It is not typical to walk into an event in D.C. and see a woman in a Big Bird-esque, oversize, electric-blue fur coat. But this get-together was no stuffy Washington suit-and-tie affair.
A crowd of women — including local journalists Kristen Berset Harris and Debra Alfarone — took to Georgetown on Monday night with designer purses draped across their arms to hear five Washington female entrepreneurs speak during a Creative Women in Business discussion at the Scout Bags showroom. The accessory label’s founder, Deb Waterman Johns, hosted a panel discussion moderated by writer Carol Joynt that featured: THE Artist Agency chief executive Lynda Erkiletian; senior adviser for the Wing and former Washington editor of Glamour, Giovanna Gray Lockhart; Tuckernuck clothing boutique founder Madeline Grayson; and one-half of the husband-wife duo behind the Fiola restaurant empire, Maria Trabocchi.
D.C. is not exactly considered a hub for entertainment and fashion — “the other f-word,” said Waterman Johns — making fun of how those topics can sometimes be regarded in a town known for its politics. Erkiletian, a former “Real Housewife” cast member from the D.C. branch of the franchise — the first and only one of the U.S. installations to not be renewed for a second season — said people’s perception of Washington’s ability to be a force in the entertainment industry was a barrier in opening her local model and talent agency a few decades ago. She decided to launch the firm on April Fools’ Day, because for “six months leading up to the opening, people would literally laugh in my face.”
Arts in the District has grown over the last 30 years she has been in town, Waterman Johns said — and partially because of the efforts of her co-panelists, who saw voids that needed to be filled. “There were women who were creating important change, and they needed to look great doing it,” Waterman Johns said. “Fashion is very misunderstood. Fashion can be very powerful.”
Just as the panelists had the room almost convinced that Washington’s style scene was strong enough to re-brand D.C.’s image, radio talk-show host Kelly Collis stood up and addressed the inevitable: politics. In a town where the biggest “It Girls” are first ladies, governmental affairs probably will always play a role in its style scene, for better or for worse.
“I was on QVC the night Trump got elected. It was like walking into a morgue,” Waterman Johns joked. Trabocchi, whose restaurants have a cult following among D.C. VIPs and international celebs alike, said any high-profile customer, regardless of their, err … tweeting habits, is a win for the brand.
“If you have a visit from a president, from any president, it’s an honor,” she said.