By Melissa Groth
I’m the first to sit down in theater 6 at Landmark E Street Cinema for the second screening of Politics of Fashion: DC Unboxed. Other filmgoers begin to trickle in, and I tune in to the pre-movie chatter. To my left, a student talks about the five sketches and a paper due the next afternoon. He spitballs ideas with his friend about how she could combine her passion for fitness with her passion for fashion. To my right, a recently graduated designer tells his friend about his brand name and business ideas. I hear someone say, “That’s why you can never give up, you have to keep working toward it.” There are distinguished-looking older ladies, men in tailored suits who are probably even more thankful for movie theater air conditioning than I am, one girl in a pair of killer bejeweled six-inch heels (she teeters from foot to foot as she stands. Ah, how we sacrifice our own comfort in order to make an impression), bloggers, cast members, fashion students, and people who just like fashion all in attendance. The chatter turns to din as the theater fills up.
The film shows the progress of Washington’s fashion scene over the past couple decades through a series of interviews with journalists, retailers, bloggers, and designers. Told through the stories of those who helped create and contribute to the fashion scene in DC, it highlights the perception and evolution of DC fashion, media impact, retail and boutique expansion, the great strides the city has made in terms of creating an industry, and the distance it has left to go if it were to ever become a major player within the Milan-Paris-New York-London fashion circuit. The film features appearances by journalist Robin Givhan, Karen Sommer Shalett of DC Modern Luxury Magazine, Christopher Reiter of Muleh, Marissa Schneider of Gilt City, Nicole Aguirre of Worn Creative, Kate Bennett of Washingtonian, and many, many more major players in the DC fashion scene.
The film does a fantastic job of making DC fashion accessible to its audience. The industry has made huge advancements over the past two decades, all the while maintaining, and increasing, a strong local presence of designers, retailers, and bloggers. An interesting question it raises is whether or not DC can achieve industry status on, or near, the same level as a city like New York, and the answer is an unexpected “probably not.” But it’s not a hopeless answer, it’s an empowered one. The mission is to embolden the local scene, and to get better at what we know and are capable of given geographic constraints and other factors. The majority of DC fashion players hold no grand illusions about the industry’s capability (well, those who were interviewed don’t, anyway. There’s a slightly uncomfortable segment regarding DC Fashion Week and its misguided efforts), but you are left with an impression that the scene is definitely growing in a way that is relevant to the city, and that it’s something that you can be a part.
Some challenges facing DC fashion include lack of media interest and the seemingly exclusive nature of the scene itself. This is a world that many do not know exists. During the Q&A session following the screening, audience members asked for resources about the many independent boutiques in the city and where to find them, how to get involved with events, and how to support the community. As it stands, bloggers are the best resource available for finding boutiques and events. There are plenty of bloggers, but sifting through 700 Tumblrs, Blogspots, etc, may be intimidating to someone who just wants to know where to find unique jewelry. How do you support the community? Buy local. Get involved and spread the word. It’s not that difficult to break into once you know where to start. The film makes that much apparent.
Politics of Fashion is an encouraging, eye-opener of a film that excels at making a bustling, independent community available to everyone. It’s also entertaining and watchable, funny at times, tongue-in-cheek at times, and made up of great personalities. The one thing I expected and would have liked to see more of was how politics and fashion play off one another in Washington. Other than a brief segment on the Obamas’ (probably negligible) impact on DC fashion, there wasn’t much else regarding politics, but that’s why it’s called Politics of Fashion and not Politics and Fashion.