The lights are artificially bright, and a model stands with his head down, hands held low in front of him. The burgundy bomber jacket he wears seems to absorb the light rather than reflect it. Then, a beat drops and he’s moving forward not with the music, but rather catching the beat of his own swagger. This is “Central Formalities”, scene four of eight consecutive mini-shows presented by EnspiRED this past Saturday as part of their annual fashion show.
This year’s show, entitled “Urban Behaviors”, featured nine designers (both student and professional) along with forty-two student models. “We’ve been up since 7 am,” laughed Hannah Tanau, EnspiRED’s Media Coordinator. Yet, the group that made this show possible has been working non-stop since early last Fall.
EnspiRED President Ify Odum began the show with a brief address: “Sit back and pay attention to the details. Let us redefine ‘urban.’”
If you look up the most basic definition of urban you’ll find something along the lines of relating to, or being a city. But that definition is not telling of just the kind of urban EnspiRED looked to address. Urban wear is not so much a genre as it is a vibe, an element of clashing concepts resulting paradoxically in a cohesion of the mind that can be addressed best not in prose, but rather in visual language.
Corey Johnson, the videographer for the show, produced short films that introduced each mini-show in succession. The scenes were essential to the audience’s dialogue with the runway itself, setting a mood at each intersection. Many of the visuals were set among the architecture of Detroit.
Scene one was titled “City Necessities”, and featured Solange’s vocals behind an “Inception”-style view of buildings and skyscrapers. Dark, blurred faces lulled the audience into a dream before designer Grant Henderson (of clothing line Greatness the One) slammed it back down to Earth with cool logo-clad models who walked in pairs of all sizes, genders, and races. A structured, high-collar jacket by Faina Stefadu, a leather paneled two-piece, and a pair of cigarette leg pants made of hexagon cutouts all spoke about structure—reminiscent of the way a city imposes itself on you, the way you must sometimes stare back at a city with cold, fearless eyes, the same sort that spotted Henderson’s sports bras and jackets.
Scene two, “Hood Taste”, featured impossibly-cool sheer orange shades, Detroit jerseys, effortless pattern mixing, and a standout color-saturated skirt by designer Gersai.
Scene three, “Black Ice”, was coats, coats, coats, a look that paired chokers with business casual, and a front-row friend yelling at a model: “Okay David, don’t smile though!” Central Formalities (the midway point) featured a salmon pink suit and velvet-embroidered jacket that could make any outfit say: “yes I know, what of it?”
“My favorite was the red-satin pajama look. Fluffy heels on point perplex, so trendy,” said SHEI Fashion Editor Mackenzie Kimball, “Fur—always great.”
The next scene, “Uptown Etiquette”, began with perhaps the most intriguing visual of the night: a short film of a ballerina moving in slow-motion to classical strings, interlaced with shots of a painted ceiling. The fashion was no less intriguing: money signs, fur, and a killer model duo— one wearing a leafed, nude colored turtleneck and the other a long sleeveless dress. If the opera and the street could ever stand side by side, then here is where they should.
“Urban Aesthetics” (scene six) featured Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” as backing behind two models, standing side-by-side. One wore a long, red sparkling fitted gown and the other, a blue t-shirt, grey pants, and a black baseball cap.
Scene seven, “Midtown Muse”, portrayed a protest on the runway. The idea for “Midtown Muse”, nurtured by EnspiRED vice President Darbee Pass, was inspired by a Chanel 2014 runway show in which the models carried signs with feminist slogans.
The mini-show featured seven models, dressed in all variations of denim, holding picket signs: Feminism is equality; Love is Love; Black Lives matter; Yes means yes means yes; Imagine Fairness; Save our Planet.
“(With) the positioning of our show in terms of the inauguration and the Women’s March, we needed to make a statement…to follow such an impactful moment in history,” said Tanau. “We chose things that we felt wouldn’t offend… we chose universal truths.”
The final scene, titled “For Us, By Us”, was all about EnspirRED as an organization. Once stoic models now playing to the audience, sporting reds, whites, greys—it was this mini-show that captured the essence of the show in its entirety.
It took nothing more than looking at the crowd first, dressed all-out from heels to hair, to see that redefining urban is not about redefining this particular style within the enclosure of the one-note word “urban,” but instead about defining it by the energy that pervades from the word, by the community and love that surrounds it. “Black magic, baby!” someone yelled in the joy of the finale.
It’s hard to synthesize the whole scope of EnspiRED’s “Urban Behavior” in mere words and photos. Sitting in front of glass windows, looking out at the Ann Arbor night, the audience was as much out in a city as they were significantly removed from one.
“I’m here to see art,” said Kenyetta, a student from Hampton University who had traveled to Michigan on an invite. “If you pay attention you can see the artists put their heart there.”
Maybe that’s what redefining urban is: exploring an idea as an art form, questioning what happens in that doorway space between the city bar, the opera house, and the street. It’s more than black magic; it’s black, multicultural brilliance. Not the melding of the boundaries between spaces, but the melting of any boundary at all. Not emulating a city landscape, but being one. It was not so much about redefining urban wear as it was about redefining the word urban itself.