Designers to pay tribute to Louise Slaughter, Rochester architecture during Fashion Week

Fashion Week raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for the Center for Youth. This year’s extravaganza will celebrate the late Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and Rochester’s iconic buildings. (Provided)
Fashion Week raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for the Center for Youth. This year’s extravaganza will celebrate the late Congresswoman Louise Slaughter and Rochester’s iconic buildings. (Provided)

Because it’s the 10th anniversary, the flashy Fashion Week Rochester (Oct. 14-19) had to shake things up a bit.

The five-day extravaganza, which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for the Center for Youth, became a six-day event, starting with a children’s show on Monday. And now on Friday night a Rochester-themed show, “Runway to Rochester,” is scheduled, featuring two special collections.

What could be more Rochesterian than a tribute to the Kentucky-born Louise M. Slaughter, who represented Rochester in the House of Representatives for 31 years?

“Runway to Rochester,” will include a collection of women’s suits and clothing created by a Hickey Freeman executive and clothing designer in tribute to the late congresswoman. Ten outfits — most of them suits with skirts or pants — will be exhibited to pay honor to the woman who saved Rochester’s best known clothing manufacturer more than once.

The show will also include a joint effort by local architects and interior designers, as well as support from national materials suppliers to create structures and clothing inspired by buildings in Rochester. Local chapters of the professional organizations representing both of those groups are working together on a concept that has been featured in other city’s fashion shows. But here, expect to see something reminiscent of the winged Time Square building, the First Federal Plaza, the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Bridge, the former Rochester Savings Bank building, the Strasenburgh Planetarium and other iconic Rochester structures.

Jeffery Diduch, vice president of technical design at Hickey Freeman, had promised to make Slaughter a jacket after seeing an interview with her in a documentary about the history of Rochester’s garment industry. In that documentary, “Tailor Made,” Slaughter noted how her male colleagues in Congress often flashed the linings of their suits to her when passing, acknowledging they wore suits made by in her home district by Hickey Freeman. Diduch met Slaughter when she visited the factory to see the Olympic uniforms created by the menswear manufacturer and tried on one of the jackets.

But Slaughter died not long after her visit, and before Diduch could make good on his promise.

“I like to do what I say I’m going to do, so I felt bad about not making it,” Diduch said. Slaughter “was really somebody who did help the company out a lot. So it was important to do something to honor her memory.”

He approached Fashion Week to see if he could make an outfit or two as a tribute to Slaughter. But Elaine Spaull, the city councilor who also is executive director of the Center for Youth, was thinking bigger. She thought of Slaughter’s immediate support for the homeless (including some of the center’s clientele) once she got to Congress in the 1980s. She also thought of her involvement in finding federal aid to keep Hickey Freeman from closing down.

“She basically saved the factory twice,” Spaull said of Slaughter. “She used to say she was their Washington office.”

With Spaull’s encouragement, Diduch’s one or two outfits became an entire collection, “For Louise.”

He’s having all the outfits made in a winter white shade of Italian wool crepe.

“It went from a very small idea to a big thing in the space of 48 hours,” Diduch said, after Spaull quickly gained approval from others working with Fashion Week and from Slaughter’s family.

The decisions to go with an entire collection were made just before the Hickey Freeman plant closed for summer break, so Diduch himself cut and sewed some of the garments — something he often does when new garments are being created — during his vacation. He’s having some of the garments made at the factory now that it’s up and running again.

Diduch has designed the garments like menswear in that they have sufficiently wide seams to allow for alterations over the lifetime of the clothing.

“We make luxury clothing. It’s not inexpensive,” and should be able to be altered for the wearer as her body changes over time, he said.

The line should appeal to women of various ages, Diduch said, and the models will reflect different ages and body types.

“Some of the pieces were designed to appeal to somebody like Louise … some of them were just made for show,” Diduch said.

And what about after the show? That has to be worked out. Diduch has purchased crepe in black, navy and red as well as the white that will be shown in the Fashion Week show. People who are interested can contact him through a web page that has been established for the Louise Slaughter Collection.

One of the outfits is inspired by the Times Square building. (Provided)
One of the outfits is inspired by the Times Square building. (Provided)

At the same time that the Louise Collection was coming together, Jason Streb, an architect with the CPL firm who is president of the Rochester chapter of the American Institute of Architects, reached out to Fashion Week to see if designers from that realm could participate in some way.

When Blynn Nelson, an interior designer who works for the CJS Architects, heard about Streb’s idea, she came up with the way the architects’ professional organization and the Rochester chapter of a similar organization for interior designers, the International Interior Design Association, could participate. She suggested something she’d seen in other larger cities before: a product runway.

