By Grace Pateras
Fashion shows, tent markets, professional-led panels, and musicians fresh off Coachella performances merge together this weekend for Iowa’s first ever fashion festival.
The goal behind FlyOver Fashion Festival is to keep the creative gift in the state and allow Iowa natives to showcase their businesses and talents.
“I think all states in the Midwest and the heartland – the ‘flyover states’ – struggle with the portrayal of their state as not creative or cool or artistically vibrant,” said event planner and starter of T shirt company, Simeon Talley, Simeon Talley. “We’re one of many efforts trying to put that idea in the head and create opportunities to keep the most talented, the most creative, the most artistically inclined, interested people working in the state.”
The event invites the public to gather in Iowa City to interact with designers from all over the state. Events include an outdoor fashion market, keynote speakers and panel discussions of different fashion topics, a fashion show, different headliner concerts, and many more.
Some events require a paid ticket, or attendees can purchase a weekend pass.
FlyOver Fashion Festival came about after a realization that Iowans had many talents that weren’t showcased. Talley and style blogger Amanda Lesmeister started the Iowa Fashion Project.
“We started talking to people who were interested in fashion or doing something,” Lesmeister said. “We saw a need for events, programming, and we wanted to showcase the work that was happening here.”
FlyOver will replace this year’s Fashion Weekend, an annual event put on by Iowa City Downtown District in August.
“They had a lot of really good ideas and a lot of new ways to spruce up and make the weekend a little bit larger and appeal to more audiences,” said Iowa City Downtown District operations director Betsy Potter. “We always love to collaborate and partner with organizations and they have a lot of really great energy around them.”
As a way to showcase a variety of artists and styles, the event will be loud in music as well. Musicians hand chosen by Talley are intended to expose this area to new artists, he said. Some, like L.A. based electronic/hip-hop band Mansions on the Moon, have roots in Iowa, as their lead singer Ted Wendler grew up in Iowa.
The weekend will not only feature many statewide artists and designers, it will also promote a variety of different Iowa City locations and businesses.
Each space creates a different atmosphere and experience, Talley said. For example, the “sexy” rooftop of Hotel Vetro gives it a New York feel, while the fashion show in the basement of MidWestOne Bank is more intimate. The Mill is more of a dance party.
As planners for the weekend began talking to people, they quickly realized there was hidden talent across the state. From Iowa City locals to students from Iowa State University’s fashion program, ranked seventh in the nation, many artists will be in town for the event.
“You start to see, ‘Wow we do have some incredibly talented folks in Iowa when it comes to fashion,’” Talley said. “For some reason, people don’t associate Iowa with fashion. Well, let’s start to connect the dots for people. Every single event we do is collaborative.”
Iowa City-based dress designer Monica Beranek was intrigued by the opportunity to meet others in the fashion industry.
“I’ve always worked alone, and that’s one thing that is exciting about this fashion project,” she said. “I’ve gotten to meet other designers and people interested in this industry, like photographers and stylists. It doesn’t feel as isolated as it used to.”
Beranek owns the company Cielo. She considers herself a dressmaker, though sells neck wraps, scarves, and skirts at the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids farmer’s markets.
Her exclusive dresses will be showcased at the fashion show this Saturday.
She uses fabrics from the company Art Gallery Fabrics with 100 percent cotton.
“I just really like the textiles that they have,” she said. “It goes along with my preference for colors and patterns and textures that I like. It feels very luxurious on the skin.”
Beranek’s inspiration comes from her Guatemalan seamstress grandmother and the colorful art and fun music associated with the culture. She is also inspired by Scandinavian and Japanese style.
“I like the timeless look, like a classic silhouette,” Beranek said. “I’m not doing crop tops, and stuff that’s trendy now. I like stuff that you maybe could have worn 20 years ago, and maybe you can wear it 20 years from now and you really wouldn’t know when I created it.”
Beranek agreed many people overlook the fashion talent in Iowa, but doesn’t believe the stereotype.
After graduating from the University of Iowa, she moved to New York City in 2001. She lived there for a year to “toughen up” and “challenge herself.”
There isn’t much of a difference between the talent she saw in New York and what she sees in Iowa, she said.
“I moved to New York to be part of that scene and be inspired by New York City,” she said. “There’s a lot of creative people [in Iowa] and a lot of talent. We have the benefit of living in a nicer area where it’s not so crowded and you can have a house and you can have space and schools and things like that.
“I wouldn’t say it’s less sophisticated or any of these stereotypes that you hear about Iowa. It’s a perfectly good place to do something like this,” she said. “I have no doubt that people are going to be extremely impressed by the talent they see. I can appreciate the Midwest now. I love that you can still have the intellectual scene and artistic scene here without the chaos and expense of the big city.”
Her dresses are not yet for sale. She launched her business a year ago; a year from now, she hopes to have a line of clothes for purchase from her website. In the meantime, she is sewing as many dresses as she can.
Of the numerous designers taking part in the weekend’s festivities –including Matthew Christopher, bridal designer; Mike Draper, owner of RAYGUN; and Derian Baugh, CEO of Men’s Style Lab – 95 percent are Iowa-born talent.
“[There is so much Iowa talent that] it’s actually kind of intimidating at times, and I’ve been here forever,” Beranek said. “There’s always new people coming through that are so talented.”