Dialogue about Christian Fashion Week Continued

If you’ve been tuned in to Unwrinkling lately, you know that founder of Christian Fashion Week Jose Gomez and I have been discussing some of the tensions I feel with CFW. Here’s the next installment in our discussion. If you’re new to the conversation, check out where it all started or what came after that.
The founders of Christian Fashion Week. Jose Gomez is pictured on the far left. Photo courtesy Christian Fashion Week
The founders of Christian Fashion Week; Jose Gomez is pictured on the far left. Photo courtesy Christian Fashion Week

Jose’s comment:

Thank you, once again, for keeping this conversation going, Whitney. It’s exciting to engage in this sort of exploration and debate about the premise of Christian Fashion Week, and I am confident it will help to shape who we are now and in the future. Now, on to the answers and rebuttals…

Policing Modesty

I don’t think that it is problematic to build an event around something that we are unwilling to define if the event itself is meant as a forum to explore the width and depth in order for each person to define it for themselves. I think that this is what is lacking in the Christian worldview sometimes – a broad forum to allow believers to explore and define themselves rather than just turning into Paula White lookalikes. Christian Fashion Week allows designers and attendees alike to explore modesty through various interpretations of style, beauty, and even sexiness (gasp!)

Here are the guidelines given to designers who showcase at Christian Fashion Week:

-> No cleavage
-> Shorts/skirts – length is to be no more than 4” above the knee
-> Any apparel cannot be fitted in a way that marks undergarments
-> Sheer fabrics must be doubled or lined
-> No sheer fabrics around private areas
-> Pasties must be used for any pieces that are deemed necessary
-> Camies, tanks, bandeaus must be used to cover cleavage

Keep in mind that these guidelines are maintained as to NOT OFFEND our guests, not to necessarily villainize those aspects of fashion. We don’t want the VERY conservative guest to be completely turned off just because some of the designers may not mind a little cleavage. We think the guidelines are very minimal and our staff makes a determination per garment as to how much they are being tested or even crossed – and whether or not its appropriate in its context.

Reducing the Christian Perspective on Fashion to Modesty

Well, I didn’t quite say that modesty shouldn’t be our “central thrust”. But, it certainly shouldn’t be our ONLY focus. At the end of the day, I am sure that God is more concerned with the rescue of those who are being sold into labor slavery than how high our hems are. This was an active topic in last Friday’s CFW meeting and we are looking forward to taking a stand on several issues in 2015.

Creating an Insulated Subculture

One thing we will never apologize for is our name. Christian Fashion Week is about fashion from a Christian worldview. Now, we can’t pretend to represent every facet of Christendom, but we can try to create a place where ANY corner of the Kingdom can come, evaluate, and be represented if there is desire and talent there. I agree with you that people are oftentimes VERY confused by what “Christian” Fashion Week is. But, that’s part of the package. It turns off potential sponsors, potential vendors, potential designers, potential attendees…

But at the end of the day, it also provides us with the freedom to be different and directly associate ourselves with Christ-like values and perspectives. At the end, we strive for an extremely “non-churchy” event that showcases a different side of the Christian perspective. People really like that about CFW, especially nonbelievers.

As for previous (and present) frustrations with CFW, let’s address those. I believe that modesty IS an important virtue, although certainly not the most important one emphasized by scripture. There are a host of other issues with overly stressing modesty, such as whose perspective it is approached by. But, we do believe it is an important issue for both women and men to discuss and explore.

As for the second concern – that we replaced the city (NY) with the theme (Christ) – it’s just not the case. There are other examples of themed fashion weeks, such as Full Figured Fashion Week and Couture Fashion Week. There are also regional fashion weeks, such as Africa Fashion Week and several branded fashion weeks. Finally, let’s not forget the countless “other city” fashion weeks of the world.

Let’s face it – we’ll never be New York Fashion Week. But, we don’t have to be. It’s why our first two shows were held so close to NYFW – because we know its for a completely different crowd and we embrace that. I don’t think it implies that we cannot or will not participate in NYFW – but that we are opening up an additional outlet for fashion, one that is severely underrepresented in today’s fashion industry.

We also don’t have ANYTHING against NYFW – we LOVE it! We love Paris, London, Milan, LA…. every fashion forum there is. We are nuts about this stuff. But, again, there is an underrepresented majority out there – one that looks at high fashion and says, “I’d never wear that,” regardless of what Vogue says is “in style”.

And, we’ve actually had overwhelming support from the secular media and fashion community. So, I think we’re making a different. OK – maybe more of a statement than a difference right now, but give us some time. We’ll figure this thing out.

