TAMPA, Fla. — The organizers of Christian Fashion Week have a message: Modest does not equal frumpy.
"A lot of the designers we talked with looked at the challenge as a creative challenge," said Jose Gomez, who, along with his wife and another couple, is organizing the event. "How do we push the boundaries — with boundaries?"
The couple's first-ever Christian Fashion Week begins Friday with a VIP reception and then a runway show on Saturday in Tampa. They've been pegging the dates to the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York in hopes that the two-day event — it's not really a week-long show — will evolve into something bigger over time.
"We want to do something to make New York jealous," Jose Gomez said.
The runway shows will be slightly different than a typical fashion event. Backstage, there will be separate changing areas for male and female models so people can "preserve their dignity," he said. The swimwear show will take place first, and during that show, the audience will be women only, he said, to avoid any "awkward" feelings for audience members.
"We are trying to be sensitive to the fact that our audience may be in different places about how they feel about it," he said.
During intermission, Shari Braendel, the author of "Good Girls Don't Have to Dress Bad" and a fashion blogger, will speak. Bibles and other Christian-themed items will be placed into the gift bags.
The nine designers selected for the runway event will showcase original women's couture, women's ready-to-wear fashion, men's clothing, swimwear and bridal gowns. Several of the designers are Florida-based, while two are from New York and one is from Venezuela. Not all of the designers are Christian, but all showed an interest in designing modern, beautiful and modest clothes.
"We really wanted quality represented," said Jose Gomez. His wife, Mayra, was working on the day that her husband did an interview with The Associated Press, but she has modeled and runs Models4Jesus, which hosts events for and by fashion industry professionals who happen to be Christian. Among her messages: Models shouldn't have to pose nude if they don't want to.
Julia Chew at 18 is the youngest designer of the group. She was drawn to the show in part because of her faith — yet in designing the collection for the show, she didn't have to "remind" herself to create modest clothing because those are her values.
"I'm a teenager, and I want to be accepted," she said. "As a Christian, I want to dress and design clothes in a way that honors my body."
Chew, who recently graduated after being homeschooled by her parents, said her collection was inspired by nature — she enjoys camping trips with her family — and her gauzy, chiffon dresses were inspired by waterfalls. She's also been "obsessed" with feathers recently and crafted a stunning above-the-knee length dress entirely of dyed black feathers.
Crew sells her creations on Etsy, a website where designers, crafters and creators can sell their homemade items.
Alma Vidovic, also of Tampa, is another of the designers. She spends her days as a stylist at the Home Shopping Network and in her free time designs clothing. Her first-ever bridal line will be shown at the Christian fashion show Saturday; the dresses are subtle and sexy, with one strapless ivory-colored dress that hugs the body and flows into cascading ruffles at the hem.
"I see my fashion as a story," she said. "I wanted to create a kind of floral story, a blooming, a coming of age."
Both Vidovic and Chew say that dressing creatively doesn't automatically translate into showing skin.
"It's about comfort and really expressing who you are," Vidovic said.
Gomez said that people in the Christian press have taken notice and some publications — such as Christianity Today — are expected to send reporters and photographers to the show.
Already, Jose Gomez said he's had calls from sponsors for next year's show and is thinking ahead about hosting it in a bigger location, like Miami or even New York.
"Modesty is the right thing to do," he said. "The fashion industry operates under certain assumptions, but there is an alternative."
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