During one of the opening sequences at the Congressional Black Caucus fashion show this weekend, three male models meandered casually, unsmilingly down the runway. The audience screamed. Model Rashid Silvera stuck his hands in his pocket -- they screamed louder. Dennis LaMarsh unbuttoned his jacket -- the applause swelled. Alan Cephus folded his arms -- more cheers.
The CBC fashion shows are always the most grandly staged shows in Washington -- and this year was no exception. For the midnight presentation Friday at the Washington Hilton and the repeat Saturday morning, the runway was the longest, the all-white stage the hugest, the lighting the strongest, the music the loudest (and best), and the clothes a wide range of New York and Washington designers. Even the hair styles were the most dramatic.
What captured the audience, though, were the 20 New York models, including two rather zaftig ladies, and 28 local models parading the T-shaped runway that brought them close to the enthusiastic seated crowd of more than 3,000, plus 500 standees, for each show.
It wasn't only the male models whom the audience, which was more than half women, cheered. They loved the satin lingerie one female model wore and cheered to a frenzy when another strutted the length of the room in a black leather bikini with studded bra, twirling her leather whip as she went.
But when Renauld White led the other male models across the stage and down the runway barefoot and wearing bathrobes with no hint of anything underneath, there were catcalls and whistles and screams of approval. The models worked hard to keep their unsmiling, nonchalant manner.
There wasn't much audience enthusiasm for this season's favorite mannish styles for women. And the applause was simply polite for the full-blown silks and other loose and easy clothes many designers favor for fall. The audience did like the sequence of clothes from daytime to evening in white, which included some of the strongest in the show. Yet the response was mild compared with the hysteria that greeted the male models in black leather jackets following the white sequence. By now some of the women in the audience had picked their favorites among the male models and began to wave selectively to Ed Fry, Jhamil Henderson and the most popular of all, Silvera. Silvera finally broke down and grinned.
This was the fourth Black Caucus show produced by Dwight Byrd, this year assisted by Anne Palmer-Moss. He selected the clothes -- including many by local designers such as Annie Whatley, Edouard and Ed Burke -- chose the models, choreographed the scenes and set the tone of the show. But this is the last time he'll do this show, he announced Friday night.
"These are the most difficult people I have ever worked for. They tell me to do the show and then tell me what to do," said Byrd angrily before the show. "I heard myself saying over and over again, 'If you think you can do it better than me, then do it yourself.' "
One point of contention was Byrd's wish to add one more show on Friday afternoon, a dress rehearsal for the models that would be open to students for a small fee. The organization turned him down. "If you can't grow, you have to move," he said.
"We've had differences before and we have gotten over them," said Alma Rangel, chairwoman of the show for the last seven years, though not this year. She was shocked he made their differences public. "We like Dwight. The show is unsurpassed. He's a perfectionist and has threatened to walk out before when we made suggestions," said Rangel, who still has hopes the differences can be resolved.
In preparation for this year's fashion show Byrd checked out the work of about 50 local designers. "There is a lot of energy in Washington and a lot of good ideas, but often the ideas aren't executed too well," he said. He dedicated this show to Lepenski, a talented Washington designer who is quite ill, he told the audience when local designers presented him with a gift of Erte' drawings before the show.
The show, which was underwritten for $75,000 by Avon, opened with scenarios from earlier shows but using current clothes. Models in black-and-white-checked suits carried leashes attached to imaginary dogs and toted plastic Pooper Scooper bags. In another sequence, models in brightly colored silks released live butterflies from the baskets they were carrying.
But it wasn't the gimmicks, or the staging, or the elaborate sound and light effects or even the clothes that stirred the audience. It was the attitude of the models. And the models loved it as well. "In New York we model for buyers and press, who are fairly blase'. To show clothes to the public, and such a responsive public, is really wonderful," said Washington-born Charissa Craig, who now models in New York.
"The audience really makes the evening," said Silvera as he changed back to his own clothes after the show. "I'm too intelligent to think that I'm that cool."