Amateur Designers

Honestly, although I COMPLETELY hear you on this point as the owner of a creative firm, you really can’t judge fashion designers by their websites. Most creatives are TERRIBLE marketers and spend their days locked away designing without understanding how important their online presence is. Even some really big designers have terrible Wix websites… LOL

In regards with being compared to other shows and events, I definitely hear your point. But, we’re not in New York, we don’t have the following of the brands who started NYFW, and we don’t claim to compete. However, when the media hails our show as superior to the two preexisting fashion weeks that exist in our metro area, it means we are stepping in the right direction. Are we a bigger deal than Miami Fashion Week? No – not yet. But, we’re already a step ahead of where they were in the same phase of growth. We must compare apples to apples – know what I mean?

NYFW started with $500k from some of the largest brands. We have trouble squeezing $25k from sponsors. But, we still manage to pull the resources together and put on a heck of a show, even if it means putting the money in ourselves. Imagine when we are finally recognized by Christianity and fashion’s biggest brands. CFW could be something very influential in the marketplace.

I think we ARE very honest about what we are and are not. We are a week of fashion related events ending with two nights of fashion showcases. We’ve never claimed to be any more nor any less than that. Does it represent the best of what Christianity can produce – not yet. But, then again, Christendom itself has yet to embrace our event, as our harshest critics seem to come from our own ranks. It makes the brands nervous about standing behind us. We’ve got to plow through that barrier and connect the resources to turn this into something bigger than CBA and NRB combined. I believe with the right grassroots growth, it can happen.

I honestly don’t think we have that different of a view on positively influencing the fashion industry. I just think you have lost sight of the fact that Christian Fashion Week is only ONE thing the founders do to influence the fashion world. Keep in mind that all of us work within the fashion world to some capacity. On our founding team, we have one former model (20+ years in the industry), a fashion photographer, a stylist and fashion blogger (one of the most recognized in our region), and a guy who creates online technology for fashion industry professionals. We all have a great name in the fashion community. Mayra’s been on Janice Dickenson. We’ve helped, participated, and attended fashion shows and fashion weeks for years. We are actively involved in the fashion community with much more than CFW, which only happens once a year.

That we choose to honor Christ by joining the two biggest influences in our lives to create CFW shouldn’t be an issue. It’s auxiliary to the fact that we live lives of influence and spend our days trying desperately to positively influence those around us. Sometimes, we fail miserably and other days we do a decent job. But, CFW stretches us beyond what we are, and is successfully accomplished IN SPITE of us by the many people who contribute their talents and time in order to make the designers and their creations the stars of the show.

Whitney, I really do appreciate your heart. I used to work in media ministry, specifically Christian music, and I can’t tell you how sick it sometimes makes me to see to see the “sounds likes” and the “acts likes” and the “looks likes” of Christian pop culture. But, CFW really strives to be completely different. The atmosphere and spirit of the event feels totally different. It’s not church. In some ways its more inviting and fulfilling.

At the end of the day, if 2014 was our last year doing this, it would not have been a wasted effort. We’ve proven that there is a community of people that are willing to support fashion from a Christian worldview – whatever that means to them. For me, it means representing creativity, beauty, sensibility, and style without the need for exploitative tactics and sexual connotations. That doesn’t mean that you won’t see something “sexy” come down the runway. It means that we do our best to celebrate the art and expression of fashion and allow the audience to place it in its proper context. At the end of the show, the attendee should have a good idea of what fashion means to them and what it does not.

Whitney’s response:

Policing modesty

I appreciate your willingness to spur dialogue rather than elevating one set of culture-specific values above the others. However, it seems that by virtue of claiming to present “modest fashion,” CFW also presents a de facto definition of modesty by providing visual examples of what that’s supposed to be. If this is not the intent, perhaps it would be helpful to stress to onlookers (whether digitally or physically watching) that CFW ought to be a springboard for dialogue about modesty rather than a guideline for practicing it. As far as I’m concerned, this point is not very clear in your online fora as of yet.

Reducing the Christian Perspective on Fashion to Modesty

Perhaps we need not continue discussing this point—but I would just highlight that there are significantly fewer verses in the Bible that talk about modesty than there are verses that talk about the oppressed and poor or the way God values creation. I bring this up because these issues translate into laborer rights and environmental concerns in this context. In short, modesty seems like a relatively minor concern, from my standpoint. I acknowledge that this doesn’t mean the Lord couldn’t be calling CFW to focus on a minor issue; still, I will maintain that issues like those above are more important.

I actually think there are other issues that should concern fashion-loving Christians too, like how to combat the materialistic consumerism that tends to come as a package deal with much of fashion. I certainly don’t have any great answers to that question, but it’s one that would come up for me if I was involved in any fashion week in a major way. How do we balance a celebration of innovation and creativity without reinforcing the fast-fashion paradigm that creates an obsession with being on-trend and quickly forces “old” designs into obsolescence? This is not a critique of CFW any more than it is of any other fashion week, but it’s something worth thoughtfully wrestling with.

