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Fashion Africana to showcase local designers

Custom fashions, music and dance to highlight Sunday event at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

By Monica L. Haynes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Contemporary designs inspired by the motherland, the rhythm of the drums and the faces of Africa are all a part of Utopia Model Agency's third annual Fashion Africana.

Designer Montie Cholmeley-Jones' black deconstructed silk beaded gown painted with black mesh overlay will be part of Utopia Model Agency's Fashion Africana, an African-inspired fashion show Sunday at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette photos)

Tickets for Fashion Africana are $40 for VIP Exhibit Tour and Show; $25 for general admission; $15 balcony/standing only. For tickets or more information, call 412-391-1831.

"The purpose of Fashion Africana is to provide a platform for local designers to showcase their work, and the beauty and diversity in the African diaspora," said Demeatria Gibson, who founded the agency with Darnell McLaurin.

This year's fashion outing will be held at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland. The event was planned to coincide with the "Passages" exhibit there of photos by Carol Bechwith and Angela Fisher that highlight the cultural diversity of Africa by chronicling the religious customs of African people. Live African music and dance also will be part of the experience.

The show will feature custom designs by Blemahdoo's Montie Cholmeley-Jones, Vanessa German, Nina Van Such, Wariko, Saihou Njie, Karen Page, Mary Margaret Stewart, Zoe Collins, hat maker Janis Burley Wilson and aspiring fashion designer Steven Radney. There also will be fashions from Jamil's, an East Liberty shop that provides African clothing.

Radney is an industrial designer by trade and he's never done clothes until now, Gibson said. He approached her about being a part of this year's show.

"It's something I've been interested in for a long time," Radney said. "Obviously the event provided an excellent opportunity to experiment and kind of test the water a little bit."

A product designer for Respironics, he said it was not as difficult as one might think to go from designing a mask for sleep apnea to designing apparel.

"[A product] has to be appealing, useable, functional, and all that stuff translates to clothing as well," Radney said.

The designers represent real-world diversity. Three are African; three are African American and five are Caucasian.

The models, recruited especially for the show, are an even more mixed bag of ethnicities. They include African Americans, Caucasians, Asians, Latinos and Asian Indians.

Vanessa German applies body paint to model Tamara while designer Montie Cholmeley-Jones fits a dress that will be worn in the Fashion Africana show.

The clothes they'll be wearing are contemporary but inspired by the photographs in the exhibit. The designers were given a book of the photos prior to the opening of the exhibit.

"What's exciting is these are custom designs," Gibson said. "If someone sees something on the runway they like, they can order that particular design and have it custom-made for them."

The designers are also doing additional pieces for a silent auction. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Action Against Hunger.

Commentators for the event will be Theresa Randall, fashion editor of Pittsburgh Magazine, paired with Post-Gazette fashion editor LaMont Jones.

Monica Haynes can be reached at mhaynes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1660.

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