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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.