Author: H.M. Shaw
Western New York may not be known as a fashion capital, but once you get past the perception of what this region is known for – wings, snow, zubaz, and pirate boots – you will discover what many in the area already know – Buffalo is a place with a lot to offer the fashion world.
All poking aside, there is a sizable and growing population that is passionate about fashion in Western New York. We have star-power in the area, which should come as no surprise, but unfortunately does to many. This writer urges you to shut out the nay-sayers who see us as one big Frank’s-smear because Western New York is worthy of serious credit in the industry. Our photographers, designers, and models are quite frankly killing it throughout the US and beyond.
In mid-September, international plus-size model and diversity-advocate, Carmina Suzanne, organized a shoot with photographer, Cheryl Gorski, along with two outstanding models and fellow WNY natives, Jessica Lahr and Angelea Preston. Suzanne took this opportunity to display the talent that our fair city can call its own by showcasing local models and specifically, those well out of their teens who play powerhouse roles at different ends of the industry.
“I had the idea about 6 months ago to do a very high quality, high fashion shoot with the top professional working models in Western New York,” said Suzanne. “All three of us are a bit older, have families, and are businesswomen, but we come in a range of sizes, shapes, heights and colors. And we represent different segments of the industry. Angelea has a typical high fashion look with top international experience. Jessica works in high concept but also has a strong commercial and pageant background. And I balance doing editorial/ high fashion with a more accessible style on both sides of the Atlantic. But the main reason – I knew this would be an awesome group of ladies!”
Carmina Suzanne got her start in Cleveland after going to a casting call. One high rating was all it took to jump-start a successful career that has taken Suzanne to Paris and 2014’s New York Fashion Week. If the name Angelea Preston sounds familiar, it should. Preston has been modeling professionally for six years and during that time became an all-star of “America’s Next Top Model.” Though she has rocked the world of reality television, the mother of one continues to modestly reside here in Western New York. Jessica Lahr, originally from Prattsburgh, New York, went after her childhood dream of modeling shortly after having her first child.
The recently crowned Mrs. New York has been leading a career in runway, commercial, and catalog for the past two and half years primarily out of Rochester, near her home in Geneva, New York. All three of the stunning models brought their Queen City-flavored personalities to the shoot on camera and off, sharing personal stories, delightful quips, along with chocolate. And yes, you are reading that last part right!
All who had hot hands in the shoot were also fashion veterans who continue to keep style alive in our thriving city. Creative director Nicole Davis – the brains and skilled hands behind Franci Jewelry – disclosed that she never set out to make her living crafting her awe-inspiring accessories. Now Davis’ creations have been sought after by a number of stylists and have landed her speaking gigs at college campuses.
Make-up artist, Danielle Weiser, began her career shortly after graduating from both Complexions International and Greasepaints make-up schools in London. She continued onto Los Angeles where she worked on the sets on a number of films and television programs including “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Shadow Hours.” Though gigs were steady, Weiser took her leave of La-La Land and came back to Buffalo because it was a far better environment to raise her daughter. Though she was warned that she “would never find work,” Weiser and her air-brush kit have been going non-stop.
Hair was a team effort lead by Hersha McKinney with assistance from LaShawn Adamson and Whitney Campbell (BeYoutiful Transforamations). McKinney, manager of Simply Hair Design on Delaware Avenue, has been making magic with mane in a multitude of photo shoots and hair shows since returning to Buffalo. She graduated from Dudley Cosmetology University in North Carolina with honors. However, out of devotion and dedication, Hersha McKinney could not stay away from her hometown. “I would like to travel all around the world to compete and bring the prizes home. There’s so much untapped talent in Buffalo and people who make it big here often forget where they came from or simply won’t tell. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere,” shared McKinney.
On her website, Cheryl Gorski states, “I love capturing visual insights in fashion, portraits, journalism and nature.” It’s her drive that has taken her all over the country, resulting in a body of work that combines raw edge and wholehearted humanism revolving around all things aesthetically pleasing. Though she gets to go anywhere her lenses may take her, Gorski still calls Buffalo home, working out of her studio in Main Street’s Theater District. The original Fashion Maniac had just returned from New York Fashion Week in time for the project with an adorable tabby kitten in tow. Gorski expressed her excitement while setting up the back-drop, “As a photographer, I think that it is important to learn how to shoot people of different colors and sizes….Beauty comes in all colors and sizes.”
One would get the impression that this photographer is merely experimenting with diversity more as a here-and-gone concept. Nothing could be further from the truth. Gorski’s collaboration with Davis and Suzanne, and the rest of the cast and crew of this project are committed to sending a genuine message sans cushy hook. Suzanne stated early on that she wanted “the shoot to speak for itself.” She certainly hit the mark with the help of everyone involved, but there is a greater message: Buffalo’s greatest contributions to fashion are not just these radiant models, the up-and-coming jewelry designer, the prolific photographer and the cosmetically crafty ladies who were behind the scenes. Our often-underestimated city offers representations of reality instead of the contrived glimpses of realism that mass media purports as “real beauty”.
For more than a decade, several advertisers and designers have been heralding for “real beauty.” There have been a few feeble attempts at a seemingly multicultural and body-positive display, slowly shying away from the “thinspirational” images that have been pushed upon the masses for ages. For those of us who are media literate and understand the need for diversity, the beauty sketches and so-called “not Photoshoped” models are not a triumph, but rather a modest half-victory. While national ad campaigns have come around to using more pro-body, pro-age, and pro-multicultural sentiments, these decisions are being made by Don-Draper-types looking to exploit in the name of sales and profits. This is treated as “counter-programming.” The same companies and their marketing geniuses would otherwise flood us with images of the “ideal:” young and extremely thin. It is for this reason that we should celebrate and support those who approach this as a principal and not as a mere sales tactic.
After the shoot wrapped, I found myself asking what I always wondered: What, as a plus-sized model, were Suzanne’s thoughts about the pro-body ads from the likes of Dove, ModCloth, and Aerie. She happily shared her personal insight: “Well, until something becomes a pattern, I assume it’s a gimmick. There is so much money involved in making women hate their bodies that it’s hard to know which campaigns are sensitive to that, which ignore it, and which exploit it for commercial gain. But I know the positive results of seeing healthy, curvy women in media adverts for young girls. It is a very good thing!”
Models: Carmina Suzanne, Jessica Lahr, Angelea Preston
Jewelry / Creative Director: Nicole Davis for Franci Jewelry
Make-Up: Danielle Weiser
Hair: Hersha McKinney with LaShawn Adamson and Whitney Campbell (BeYoutiful Transformations)
Photographer: Cheryl Gorski
Wardrobe: Ms. Suzanne in Monif C. (short dress) and Edward Dillard (long gown) , Ms. Lahr in SV Style (By Sheila Vaughn), Ms. Preston in H&M