It’s 7:30pm in the heart of Stokes Croft and designers and models alike are buzzing around Hamilton House in a chaotically organized fashion. It’s the time of year of the Coexist Fashion Show, an annual 2-night event held to showcase the work of many independent designers based in and around Bristol. Upstairs in the dressing room, a colourful atmosphere takes hold, as Bristolians from all walks of life come together united by a universal love of fashion, art, and a general belief in the importance of staying true to exactly who you are. This mantra is embodied backstage in the jigsaw of brightly-coloured clothing rails on which hang a whole range of outfits waiting for their turn on the catwalk, from Jerry at True Soldier’s clean-cut, urban prints to Rose’s festival inspired leotards and leggings.
As the minutes tick by past the show’s proposed start time and hairdressers and make-up artists alike put down their brushes with a sigh of relief, a frenzy of last-minute image checks in iPhone front-cameras begins to take place; final touches are made and one last jewel or bhindi is stuck in place. “Models, this is your 5 minute call,’ shouts Danny, trying to make his voice heard over the general buzz of excitement and beer-fueled conversation. Gradually, the last safety pins are put in place and models begin to line up for the beginning of the show, frequenting the makeshift backstage photo-studio for some quick shots on their way.
Stepping out onto the catwalk first are the delicate lace-clad models of Annabelle’s SUGAR collection, walking down the catwalk in Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque pairs of black and white versions of each outfit. As soon as the first walk is over, designers run backstage to meet their models for the first quick change of the evening, and body-consciousness melts away as clothes are flung off and new outfits donned ready for the next collection to be showcased. As most models are shared between the 21 designers exhibiting at Co-exist, these changes are just a characteristic of the hectic whirlwind of clothes, colour and talent that makes the show exactly what it is.
As the night unfolds, models bring fashion of all varieties to life on the catwalk, from the girls sporting the pretty pastel tailoring of fashion student Rachel Lynsey’s 50’s/60’s housewife inspired collection, to the grungy, street vibe of Where The Wall’s stenciled t-shirts that see models sauntering down in snapbacks, spray paint cans in hand. Male model Sol even takes to the catwalk in skintight silver leggings, accessorized neatly with 80’s-esque shades and a matching disco ball.
Backstage, I manage to catch up with a few of the designers exhibiting at Co-exist, who tell me a few words about their work and the inspiration behind it. Fraser Johnston, founder of Fujee clothing talks about his collection, inspired by his daughters who are half Cameroonian, half British. With his designs that feature African prints and motifs such as Christ the Redeemer in tribal dress, Fraser says he ‘wanted to do something that reflects their duality and makes the most of two halves of a great whole.’ More of his collection can be found at www.fugeeclothing.com.
Sheli, who is busy packing her range of custom-designed Nike trainers into their respective boxes, also has some wise words to offer on the beliefs behind her brand’s inspiration. ‘Averse attire sets out to reflect a positive message. It basically says if you wanna achieve greatness don’t ask for permission and don’t be defined by society.’ Her label, Averse Attire, offers cutting-edge cool printed t-shirts and hand-painted kicks.
Butzi Schlaadt, the event coordinator, can be found buzzing around backstage with an omnipotent air of calmness and contentment, seeming almost unnaturally stress free. Marveling at Butzi’s talent in both organizing the event and designing her own stunningly detailed knitwear range is commonplace conversation in the dressing room, where she is accepted as the common contact who brings everyone at coexist together. Model Jules, who wears Butzi’s handmade knitted catsuit was scouted by her in a restaurant, whilst some designers even saw her adverts for the show on social media.
As the night draws to a close, and the dressing room becomes littered with a colourfully chaotic mix of hangers, fabric, make up and glitter, the models line up one last time for their final walk. And if the 2-night festival of fashion couldn’t get any more unique and offbeat, its grand finale involves this diverse mix of new-generation Bristolians dancing down the catwalk in a range of eccentric fancy dress outfits hand made and designed by the talented and just a little crazy Trina. The scene rather embodies assistant event coordinator Danny’s summary of what Co-exist is all about. ‘Its about team spirit,’ he explains, ‘about serving the community and bringing people together.’
So as the models, designers and supporters who make up the Co-exist team disappear off to the bars of Stokes Croft to celebrate the event’s after party, designer Faye of Fayenique collection leaves me with these words over a gin and tonic, which just about sum up the celebration of being yourself that is Co-exist Fashion Show. ‘Follow your heart,’ she smiles, ‘wherever it takes you.’
The article was originally published in Epigram – The University of Bristol student newspaper