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Villa Lewaro Fashion Show Resurrected In Sunshine

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July 11, 2021

By Barrett Seaman—

Harlem high fashion returned to Irvington Saturday, July 10th. The rains did not.

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The extravagant show highlighting the designs of Kerby Jean-Raymond, literally drowned out on Thursday, returned to Villa Lewaro with most of the glamorous guests present—and even a second chance at providing the closing act for Paris Fashion Week, which extended itself for two days so the closing event in Irvington could be live-streamed back to France and around the world.

Guests at the catwalk

 

Recognizing that not all of the guests, including big name rap performers, would be able to make it back after the two-day delay, the show’s organizers opened 50 seats on a first come, first-serve basis to the public on Friday. According to a Pyer Moss staffer, all 50 were snapped up in minutes.

Irvington Mayor Brian Smith and daughter Bella arrive at the show

But most of the originally invited guests returned. As local Irvingtonians lined the iron fence along Broadway, names more familiar to the village’s younger residents chatted it up on the Villa Lewaro’s expansive front lawn while many more waited in long lines to get checked in.

Invited guests line up on Fargo Lane

One guest’s t-shirt reading “Black Wealth Matters” signaled that this was a celebration not only of Black Haute Couture and Hip Hop Royalty but also of growing Black economic power, captured in the elegant dress of the guests and extravagance of the event. Richelieu Dennis, current owner of the Villa and, like Madame Walker, an entrepreneur in the field of hair care products for Black women, chatted amiably with onlookers, dressed in one of the event’s standard t-shirts that read “Wat U Iz.”

Villa Lewaro owner Richelieu Dennis

As a reminder of its essential African-American roots, however, the show opened with a dramatic peroration by former Black Panther Elaine Brown, who recalled the blood spilled in Selma that preceded passage of the Civil Rights Bill in 1964.  “All power to the people,” she began, coaxing a refrain from the audience. Further on, she reminded the young, hip audience that one of the mantras of her generation of militants was “Off the pig,” a call directed at largely white police forces that suppressed Blacks in the early days of the movement.

Irvington residents line the Broadway fence to get a peek at the show

The mood turned brighter after Brown left the catwalk, to be replaced by young Black men dressed in white, dancing to pounding rhythms from an orchestra, also dressed in white. On the top tier of a wedding cake-like centerpiece of the staging was rapper 22Gz.

That’s when the real show began.

The show begins

Fully aware of his limited knowledge of the world of fashion, this writer will refrain from any attempt to describe Jean-Raymond’s designs.

At the end of the show, Jean-Raymond beckoned his entire designer staff to accompany him on a triumphant romp around the catwalk to rousing cheers from the assembled.

The star of the show, designer Kerby Jean-Raymond

Local luminaries included Irvington Mayor Brian Smith, dressed more casually than he had for Thursday’s rainout. He was accompanied by his daughter Bella.  Also present was 17th District Representative Mondaire Jones, the first Black (and openly gay) person to represent the district in which Irvington lies. Following the show, Mayor Smith and Villa Lewaro owner Richelieu Dennis discussed possible future events that would build on the fashion event.

“By my calculation,” said Smith after the show, “this was the largest gathering of African-Americans [in Irvington] since Madame C.J. Walker’s daughter [A’Lelia] had her famous parties in Irvington. For one small moment, Irvington was the center of of the fashion world…Pretty cool!”

The full YouTube livestream, as seen in Paris and beyond, can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D696GBOS0KU

 

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