Fashion Week's Message-Driven Kickoff

The biannual New York event started with a fashion-art expo and a talk about black women's images.

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Doru Olowu (Harriette Cole); Michaela Angela Davis (Getty Images)

The ribbon cutting that signaled the official start of New York's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Wednesday was exciting for those who are still basking in the glow of the Giants' big Super Bowl win. Giants receiver Victor Cruz (the now-infamous salsa dancer) did the honors. By nightfall, the fashion world was treated to even more flavor. A healthy dose of social consciousness infused the first day of the event.

London-based fashion designer Duro Olowu, a favorite of Michelle Obama, hosted a pop-up shop in lower Manhattan at Salon 94's Freeman Alley Gallery that proved to be a feast for the senses, mixing the designer's clothing with art. Olowu's impeccable aesthetic, no doubt supported by his powerhouse wife Thelma Golden's curatorial eye, brought together his own fantastic printed dresses and handmade necklaces, along with other fine artists and photographers.

Architect David Adjaye, who is designing the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture, created two contemporary mirrors, one that looked like a modern sculpture but doubles as a reflector of image. There are paintings by Philip Kwame Apagya, Katherine Bernhardt and Glenn Ligon; photographs by Juergen Teller, Hamidou Maiga and Carlo Mollino; and sculptures by Francis Upritchard and Ghanaian artist Paa Joe. The pop-up shop is a must visit. The good news is that the items are available to view and purchase through March 4.

Around the corner at Cooper Union, Michaela Angela Davis hosted her second annual "MAD Free: State of Our Style Address." Davis, a self-described "image activist" who has cultivated a strong relationship with young black women, has kept the conversation going about the images of black women in the media, including magazines, and how we can control them.

At this gathering of about 100 or so fashion-forward, primarily 30-somethings, Davis and Ebony.com's editor, Kierna Mayo, read and discussed their thoughts about black women, power and image and "our" magazines. A key point that Davis made was that with the evolution of social media, the fashion scene has changed dramatically. Fashion bloggers of color are now legitimate purveyors of style and are being taken seriously.

At Davis' event -- and participating in the conversation -- was a broad spectrum of thinkers and tastemakers, including activist-writer Joan Morgan, writer-TV commentator Keli Goff, Hair Rules creator Anthony Dickey and Afropop founder Jocelyn Cooper.

Fashion absolutely reflects what's going on in the world. It takes the world's temperature, so to speak. As it relates to black women, the discussion got most heated over the topic of our relationship to our hair. "I want the conversation to be about texture," Davis said. "Today all over the country, there are black women rocking every kind of look, including half relaxed, half natural."

She contended that young black women in particular are feeling free to express themselves in ways that are unique to our times. Perhaps. I argued that with the conservative wave that is sweeping over our country, sisters in middle America may not be feeling as free.

International activist Esther Armah added, "We need to stop reacting to the way that other people see us. By thinking as an international community, we can be freed up to see the world differently." What we will get to see through Fashion Week is how many of these dynamic minds mine the fashion that is presented, through the many blogs that they post.

Wednesday ended for some at a Dinner With Bevy. The tastemaker and hostess extraordinaire Bevy Smith paid homage to the Philadelphia art scene. As always, she gathered a perfectly matched group, including artist and art adviser Cheryl R. Riley; Richard J. Watson -- artist, musician, poet and curator of exhibitions at the African American Museum in Philadelphia; artist Renee Cox; and President and COO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Gail Harrity.

Fashion Week 2012: Duro Olowu

Designer Duro Olowu hosted a pop-up shop in Manhattan that proved to be a feast for the senses.

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