“Outfits are curated and designed from raw materials that vendors supply to (architects and interior designers.) They really have to create a dress or garment out of carpet, for example, or tile,” Nelson said.

But some of the materials may be unrecognizable on the runway. Streb said carpeting, for instance, might be stripped of all the cushy materials so the designer can use the flexible, shimmery backing on the underside.

Nelson said commercial products meet different standards than those used in home construction, so the carpet backing can be quite different than what homeowners are familiar with and have the appearance of leather.

Streb said 12 teams of interior designers and architects are participating. Each team has been assigned two product suppliers, one providing hard material, and one providing soft. Some are local, like glass artist Nancy Gong, who is working with the team inspired by the planetarium, but many of them are national companies.

“It’s kind of a wild concept that has never been done here,” Streb said.

Marrying the product runway idea with a community’s local architecture is unique to Rochester, Nelson said.

It’s unlikely any of the garments will go into production after the show, but Nelson said the organizers are looking for a gallery to show them again.

Megan Mundy, the “chief fashion officer” for Fashion Week, said she is often asked after each Fashion Week how the organizers will top the show next time.

“We’re so lucky that people like Jason reach out and say, ‘I’ve got this idea,’ and Jeffery. I’ve learned to be open to every single idea,” Mundy said. “We’ve always just had these amazing ideas just come to our doors.”

Friday’s show will begin with architecture-inspired garments, followed by Rochester-area firefighters and then the For Louise collection. Other groups and designers will also show that night, including craft breweries, several fashion-oriented businesses, and Indian fashions, ending with the traditional wedding gown.

Spaull said every afternoon and night of Fashion Week is meant to feel like a party, even though the fundraising is for very serious needs. For the first time this year, each night will have a theme related to one of Center for Youth’s programs, such as its crisis nursery, or shelter for homeless youth who are in the LGBTQ community.

“We’re going to say something every night about the program,” Spaull said. Last Fashion Week raised $825,000; this year’s 10th anniversary goal is $1 million. Costs are high for an event like this, Spaull noted, but kept as low as possible by many outright donations and deeply discounted services. The event is held under a tent constructed on a parking lot owned by Midtown Athletic Club.

Spaull holds that Fashion Week is about community more than fashion. Tickets to each event are kept reasonable — $35 to $100 — and they’re even free for teens coming to Wednesday’s show, which features teenagers on the runway. “We never want teenagers to be left out,” Spaull said. Some shows sell out — they hadn’t yet this week — but individual tickets are usually available even after ringside tables are all gone.

While fashion is the draw for Fashion Week, even those who are not into fashion should feel comfortable attending, Spaull said.

“This is not a fancy pants world. This is bringing together the most amazing assets and the most amazing vibrancy of the city,” she said.

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Fashion Week Rochester

Fashion Week will be held Oct. 14-19 with six shows benefitting six different Center for Youth programs. Go to for more information and to purchase tickets.

Monday, Oct. 14 — A Family Affair. Benefits Crisis Nursery and Owen’s House.

Tuesday, Oct. 15 — Afternoon Rendezvous. Benefits Safe Harbour.

Wednesday, Oct. 16 — Lead The Way. Benefits Street Outreach and Safe Place.

Thursday, Oct. 17 — On the Edge. Benefits Arnett House—By Their Side.

Friday, Oct. 18 — Runway to Rochester. Benefits Our Rochester—Expanded Host Home.

Saturday, Oct. 19 — The Final Look. Benefits Emergency Shelter.

Second architectural thoughts on the best uses of Parcel 5

Jason Streb
Jason Streb

I didn’t want to like it. I wasn’t expecting the space or experience to be as special as it was. Certainly this feeling would fade in time, and I could chalk up the memory to a singular, rare occurrence.

In the days and weeks following Rochester’s Jazz Fest, I was hoping my opinion of Parcel 5 would return to what it was. Yet I can’t shake off the energy the closing Saturday show brought there. I stood in wonder at the thousands of people filling the space. High rise buildings provided the backdrop with lights, music and smells of food and drinks. It felt right; yet it didn’t feel like Rochester. It felt like a new Rochester, with an urban public square embodying everything it’s supposed to.

I’ve followed the proposed development and debate on the empty parcel for years, much like everyone else. Being in a profession that designs spaces, curates people’s experiences and creates a built environment I’ve always tended to be on the ‘pro-development’ side of the conversation. I dismissed the call for the area to be left open as uninformed and short-sighted. But perhaps the short-sighted vision is the one that’s built. Perhaps the best vision of the space is one left alone from assuming hands that over-promise and under-deliver. Perhaps subtraction is better than addition.

