As I entered Weeksville Heritage Center, a space in Brooklyn dedicated to Weeksville, one of America’s first free black communities, I began to appreciate how appropriate of a setting this was for Damian Joel, or D.J. as he likes to be called, to showcase his collection, entitled; “Songs of the Gullah”. As guests entered, we were asked to wait in the lobby as final preparations were made. “What are they doing in there?”, I thought. I’m used to a traditional runway and models gracing a catwalk. But D.J. left clues about his program. He didn’t call this a fashion show, he called it a, “Live Fashion Exhibit”. And here is why…
As the doors opened and guests held out their tickets, the numbers “1” and “2” written on them to signify the number of valid guests, we entered the exhibit and beheld a phalanx of models surrounding a woman lain face down. There they stood, statuesque, still, as guests made themselves comfortable.
D.J. entered and shared of his experience with the Gullah and Geechee nations, and how his conversations with Queen Quet, Chieftess of both nations, helped inspire his collection before performers began their recital, revealing each model and their unique garment to the backdrop of powerful written word, video and dance.
Each piece was created from preloved and dead stock material. This was a major part of D.J.’s vision. He wanted to challenge the notion that new needs to be “New”.
D.J. allotted time for a panel from notable figures in fashion, art and activism to discuss the impact and future of sustainable fashion as well as how Intro X DJ, D.J.’s fashion line, is positioning itself to tackle these concerns. The panel was comprised of Katherine Cheairs (Filmmaker, Curator, Activist), Ali Richmond (Co-founder: Fashion For All Foundation), Whitney McGuire (Co-founder: Sustainable Brooklyn), and moderated by Antoinette Gregg.
The exhibit closed to Damian expressing his gratitude. He left us with thought but this statement in particular stuck with me. “Our people are natural storytellers. Runway is devoid of storytelling. So this is my answer to that.”
"We were (are) the most valuable asset. 'Black Gold" - Damian Joel.