When Brandon Campbell talks of a local “thirst for fashion,” he's not just speaking hopefully. The organizer of Little Rock Fashion Week, which starts its way down the runway on Friday, is banking on precedent — on a buzz that springs from the successes of models like Danielle Evans and Furonda Brasfield of “America's Next Top Model” fame, of designers like Korto Momolu, and, perhaps most saliently, of events like the Designer's Choice Fashion Preview, which has drawn crowds upward of 1,000 in each of the last two years.
“It's like rebirth in the city,” Campbell says. “Everybody is up. Everybody is ready. People want to be involved. People want to learn how to design. People want to be models. People have gone to school to improve their skills in photography. People have learned how to walk a catwalk. People are now making up their own jewelry lines.”
Campbell didn't take a direct route to heading up Little Rock Fashion Week. He's Little Rock born-and-raised and a graduate of Central, but since 2003, he's bounced from coast to coast, working in TV, mainly as a production assistant, on everything from Nickelodeon's “Drake and Josh” to “The Biggest Loser” to “E! Live from the Red Carpet” specials. Most recently, for a year and a half, he worked as a writer on WWE's “Friday Night SmackDown.”
“My dream was always to go out and make those connections, learn the business, become a better producer and writer, observe, learn from some of the best minds,” Campbell says.
Then came an epiphany.
“I was cleaning up my home, and it's like a light bulb just went off in my head. ‘Ding!' It was bigger than any intuition I've ever had in my life. It shook me. It was like, ‘Wow, OK, this is what I need to do: Brandon, you're going to bring fashion week to Little Rock.' ”
There's a nice ring to Little Rock Fashion Week (so nice, in fact, that Campbell trademarked the name and the slogan, “It's Fashionment!”), but the event might more accurately be called Little Rock Fashion Weekend. There have been mid-week activities: On Tuesday, there was a kick-off party at On the Rocks, and Wednesday, Fashion Week models accepted donations at the Watershed Human and Community Development Agency for a Back to School Drive. But no heels hit the runway until Friday night at the “Young and Fabulous Experience” at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. The “Couture Experience” caps the weekend off on Saturday at the Statehouse Convention Center.
In the weeks leading up to his event, Campbell has talked of bringing the runways of New York and Milan to Little Rock. He's also billed Fashion Week as “one of the few ‘experiences' in the world that merges fashion with entertainment.”
The weekend may not live up to those grandiose heights, but based on the sheer numbers of participants Campbell's assembled, it should be something to behold. Over the course of two evenings, 30 hair and make-up artists will style somewhere in the neighborhood of 115 models, who'll be wearing clothes and accessories from nearly 20 designers from Arkansas and beyond.
Featured designers and boutiques range from the familiar — Nicole McGehee's Nida Collection, Barbara/Jean, Jeante — to fledgling collections like Crying Tears, billed on the Fashion Week website as a label “where the spirit of Jesus Christ fuses a grunge Eurocentric style with a traditional message … not made in Hong Kong, Thailand, or downtown L.A., but made in His image.”
To add a measure of star power, Campbell's recruited longtime radio DJ, rapper and MTV News host Sway Calloway to host the Couture Show on Saturday. And fashion aficionados might recognize Antonio Jordan's face. The Little Rock native, who's serving as modeling coach for Fashion Week and also walking the runway himself, has modeled internationally — memorably for Abercrombie & Fitch. The musical entertainment is of the local variety, albeit mostly from acts who've had some sort of brush with fame. Friday, Little Rock's Lil Speedie, who once won “Wild Out Wednesday” on BET's “106 and Park,” performs, and Saturday features local R&B crooner Jay Jamerson, a finalist on MTV's “Making the Band 4.”