Ask the average tourist, and they would likely not guess that Nashville fashion goes beyond denim and the deals they’ll find on cowboy boots along Lower Broadway. I had the privilege of talking to NFW’s co-founders and managing partners, Connie Cathcart-Richardson and Marcia Masulla, to get their perspectives on how this tenth Nashville Fashion Week will be like nothing we’ve seen before.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This interview was done before the spread of COVID-19 caused the cancelation of many public events.]
Will: Tell me a little bit about the history of Nashville Fashion Week as you kick off your Tenth Anniversary.
Marcia: The mission since day one has been to educate local and national audiences about Nashville’s growing fashion community and our city has experienced the results. Nashville Fashion Week and the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund have helped raise awareness of our creative talent by showcasing 180 designers and hundreds of local businesses with an investment of over $1.3 million in the local community over the past nine years. NFW could not continue to do this year after year without the support of dedicated sponsors, volunteers and ticket holders.
Connie: Nashville Fashion Week was co-founded by a collaboration of fashion, media, and marketing professionals that partnered to combine our passion and resources to create a completely volunteer-led, run, and managed event to spotlight Nashville’s growing fashion community with an ongoing, sustainable focus for philanthropic support of our creative community.
For the first seven years, we changed locations every single night as a way to pair both emerging and historical Nashville neighborhoods and projects with fresh designer talent. In 2011, our opening night runway event kicked off high above the city at the yet-to-be-opened raw space in the Pinnacle Building. That first year we moved around each day with runway shows at The Arcade, War Memorial Auditorium and at the Crystal Springs Baptist Church in East Nashville with Christian Siriano as our headline designer. Our runway show footprint has also included The Parthenon, Trolley Barns, Belmont Mansion, shutting 5th Avenue down, the Bi-Centennial Amphitheater, the Veranda at Union Station and Legislative Plaza in front of the Capitol. These unlikely locales are just a few of the fifty locations that we chose to spotlight our city.
Marcia: After hosting our opening night in 2017 at OZ Arts Nashville, we immediately knew that we had found our home. In 2018 we officially partnered with OZ in a strategic collaboration to highlight their expansive facility and resources. This partnership has allowed NFW to elevate our production capabilities for our runway shows and Nashville Fashion Forward Awards by keeping these anchor events all under one roof. Since our initial foray, we have added interactive Learning Labs, a Shop Nashville initiative to promote fashion commerce, Fashion Talks that focus on issues and vital topics in the fashion industry, a sustainable summit niche events for influencers and men, along with celebratory parties. And for year ten, we still have some magic up our sleeves!
Connie: Ticket proceeds from Nashville Fashion Week benefit the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee. The Nashville Fashion Forward Fund is an endowed fund that supports the next generation of fashion industry professionals with ties to Middle Tennessee by providing an annual financial award and resources for experiential professional development opportunities to advance the career of local talent with demonstrated experience in any fashion-related field. The Nashville Fashion Forward Fund ensures that Nashville Fashion Week will impact the Nashville fashion community for many years to come.
Will: What excites you about the class of designers being shown during the 2020 celebration?
Connie: Nineteen of twenty-one designers this year are from Middle Tennessee. This is the first time in our 10-year history that we’ve had the talent to do that. It’s just another example of the progression of the fashion industry in our community.
Will: What trends do you see emerging this year?
Marcia: For the first time, the AMAX + NFW Model Search and agency casting was open to everyone of all ages and sizes. Our designers have embraced heading into a more inclusive way to design for a broader consumer and audience. This is another sign of our fashion community’s growth. Our runway’s showcase a wide range of perspective and many times, we see trends created from these points of view. With eight designers making their NFW debut, we expect to shake things up a bit in year ten!
Will: Tell me about the spirit of diversity being highlighted in this year’s events.
Marcia: Back in our inaugural year, we immediately recognized that as a part of our responsibility to our fashion community, investing in education experiences was an integral component to our mission. Since then we have hosted a range of opportunities that have included engaging Learning Labs on how to start and grow fashion businesses along with hosting industry leaders to share insight from their own experiences. As the fashion industry is tackling the issue of sustainability, we hosted a free sustainable summit last year to be a platform for change.
This year, we added another free interactive event with our partners, The Tennessee State Museum, in tandem with the opening of their high-profile “Ratified! Tennessee Women and the Right to Vote” exhibit, that will share how the intersection of social movements and style have historically gone hand-in-hand and continue to do so. We are also addressing the topic of diversity and inclusion head-on as a part of the third installment of our “Fashion Talks” series with fashion industry legend, Fern Mallis. Mallis will lead the conversation with esteemed panelists who can share their perspectives while also encouraging ways that we can all support change.
Will: If you had to sum up your thoughts on the future of fashion in a single sentence, what would it be?
Connie: We are Nashville fashion!
Nashville Fashion Week’s Tenth Anniversary runs from March 31 until April 4 at OZ Arts, located at 6172 Cockrill Bend Circle in West Nashville. Tickets and details are available at http://www.nashvillefashionweek.com/.