The arrival of DC Fashion Week each season always signals a sort of midway point—the time to finally reflect on how the current season of high fashion is impacting the zeitgeist. It’s perfect that D.C. follows New York and London and runs simultaneously with Milan, but concludes before Paris. The schedule allows DC Fashion Week to co-exist with the seasonal exhibiting held in the four fashion capitals of the world, without having to really compete with any of them. As the event impressively enters its 12th year and 24th season, DCFW is, at a minimum, thriving on its own island in the global fashion week universe.

And it’s an island that’s constantly attracting international visitors. Last season, designer brands were presented from such far-flung locales as Russia, Bangkok, and Malaysia. The distinguishing characteristic for those spring and summer 2016 collections was modesty; a quietly bold fashion aesthetic for DCFW to promote and explore, considering how it strongly differs with the “less is more” aesthetic favored by most mainstream high fashion brands—especially womenswear. For this season, the autumn and winter 2016 collections won’t stick to modesty, but they will represent the diverse choices currently being made by both established brands, as well as the newly emerging ones.

Earlier this month, during a model casting call held at a hotel in Arlington, Ean Williams, DCFW’s founder and executive director, shared what he’s the most excited about this season. “It’s really the international designers again,” he says. “Because when we have people come all the way from across the pond to showcase in DC Fashion Week, when they have a lot of other options, it’s really, really flattering for us.”

Walking for an international designer clearly has a lot of appeal to up and coming models. Out of 500 applications, over 200 models got to audition that day, where a sizable runway was set up in one of the larger event rooms. With all of them, men and women sporting head-to-toe black, 147 were initially selected. There are now 120 models walking for over 50 labels that are being shown this season. The numbers are contextually huge, especially considering DC Fashion Week’s humble beginning in 2004 as a smallish, weekend-only affair.

And so following last night’s Fashion Industry Networking Party at Dirty Martini, which is always attended by a who’s who of local fashion stylists, bloggers, designers and fashionistas, Tonight’s Washington Menswear Collections & Retailers show will test whether or not the growing interest in high fashion menswear, and its notable designers like Joseph Abboud and Greg Lauren, both of whom showed lines during New York Men’s Fashion Week earlier this month, applies to D.C.’s fashion-loving populace. “We used to have a menswear collections show—with a talented, talented pool of menswear designers and models—but it just wasn’t getting the same press attention, or the same support from the city,” Ean says.

Exhibiting designers for the Menswear show includes Ean’s own Magnum Underwear collection, Konjo and Valdecio. Joining them as the special guest designer is New Jersey’s Ray Brown, whose Ray Vicente line, which he describes as a sportswear line of high fashion separates, has shown at New York Fashion Week. Reached by phone earlier this week, Ray describes the 21 looks of his exhibiting collection as a “celebration and appreciation for our armed services.”

“You will see a number of military-inspired fabrics, and military inspired patterns that will be used in this collection this Friday,” he says. Color palettes will include basic black, for example, to denote undercover work. Ray started his label in 2009, and initially gained attention for the “interesting” choices that he would often make, design-wise, with his menswear pieces. “We always have a bit of edge,” he says. “I always tend to start with classic shapes, classic designs, and classic fabrics as well—but there’s always an edge that goes with it.”

Saturday’s consistently popular Metropolitan Emerging Designers & Indie Artists Showcase will feature collections by local brands like District Cashmere and Hoodlvm Clothing. “Our emerging designers showcase is really, really growing,” explains Ean. “It’s a lot of interest in it. It’s sold out for the past consecutive seasons.”

With Sunday’s closing night show, the International Couture Collections Show, being held this year, once again, at Carnegie Library, Ean’s Corjor International, which has earned him ink in Vogue U.K., will present a line inspired by his new obsession with Game of Thrones. “I was really inspired by some of the costumes, and looks that I saw over the time period. It gave me the basis for my color palette, so everything in the collection this season is black and gold,” he says. Also of note that night, is special guest designer Bata Spasojevic, who is presenting his line as part of a cultural exchange between DCFW and Serbia Fashion Week.

Interestingly enough though, for all of the high minded, high fashion rhetoric that comes from D.C.’s creative class of fashion industry professionals, perhaps the District overall is indeed of something somewhat blue collar in its sartorial choices, as the more accessible, ready-to-wear collections seem to work best here.

“We see that D.C. is really about real fashions, and what people can—every day functionality,” Ean explains. “They’re more excited about that.”

DC Fashion Week runs through Feb. 28 at various locations with various prices, ranging from free to $150. More info here.

Photos by Phelan Marc