Everyone has a presentation. Whether people make the effort or not in their own style, most humans like to look at beautiful things. As Miuccia Prada once said, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.” This language is not only accessible to notable fashion capitals like New York, Paris and Milan, but, really, everywhere — and that goes for Jacksonville.
In regard to Jacksonville’s fashion scene, frankly there isn’t a huge one. This statement comes from several tried-and-true designers who are making, and have been making, a name for themselves for years. But that doesn’t keep them from pursuing their craft.
“Jacksonville is a hard city to get into fashion,” said Jacksonville fashion designer Alexandra Ni, who has lived in Jacksonville since 2014 after marrying her husband. After studying fashion for years in Berlin, Germany, Ni continued to make her mark in the Jacksonville area through her collections that she describes as “European aesthetics with Asian sensibilities.”
Her latest spring collection includes vibrant, warm and minimal dresses that she sews from scratch to fit her client.
“I love working with silk and how it works on the female body. The silk becomes a kind of sculpture as a woman moves. But I know the material might be limiting so that’s why I want to use cotton. Wool is not really applicable in Florida.” she chuckled.
Sometimes her clients would ask where she’d wear one of Ni’s sophisticated and sleekly designed dresses in Jacksonville, aside from a fundraiser or gala. Ni suggested that wearing a nice dress can be acceptable for dinner with friends and doesn’t always have to be worn for upscale events. Fashion can be approachable for more circumstances than one realizes.
Ni is one of many fashion designers at large in the community. They are freelance designers who have consistently been working to make a name for themselves for years. Another local fashion designer who falls into the same category is Bobby Kelley, who launched BobbyK Designs back in 2006. This fall, he’ll open his new boutique in Murray Hill.
Jacksonville-born Kelley, who started his clothing line in Gainesville before venturing to New York in 2012, said one has to watch out for the designer wannabes, and he’s not afraid to defend his credibility. After Kelley took part in his first Jacksonville fashion show with “Perversion Magazine” in 2015, someone called him out on social media saying his fashion was something along the lines of “typical Jacksonville.” For the following show, Kelley made sure to shut down any doubts.
“I drug a sewing machine at the end of my runway and sewed a dress in front of 700 people. Then I put it on the model and she wore it down the runway,” Kelley said. “Saying and doing something are two different things.”
But aside from shutting down the haters of Jacksonville’s creative spheres, Kelley said that since the city doesn’t have a large art structure, fashion designers have to hustle to get their stuff into people’s hands.
This is certainly the case for Claire DeVoe of DeVoe Design, who described her products as having an Island Urban Infusion style . She calls herself a handbag designer and uses her background in fine arts to create her handmade “Adventure Bags.”
“The handmaid idea of it is what I want to stay true to. It’s so easy to have something outsourced and have someone make someone for you,” DeVoe said.
Hailing from Naples, DeVoe started her journey with sewing in 2014, when her grandmother passed down her sewing machine to her. Since then, DeVoe has created her unique bags while trying to make a name for herself in Jacksonville. But staying in the city, where she has fewer connections than in her hometown, might not be a long-term situation for DeVoe as she continues to develop her brand. With that being said, she noted that the city is still full of potential for designers.
“Jacksonville is like this huge melting pot. That’s something that I think is super beneficial to the city,” DeVoe said. “There’s so many outlets that I have yet to explore.”
And diversity could be one of the city’s biggest strengths for creatives. In a place where there are people of many styles, experiences and walks of life coming together, a space for creative experimentation in fashion is developing.
“When you go to New York Fashion Week, the lights come on, the music starts, models walk out on the circle and then they walk off. That’s typically it, and very traditional,” Kelley said. “But since we’re so off the radar, we have the opportunity to do the wacky s**t.”
Kelley and Ni have created fashion shows in the city that are redefining the traditional set up. As this goes on, programs like The Makery are also a space designers can share their products to the world.
“More stuff like [The Makery] is an improvement for the creative community,” DeVoe said. “I feel like there’s a lot that’s available for artists these days. You just have to tap into it.”
Ni, who is set to be the regional director for Fashion Group International chapter next year, and her husband are developing a charity that would provide more unique experiences with fashion to audiences.
“We want to create a slightly different experience of art, beauty and fashion. We want to share a different way in how art can be presented,” Ni said. “Fashion shows, in its format, are just getting so old. We’re trying new ways in which art can interact with the spectator.”
Jacksonville’s fashion scene isn’t a huge one, but our designers are still going to do what they know and love for the sake of their community, presentation and quality of the product. Be on the lookout for these locals, and remember that just like your fresh produce, your fresh duds should come from a local source as well.