The elaborate 1920s-inspired designs made their debut in a small lounge and bar near the Mandalay Canal. The low-lit restaurant and its patio, Avocado, housed also about 25 vendors, selling homemade goods, décor, and beauty products. Wingfield, founder of the Fashion Opera, chose Harlem as the theme of this new event because of his appreciation for Harlem’s history and black culture.
“We wanted to create an event that takes my inspiration from the jazz age, and the Art Deco period, and the Harlem Renaissance,” Wingfield said. “I love the 1920s.”
The models walked through the restaurant, creating a runway between the audience and the vendors to showcase the designs. There was diversity in the types of clothing, but every outfit reflected the glamor of the 1920s through Wingfield’s use of beads, crystals and feathers.
Most vendors were selling less elaborate goods. Sheila Baker, who was selling handmade headbands, said she was inspired to start her company after cutting her hair to rid her body of chemicals. She believes in self-expression through fashion.
“I wanted to show my personality, but it was hard without hair,” Baker said. “So I just, you know, designed something with my personality, and the rest is history.”
Several other vendors presented their own beauty and cosmetic products, and were focused on keeping all the ingredients natural. Nicole “Sister Earth” sold many holistic health wares, but she specializes in creating custom body oils and teas. She said her individualized approach has been successful for her so far.
“Different people have different problems, so I’ll research, research, research until I find the perfect balance for them to bring healing and balance back to their body,” Nicole said.
Some attendees were more interested in the art than the shopping. Kaela Williams attended to see fashion that would evoke the culture of Harlem.
“The 40s was like Hollywood’s golden age, I feel like Harlem Renaissance is kind of the golden age of black beauty, black success,” Williams said.
She was also excited to see Wingfield’s designs for the craftsmanship.
“When you see a man-made thing, it’s like, ‘Wow, someone’s creativity birthed that, and now I get to look at it and enjoy it,’” Williams said.
The event benefited the Guardian Angel network, a non-profit established by the Fashion Opera 10 years ago. Wingfield introduced the charity and opened the runway show with a few words about the spirit of beauty.
“There’s something that you really have to begin to put in your mind when you’re looking at a person’s perspective of beauty: it’s just a perspective. It’s not conclusive,” Wingfield said.
The Fashion Opera has been around for 20 years, but Uptown Harlem is a new concept intended to appreciate black history in America. The organizers were pleased with the turnout and look forward to planning other shows in the near future.