Text by Shanell Verandez, Copyright 2023
Philly’s Black and Brown Fashion History
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Fiercest of them all?… My past or present as a model?
A thought that danced in my mind as I reflect on my snapshot vignettes of Philadelphia fashion scene’s past. I started modeling during the “Fashion Posh” era in Philly. There was so much talent booming within the fashion industry during the 90’s and 2000’s, especially in the black/brown community. It was a time where you could thrive as a freelance model and still land the same jobs that the signed models were getting. There were three big agencies in Philly, Askins, Reinhard and Expressions, who were only using the same group of black/brown models to fit their quota. I started with a smaller agency named Freez Frame in olde city, because they signed and worked with a lot of black/brown models until they went out of business and the models money. That’s another story to reflect upon another time.
One of the many treasures were the photographers… Milton Perry, Terrance Boykins, Les Beverley, Lindy Powers, Stephen Hudgins and the legendary Tony Ward to name a few. I only got to work with two of them then, Les and Lindy, at the time. I met Lindy Powers through a chance meeting from another model at the Palmer’s Social Club during a fashion show I was modeling in. She loved to photograph black/brown models and showed an interest in me for a test shoot. After the shoot, she gave me my first portfolio book, comp cards and told me that I would do really well in Europe (Italy) and NYC( her agency Wilhelmina) but first placed me with Askins here in Philly. She wanted to help me with my modeling career. There was one special modeling gig I did with her that reunited with legendary model and makeup artist, Paul Luna, who was the makeup artist and hairstylist for the shoot.The photo shoot was a success and became running local ads in the Ritz movie theaters show bill.
Another Philly fashion treasure were the fabulous designers shows and venues within the black/ brown community! “Fashion Montage” was the biggest black/brown fashion show held annually in the summer by Julie and Ron Wilch at the Robin Dell East. I was honored to walk the runway for five years and appear on their show bill cover twice. At that show, is where I met a few talented, black/ brown designers, some I still have the opportunity to work with presently. Most noted one was the Couture/ Scarf designer, KVaughn, who was quite the eccentric designer every model wanted to work with. I had the pleasure to model for KVaughn then and currently in the present. I remember when he lined all the models and pointed me out and asked me if I had a black thong. I said yes and he stated to me that all he wanted from me was a thong, my big hair, and a jacket on the runway. Another noted designer was James Nelson, who grew up in the same West Philly neighborhood as myself and hired me as an usher at his fashion shows until I was ” mature” enough to walk for his shows. Another show venue was actually a legendary restaurant in olde city named “The Middle East’. Almost every designer or boutique had a fashion show there. Before it closed down, I had walked a fashion show for a popular local bathing suit designer, Esha, who designed a female warrior princess leather and wire bathing suit exclusively for me, because she admired my athletic physique. At that time, fitness modeling started to become more marketable and I had a muscular build due to martial arts training and playing semi-pro beach volleyball.
During this time I was traveling to NYC a lot to do work or travel with my ex beau who owned two boutiques in Philly and Atlantic City called “Eleganza”. He was an Italian who only sold Italian designs, especially Versace. I would travel with him to the showrooms and help him pick out designs for the new seasons. Until one day I showed up with him at the Versus (Versace’s second fashion line)show room completely exhausted ( hung over) from the night before and a model didn’t show up. Guess who had the right size and look? So I sobered up and showed out and got hired! I guess Lindy Powers was right about “Italy”.
Then there was Shampoo Nite club where I honed my runway walk through the likes of Phoenix, Justin, Shannon, Cyoni and Noel. Every week was a fashion show there… the Color theme shows that lasted 12 hours, the Fetish boutique shows and one particular designer I got to meet and befriend, Jay McCarroll who went on to win the first season of Project Runway. This venue became an open door to everything Philly fashion and beyond. During this time I also got a chance to meet fashion editors whose magazines were thriving in the black/ brown community, most noted were “Colors” by K.C. Bajai and “Ambiance” by Paul Tucker. I never got the chance to model in those magazines but I slayed their annual runway shows.
Last but not least, there was and still is John Blassingame, the Godfather of the modeling pageants/ competitions within the brown/ black community. He is a mentor and a fashion staple to a lot of upcoming black/brown models. I had a chance to meet him at the Bronner Bros. hair fashion show I modeled for in Philly. The Bronner Bros. is a black owned hair company based in Atlanta, Georgia and they produce some of the most extravagant shows there.
So many vignettes, so little ink… but more to come as this city is still producing some of the best fashion talent still, instead of flyers, there is social media outlets to do the work. As I continue to reflect on my model work , past and present… the people and places may have changed or gone extinct but their fashion imprint still lives on in Philly! As far as myself, I may have grown older, but my mind , body and spirit are still intact and ready to strike poses and slay the runways… Until then
To access additional articles by Shanell Verandez, click here: https://tonyward.com/shanell-verandez-a-simple-lady-with-a-complex-soul/