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Bronx Fashion Week Celebrates ‘Decade of Dreams’

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In 2014, Flora Montes started Bronx Fashion Week with a $200 unemployment check and a strong conviction that fashion was more than fabric. With every stitch along her journey, she has been coordinating annual runway shows and modeling courses to open the doors to young Bronx talents hungry for a chance to enter to the fashion world. 

This month Montes will celebrate “A Decade of Dreams” with the 10th version of the runway show, held May 25 at the Mall at Bay Plaza. This year her various projects will open the door to around 200 models and several designers to showcase their creations. 

But her work doesn’t stop with runway shows. In 2022 she received a phone call from South Bronx Community Charter High School asking her to organize events for its students. “They are interested in fashion,” she was told. After that came three prom outfit donation events, in 2019, 2022 and this year on April 19, sponsored by the office of Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark. 

This dream of bringing fashion to the schools is coming true in one of the most emblematic boroughs for New York’s Latinos. They make up over 56.6% of its population according to the Census, with a poverty rate  of around 27% in 2022 compared to 18.3% citywide the same year, according to New York University’s Furman Center, which researches policy on land use, real estate, housing and urban affairs. 

Bronx Fashion Week, by its own count, has supported more than 500 emerging designers and more than 800 diverse or BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Color)  models, attracting support from Fashion Row, H&M, Sephora, Macy’s and the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). Bronx Fashion Week has generated business contacts enabling more than 300 small companies to strengthen their businesses at events like last year’s runway show at The Mall at Bay Plaza, according to Montes. Its core mission is to make an impact with a deep human sense. “The only thing these kids need is someone to take care of them and relate to them,” Montes said. 

BRONX ON DISPLAY: Bronx Fashion Week features a diverse array of models and emerging designers from the Bronx. (PHOTO/courtesy of Flora Montes, Bronx Fashion Week)

But beyond the impact on this neighborhood, Bronx Fashion Week helps designers, entrepreneurs and journalists, among others, making the world of fashion and beauty more inclusive, beyond mere discussion of diversity. Although brands like Coach, Christian Siriano, Aerie, Sephora and Fenty Beauty have begun to take steps in that direction, inclusion is not yet going at the same speed in fashion as in other industries. According to the portal Fashion Spot, the Spring 2022 New York Fashion Week was one of the most diverse fashion events in the world, with BIPOC models accounting for 54.9% of those on its catwalks – but down from 55.5% at Spring 2022 New York Fashion Week.

One Inclusive Story in Every Stitch 

The market has evolved, and we have to be part of it,” Montes said. That is why her goal – that anyone can be a model – has been the seed of several success stories.

Delsio Hilario, 32, a Latino model from the Bronx, has a story that includes being on the streets” in adolescence. After contacting Montes in 2018, he hit the catwalks for the first time. Today, he models for Macy’s and Josue Champagne, and he has worked with the Bailey Agency. Bronx Fashion Week is diversity,” he says.

Another model, known professionally as Natasha, went to Montes after being rejected by several large modeling agencies because of her curly hair – a situation that led to a 2019 New York City law banning hair discrimination. “Walking on the catwalks at the Bronx Fashion Week allowed her to gain visibility,” Montes said. Sergio Delavicci, an international actor and model who has worked on films including “John Wick 3,” began his career on those catwalks.

STRIKE A POSE: Flora’s team has cast more than 500 BIPOC models for Bronx Fashion Week, who have gone on to work with Macy’s, H&M, and Sephora, among others. (PHOTO/courtesy of Flora Montes, Bronx Fashion Week)

For designers, Bronx Fashion Week is an opportunity to show their creations. Habyia Manzanillo, a Dominican designer, has designed for its catwalks three times, which, she said, allowed her to gain a broader audience through social media and partnerships with models and photographers. Its combination of art, culture and fashion inspires Montes. There are kids who are proud of their neighborhood,” she said. She sees their combination of book smarts and street smarts becoming a fundamental force. 

‘When you have to go through things in life, you become creative,” she added. “It gives you that spirit of creating from the ground up. That’s what the Bronx brings.”

Her own backstage story, she said, is “filled with pain, dreams and success,” and a desire “to clean up a generational curse which pushed me and drove me.” Her childhood with an addicted father and a teenage mother, and, in her mid-30’s, her baby daughter’s death at birth, triggered enough resilience in her to create her platform.

Montes’s conviction about the Bronx and its people is the reason the school is her future fashion project. At some point, we will have the designers and models from our future school, working for Bronx Fashion Week,” she said. “We will see that, in addition to the talent, we can promote other  talents to the catwalks.”

 

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