Orange County Fashion Week celebrates its 20th anniversary with a spring runway show

Hundreds of spectators watched the models proudly strut the runway during the premiere of the Orange County Fashion Week 20th Anniversary show, which ran over two days last weekend.

For two decades as a cultural and artistic event, Orange County Fashion Week (OCFW) has united a community of models, photographers, makeup artists and fashion professionals in Orange County.

The annual event has provided many designers, especially local designers, with a place to be celebrated and appreciated. In total, they partnered with 3,000 models, 450 photographers, 600 social media influencers, 400 makeup artists after more than 293 events throughout the run of the fashion show.

Editor’s Note: This is an occasional series where the Voice of OC works with local community photographers to offer residents a first-hand look at local locations and scenes in Orange County.

OCFW was founded in 2003 by Dewan and Dharmesh Pardiwal, two students at Orange County’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) who wanted to bring a fashion event to the county, according to Kathy Marino, who currently serves as president of OCFW.

“Our vision was to combine luxury and OC beach culture,” said Dharmesh Pardiwala. “We wanted to give Orange County much-needed fashion exposure. We knew if L.A. could have Fashion Week, why not OC?

Runway show at Orange County Fashion Week, Sept. 7, 2022. PHOTO COURTEES: JAMES PAN

Pardiwali’s dream of creating a fashion week in Orange County ran into some obstacles at first.

“As with any new and popular business idea, there were people who wanted to claim our idea as their own or did not see our vision to unite the industry … We did our best during OC Fashion Week and took it forward,” he said.

After much trouble with trademarks and other tribulations, Pardiwala made contact with Kathryn Marino, who now works as president of OCFW.

“The first 5 years were extremely difficult,” said Marino. “People started performing under our title. Ultimately, we gained the public’s attention and recognition.

Marino joined OCFW as a board member in 2013 and this year marks her 10th anniversary with the program.

Runway 2023

OCFW presented “Haute off the Grill” on Saturday morning, March 4, at the Middleby Residential Brands Experience Center in Irvine. There, models walked through mock kitchen and home concepts to the sounds of synthesizer house music. Spectators were placed throughout the experience hub, with each seat having its own unique perspective of the runway show as the runway was not linear.

Steph Rose White in Noble Creation. Noble Creations is a family owned brand offering Filipino design techniques. Source: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of the OC.

Designer Amiel Noble’s spring runway collection featured intricate design techniques from his heritage.

“I design to keep the heritage of these traditional Filipino techniques alive,” Noble said after the concert. “All items are hand embroidered, painted and beaded in my hometown of Lumban. Lagoon, Philippines.

Designer Amiel Noble and model Charlotte Peng stand in front of photographers at the end of the runway at the Middleby Residential Brands Experience Center on March 4, 2023. Noble’s namesake brand, Noble Creations, showcases Filipino heritage through traditional design
techniques. Source: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of the OC.
A model wearing Svetik Haute Couture at the Middleby Residential Brands Experience Center on March 4, 2023. Credit: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of OC.
Models wearing Benjamin Babadi handbags on the runway at the Middleby Residential Brands Experience Center on March 4, 2023. Babadi worked with Italian artisans in Tuscany to develop his designs. Source: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of the OC.
Models wearing Svetik Haute Couture clothes pose for photographers at the end of the runway at the Middleby Residential Brands Experience Center. Source: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of the OC.
The chefs prepared the appetizers after the end of the runway show on Saturday, March 4. Source: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of OC

Sunday’s runway premiered at the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) located next to the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts in Costa Mesa. Four collections were shown there.

On either side of the runway, they snaked across the OCMA concrete roof in the shadow of the surrounding architecture. As on Saturday on the catwalk, many participants could be seen with children.

Tijuana-based designer LLENUEL FRO was the first to step onto the rooftop catwalk.

“My ‘Universus’ collection has a real identity,” said designer of the same name, Llenuel Fro. “My inspiration is the art of love because I like being in love. Our feelings, the brightness of our emotions, because we all shine, we are one universe in this world focused on love.”

Liz “Sassy” Chu, owner of a real estate company in Orange County, was one of many OCMA show attendees with a passion for fashion design.

“Everything beautiful brought me to this event,” said Chu. “Sassy loves anything tulle, leather, feathers… the bigger the better, bolder, I love it.”

A model entering the rooftop runway dressed as Ugochi Iwuaba on March 5, 2023.
Stratcoat model Rhonda Priestly at OCMA, March 5, 2023. Credit: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of OC.

While the fashion community in Orange County is relatively tight-knit, Marino notes that there can be quite a bit of drama to the show.

“It can be like the devil wears Prada, sometimes they wear their egos like a business suit,” Mariano said.

Fashion seasons can be stressful for all parties involved, and sometimes the claws come out.

“Sometimes we work with big egos and divas,” said Marino. “They deserve the privilege, but they have to respect the runway and the people behind it, who help make the show.”

Behind the scenes or “behind the seams”, a large team of volunteers and students support the production of the runway. OCFW continues to tap into its student roots through its internship program, Fashion for the future. The program provides trainees with leadership opportunities and account management.

Kathryn Marino (center) and a volunteer prepare a group of models before entering the runway at the Middleby Residential Brands Experience Center. Source: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of the OC.

Charlotte Peng, now a communications student at Loyola Marymount University, began working at OCFW at the age of 14 as a runway model. By Fashion for the future the program, has been producing on the runway for six seasons.

“My respect for OC Fashion Week, and Fashion Week in general, 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 goes into creating these breathtaking shows. It is thanks to the efforts of people like Kathy that the program is successful down to the smallest detail. Watching everyone do what they do best is both humbling and inspiring.”

Charlotte Peng (left) and Kathryn Marino (right). Peng has modeled for many designers and has also worked as an intern at OCFW. Loan:
ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of the OC.
Models wearing Melissa Pellone gowns and Emma Roberts jewelry applaud as designers begin walking their collections at OCMA, March 5, 2023. Credit: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of OC.
A model dressed in a Svetik Haute Couture gown spins for photographers. At the end of each runway, models met with large groups of photographers, each of whom wanted to take a picture of the project. Source: ERIKA TAYLOR, Voice of the OC.


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