A behind the scenes look at Richmond's most anticipated affair.

Just outside of Vagabond, the popular restaurant and lounge, a line of over one hundred models snaked its way from the front door down along Broad Street. Models and aspiring models have come with the hopes of catwalking their way into Richmond’s biggest fashion events, RVA Fashion Week. 

The casting call began at noon, but by 11:30 am the line was filled with beautiful people of all shapes, sizes, races, genders and ethnicities. Dressed in a uniform of black leggings, white t-shirts and heels, one by one they waited for their number to be called so that they could enter the restaurant and “give troup” for the judges. 

One such judge is model coach Soliel Paden. A former runway model, Paden has served as the model coordinator for RVA Fashion Week for the past six years. When it comes to spotting talent, she is a pro.

“My biggest thing with RVA Fashion week is instilling confidence, poise and professionalism into models,” says Paden, “that’s my gift.”

Fashion designers, creative artists and boutique owners were also in attendance to showcase their upcoming fashion lines and petition to be featured in the show. While Paden and co-judge Dominique Graves selected the models, it is Ryan Azia, a creative visionary with an expansive world-view of fashion and culture, who is responsible for the designers and store owners. 

“With RVA Fashion week, pay attention, because Richmond is on the rise!” says Aziz. “quote me!”

Azia’s five year goal is to cement Richmond, VA, as one of the top five fashion destinations, with RVA Fashion Week being the primary event. Today, however, the week-long spectacle introduces people to local fashion designers, raw talent and designer boutiques they may not have known about. 

The entire event is a gift to Richmond’s fashion enthusiasts. Since 2008, when a group of VCU students, led by Jason Primrose, inaugurated the event, the cities’ most passionate fashion fanatics gather twice a year to watch the collections of local designers and boutique owners.

Fast Forward several years, and the event is now executive produced by Richmond entrepreneur and Vagabond co-owner, Jimmy Budd. Budd, a former entertainment promoter, originally focused on talent development and marketing for RVA fashion week. The brand was handed over to Budd by Primrose just before Primrose relocated to Los Angeles. 

Jimmy Budd, RVAFW Executive Producer

“One of the things I realized in the early years,” says Budd, “was all of this talent. But no one was really getting recognized for it. A lot of people were discouraged and felt like they needed to move to Los Angeles, New York or even to Miami to get recognized. So my mission was always to provide a platform for locals to get the spotlight and recognition that they deserve.”

According to Budd, there was some slight recognition for the first couple of years, but in more recent years both models and designers have been recognized by agencies in larger markets. 

“All of a sudden, models were getting contracts, agencies were coming down here and signing them, designers were getting booked in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Milan and London,” he added. “It’s just a really exciting time. Every season it’s just a giant ball of positive energy and so much talent and everyone feels it.” 

New additions to this year’s Spring fashion show emphasize the importance of education and collaboration with those invested in community building. This season, RVA Fashion Week is partnering with Henrico Public Schools for a student-led fashion challenge. 

“I’m working with some amazing people,” says Budd, as he describes the program that includes a panel to discuss the importance of merging fashion and activism. One of whom is Mecca Williams, a local party promoter and mental health activist. “She’s an amazing lady.”

Back on the runway, there are a few stand-out models that everyone is looking forward to seeing. Top Models like Morgan Carr, Khayla Conner and Jenai Kozar are all expected to rip the runway in this upcoming  season. All of whom have experience outside of RVA. Both Carr and Conner, for example, have modeled in New York and Los Angeles Fashion Weeks, respectively. 

When it comes to designers and boutique owners, there are a few notables as well. “It’s too many to name,” says Budd, “but I’m impressed with Very Ashley, ABLE fashions, Azi Blas and India LaPosh.” All of whom will be showing their collections this season, with top models strutting them down the runway and fashion enthusiasts surrounding with cameras and cellphones in excitement. 

And it all happens at RVA Fashion Week. 

RVA Fashion Week is April 27th-May 3rd. For a list of show times, presentations and ticket information, please visit RVAFW.com.

Nishaun Battle
Author: Nishaun Battle