Photos by Jeff Rutherford
Friends, family and fashion lovers filled McNamara Alumni Center Friday for the Center for Hmong Arts & Talent’s (CHAT) annual fundraising-fashion show, Fresh Traditions V.
The excitement generated by the fashion show could be felt within minutes of walking into Memorial Hall. Everything and everyone in the room seemed to be in constant motion, generating an atmosphere of energy and exhilaration. Audience members shifted and moved trying to find the most accessible spot to view the long, black runway in the center of the hall. Any noise produced by the audience was quickly enveloped by the DJ’s music.
The fifth annual event began with master of ceremonies, Katie Ka Vang, walking onto the runway, urging viewers to support CHAT in various ways–from direct support of buying drinks to free publicity of Fresh Traditions by photos from mobile phones.
“Take a picture and put them on Facebook,” she said. “This is not an event where you hold back.”
The show did anything but hold back. Female models came up and down the runway, each showcasing the work of the designers, in everything from gowns and pants to Christmas light head decorations.
According to CHAT’s website, it is their goal to nurture, explore and illuminate the Hmong American experience through artistic expressions. Fresh Traditions takes these ideas and links together Hmong community with the fashion industry by highlighting Hmong designers.
The five designers chosen this year for Fresh Traditions were Sai Chang from St. Paul; Marlena Thao from Minneapolis; Dokiang Thao from Madison, Wisconsin; Ashley Yang from St. Paul; and Kao Lee Thao from Savage, Minnesota.
Once chosen, designers were given artistic freedom but with the added challenge of making a garment that reflected the traditional Hmong fabrics: neon pink, neon green, blue satin, black satin, and black velvet.
For some of the designers this was their first show, while others were seasoned veterans, even studying design.
For Kao Lee Thao, who is not normally a designer, Friday was her first stab at sewing clothes. The artist said it was a good opportunity for her to try a new art medium. Thao’s elaborate collection, Once Upon a Time, combined Hmong colours and folktales.
“I am an artist,” Thao said. “I’ve never sewn a collection before. I see it as more of an art project.
Sai Chang studied Apparel Design and Development at University of Wisconsin Stout and assisted designer Chong Moua last year, but said this year was her first solo collection.
“This [year] was my first collection, so it was really special for me,” Chang said.
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