THERE’S nothing like the sight of a man in a well-tailored suit, perhaps with a coordinated pocket square, colorful socks and finely made Italian leather shoes.
That’s why I loudly applaud Philly’s first-ever Men’s Style Week, actually a two-day event this weekend at the Crane Arts Building, on American Street near Master, in North Philadelphia.
The event is the brainchild of FBH, which also produces the semiannual Philly Fashion Week. The “Week” part of the men’s show is aspirational; its creators are hoping this new event will grow.
“We decided that doing a men’s style week would inspire people in the city to support our local designers and to dress better,” said Kevin Parker, 28, a partner in FBH. “There are a lot of men dressing up now.”
Anything that will inspire young men to pull up their pants and put on a tie sounds like a good plan to me.
‘We could do this’
As a teen, Parker attended the Creative Arts High School (now called Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy), in Camden, where he costarred in “The Wiz” and dreamed of being a professional dancer.
Across the river, his soon-to-be best friend and business partner had a more business-oriented focus.
Kerry Scott worked for his family’s assisted-living facility, the Towles Family Home, in North Philadelphia, but was eyeing a career in mortuary science.
After graduating from high school in 2004, Parker tried to model professionally but, he said, he kept running into unscrupulous operators who charged him to audition and billed for photos he never got. He shared his frustration with Scott, whom he’d met through a mutual friend in high school.
“I would say, ‘This is pretty much a scam,’ ” recalled Scott, now 31. “I said, ‘We could do this for free.’ We decided to start our own agency.”
The friends called their agency FBH and set up shop inside a building that Scott owned at 19th and Tioga. They invited local wannabe models to come rehearse their runway walks.
“Even though it wasn’t really, we did call it an agency,” Parker said. “A lot of high-school kids came. From there, we even started getting requests from the local colleges to bring models and designers to start doing shows for them. And they were paying. We were, like, ‘OK, this could be profitable.’ “
FBH’s first paid booking was in 2006, when Delaware State University requested 10 models and designers for a fashion show. FBH earned $3,000 for its efforts.
Later that year, the agency staged an event at the Rittenhouse hotel, “Welcome to Africa,” to spotlight local designers like Cherry Pie Swimwear; Gregory Taylor, of Walish Gooshe; and FBH’s own, since-discontinued recycled-clothing line, Tarantula. The event was a success – they broke even – but it also was a learning experience.
In 2007, FBH organized the Black and Diamond Affair, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which got a good turnout despite a major snowstorm.
“From there we were, like, we have something here,” Parker said.
Philly Fashion Weeks
Later in 2007, FBH staged a huge fashion event inside the City Hall courtyard to showcase clothing by menswear designer Ron Wilch, and Melanie C. Brandon’s Von Alexandria collection.
They called the two-day event Philadelphia Fashion Week. It went over so well, they held a similar event the following year.
“Every major city had one,” Parker said. “We were, like, ‘Why does Philadelphia not have its own fashion week?’ “
Philly has long had a fashion scene with locally based and/or trained designers, but it wasn’t organized, with different groups holding different kinds of events.
Drama arose in 2009 when a rival production company held a Philadelphia Fashion Week at the 33rd Street Armory, in University City. Intimidated by all the sponsors and support that CMK Entertainment attracted, FBH put its Fashion Week plans on hiatus. But by 2010, FBH was back with a vengeance.
“We had a point to prove, that we were here to stay,” Parker said of FBH’s return show, held that February at the Crane Arts Building. “That show was a turning point for us.”
Making it official
Emboldened by its success, FBH did another show that September. Meanwhile, CMK Entertainment had its own Fashion Week scheduled then, which confused people.
That’s when the city created the Philadelphia Collection, an umbrella organization that is a resource for all the local fashion events, including PhashionPhest and 17 Days . . . of Fashion.
“It just seemed like one of those perfect storms, when everything came together,” said Melanie Johnson, who was city representative at the time. “Right from the beginning, it just clicked.”
Since then, FBH has produced two Philly Fashion Weeks a year – in September and in February. CMK seems to have disappeared from the local fashion scene.
“It made us better – we learned a lot,” Parker said of the competition. “I think that experience was something that we actually needed. We were comfortable . . .
“It gave us a stepping-stone to get our game up.”
FBH hopes to create more Fashion Weeks across the country. And there’s Philadelphia Men’s Style Week to pull off. It will start with a networking mixer Saturday night at the Ashton Cigar Bar, followed by a men’s fashion show Sunday at Crane Arts.
Fashion insiders have no doubt that they’ll be successful at that, too.
“I’m so impressed and proud of them for what they do,” said Antoine Johnson, host of a new Comcast show called “This Is It TV.” “I’ve watched two young boys grow up and become men and have a vision and dream and carry it out.
“There is a need for what they’re trying to do.”
Philadelphia Men’s Style Week: Cigars Bowties networking mixer 10 p.m. Saturday, Ashton Cigar Bar, 15th and Walnut streets, reservations requested. Luxe Mens Fashion Show, 7 p.m. Sunday, Crane Arts, 1400 N. American St., $40. More at PhillyMensStyleWeek.com.
On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong