For some, fashion is frivolous. For others, it is a necessary evil or simply a way to make a living. But for many up-and-coming designers in the Baltimore area, fashion is more like a way of life. For them, fashion is art.
So when Artscape, the region's annual celebration of visual and musical arts, announced that for the first time the three-day extravaganza, which begins today, would include a fashion component, local designers - in storefronts and basement studios from Canton to the suburban counties - could barely contain their joy.
"This is overdue," says Edye Sanford, designer of Designs From the Edge, a line of children's, women's and men's clothing that she began selling from her home and at Hampden's Oh! Said Rose, about three years ago. "I'm definitely excited about it."
Artscape organizers said they realized recently that in the 24 years of the popular arts festival, fashion designers weren't being showcased as well as they could have been - and they decided to do something about it.
"In the Artists' Market, there might have been some artists selling clothing pieces here and there," says Tracy Baskerville, communications director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. "Now we've picked an entire area, and we've dedicated it to exhibit booths all selling fashion and really unique designs. We realized that there were a lot of designers in the Baltimore area, a lot of artists that we were missing."
Fashion at Artscape, as the new component is being called, will feature more than 20 local and regional fashion designers at Gordon's Plaza, at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues. Besides booths, Fashion at Artscape also will include three days of fashion shows, where models will show off local designers' work, New York-runway style.
"Fashion is definitely art," Baskerville says. "We're not talking about your mass quantity of T-shirts. These are definitely unique designs, things you would have to go to these designers' stores to get."
Sanford, for example, makes many of her custom children's outfits from upholstery fabric, which is attractive and extremely durable - an innovative idea parents love.
"One of the things that makes fashion unique as an art form is that it has to be able to function," says Sanford, who also has had success making wrap skirts for women, and casual kilts for men and boys.
Longtime Baltimore fashion designer Carlous Palmer will send his clothes down the Artscape catwalk this weekend.
Many of his hand-painted, tie-dyed and high-end denim designs might be familiar to some Baltimoreans. Palmer, who studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, sold some of his clothes at Nordstrom and the Bead Experience, to name a couple, before leaving the area for Florida some years ago.
Now, Palmer is back in town and is thrilled to show his work at Artscape, which he called "a rite of passage for any artist or designer."
"I did Fashion Week in Miami, and I thought, 'This [Artscape] is kind of a fashion weekend for Baltimore,'" Palmer says. "It gives Baltimore the opportunity to show its creativity. There are a lot of great designers here, and I'm proud to be able to work with them."
A panel formed by the Office of Promotion and the Arts reviewed the work of scores of designers who wanted to participate in the festival. Only serious - and talented - designers were chosen, Baskerville says.
"We think they're definitely talented people. We were looking for things that were unique, things that you couldn't find anywhere else, that would keep people coming back to Artscape every year."
This weekend's fashion exhibits will showcase everything from urban wear to classics to ethnic wear, Baskerville says.
Celena Siprajim, designer of a men's and women's ready-to-wear line, seventy.nine, says her custom-made urban clothes - designed in partnership with illustrator Michael Brown - are received very well at small fashion shows held around Baltimore every year. But emerging artists always are looking for ways to grow.
"I was really interested in the opportunity to show my work to a wider audience than I can touch on at the shows we organized," says Siprajim, a graduate of Maryland Institute College of Art. "It's something that I've been looking for out of Baltimore for a long time. We always knew there was an outlet for it."
New York, a fashion capital, is right up the road, but the city is extremely competitive and sometimes out-of-touch with Baltimore style, Siprajim says. Artscape, however, is the perfect venue for that expanded audience she and other designers have been looking for.
"It's a better outlet for people who want to do more ready-to-wear types of clothing, as opposed to strictly runway," she says. "We do appreciate the [New York] runway shows, but at the same time, when it comes to purchasing or acquiring these [clothes] for themselves, people in Baltimore are a little more conservative."
What many Baltimore designers are trying to convey, "is that you can have really stylish, interesting clothes and still have them fit your styles," Sanford says.
Still, high-fashion in Baltimore is on the rise, fashion observers agree. So it is fitting, then, that Artscape has finally caught on to the trend.
"We do think there is an emerging scene in Baltimore fashion," Baskerville says. "What we've heard from the fashion community is that years ago Baltimore had a fashion district and it was known for fashion and the sewing industry. There is a community in Baltimore that is trying to bring that back."
Art to wear
Fashion at Artscape will feature more than 20 local and regional fashion designers at Gordon's Plaza, at Mount Royal and Maryland avenues. Booths and three days of fashion shows are also planned.
Information: www.art scape.org