.

Third to the stage was Ferret Campos, another Mexican-born designer who decided to stake his claim in the Columbus fashion scene. Campos’ Latin influence was evident in the western designs, serpentine patterns and bouncing tassels.

After Campos came the clear crowd favorite of the night. Models in Joan Madison Haute Couture designs strutted across the runway to raucous applause as Madison’s Solstice Queen collection put her bridal background to good use with bouncing formal gowns and dresses teeming with tulle. Sleek, sparkling outfits with flowing capes and oversized hats filled out the lineup, but the star of the show was a gargantuan ball gown with a grass skirt bursting from underneath. The bold shift from the glittery theme of the night was met with gasps and a standing ovation.

Darsy Amaya and Heidy Amaya-Pena of White Canvas Designs followed with richly colored, barely-there bodysuits and dresses, all adorned with dangling jewelry and strings of beads. Each over-the-top design created an effect on a scale somewhere between a belly dancer and chandelier.

As if the dramatically bejeweled outfits of White Canvas weren’t enough, Peruvian-born designer Juan Jose Saenz-Ferreyros started his segment of the show with two models wearing chandeliers on their heads, complete with working lights. The luminous models stood like sentinels on the corners of the runway as models, between the ages of 14 and 78, wearing harshly contrasting patterns, floral blazers and wedding gowns walked across the runway, pulling influences from French couture and classical Hollywood alike.

The final local designer of the night was Tracy Powell, a current senior at the Columbus College of Art and Design. There is no better celebration of the accessibility and welcoming nature of the Columbus fashion scene than Powell. At 48, a mother of four and a former realtor, Powell inherited her life-long love of fashion from her mother.

“It was just something calling me in the inside, like, ‘Do what you love,’ and I’ve always been a risk taker,” she said. Powell hopes to someday work in costume design in Hollywood, and she made a big impression Saturday with her theatrical, circus-glam designs that included a ringleader, an acrobat and a high-fashion clown wielding a foreboding red balloon.

“Don’t let the age be a limitation for your desires,” Powell said. “Your dream doesn’t go away.”

Finally, Cowan, the celebrity headliner of the event, had his turn on the runway. Most known for the designs he created for pop stars like Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus while still in art school, Cowan is now a recognized talent on the global stage. He showed some of his new designs from a collaboration with online retailer ASOS.

Models each sported a pair of Cowan’s luxury watch band shoes, made famous by an appearance in Cardi B’s “Money” music video. Cowan said that he was proud to share a runway with such impressive local designers.

“There’s a lot of talent on that runway,” he said. “Also, what I love is the variation of talent. I mean, obviously from swimwear, but then you’ve also got such different variation of eveningwear. And what was really nice was everyone’s identities really came through, which—I think—is one of the most important missions in creativity.”

Najjar thinks this sort of exposure and opportunity strikes at the heart of Fashion Week Columbus. While the city lacks the production infrastructure of fashion meccas such as New York or Paris, she said it is a uniquely accessible market. Instead of invite-only shows for buyers and media, Fashion Week Columbus opens its doors to anyone who would like to attend, in the hopes of exposing wider audiences to the couture that the city has to offer.

“We don’t want fashion just to be entertainment,” Najjar said. “We want them [the designers] to do something much bigger than that.”