Call it Los Angeles glamour meets New York City slickness and Philly swagger.
Two of the newest players trying to build on urban fashion momentum here are 27-year-old designers Saleem Khalil Roberts and Tiffany Williams, who recently introduced two lines - the Béllargo Piargé collection of men's graphic T's, and Cherry Pie, a chic grouping of sequin-studded bathing suits.
"We are really working on getting our line out there," Williams said. "This is our coming out, of sorts."
Despite the sweltering heat and un-air-conditioned space, Sunday's show at the German Society on Spring Garden Street, produced by Philadelphia-bred bicoastal stylist Anthony Henderson, had a fashion energy rarely seen here.
The building's brand-new hardwood floors and high ceiling, combined with pulsating hip-hop and Marc Jacobs start time - the show was an hour late - made for a true New York Fashion Week-like experience.
Fold-up chairs were lined with programs, and instead of a goodie bag, attendees received the June issue of King magazine, which featured
America's Top Model
contestant Toccara in an inside spread wearing a Cherry Pie swimsuit.
Many of Philadelphia's African American fashion community were in the house, including Venice Newton, founder of the Philadelphia-based Fashion Frenzey TV Web site (
» READ MORE: www.fashionfrenzeytv.com
), and Northeast-based designer Gregory G. Taylor of the women's wear collection Walish Gooshe. Joan Shepp recently picked up the line to sell in her Center City boutique.
Designer Melanie Brandon came as well. Brandon's line, Melani von Alexandria, is a grouping of artfully draped dresses and wide-legged pants in nude shades. Her collection also features jewelry fashioned from guns confiscated by the Philadelphia Sheriff's Department.
Once the show finally started, it was clear Roberts and Williams designed from the heart.
Their fruity-punch-colored T's featured a trendier, tighter fit, with sayings such as
Fashion is Life
, the company motto,
Can't Stop the Reign
Who is Béllargo?
Roberts and Williams paired the shirts with below-the-knee shorts or men's-style capris. Many of the models wore beards that are culturally linked to the African American Muslim community, but also referred to as the Philly beard.
"Philadelphia is definitely our inspiration," Roberts said. "We want to prove that there is fashion here in Philadelphia."
Alternating with the T-shirted male models were women dressed in flashy, pretty bathing suits. The candy-colored tie-dyed fabrics, leopard prints, and tuxedo-collared suits came in one-piece and two-piece styles and featured boyshort and thong bottoms.
Gucci, a reddish-brown Pomeranian, accompanied a few of the models down the runway on a leash or in an oversize bag. Think Miami nightclub rather than Jersey Shore.
It was a pleasure to see well-proportioned, normal-size models, though a little jarring watching barely dressed woman after barely dressed woman strutting down the runway while the men were fully dressed.
Roberts said the imagery was part of his vision.
"To me, a woman's body is a canvas to be painted and admired, but I think it needs to be admired in a classy way," he said. "But this is not for women who are afraid to walk the walk and strut the stuff."
Williams and Roberts are self-taught designers who met at a Lil' Kim concert five years ago.
Within the year, they became partners and decided to make a made-to-order womenswear line, naming it Béllargo Piargé.
Two years later, the duo was asked to dress local rap artist Gillie da Kid, which led to their line of graphic T's. The response, they said, was overwhelming.
The T's are available at Black Linen on South Street, and Darril Guilford, owner of Rare Image in West Philadelphia, is also thinking about carrying the line.
"I liked a lot of pieces," Guilford said. "I liked the concepts and the colors."
The duo is looking for other vendors locally and nationally.
So far, Williams and Roberts have invested about $100,000 in Béllargo Piargé from their own salaries and family members. And Williams says she's managed to get the shirts on the backs of several NBA players from Philly, including Rasul Butler of the New Orleans Hornets and Eddie Jones of the Dallas Mavericks, and rapper Freeway.
"We are honored to have the players accept and embrace our line and it means a lot to us because they are from our hometown," said Williams, who lives in Mount Airy and works full-time at a pharmaceutical company.
However, Roberts, who designs full time, couldn't leave women's wear alone. In 2006, he went to work on Cherry Pie.
Roberts splits his time between his home in West Philadelphia and Los Angeles, where he works with stylist Joe Xclusive, who has helped him get Cherry Pie on socialite Kim Kardashian and dancer Karina Smirnoff of
Dancing With the Stars
"I just love fashion," Roberts said. "I grew up watching
All My Children
, and I love Lil' Kim and Beyoncé."
"Real cutting-edge fashion is fierce, and I just wanted to get in on it."