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Photo by Eric Nemens

After a decade of running the local Pins and Needles fashion competition and runway event, St. Louis native Dwight Carter was looking for a new project. Focused on emerging designers, the 10th annual Pins and Needles show wrapped in October 2018. For his next endeavor, Carter wanted to work with more established designers – those, he explains, who are looking for a creative challenge and industry connections. Fashion Anarchy, a new four-part series, aims to offer that opportunity.

“I wanted to do something a little more intimate, a little smaller,” says Carter, who also owns Brainchild Events. “The audience that we’re targeting are people [who] the designers are going to benefit off of. It’s more focused on the designer and not all the lights and glamour.”

This inaugural series includes four design competitions from May to November: four 48-hour projects focused on the past, the present and the future of the downtown St. Louis garment district, respectively, with the fourth event still to be determined, plus a live finale. Three local participating designers – nine in total – are given all necessary supplies to create an outfit, including a working space, fabric and other sewing necessities like fasteners. (They may also spend up to $50 of their own money, if desired.)

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Photo by Eric Nemens

Near the end of the 48-hour time frame, the corresponding event kicks off, where audience members can watch the look come together with live last-minute touch-ups and fittings before the judging begins. Designers also create corresponding window displays using supplies from the nearby Stevens – The Institute of Business & Arts (commonly called Siba) and give a small speech about their design and its relation to the theme. Tickets range from $25 to $45.

Held May 9 at the Saint Louis Fashion Fund, the first event – themed around the garment district’s past – featured designers Barbara Bultman, Daniel Reyes and Michael Shead. It ran smoothly, Carter says, noting the happy surprise of a kickoff event without too much behind-the-scenes chaos. Final looks are judged by rotating industry insiders (including a Neiman Marcus representative and Siba fashion department head, a representative from the fund and Cedric Cobb, a recent ABC Shark Tank contestant for The Best Pocket Square) based on completion, theme and creativity. Bultman earned top marks with her reversible jacket ensemble featuring a skirt that transformed into pants, which means she has secured her spot in the final round. Following the format completely by using the limited tools, Bultman not only created a garment that represented the theme but also a ready-to-wear garment that people in the audience wanted to purchase.

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Photo by Cory Weaver

Although attendees are certainly welcome and encouraged to enjoy the experience, Fashion Anarchy differs from Pins and Needles and other modern fashion shows in one big way: It aims to help the designers more than to create a fancy night out for guests. Runway shows like New York Fashion Week were once more industry events than status-symbol celebrations; even on the local level, catwalk experiences are largely now focused on presenting fashion to the masses. Fashion Anarchy hopes to take a step back and return the focus to industry professionals while showcasing local designers’ work to people who can further their careers.

“Someone in the audience [who’s] not in the fashion industry maybe liked your look, and they may want to buy some things, but it’s even more effective if it’s … long-term [exposure],” Carter says, explaining the benefit of presenting to a potential investor or collaborator, as opposed to a consumer who might purchase one outfit. “I’ve always had a passion for the designers getting something out of it.”

Carter explains the designers for the inaugural event were selected from both an open call and contact with previous Pins and Needles designers, as the turnaround from concept to kickoff was just seven months.

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Photo by Eric Nemens

With a decade in the music industry before starting in fashion, Carter initially thought about hosting a musical event or an event where designers, graffiti artists and musicians all worked around a theme. As a self-proclaimed “person with too many ideas,” Carter forced himself to take a step back and refocus his energy. When he decided on a fashion theme, the next logical stop was the Saint Louis Fashion Fund. After two meetings, the event was finalized and greenlighted with support from the influential nonprofit.

The second Fashion Anarchy event (the garment district’s present) will take place on July 18 at the Saint Louis Fashion Fund, followed by the third on Sept. 12 (the garment district’s future) and the finale on Nov. 9. The final competition will include the winners from the three previous events working live at the soon-to-open The Last Hotel; visitors can watch designers work from the lobby before a final winner is selected. That designer will take home, among other prizes, a yearlong residency with the fund’s Fashion Lab.

“The day of the [final] event, the designers will be designing and working on their looks all day in the window,” says Carter, noting a photo shoot will follow to show those outside the industry as large a peek as possible into the fashion world. “It gives them an idea of the clothing you have on and how much work it takes to make that happen.”

Although its concept differs from the runway shows fashion-lovers may have experienced before, Carter hopes area residents – both industry insiders and everyday fashion consumers – will try the new event.

“I want people to be intrigued by it and come for the experience – because that’s what we’re creating, an experience for our audience,” Carter says. “These designers took on the challenge without any negativity. It was something completely new, and they were really excited to do something different than your normal runway show.”

Fashion Anarchy, facebook.com/fashionanarky