As music pulsed in the lounge at the W Hotel New Orleans on Saturday night, a studio space upstairs was abuzz with model hopefuls and fashion designers. Model casting for the second annual New Orleans Fashion Week marked the end of a year-long planning process for the event, which will take place October 11-17.
A poised young woman entered the studio, wearing a tiny, black bandeau and high heels. She moved confidently in front of the judges—a credit for someone in little more than a bathing suit top—and posed easily for imaginary cameras she hoped to see at the end of the runway in three weeks. “She’s got balls,” said Leigh Alcott, a member of the Retail and Luxury Goods Association at Tulane, who along with her peers was casting models and staffing Fashion Week. “But she’s short.” “This year we want 20 quality, high fashion models,” said Conrad Lamour, designer and CEO of New Orleans Fashion Week LLC, the company he started to put on the event. Last year, there were 40 models, but it is Lamour’s goal to raise the standard at every step of preparation. “The area is not known for quality fashion,” Lamour said. “But it’s all about the industry. During fashion week, everyone gets mentored, so we can raise the bar for the next year.”
Many of the main players in the New Orleans fashion industry see the potential for growth, particularly in production. “There is so much manufacturing space that is not being utilized,” said John Delgadillo, a local designer and DJ who came to New Orleans from Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina. He jokes with the models to help them relax. “Just hold your head up and bam! Bam!” This could be the motto for the city’s approach to Fashion Week.
Lamour, who came to New Orleans in 2007 after putting on a show during New York Fashion Week, has high hopes for outside investors in future years, but he’s keeping New Orleans Fashion Week completely local for now. “Upgrading the city is a challenge,” said Lamour, “but I know local people can bring it up.” As Lamour gives directions to staff, a striking young woman struts toward the studio with balletic grace, trailing a group of smiling friends. They’re all tall.
“Jessica!” Lamour says, leaning in to kiss the model’s cheek. She attracted notice during Fashion Week last year, when she came on to walk the day before the shows began. She and her friends traveled to the W Hotel from Houma, a small town 2 hours north of New Orleans. “We put on our make up in the car!” she says in a thick Louisiana accent. “But we’re ready.”
New Orleans Fashion News ExaminerKatherine Bernard