Multicultural fashion show promotes cultural diversity and global acceptance

BY LAURA WILLIS | APRIL 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Strutting comfortably in high-heeled shoes is an obstacle in itself. The task becomes even more daunting when wearing Indian-style saris — long fabrics embellished with artistic prints — and walking down a 64-foot runway in front of 600 pairs of eyes.

“Making models feel like they are hot stuff going down the runway is always a challenge,” said Melody Singh, a University of Iowa senior and cofounder of the Walk it Out multicultural fashion show.

To combat runway anxiety, she helped members of the Walk it Out South Asian group keep a fluid pace in the complex shoes. Six male and 12 female models practiced falling down to learn how to react in case of a mishap. They kept key physical components in mind: shoulders back, maintain balance throughout the foot, and most importantly, have a personal style.

“Our primary goal is to entertain the audience,” Singh said. “We want the models to keep the personal style they have to try to get the audience more involved.”

Singh’s group, in addition to other cultural categories of style including hip-hop, Latin American, African, and Middle Eastern, will participate in the Walk it Out multicultural fashion show at 8 p.m. Saturday in the IMU Main Lounge. Before the models begin their trips down the runway, the event will begin with appetizers at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free.

Throughout her childhood, Singh celebrated Hindu holidays such as Diwali and Holi with her family. After living in India, Canada, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, she arrived at the UI in 2007. As a freshman, she noticed a lack of diversity-related activities on campus and, hoping to create a more culturally conscious campus, she became the public-relations specialist of the Indian Student Alliance during her sophomore and junior years.

“After [the Indian Student Alliance], I was more easily able to quickly adapt to Iowa City than feel bitter,” she said. “I was able to take a proactive approach.”

Last year, a primary goal for the alliance was to create more cultural activities on campus. Members introduced themselves to members of the Black Student Union and the Asian American Coalition, who held similar interests.

Brandon Parker of the Asian American Coalition and Eric Mou of the Black Student Union joined Singh in contacting other student groups about the idea for a multicultural fashion show. Fifteen groups signed up, and they expected an audience of around 400. To their surprise, 550 people showed up.

This year the show has grown to 20 organizations, a five-member executive board, 92 models, and seats for 600 people, though they are expecting more. The hour and a half long show took months to plan, with organizers beginning in August.

“I hope that when people see the show that they realize how much clothing plays in a culture,” said South Asian and Latin American stylist Michelle Morgan. “It isn’t just a piece of fabric. It’s traditions and customs that have been passed down that is celebrated through the clothes we wear every day.”

Last week, groups began to put the finishing touches on the outfits. Models and volunteers brought in their own clothes, mixing and matching with available materials. Participants chose their own music, aiming to keep the beat similar to the culture portrayed.

A popular trend for groups this year is to incorporate both traditional and modern clothing. For the Latin American segment, the women will wear lots of ruffled skirts and colorful jumpers. The idea was to make it seem like the models were ready to go salsa dancing after strutting down the runway to upbeat tunes — such as songs by Latin American singer Shakira.

“A lot of Latinas like to celebrate their bodies,” Morgan said. “We thought it would flaunt what the girls had in a tasteful manner.”

The South Asian group will showcase outfits from Eastern Asia and Pakistan as well. Because not all models come from an Indian background and have traditional saris or salwars, the group incorporates present-day blazers and linen pants. Modern hip-hop music will play as well as songs from popular Bollywood films.

For models that are not of the showcased ethnic background, Walk It Out provides an opportunity to learn more about a new culture.

Model Michael Leali heard about Walk It Out through friends. He didn’t know a lot about Asian culture or modeling but believed the fashion show would help him to get outside his comfort zone.

“I have gone to Indian Student Alliance events ever since, such as Nachte Raho and Gathe Raho,” said the UI junior. “It has been so much fun.”

Besides traditional cultures, Walk It Out will shine a light on newer subcultures, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and hip-hop lifestyles. For the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender segment, models will begin by wearing Victorian era pieces, followed by flapper outfits and futuristic attire.

“We want to show how there has been a strong lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender presence throughout time,” said Colby Kilburg.

For the hip-hop portion, models will incorporate break-dancing with their walk. Unlike last year, it will focus more on the origins of hip-hop with R&B music.

Each group will work to give audience members insight to diverse fashion and music and, hopefully, open their eyes to new global perspectives.

“I hope that people who aren’t from Africa or South Asian can think, ‘Oh my gosh — there is a whole world out there,’ ” Morgan said. “It makes it more fun, and people become more accepting.”

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