Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stylemaker Q&A: Kristi Moe on Wisconsin Fashion Week

Let's play a little word association. What do you think of when hear the term "fashion week"? Do you carry a mental image of Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, wearing her signature dark shades, sitting in the front row of Marc Jacobs? Or perhaps leggy fashion editors sporting all- black ensembles (leather leggings, oversize tank and Alexander Wang blazer—don't forget the fierce, teetering, five-inch YSL platforms!) hanging out at cocktail parties? Let's not forget the ravishing models lounging backstage, sipping Champagne...

Kristi Moe (left), executive producer of Wisconsin Fashion Week, nixes these connotations for our own fashion extravaganza, Wisconsin Fashion Week (May 19-23), right here in Madison. "Inclusion" is a word I hear her repeat throughout our interview—and with good reason, because the week is aiming to attract all different audiences who dig fashion—from guys to gals, young and old and those of all different abilities.

Read on for what next week has in store—and rest assured, you can wear last season's pumps. I won't tell.

What was the original impetus behind you starting Madison Fashion Week, Fashion Fridays and, eventually, Wisconsin Fashion Week?
My original concept came out of a freelance client I had. I suggested they do a runway show—but when I started looking into it, I realized there isn’t a consistent, well-run, fashion show here besides ones for nonprofits and whatnot—which are great, too.
But from a PR background that’s what motivated me to get into it. I’m a non-biased player and I can work with all of these people and help all that are involved. It’s a very neat position to be in.

Clearly, Fashion Week has changed—most noticeably with the name change from Madison Fashion Week to this year’s Wisconsin Fashion Week. What other changes will event-goers notice?
This year it’s a lot more collaborative and on a much larger scale. It’s more than just my vision; it’s a community-involved event. It’s much more high profile too—we’re stepping it up by having [the Saturday runway shows] at Overture Center.
We brought in the Fashion Council. My expertise is not in photography or modeling. So the people in the Fashion Council give me recommendations because they have expertise in those areas. For example, Adam Perkins is great with photography. He understands the language and is great with networking with other photographers.

As executive producer, what does your role entail?
Well, the Fashion Council is really good at taking things off of my to-do list. All of them are people with part- or full-time jobs, too, so they help out when they can. But I’m still really involved in pretty much every event that’s going on.
One of my friends joked that my title should be diva, but I don’t want that title! It sounds negative (laughs).

How is Wisconsin Fashion Week different from, say, New York or L.A. Fashion Week?
It’s really for the ordinary Jane who won’t get an invite to New York or L.A. Fashion Week. We’re focused on the “now” and it’s much more about the experience; women can feel like a celebrity in their own town and become their own fashion icon. Fashion is what you make it, and here’s a reason to for you to express yourself.
Also, there will be mini-boutiques at Overture for before and after the runway shows where people can shop. If people like what they see in the show, they could literally buy it and wear it out that night!

How is an event of this scale able to go on in these economic times?
It’s very grassroots—it’s because of the sponsors it’s able to go on. It’s different from last year from a participant standpoint, too. There are a lot more designers this year—they’ve really come out of the woodwork! It’s much more balanced with boutiques and designers.
There are probably over one hundred people involved in Wisconsin Fashion Week. The models and photographers are doing this for free for the experience. It’s just really a good way to get everyone in this industry connected.

Can you describe some of the events going on throughout the week?
The avant-garde show (Tuesday) isn’t necessarily retail-ready collections (Ed’s note: In other words, the show will feature fashions that are more conceptual/artistic).
The Fashion For All Abilities show (Wednesday) is really inclusion from a modeling perspective. It also emphasizes how important it is from a business perspective to cater to those with special needs.
Friday is urban wear/streetwear. It emphasizes the youth culture, and it’s not necessarily mainstream.
The Stylista show is Saturday during the day and has hairstylists, makeup artists and fashion stylists compete and prep models in a live competition.
Saturday’s shows [menswear and women’s wear] are much more mainstream. At 6 p.m. is the [women’s] trend show, which [has fashions with] a better price point and would attract possibly a younger market.
The 8:30 p.m. show [features fashions with] a higher price point.
After that is the Go Red for Women auction, which will feature models of all ages, including older models.
[In total] the shows will have men, women, old, young, plus-size, different body types and different abilities.

What event are you most excited about?
Friday—as long as it doesn’t rain! (laughs) It’s in the courtyard at 345 West Washington. It’s more entertainment-focused. Two groups are coming up here from Chicago: Ivy League, who sing a song called “Pose” that’s all about modeling. Project Mayhem is a hip-hop group that’s into the Ralph Lauren subculture.

Who do you see attending Fashion Week events?
Women ages twenty-five to fifty-five is really what we’re targeting. Last year’s event was much more youth-focused; this year will be more of a mainstream crowd. Mom can come with her daughter or girls can do a girls’ day out.

How did you find your models?
We did a tour in Madison, Chicago and Milwaukee. It really reaffirmed what talent we have. There was one really great model, a fifteen-year-old, who just signed with the Rock Agency two months ago. I was really excited to see her—she’s someone new and hopefully through Fashion Week someone might want to book her for photo shoots with stores or designers.
We received a lot of great applications—it was hard to say no! But it was important they were able to take direction from us, and confidence was another huge thing.

What have been the challenges of putting on this week?
The sheer size—there’s a lot of detail that goes into a high-quality event.
The economic environment being what it is, sponsorships have been a challenge. But we’ve been well received by people. People get excited about this because they know it’s for them.
Despite the economy, though, participation from the designers and retailers has been overwhelming—they realize the value of being able to connect with their customers.

How would you describe the Midwest’s fashion sensibility?
We’re much more about how fashion fits our lives. Internal Construction (Ed’s note: Internal Construction is a line is by Jessica Neumann and Becky Heller and composed of versatile one-piece garments) is a good example. Biking to work and still looking cute—that’s our strength in fashion, and we bring something different.

What’s the next step for Wisconsin Fashion Week?
It would be great to reach outside of Madison, perhaps more to Milwaukee, incorporating more designers and stores in different cities in Wisconsin. There is so much more to be discovered. The events could possibly be more inclusive to different areas, to get more participation and interest. An event needs to have the community involved, and that’s why we’ve been able to grow.

What impression would you like people to leave these events with?
I want them to be entertained. I’d like people to think about shopping locally. I’d like them to know that a dress that’s tailored and designed for them is within their budget—they could get a custom-designed dress for $100!

So planning Fashion Fridays and Wisconsin Fashion Week is your full-time gig, right?
Yes, it is. So it’s really a great opportunity for me at this level—it’s something new and creative. There are risks involved and going into it. I knew what the risks were, but I really wanted to do it. If it doesn’t work out I always have a backup plan for myself, but I wanted to do this.

Wisconsin Fashion Week, May 19-23, various locations. Tickets: $50/week pass, $30/week student pass. For more information on Wisconsin Fashion Week please visit

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