Fashion in Virginia: Design takes Root in Richmond

Feb 17, 2016

Virginia is in for several more weeks of winter, but spring fashions are on display in stores.  Most were designed in big, international cities like Paris or New York, but a growing number actually originated here in the Commonwealth.  In the first part of our series, Sandy Hausman looks at why clothing design is taking root in Richmond. 

VCU fashion students Taylor Perdue and Cierra Artis.

The fashion runways of New York are more than 300 miles from Virginia’s capital city, but in the 21st century, cities have grown closer.  E.P. Cutler is a best-selling author and fashion historian.

“I think that the Internet and its relationship with fashion has changed everything. It has allowed fashion into the homes of anyone that is interested.  You can watch, literally in real time, street fashion in Milan from your own apartment.  And that ability to see what is going on in the cultural capitals all over the world makes it smaller.”

We spoke with Cutler at Richmond’s trendy new boutique hotel – Quirk – which features an art gallery adjacent to its lobby.  The author has come to address students in the fashion design program at Virginia Commonwealth, and she’s impressed by what she finds.

“I think Richmond is a really, really great city, and if I wasn’t off to Paris I would absolutely consider Richmond, because it is – it’s a beautiful town. There’s a ton of arts and culture, and compared to New York it’s really affordable, and it’s easy to get in and out of, so it’s really a great hub, which is another reason why I think it’s poised to explode.”

In fact, she adds, the rising cost of living and doing business in New York has driven many creative people to look for some other place to create.  Patricia Brown shares Cutler’s enthusiasm for Richmond.  She left her home in Northern Virginia to design for several major fashion houses and brands in New York.  She had even launched her own line of high-end jewelry, but when she saw that VCU was looking for someone to chair its fashion program, she was intrigued.

“I kind of laughed to myself, because having grown up in Virginia and thinking I needed to be in New York to do this business, I was like – wow, a job related to fashion in Virginia.  That’s great!”

What she found was a city rich in culture, with theaters, concert halls and museums that were constantly hosting events.

“People want to dress for those events, and I also notice that Richmond has become a foodie city, so people are getting dressed to go to dinner.”

And with so many universities in the region, she sees youth culture expressing itself through fashion.  We spoke with several of the 260 students enrolled in VCU’s program – Julia Robertson of Holston, Dellil Mohammed of Arlington, Cierra Artis of Herndon and Taylor Perdue.

Julia Robertson  says, “I grew up with my brother’s hand me downs – my brothers!  I started thinking about style my sophomore year of high school.  Then Junior year I was perfecting it, and senior year I had it down!”

“I have an eye for fashion. I know what’s kind of hot and what’s not,” says Dellil Mohammed.

Cierra Artis : “Since I was very young, I’ve always been like with little paper dolls, and I’ve always been drawn to fashion and how it influences the world and how you can show your personality through it, so I wanted to learn how to do it.”

“There’s craft involved.  There’s illustration involved, and we get to do lots of cool technical stuff.  We get to draft and we also get to drape and just go crazy and be as creative as we can,” says Taylor Perdue.

What’s more, some may find work in a growing fashion sector here.  In our next report, we’ll visit a Virginia company that makes high-end blue jeans by hand.