Hundreds of spectators watched as models strutted down the runway at the premiere of Orange County Fashion Week’s 20th anniversary show, which spanned over two days last weekend.
Through its two-decade-long stretch as an arts and culture event, Orange County Fashion Week (OCFW) has united the community of models, photographers, makeup artists and fashion professionals in Orange County.
The yearly event has given many designers, especially local designers, a place to be celebrated and appreciated. In total, they have networked with 3,000 models, 450 photographers, 600 social media influencers, 400 makeup artists after more than 293 events over the fashion show’s lifespan.
Editor’s note: This is an occasional series where Voice of OC works with local community photographers to offer residents a first-hand look at the local sites and scenes of Orange County.
OCFW was established in 2003 by Dewan and Dharmesh Pardiwala, two Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) Orange County students who wanted to bring a fashion event to the county, according to Kathy Marino, owner and operator of OCFW.
“It was our vision to unite OC’s luxury and beach culture,” Dharmesh Pardiwala said. “We wanted to give Orange County its much needed exposure in fashion. We knew if Los Angeles can have a fashion week, then why can’t the OC?”
Pardiwala’s dream of creating a fashion week in Orange County was met with some obstacles in the beginning.
“As with any new and popular business idea, there were people who wanted to claim our idea as their own or could not see our vision to unite the industry… We did our best with OC Fashion Week and moved it forward,” he said.
After facing a number of trademark issues and other tribulations, Pardiwala connected with Kathryn Marino, who now works as President of OCFW.
“The first 5 years were tremendously hard,” Marino said, “People would start shows under our title. We ultimately won over the public’s attention and recognition.
Marino became owner of OCFW and is celebrating her 10th anniversary working with the program this year.
The 2023 Runway
OCFW presented “Haute off the Grill” on Saturday morning, March 4, at Middleby Residential Brands Experience Center in Irvine. There, models walked through mock kitchen and home concepts to the synthy sounds of house music. Spectators were placed throughout the experience center, with each seat having its own unique perspective of the runway show, as the runway was not linear.
Designer Amiel Noble’s collection for the spring runway show featured intricate design techniques native to his heritage.
“I design to keep the legacy of these traditional Filipino techniques alive,” Noble said after the show. “All of the pieces are hand-embroidered, painted and beaded in my hometown Lumban. Laguna, Philippines.”
Sunday’s runway premiered at the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) located next to the Segerstrom Center for Performing Arts in Costa Mesa. There, four collections were shown.
Flanked on either side by seating, the runway snaked across OCMA’s concrete rooftop in the shade of the surrounding architecture. Similar to Saturday’s runway, many attendees could be seen with children in tow.
Tijuana-based designer LLENUEL FRO was the first to step out onto the rooftop runway.
“My collection ‘Universus’ has a real identity,” namesake designer Llenuel Fro said. “My inspiration is the art the love, because I like to be in love. Our feelings, the brightness of our emotions, because we all shine, we are one universe in this world centered in love.”
Liz “Sassy” Chu, an Orange County real estate business owner, was one of many attendees at the OCMA runway with a passion for fashion design.
“Everything beautiful has brought me to this event,” Chu said. “Sassy loves anything tulle, leather, feathers… you name it, the bigger, the better, the bolder, I love it.”
Although the fashion community in Orange County is relatively tight-knit, Marino notes that the show can come with its fair share of drama.
“It can be like Devil Wears Prada, sometimes they wear their egos like a business suit,” Marino said.
Fashion seasons can be stressful for all parties involved, and occasionally claws have been known to come out.
“We are working with big egos and divas at times,” Marino said. “They have earned that privilege, but they need to respect the runway and the people behind it that help create the show.”
Behind the scenes, or “behind the seams,” a large team of volunteers and students support the runway production. OCFW continues to harken back to its student-run roots through its internship program, Fashion for the Future. Through the program, interns are given leadership opportunities and account management.
Charlotte Peng, a current junior at Loyola Marymount University studying communication, began working with OCFW at the age of 14 as a runway model. Through the Fashion for the Future program, she has been involved with the runway production for six seasons.
“My respect for OC Fashion Week and fashion week in general absolutely skyrocketed while working as a project manager [intern] here,” Peng said of her experiences in Fashion for the Future. “As a model, it was very easy to take for granted how much work is put into making these breathtaking shows. It is through the efforts of people like Kathy that ensure the success of the show, down to the minute detail. Watching everyone do what they do best is truly both humbling and inspiring.”
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