The Era of Sweatpants Has Come to An End

We hope. For the past few years, local designers, style-setters and civic power players have been giving Philly a long-overdue makeover. But does this city have what it takes to make it work as a fashion power?

Let’s return to that moment in 2011 when the Philadelphia Retail Marketing Alliance realized it had failed to convince anyone that Philly was a fashion town with just a roster of big-name stores. Members were sitting down for a postmortem meeting when it suddenly dawned on them that the future of fashion retail in Philly—a business that could really have sharp capitalistic, c­ultural and creative teeth—was right under their co­llective nose. The city was already graduating ferociously talented designers. Why not work together with Drexel, Moore and Philly U., as well as select investors, to train these designers to become savvy, informed careerists and to grow their businesses here? The effort could ultimately boost the Chestnut East section of Center City, bringing much-needed creative-economy jobs and new life to the area—something the Mayor’s Office and the CCD saw as a great boon of the Fashion Incubator.

Edward Jay Goldberg, vice president of government and consumer affairs for Macy’s, began having serious talks with City Research and Big Events director Jo­hnson and the CCD’s Shannon about launching a fashion-design program in Philly like the one Macy’s already had in Chicago. What would make Philly’s different was that its director and board would work with the city’s schools to draw in talented designers, advisers and teachers to help locals strengthen their brands, business-wise.

New York designer Elissa Bloom was hired to head up Philly’s Fashion Incubator, which would select four designers with several years of experience in selling their lines but little business sense or background. These would be the designers-in-residence. Bloom, Goldberg, the advisory board, and civic and city reps launched the whole program in March of 2012.

By the program’s end in December, the DIRs had gotten an expert course in business management and strategy, plus exposure they might never have had otherwise. Kietponglert, for one, ended up winning the 2012 National RAW award for fashion in L.A. in January; last time I spoke with her, she was lining up meetings with major L.A. retailers. DIR sisters Latifat Obajinmi and Moriamo Johnson have not only taken in orders for their spring line, but are also working on developing a children’s clothing line with Rachael Williams, owner of the Little Treehouse, Chestnut Hill’s popular children’s indoor play-space.

But perhaps the greatest single payoff from the Incubator’s maiden year is that Philly has now officially targeted fashion as a growth industry to push, and hopes to revive itself as a leading textile and clothing manufacturing center. Various non-government arm-twisters are even rumored to be putting the heat on hometown Philly fashion leg­acies such as Tory Burch to invest in Philly’s ind­ependent designers’ businesses.

The fashion bug has infiltrated the zeitgeist, too, inspiring an awareness and excitement for locavore Philly-made clothing. The ultra-luxe Rittenhouse boutique Adresse just ordered Rego’s spring line (plus, Rego says, “They love us in Texas!”). And Joan Shepp, who loves local Philly designers, will be carrying Kietponglert’s zipperwear in her store.

The energy in the city last fall was tangible, as gaggles of stilettoed glamazons came out to strut under glowing street lamps, hitting one store after another as part of Vogue’s “Fashion’s Night Out” celebration. It was a major coup that so many of the city’s powerful retailers insisted that the nationally known event be held here, outweighing officials who worried that Anna Wintour’s dazzle would outshine the similar, homegrown Philadelphia Collection event. Typical Philly, shrugs Ellen Shepp.

“Philadelphia has always had a problem with self-promotion and grandstanding, maybe because we’re a more friendly, laid-back city than power cities like New York or L.A.,” she says. Meaning, if you want to be on the fashion map, you have to market the hell out of yourself—outside the city.

That’s where Rakia Reynolds, owner of Skai Blue Media and Philly 360’s official Fashion Ambassador, comes in. In October 2012, Reynolds pulled off a genius move by luring two of the most powerful viral fashion leaders down from their high clotheshorses to Philly, to see us for themselves.

One was fashion photographer and author Scott Schuman (quickie CV: GQVogue ItaliaVogue Paris, Interview), creator of one of the most widely regarded and well-read fashion blogs, The Sartorialist, which features shots of fashion-y people he spots on the street via his discerning (read: snooty) lens. The other was Schuman’s girlfriend, Garance Doré, a fashion-editorial staple at Paris Vogue, InStyle, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and more, and the author of her own eponymous fashion blog. Put it this way: You and your city make The Sartorialist and Doré’s blog, and the fashion world starts whispering. At a party hosted at the new Barnes in honor of Schuman’s recent book, The Sartorialist: Closer, Schuman and Doré were duly impressed and snapped stylish Philadelphians in their e-pages. On Instagram, Schuman quipped: “I take back anything bad I ever said about Philly!”

