Mirror, Mirror: Phashion Phest turns 20

Sharon Phillips Waxman with Phashion Phest display at Liberty Place.
Sharon Phillips Waxman with Phashion Phest display at Liberty Place. (APRIL SAUL / Staff)
Posted: September 26, 2013

Before FBH Fashion Week, 17 Days of Fashion, the Philadelphia Collection, or Vogue's Fashion's Night Out, there was Phashion Phest, courtesy of founder Sharon Phillips Waxman.

Wednesday night, the runway show that features curated fall looks from local and national stores will celebrate its 20th show at the Shops at Liberty Place.

The festivities will start with a cocktail reception at the lobby and sidewalk of the Market Street entrance; a runway show will follow in the mall's rotunda. The theme is fitting: 20 is the new black.

Twelve stores, including made-in-the-USA Philly newcomers Kembrel and Mettlers American Mercantile, as well as specialty stores Ann Taylor Loft and Saks Fifth Avenue, will dress models in everything from pencil skirts to peplums.

The hour-plus presentation will feature collections from the drafting tables of the Philadelphia Fashion Incubator at Macy's and looks from locally based Nino Brand and Laundrea. The party is closing the Philadelphia Collection, eight days of city-sponsored fashion events.

Like the Philadelphia Collection, Phashion Phest has its roots in our Office of the City Representative.

The year was 1994, and Waxman, a former model, mother of young children, and professional event planner, decided to host a stylish evening to showcase the best fall fashions Philadelphia retailers offered.

"I always hated hearing that if you wanted something fashionable, you had to leave the market," Waxman said.

Back then, Waxman said, people weren't as familiar with high-fashion shorthand, as in Christian and Manolo. Clothing was fairly Eurocentric, so Giorgio Armani and Gucci were the stars of the runway.

As for locally made and manufactured? Not so much.

Over the years, Phashion Phest also celebrated the couture accomplishments of Philadelphians, including professor Emil DeJohn and designer Ralph Rucci.

Waxman, 56, of Sewell, Gloucester County, and I recently chatted about the Philadelphia fashion scene and the evolution of Phashion Phest.

Elizabeth Wellington: What is exciting and new about this year's Phashion Phest?

Sharon Phillips Waxman: We asked the salons to do a 19-year retrospective of Phashion Phest based on our previous themes. We've had some great themes, from high-fashion-low-tide to Superheroes . . . . [At the start of the fashion show,] the salons will present the hair and makeup [of the models] based on those themes, and we are going to show images from that year on the big screen.

EW: How do you describe the fashion scene in Philly now?

SPW: It's growing, and I'm delighted.

EW: What's more important, a strong design community or good retail?

SPW: There needs to be a balance. We have a lot of young designers here; that's good. But to be a destination, we need good retail. People have to feel that they can connect with fashion. That's what's great about our show. After our fashion show, people can go right out and buy the clothing the next day.  

EW: How has social media changed what you do?

SPW: We are able to give people a more personal Phashion Phest experience. We took pictures of some of the city's best dressed on Instagram during the week leading up to it. We post the pictures and ask people to vote. The best dressed of the day wins tickets. We also tweet information about our sponsors. We promote our stores.

EW: Where did your passion for fashion come from?

SPW: I was taller than everyone else, so when I was in sixth grade, a woman came up to me and told me I should model. It was motivation for me to get the extra weight off, so every day for a year, I went to school with half a sandwich, an apple, and white milk.

EW: Really? Whole white milk?

SPW: Yep. Everybody around me was eating chips and snacks. I lost 20 pounds and went to modeling school. I was 5-foot-7 in the seventh grade, and I grew an inch a year right up to 5-foot-10. Back then, though, a good model was a size 6, a size 8.  

EW: Do you remember the first time you walked the runway?

SPW: I was 13, and my mom, who didn't drive over the bridge [the family lived in Runnemede, Camden County], took me to Philly on the bus to be in a bridal fashion show at Bonwit Teller. I wore these false eyelashes. My mother helped backstage. I fell in love with the runway that day.

EW: Favorite designer?

SPW: Chanel. I also like Gucci. I will probably wear Nino Brand by Bela Shehu to Phashion Phest, though.

EW: What's your favorite thing in your closet right now?

SPW: My husband bought me a big, black Louis Vuitton handbag. Love it.

EW: Do fashion people wear too much black?

SPW: No. Everyone looks good in it. So the answer is no. I mean it. No!

ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704

@ewellingtonphl

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