A story of love and support in Northwest Arkansas’ fashion community.
BENTONVILLE—Sara McGuigan, designer of Love, Zelda, watched a small television screen from backstage as a model struck a ballerina-esque pose at the end of the runway, raising one hand into the air and extending the opposite leg towards the polished, concrete floor. The reveal of McGuigan’s new collection began, starting with a camisole that she hand-sewed. She watched the garments she created come to life and felt elated.
On the runway, upbeat yet soft music, danced through the speakers, making the atmosphere like that of a dream-land. A model glided effortlessly through the middle of fixated spectators. A ballerina bun held her long, brown hair tightly at the back of her head. She wore a blue silk top, with a skinny line of cream-colored french lace cutting down the front middle. A pink skirt, also made of silk, whirled around her legs like snow drifting down and framing the streets of New York.
This show, however, is starkly different from the runways in New York. New York Fashion Week features nationally known designers, and some describe the event as cold and pretentious.
“We’re aspiring artists. It’s a different vibe for sure,” McGuigan said. She worked tirelessly in the months leading up to the show in order to find authentic french lace, hand-sew the garments, and conduct fittings. The designer sacrificed her social life in the weeks leading up the NWAFW, using every bit of time away from her full-time job as a Walmart merchandiser to create her new collection.
Guidance from veterans of the fashion world helped McGuigan create two collections for her clothing line in less than a year. Through NWAFW, the designer found mentors and friends to assist her in starting Love, Zelda. As a newcomer to the fashion scene, support was essential for McGuigan.
She credited Robin Atkinson, the CEO and Creative Director of the show, as a mentor. Atkinson took over NWAFW in 2016, four years after the organization was established. With a mission to bring the creative fashion community in NWA together, the organization is personable; inquiries sent to the company email go directly to Atkinson or her assistant.
Still, Atkinson said that NWAFW has strong brand recognition in the area, and the means to help aspiring designers, models, or even bloggers trying to break into the fashion world.
“A lot of people need a platform in order to get their shot,” said Madison Briscoe, a social media influencer at this spring’s NWAFW. Her involvement in the event gives her resume an edge when applying to jobs in the fashion worlds of Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York.
A platform is exactly what designers like McGuigan get at the show.
The second collection from Love, Zelda opened the NWAFW’s Friday night show of the Spring 2018 production. The show was not the first time McGuigan participated in NWAFW as a designer. Her premiere collection appeared at the Fall 2017 show in Fayetteville, where it won the Emerging Designer Award; she established her brand the previous July. She did not have to pay to be in the show. None of the designers did; the nonprofit organization that the fashion show benefits, the Arkansas Fashion Forum, pays for the designers’ runway time in order to give them a platform to gain exposure for their work.
“NWAFW gives us the venue. They coordinate the models; they makes things easy for us,” McGuigan said.
McGuigan and Atkinson stood in the middle of the runway at Friday night’s show as audience members with fresh drinks in their hands stood or sat and listened as the two friends traded off the microphone to speak on NWAFW. Light beams cascaded from two rows of lamps on the ceiling to illuminate the women’s faces, both radiating with a smile. Atkinson opened the speech up, noting her elation over the sold-out tickets and completely filled seats, and handed it over to McGuigan.
“To think about how far I’ve come, it’s really because of this community that fashion week has built,” McGuigan told the crowd.
The connections and services from the Spring 2017 show accelerated the designer’s process of establishing her brand by about two years, Mcguigan guessed. She volunteered at the show last spring and was inspired by the end of the experience. Atkinson, impressed by McGuigan’s work for the show, asked her to join the team as a designer liaison. The artist declined, explaining her desire to form the idea that teemed at the forefront of her mind: Love, Zelda.
“I immediately knew that if she could pull it off, if she could get it manufactured, it would be wonderful,” Atkinson said. The creative director recommended the next steps in building a clothing line to McGuigan. If the garments of Love, Zelda were made, Atkinson would promote them and get them on the runway, and she would not make that kind of commitment to just anybody.
NWAFW’s leader has a refined taste for art. She worked as an art curator in New Orleans and New York before returning to her home in NWA. Bringing together clothing designers for a fashion show is the same creative process as curating paintings and sculptures for a museum, according to Atkinson.
“You meet a designer and you treat them like an artist because they are,” she said.
Atkinson takes a vested interest in building the diverse, creative community of designers in NWA. She meets anyone who wants to get involved in the show because she knows that NWAFW is an opportunity for artists to get a chance to gain exposure and recognition. At the fashion show, Atkinson’s efforts were realized; there are designs ranging from red ball gowns to full body suits made completely of yarn to black, leather two-piece sets.
“I like being involved in something that brings creativity and breaks stereotypes,” Briscoe said.
Creativity long had a place in McGuigan’s life, but opportunity poured in once she got involved in NWAFW.
The designer, who continues to work full-time in a corporate job, looks forward with hope, new ideas, and the support of those around her for Love, Zelda. Atkinson, the designer’s main facilitator, sees the brand’s future as full of promise.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a couple years, you see Love, Zelda on the racks at Dillard’s,” Atkinson said. If selling designs in a large department store is the designer’s moon, NWAFW is the launchpad.
Follow us on instagram: @shoplovezelda
Author: Emily Foster