“It’s opener there in the wide-open air.” —Dr. Seuss

As I’ve entered the phase in my life where children’s books are a nightly routine, I was struck recently by a single line quote on a two-page spread in “Oh the Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Seuss. The quote, so poetic and Seuss-like, resonated with me and my conundrum with Parcel 5. It seemed to parallel my recent thoughts on what’s best for the cinder-laden plot of land smack in the middle of our downtown. Given how uniquely magical that space was during Jazz Fest —could I have been wrong about Parcel 5?

Thinking back to the book, Seuss essentially tells us to find our own path and create our own experiences. It’s uplifting, and yet it cautions us about life’s ups and downs and general uncertainty. About succeeding he says “…except when you don’t because sometimes you won’t…”

As I mentioned, I’ve always felt that some sort of development fronting Main Street was essential to the success of that area. After all, shouldn’t a city with so many holes in its urban fabric, focus on density rather than fight to keep these holes?

Architects design, but we also build. Our training has taught us that we can design anything. That’s the reason people hire us, because through design we can create places that both function and excite at the same time. So why shouldn’t that same logic apply to Parcel 5? If we design it to perform and function in a specific way, shouldn’t it work?

“…except when you don’t because sometimes you won’t…” — Dr. Seuss

The experience of Parcel 5 at Jazz Fest had nothing to do with how the space was designed. In fact, that space is void of any design or manipulation. Its emptiness actually allowed freedom and personal ownership of the space. People used the space as they saw fit and congregated where and how they wanted. It’s that freedom that makes the space truly public, truly special.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Parcel 5 is that its value is more external than internal. The true opportunity of that space has nothing to do with the space itself. It was getting to experience the city, the backdrop of our urban environment on full display. I think that’s the magic of places like Central Park. These areas allow for refuge but also make nearby real estate more desirable. A symbiotic relationship between solid and void.


The space needs to be designed, but not designed in a way that assumes. It should be a destination, a focal point. The greatest value that area offers is its ability to enhance the urban experience around it—to be participatory.

Cleveland’s Public Square, designed by the firm Field Operations is a prime example of this. Other Rust Belt cities have found similar success such as Detroit’s Campus Martius and Pittsburgh’s Market Square. All of these spaces offer a variety of attractions & destinations and incorporate seasonal strategies. At Campus Martius, there exists both an urban beach as well as an ice skating rink.  It allows public space to be flexible and nimble in order to respond to natural fluctuation of activity over a day, week and year.

Architect James Durfee, principal at Bergmann P.C., has written extensively on this space and others in the city. He sees Parcel 5 similarly. “Thankfully, the community has taken a step back to think about everything this already very public space has to offer. The current consideration—making the space a permanent public venue—is one that I welcome. My hope would be that ‘new improvements’ not overwhelm what is already so special about Parcel 5,” Durfee said.

“It is quite compelling ‘as is’…”

Rarely do you get the chance to “test” out a plot of land before it’s developed. With Parcel 5, we’ve had several years of seeing the vacant space utilized and re-imagined.

“We are reinvigorating this area by the experimentation of temporary happenings: from concerts to pop-up events,” says Robert Fornataro, senior associate, project architect at SWBR Architects & Engineers P.C. “All of this has shown us how important this space is. How do we make it a place though? We have seen this space serve different levels of the community. We need to capture the uniqueness of the space. We need to make spaces that are of value for developers and value for the community. That is place-making.”

Up until recently, it seemed as if a performing arts complex was destined for the space. However, it seems the theatrics of everyday life may be what is more successful than a professional stage. “Without the PAC the city has a chance to create a neighborhood,” says Dirk Schneider, partner at CJS Architects LLP. “The most successful places in the cities that we love are the places that we use, actively use, all the time, and use throughout the day and night. These places are invariably integral parts of neighborhoods where the residents themselves live and work and socialize.

“The proposed PAC was not a neighborhood use, not active use, and it is not a use that will improve the daily life of the residents of the center city,” Schneider continues. “A PAC is just a very big box that displaces the active uses that knit a vital and/or emerging neighborhood together.”

Despite all the debate, if a building should be destined for Parcel 5, the architecture will want to contribute to the city in a similar way.

“Urban Planning 101 states that we should continue the architecture along Main Street. Not very deep because we want room for open space,” Fornataro says. “This building can’t be solid though. It needs to be perforated so the public realm weaves through it, under it and all along its sides. Some space for the pubic and some for private. This will have the makings of something connected to the community and be a wonderful asset that can still organically grow.”

Whether to build or not, it’s become clear that we have stumbled upon a space in our city that for better or worse has captured our imaginations. Parcel 5 is successful already in that we all agree this place matters! Ultimately, the design of this place is not so much a change of mind but rather a shift in direction.

Oh the places we’ll go…

Jason Streb is an architect and associate at CPL as well as current president of A.I.A Rochester.