'Let me tell you a secret'

Since 1987, SPIRIT, the student organization dedicated to spreading African-American awareness in the community, has commanded Carnegie’s catwalks for its annual fashion show, now in its 20th year. The 2007 anniversary bash, advertised under the tagline “Let me tell you a secret,” captured contemporary fashion from near and far. The show featured wares from Shadyside shops and South Side boutiques, as well as clothes inspired by trends in Africa. Two of the show’s designers, Lara Akinsanya and Emeka Okocha, are Nigerian-born, and their designs reflect an African influence. “Being SPIRIT, we really wanted to tap into the idea of what is fashion in Africa,” said fashion show co-chair Louisa Kinoshi, a junior English major.

It’s not just the fashion that was diverse. “This was one of the most diverse model pools ever,” said junior history major Thomas Lloyd, a co-chair for SPIRIT. According to Lloyd, the models represent a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds, in addition to multiple areas of study within the university. The model pool was also uncharacteristically small this year, yielding only 35 models. “We’ve worked with [the models] since last semester,” said Lloyd. “[With a small pool] you’re really able to shape and mold them.”

“Let me tell you a secret” was split into two acts, each including several scenes. The scenes in the first act were all death-related, ranging in interpretation from serious to light-hearted. The first scene, “Die Another Day,” was extremely entertaining; inspired by the film Interview with the Vampire, the scene’s models entered dramatically, wearing black capes. Then someone hit the music, unleashing Madonna’s “Die Another Day.” Models started to emerge from a giant coffin in the middle of the stage — doing what can only be described as a jerky, mummy-like walk which matched precisely the beats of the song. The pace was lightning-fast, which didn’t give a lot of opportunity to admire the fashions, provided by the United Colors of Benetton.

For those that prefer entertainment over high fashion, “Die Another Day” was perfect. The pace slowed down a bit for the rest of the act, beginning with “The Soiree de la Morte,” a scene based on Carrie. The scene included both an “In Crowd” and an “Out Crowd,” and — of course — a wildly possessed Carrie who strutted out in a white dress with red accents. The act finished with a scene sponsored by the School of Drama and choreographed by Roberta Burke, a junior drama major. Titled “The Loud Silence,” the eerie scene employed designs with an old-fashioned theme and carried distinct references to the lynchings that occurred in antebellum America. The scene was slower-paced, and again drama took center stage over fashion. A male model posed as if being hanged while he was slowly stripped of the black bands of cloth he wore on his arm.

The second act kicked off with a hip-hop number and started out strong. The scenes were a little less distinct in theme and certainly less cohesive than the previous act, but the models strutted with equal confidence. Between the second and third scenes was a fabulous African-style dance routine. In the rest of the act, models wore everything from sweet little dress numbers in the first scene (which featured fashions by South Side boutique Jupe) to daring lingerie from Victoria’s Secret and Frederick’s of Hollywood. In the lingerie scene, “Angels,” the designers made the wise decision to leave more to the imagination than Lunar Gala. Models donned fewer butt-baring bits and did more confections exploring color and sparkle, from underpants to baby doll pajamas to a very little black dress.

The final two scenes of the performance featured African-inspired designs, starting with the stunning patterns of L-Shandi designs, created by Akinsanya. Mainly dresses, the color and patterns used by L-Shandi were nothing if not new, and seemed like they would wear beautifully at a club or dinner party.

The show ended with as much power as it had at its start. The dramatic fourth scene began with a brief remembrance of the horrors of Hurricane Katrina. The models emerged afterwards, wearing designs by Spirit Africa and carrying a single sign of protest including the words, “BUCK FUSH,” “PEACE NOW,” and “FREE MUMIA.” Part protest, part dance, part fashion show, the final scene woke the audience up. As Lloyd said, “We wanted to creatively ignite the passion of people.”