The 17th season of “Project Runway” might have wrapped in June, but that isn’t stopping show alums Bishme Cromartie and Christian Siriano from reuniting for the exhibition “Spectrum of Fashion: Celebrating Maryland’s Style” at the Maryland Historical Society.
The exhibit features nearly 100 pieces of women’s and men’s garments from four centuries including a gown by Cromartie and one designed by Siriano. Opening Oct. 5 and running through October 2020, the exhibition will kick off with a gala reception and fashion show, emceed by Siriano, an Annapolis native.
“The thing about Baltimore is that it has history. To be from the area you understand the history,” says Cromartie, the self-taught Baltimore designer known for his avant-garde, flashy creations. “You undertint the importance of [history] and how Baltimore works and it is perceived it represents hard work. The people in Baltimore are truly inspiring because I have friends and family members who do so much.”
Cromartie says that he was approached by the Maryland Historical Society and immediately agreed to participate in the exhibition.
“It gives Baltimore another topic to talk about and something to look forward to,” Cromartie says. “It’s extremely amazing. I was trying to think about the last time we had something like this. I know it’s going to be an amazing event. I keep daydreaming about it.”
Organizers say that outside of the Met in New York City, the exhibit in Baltimore is the largest costume and fashion collection in the nation.
In addition to Cromartie, designers like Claire McCardell, who is credited with the creation of American sportswear, and Lottie Barton, an 1890s Maryland fashion designer who dressed the wives of several presidents, are included in the collection. Garments with connections to past presidents and enslaved people will be included.
Both “Project Runway” alums will be represented in the exhibition in a section titled New Maryland Designers, according to Allison Tolman, vice president of collections at the Maryland Historical Society. That section will also feature a slew of contemporary designers such as Jill Andrews, Jody Davis, Ella Pritsker and Christopher Schafer.
“What that section focuses on is how Maryland designers today are keeping us in the conversation when it comes to important fashion,” she says.
“We’ve had important Maryland designers throughout history,” she says. “Now great designers like Bishme and Christian can forge forward on the path that they have started and really keep Maryland in the conversation when it comes to fashion.”
Cromartie’s contribution will be a floor-length, one-shoulder, flowy gown that he created a decade ago for a spread in Elle Vietnam. The multi-colored silk crepe gown with a watercolor splattered pattern of purple, blue and white was one of four pieces that he chose for the shoot. Although it wasn’t chosen — a giraffe pattern gown that he designed made the cut —the purple frock went on to be worn by Eva Marcille on the BET parody reality show “Real Husbands of Hollywood.”
“The dress was made in three days,” he recalls. “I made that gown when I was still sewing out of my bedroom when I was living with my mom and sister. It shows how far I’ve come.”
Tolman says that Cromartie’s gown represents an important part in his life.
“That piece is a turning point in his journey,” she says.
Siriano’s contribution, a red and fuchsia color-blocked caped gown from his 10th anniversary collection in 2018, was purchased by the historical society, according to Tolman.
“We chose a piece from that collection because he was celebrating a lot of his accomplishments that he was really proud of,” she says. “He does body-positive fashions and inclusive fashions and he put on this amazing show showcasing that. We really wanted to have that conversation in our collection.”
Overall, the collection will showcase the breadth of Maryland’s offerings in the fashion industry, according to Tolman.
“The exhibit is talking about the depth of our collection. We use the word spectrum of fashion because spectrum means diversity. Diversity in color. Diversity in time and social class. We really are highlighting the depth of our collection,” she says. “We’re showing the diversity of fashion that we are seeing now.”