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When most people think of fashion destinations, D.C. is not usually on their lists. Elaine Mensah, founder of the local fashion consulting and communication firm Svelte, readily admits as much. “A lot of people think that D.C. isn’t very fashionable,” she says. “But that’s so not the case.”
Still, Mensah notes that Washington has a way to go before the nation’s capital is also a sartorial capital. “I do see a fashion future for D.C.,” she says. “It’s not quite there yet.” But she’s confident that it’s coming: “That’s why I never moved to New York or L.A.”
With Svelte, the native Washingtonian has her fingers in countless pies, from consulting with emerging designers to helping stage runway shows like Fashion Fights Poverty to producing videos for the media component of her company. She fell into the last pursuit serendipitously: When a client was applying for Project Runway and she needed a video, she turned to Mensah. Videos have since become one Svelte’s largest components.
According to Mensah, her coverage of New York Fashion Week is among Svelte’s most popular features. She returned to D.C. last week after spending four days at the Lincoln Center, Fashion Week’s new home. Though she ended up seeing a solid set of shows, including Cynthia Rowley, Ports 1961, Z Spoke by Zac Posen, and Christian Siriano, she says gaining access is traditionally difficult. “Fashion is very much an insiders’ industry,” she says. “I always have the uphill battle of, ‘Well, you’re from D.C. You’re not from a quote-unquote major market.'”
Once in the doors of the Lincoln Center, she was impressed by the new facility. “Lincoln Center was huge compared to Bryant Park,” she says. “They did a really great job with folding in the technology piece with the show. Everything ran smoothly.” She was a little underwhelmed by the largely neutral clothes on the runways, though. “I was kind of bored,” she says. “The clothes and the trending—there was really nothing new. There wasn’t a stand-out trend. Everything old is still in. I think it’s reflective of the fact that we’re still in a recession.”
That’s not to say that there weren’t some stand-out pieces. Mensah loved the colors at Cynthia Rowley: “There was a mustard yellow skirt with cute cut-outs that was to die for,” she says. “I could totally see a Washingtonian woman who was fashion-forward wearing it without being over-the-top.” She also fell hard for a show-closing coral jumpsuit by British designer William Tempest, showing in New York for the first time: “I thought, ‘I don’t know how much that is, but I need to have one in my future.'”