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The style among us

Five Hmong clothing designers fuse tradition with trends at “Fresh Traditions.”


What: Fresh Traditions

When: Oct. 7

Where: McNamara Alumni Center

Cost: $15/$20

Minneapolis has a thriving fashion scene, yes, but it centers upon design for a very specific market (the uptown, fashion adventurous 20-something). ItâÄôs not often that the cities are privileged with showings outside of the immediate scene and urban culture.

Friday provides a rare opportunity to marvel at the impressive design work of the Hmong community, a community that doesnâÄôt receive nearly enough attention for their efforts in the realm of fashion design. âÄúFresh Traditions,âÄù a runway show featuring five skilled Hmong designers, aims to highlight the talent of some under-the-radar clothing designers and also celebrate the beauty of traditional clothing.

For designer Dokiang Thao, the desire to be involved in the production has been a long time coming.

âÄúIâÄôve felt for a while that it was something that I definitely wanted to be a part of,âÄù Thao said. âÄúNot only is it a great way to network but itâÄôs also an important way to celebrate my culture.âÄù

ItâÄôs all for a good cause, too. All of the proceeds from âÄúFresh TraditionsâÄù will be donated to the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent, an organization that sustains artistic programs and efforts within the Hmong community.

In addition to displaying a mini-collection of six looks, each designer was required to construct one look using all five traditional Hmong fabrics, including black velvet, blue satin, black satin, hot pink chiffon and neon green chiffon. In its most classic forms, Hmong clothing is artsy and dramatic (as evidenced by all of the moody fabrics). But life in America has watered down the norms of traditional dress.

âÄúHmong dress has definitely modernized,âÄù Thao said. âÄúThe traditional clothing that uses all of those fabrics is the kind of stuff your parents would dress you in when you were younger. Now things have changed to accommodate American society.âÄù

The purest forms of cultural art can get lost amid attempts to assimilate to the mainstream, but thatâÄôs nothing new. The young Hmong designers and fashionistas donâÄôt necessarily view this as a negative thing. After all, times change, and in reality they wouldnâÄôt be jetting off to the bars in traditional Hmong dress anyway. Thao believes that thereâÄôs a way of representing both the influence of the past and the realities of being a Hmong- American in 2011.

âÄúWhat I wanted to do was to make my look modern and like something that I would wear,âÄù Thao said âÄúI used a contemporary silhouette that still used all of the traditional fabrics. ThatâÄôs just the whole point. ThatâÄôs why itâÄôs called âÄòFresh Traditions.âÄôâÄù

ThaoâÄôs edgier, avant-garde approach to design will add to the contrast of the diverse lineup. While some, like Thao, have been designing for years and even went to school for apparel design, others, like Kao Lee Thao are surprisingly new to the arena of fashion design.

âÄúIâÄôm pretty excited for âÄòFresh Traditions,âÄôâÄù Thao said. âÄúBut I’ve never sewn anything before and I also have a needle phobia so it’s been extremely challenging.âÄù

Regardless of skill level, background or race, âÄúFresh TraditionsâÄù represents a direction that the Minneapolis fashion scene can only gain from.

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