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Fashion week chief wants to elevate the fashion pride of St. Louis

Is St. Louis one of the nation’s top fashion cities in the country?

If you just laughed, St. Louis Fashion Week is on a mission to convince you otherwise.

Elizabeth Tucker, the executive director of the seven-year-old fashion week enterprise, said she had a revelation during a tour of regional fashion week events that took her to Kansas City, Nashville and Charleston, S.C.

Over dinner in Charleston, a proud fashionista said that Charleston was voted the second most fashionable city next to New York. Those assembled did not laugh.

Although, a New Yorker at the table asked, “by who?,” Tucker said that the answer didn’t matter.

“What matters is that they were having the conversation, and it was affecting how they viewed their city,” Tucker said. “True or not, it’s great that they want to believe they are.”

Conversely, she said that despite the raised exposure of St. Louis designers appearing on national television and doing well in fashion competitions, despite the Rachel Zoe-approved fashion reality TV series filmed here and despite the number of university-level fashion design and merchandising programs in the region, sentences with “St. Louis” and “fashion” are often greeted with smirks.

“It’s perception, and it all feeds into reality,” Tucker said. If people believe the city is more stylish, they’d be more likely to buy local designs or shop locally at malls and boutiques. More shoppers mean more shops. More shops mean the potential to create a shopping destination. Shopping means more food and more places to wear nice clothing, and that creates an environment that fuels more tourism, and more visitors mean more people will see the region as a place to relocate. And then there’s the whole business of increasing city revenue from taxes and hotel occupancy, etc.

Fashion shows are fun, Tucker said. They are great ways to get people excited about dressing up for a night, watching pretty people in pretty clothes and mingling with others who have dressed to impress.

“But there has to be a common sense reason why designers are doing these shows and spending their time and resources,” Tucker said. The goal is to create an environment that makes these new fashion enterprises profitable. And that starts with elevating the fashion pride of the city.

Nashville has a fashion council that meets with city officials to discuss tax incentives for creative industries. Since Charleston’s fashion week was founded in 2007, businesses report significant gains because of attendees, and the city supports the endeavor with funding.

Why not St. Louis?

It’s easy to belittle fashion, but it’s an industry worth hundreds of billions with the cachet to revitalize communities.

“We want people having conversations about whether or not St. Louis is more fashionable than …” Tucker said. She said the answer isn’t so important as the fact that the statement would be worthy of serious discussion and not just in fashion circles.

And just in case you’re wondering, Travel Leisure magazine indeed named Charleston in 2011 as America’s second most stylish city. St. Louis did not make the list of 35 cities, although Anchorage did. This is notable because it was last, so the city was named the No. 1 worst dressed city in America by the same publication a year later.

St. Louis can do better than that.

St. Louis Fashion Week • The three-day event begins Wednesday with Spring Into Fashion St. Louis Galleria Runway Show. $15. On Thursday, the festivities continue with Rebecca Minkoff at Saks Fifth Avenue. $25. The event will culminate Friday with Summer Swimwear Runway Show Featuring Viktor Luna Friends at Union Station. $15-$50, includes ticket to after-party. For more information or to purchase tickets go to stlfw.com.

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