Creating an Insulated Subculture

As far as naming goes, we seem to have a different paradigm in place about how best to effect change. I’m aware of events like Full-Figured Fashion Week, and I have pretty mixed feelings about them, too. I remember watching an interview a few years ago of a Full-Figured Fashion Week attendee who said something along the lines of, “I can’t wait until this becomes just fashion. Not full-figured, not regular-figured, just: Fashion.” I resonate with this sentiment. I’d love to stop separating out every demographic that doesn’t fit the current standard, and instead work towards expanding that standard. I’d rather advocate for NYFW to make allowances for a greater diversity of body types than establish an alternative fashion week to do so.

You say that CFW doesn’t try to “represent every facet of Christendom,” but instead tries “to create a place where ANY corner of the Kingdom can come, evaluate, and be represented if there is desire and talent.” The implication that I get from this is that this is not possible in other fashion platforms, i.e. NYFW. Is that the case? If so, I’m interested in what specifically you think is exclusionary to Christians. I know that CFW takes a strong stand for models being able to protect their own modesty, both in the clothes they’re showcasing and in the way male and female dressing rooms are separated backstage, but I’m wondering if there are other issues that CFW views as particularly problematic to Christians in the fashion industry.

I think your statement about people looking at the runway and thinking “I’d never wear that” gives a little more insight into a less-discussed motivation of CFW. Is it possible that you see high fashion as exclusionary in and of itself, and think that “Christian fashion” should hypothetically be more accessible to the general populace? This, of course, leads to other questions about the nature of elitist or “high art” versus art that’s made for the public, and I’m interested in your thoughts on the matter.

Amateur Designers

I absolutely agree that regarding NYFW and CFW, we must “compare apples to apples.” In truth, that’s not the vibe that I received from a number of places on the CFW website, blogs and social media. Numerous references to NYFW have been made, which to me begs the comparison. It seems like we agree on this idea that the two shouldn’t really be put side-by-side, but have different ideas of what invites comparison and what doesn’t.

All in all, I think it unlikely that I will ever be comfortable with the idea of one group or organization appearing as the representatives of the “Christian take” on any field. If the main thing that the founders of CFW were interested in addressing was modesty, for example, I wish you’d instead named your event “Modest Fashion Week.” I know you’d say that you want it to be more than that, and yet the tension remains for me since that is what has clearly been a central pillar of CFW.

Perhaps part of the problem for me comes from the idea that CFW, whether intentionally or not, is setting itself up in the eyes of the secular world to be viewed as the authority on what “fashion interpreted through a perspective of modesty and Christian values” looks like. For someone like me who feels that CFW does not accurately represent my understanding of what Christ would’ve considered important to address in the industry, this is troubling. Again, I know CFW may be trying to be one of many voices defining the “Christian approach to fashion,” but from the outside it looks like it is trying to be the voice. And for Christians who disagree with that voice, the natural instinct is to distance themselves from the very movement that claims or hopes to represent them.

I’d also like to acknowledge, as you’ve said before, that CFW is in its early stages and that there is plenty of room for adjustment and growth. Perhaps it could become the kind of event that, in the future, puts a greater emphasis on values that people like me see as central to the gospel. Even then, the idea that it might appear to some on the outside as though it were claiming to be the Christian perspective on fashion would still be troubling to me. Maybe this could be remedied by simply communicating with greater clarity that that is not what CFW claims or intends to be?

Miscellaneous

I think it’s great that yourself and the other founders of CFW are involved in the industry outside of the CFW realm. I’d love to learn more about how Jesus’ life and ministry has impacted each of your decision-making processes in your respective involvements in the fashion industry.

And I genuinely appreciate that you have a desire not to be the “looks like” of Christian pop culture. Yet there’s no objective standard we can establish here to decide whether CFW is falling into that category or not. You may feel it’s not a cheap copy of NYFW; others may feel it is. Earlier, you critiqued Christian rap for the way you perceive it to be a less-skilled mimicry of its secular counterpart, yet you must recognize that those Christian rappers probably don’t see themselves that way. So if someone were to say that CFW is the Christian rap of the fashion world, how would you respond? All you can do is your best, just as the Christian rappers you so dislike can only do their best. But then the question I find myself asking is, What makes you certain that CFW is so different from them?

In the midst of a great deal of pushback, something I would like to applaud CFW on is the diversity of body types, ages and races represented in its models. Since I view the young, underweight, white model norm as a serious issue to contend with in the mainstream fashion worlds of New York, Paris, Milan, etc., I am encouraged to see CFW avoiding that particular trap.

There’s lots more we could discuss, but I’ll save it for future posts. I look forward to your response!

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