Alaska’s (fashion) capital brings fashion week back

Designers, models and fashion enthusiasts from across North America descended on Juneau over the weekend for the second annual Alaskan Fashion Week, bringing impeccable taste and unique looks to the capital.

The event went smooth as silk, said Cordova Pleasants, one of the organizers, and was about twice as large as last year’s event.

“The first one was in 2020 but it was extremely low key. We didn’t sell tickets due to COVID. So it was more like a meeting of the minds,” Pleasants said. “Last year was the first year we produced a show where we were able to sell tickets.”

Balancing the planning for this year’s event with constantly moving COVID levels and mitigation measures was a delicate act, Pleasants said.

“We started (planning) going in November, having conversations. By January, we were going full force,” Pleasants said. “It was very difficult to plan for something that could be canceled. That was hanging over our heads the whole time.”

The event is a unique one for the Juneau, said Dana Herndon, who along with Pleasants and Maggie McMillan, helped to organize Fashion Week.

“These designers were like, we’ve never done a show like this before,” Herndon said. “(It’s) telling Alaska’s fashion story- people are like, Alaska has a fashion scene?”

Chameleon models during Alaska Fashion Week on May 7, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Sydney Akagi Photography)

Fashion forward

More than 200 guests, designers and other attendees were part of the event, which began May 5, said Pleasants. About 30 models and 18 designers with their collections were part of the show, coming in from places including Fairbanks, Kenai, Valdez, New Mexico, Oregon, Canada.

“We had people from Fairbanks come. We had people from Southeast. We had a lot of people from Anchorage,” Herndon said. “We had a lot of lifelong Alaskans come to Southeast for the first time for Fashion Week.”

One designer, Victoria Kakuktinniq of Victoria’s Arctic Fashion, an Inuk designer from Nunavut, Canada, was a standout designer, having been featured in fashion weeks in Paris and New York.

“She loved our show the most,” Pleasants said. “This was the first show she got to watch her designs come down the runway.”

Events included tours, cocktail parties, a designer marketplace, drink tastings, and the runway show. None of it would be possible without local partners and sponsors, Pleasants said.

“We had a series of sponsors we worked with. Those either participated or gave to the show in some capacity. We had local sponsors but also sponsors from outside Juneau. One of our core sponsors is a shop in Fairbanks,” Pleasants said. “It was a lot of value for retail and fashion designers because they’re the only place in the state they come together.”

Alex Vicario, Hien Tran and Lisa Puananimohala’ikalani Denny model during the runway event of Alaska Fashion Week on May 7, 2022. (Courtesy photo / Sydney Akagi Photography)

The designer marketplace, where designers were able to sell clothes that had just been modeled, was also a huge hit, Herndon said, with thousands of dollars of transactions occurring.

“We had a designer marketplace where people could buy looks right off the runway that was super successful,” Herndon said. “Everyone was pumped to wear the collections. It was good all around.”

The newness of the festival and the Alaska fashion scene itself meant the event was unique as well, Pleasants said.

“We did things in a completely different way,” Pleasants said. “Retail is seeking the designers out. A lot of these designers are so new and fresh, they don’t know how it works. It’s cool that the designers are coming to them.”

The focus of the Fashion Week was slow fashion, Pleasants said- a more handmade, small-batch, locally-sourced-materials based fashion — as opposed to mass-appeal, mass-produced fast fashion.

“It was written into our mission for fashion week. We saw an underserved demand for slow fashion in the fashion world. We wanted to be at the forefront of that because we see so much fashion is about fast fashion,” Pleasants said. “This was their opportunity for them to really make an impact.”

Larger designers at the event brought examples of their fall lines, which won’t be released until August, for interested retailers to view, Pleasants said.

“I met with a designer and I’m ready to place an order for October,” said Pleasants, who also owns Resolute Boutique, located downtown. “That gives her time to find a manufacturer, which she hasn’t done but wants to do, and to get her goods in store.”

Courtesy photo / Sydney Akagi Photography
Models Chameleon, left, and Élise Pypaert pose during an Alaska Fashion Week event on Saturday.

Local effect

The show also did some immediate good for stores downtown, said vendors.

“I can tell we definitely appreciated what we saw. There was an uptick in traffic in the Wharf. There was an uptick in sales,” said David Summers, owner of Alaska Knifeworks. “Especially on the heels of the pandemic, we’re feeling everyone that comes to town is really nice.”

Summers said he and fellow business owners in Merchant’s Wharf saw increased traffic and sales from the Fashion Week crowd, which stood out somewhat from regular tourists.

“The patrons were so nice. We enjoyed meeting the artists and designers making their way downtown,” Summers said. “They tend to be outgoing. Your fashion can’t be seen behind closed doors. You have to get out there and show it off and that they did.”

The early season tends to be a little slower, Summers said, and the festival was a nice boost.

“It’s the startup phase. We’re taking down cobwebs and putting up products and training staff. We all saw an uptick in business and for that we were greatly appreciative,” Summers said. “This time of year, things are a little slower. It’s a heck of a nice shot in the arm.”

Summers said it’s been cool to see the Fashion Week grow, and was certainly grateful for the increased business.

“We saw it in real dollar sales down in the Wharf. We saw them and they were there,” Summers said. “Definitely looking forward to it coming back next year. I hope to stay in good communication with them. Maybe there’s a retail shopping day that makes sense for that group next year.”

Expansion of partnerships and more activities are on the organizers minds as well, Herndon said.

“I’d love to do shopping events next year. That’s something I’d love to include,” Herndon said. “Encouraging community members to collaborate with us is on my agenda for next year.”

With expectations for 2022 smashed, the future beckons, Pleasants said. People are already wanting to book next year, Herndon said.

“It’s the best in the state. We heard so,” Pleasants said. “It was way better than we ever expected. Any issues that were happening was just small potatoes. Everyone who came from out of town brought their A-game.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or [email protected]