But to make damn sure that Schuman and his ilk continue to eat their bad words, Philly will have to push fashion as hard as it did restaurants—maybe even harder. The Retail Alliance, the fashion PR machine, retail landlords, colleges, the Mayor’s Office, investors—all will have to help someone like Kietponglert make it so big that she lands wholesale orders from New York to L.A.—and then a flagship showroom in the new-and-improved Chestnut East. Or see to it that Kathy Rego’s Cabe line is snapped on Jessica Alba, Michelle Obama or Jennifer Garner—and that they love her in more states than Texas.

But we’re only into year two. That leaves the Philly fashion scene another, say, seven or eight to go until the pin gets stuck into the map. In the meantime, lay off the damn sweats, Philly—at least, outside of Eagles games. As the White Stripes song says, “Ho­ney, We Can’t Afford to Look This Cheap.” For real: We need the business.

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  • borntosuffer

    I found out @CharlieGarner25′s real identity – Adam Schein. Strange to lump the two games together as Vick had a 94.7 QB rating against Baltimore. The first interception was brutal. After that, he played very well. These early games just give you a chance to be in it at the end of the season. Best you can be after two games is 2-0 – something 26 other teams can only wish for.

  • Phils Goodman

    The Eagles are incredibly unlucky that they didn’t win both games by double digits.

  • Kev

    So Elliot Harrison writes ”
    While Philadelphia is 2-0, we can’t in good conscience put a team with nine turnovers and two one-point wins any higher than ninth”
    but he has no problem with ranking the Ravens 5th… to that I ask, how can anyone in good conscience rank a team 5th who cannot take advantage of an opponents 4 turnovers and can only score 6 points on two long field goals in the second half?

  • wydok

    Does it bother anybody that the Eagles haven’t been able to get a lot of sacks? I mean, 2 – 0 is still 2 – 0, and they get a lot of pressure, but not as many sacks as I would have expected so far.

    • Mac

      I know Babin stole one from Trent in the first game with a stupid penalty. Might have been another 1 or 2 that were lost in a similar fashion.

    • wpnx20

      I would say no for a few reasons.

      First, we haven’t been playing with leads and forcing teams into tons of obvious passing situations. Despite not racking up huge sack numbers, the Eagles are getting consistent pressure and have already generated 7 turnovers (tied for the league high).

      Next, I think our significant depth along the DL will make a larger impact as the season continues. We’ve already seen Cox take a significant number of snaps and I think Graham has done enough to warrant a jump in playing time. By the second half of the season, offensive lines will begin to wear down while our pass rushers should remain relatively fresh.

      Finally, the Ravens and Browns have two of the best OLs we’ll see all year. The OLs in our division are atrocious. In addition to those six games, we have the Cardinals, Steelers, and Bengals with serious questions on OL.

    • Michael Jorden

      Nope. The sacks will come but what’s important is creating constant pressure and we’ve been doing that. Hits and hurries are getting it done and making life miserable for opposing QB’s. Really liking the DEF as a unit right now!

    • poetx99

      nope. not at all. against kolb this should be a sack + int festival. he gets rattled easily. he has a primarily downfield threat he’s trying to get the ball.

      the goodness in all of this is that last year we got sacks and no INTs. we’ll be getting both. ESPECIALLY after the offense stops shooting itself in the foot and starts getting double digit leads and opposing qb’s have no choice but to air it out.

  • Mac

    So I guess, if the Eagles make it to the super bowl, Vick throws 3 picks yet the offense manages to put 24 points on the board and the opposing team can only put up 20 then we will have usurped the title of worst SB Champion of all time from the Giants.

    • Cranky Caucasian

      Giants have done very well being the luckiest team in the NFL for many years now. If that’s what it takes to win, so be it.

    • barry_nic

      How Lombardi trophies do we have? If Tom Brady, Teddy Bruschi, and rest of the Patriots came down with Malaria and couldn’t play in ’04 and we won, I’d be happy as a clam. The Giants have four trophies, two in the last 5 years, most of those years we were the better team, it just means we under-achived.

  • FMWarner

    Of all the common football statistics, turnovers might be the most random. And so if that’s the Eagles’ biggest weakness so far, then I would not call them fortunate, but unfortunate.

  • Kal

    The Eagles are forcing turn over of their own and playing unified defense. The Offense will take care of itself as time goes on so I am not to concerned.

    I’ve not seen a lazer perfect QB yet this year and don’t expect Vick to hit his mark just yet.