Tis the season to ponder what’s been and what could be in the year to come.

 

In fashion, in particular, Pittsburgh is ripe with potential, thanks to an ever-growing community of aspiring designers, independent boutiques, bloggers, stylists and other kinds of visionaries who call this city home. With growth, though, comes growing pains, and Pittsburgh’s fashion scene has had its share of those, too, in 2016.

 

But let’s start with the highlights.

 

Bringing much buzzed-about style exhibitions to the ‘Burgh was one of the most notable ways that Pittsburgh elevated its reputation in the region and beyond this year as a fashion-savvy city. Across the museum world, fashion-related displays are being mounted as a means to bring in fresh audiences. Locally, The Frick Pittsburgh welcomed “Killer Heels: The Art of the High-Heeled Shoe” for a three-month engagement and attracted more than 24,000 visitors, the highest attendance to an exhibition presented by the museum in a decade. Pittsburgh also was the only city to showcase “Costumes of The Wiz Live!,” featuring props and costumes by Tony Award-winning designer Paul Tazewell at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

 

Even more exhibitions are coming here in 2017. “Iris van Herpen: Transforming Fashion” will open at the Carnegie Museum of Art in February, and The Frick Pittsburgh will spice things up next fall with “Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion” from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. (Plus, fingers are crossed that “Emphatics: Avant-Garde Fashion 1963-2013” — the tribute to the former Emphatics boutique in Downtown Pittsburgh’s One Oxford Centre — might find its way from the Phoenix Art Museum, where it’s currently on view, to Pittsburgh.)

 

Meanwhile, a number of the city’s rising designers did Pittsburgh proud this year as they spread their wings beyond the Steel City. Kiya Tomlin’s chic athleisure brand Uptown made its European debut in Belgium, Emy Mack shoes were touted by the likes of Vanity Fair Italia and Vogue.com, Brush by Ben Smith and Thread International collaborated with Kenneth Cole -— and the list goes on. By keeping their base here while branching out, these entrepreneurs have become ambassadors for Pittsburgh’s fledgling fashion industry. Same goes for boutiques; lots of them travel the country and overseas to stock their stores, all the while sharing a piece of Pittsburgh with the rest of the world.

 

It’s also been refreshing to see more style-centric networking groups crop up, such as Style Social Pittsburgh for bloggers and Style 412, a monthly discussion series about the state of Pittsburgh fashion. Supplementing them is a healthy helping of fashion shows on the calendar most weekends and annual events such as Style Week Pittsburgh, providing the public with even more chances to see what the city’s fashion scene has to offer.

 

Following steady years of growth, it’s time for the city to shake things up in 2017. Take some risks! Try something new! For instance, rather than simply holding fashion shows for entertainment and exposure, why not allow guests to place orders for featured designs on the spot? Multiday events, such as the new Fashion Week Downtown presented by the Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corp. and Social Butterfly Magazine, also would make ideal platforms for incorporating opportunities for boutique buyers and retail chains with strong local ties to attend and scout new talent to carry or test in their stores. The caliber of designers who are here deserves a shot at making these connections, without the need to head to New York City or the West Coast. Not attempting this not only holds them back, but also holds Pittsburgh back from ever being taken seriously as a first-class fashion city.

 

There’s still work to be done when it comes to promoting collaboration and a cross-pollination of ideas and resources. Pittsburgh’s provisional chapter of Fashion Group International — the New York City nonprofit that promotes and unites fashion communities throughout the world — was striving to bring a mix of voices from the local industry together. Its path to becoming a full-fledged chapter was delayed with the departure of regional president Stephanie Taylor, who left Pittsburgh this past summer after being let go from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh in a round of job cuts. (She had served as the department head for the fashion design and fashion retail management programs.)

 

With guidance from the New York headquarters, Pittsburgh’s FGI board is restructuring, with the goal of being functional for events and meetings come spring 2017. Getting this group back on track could be invaluable in bringing designers and other industry leaders from New York City here for professional development, and vice versa.

 

One of the biggest questions about the future of Pittsburgh fashion is if it will be able to sustain the progress made so far. The city must be equipped to foster the next generation of fashion talents. In recent years, The Art Institute has done a solid job of educating well-rounded fashion professionals, but its own future is uncertain as the school continues to downsize and prepares to leave its Downtown campus for a building in the Strip District. Pittsburgh is in a prime position to consider an incubator program that pairs up-and-comers with veteran designers. Another component could be helping them find studio or retail space and grooming them on the business and financial skills it takes to keep it on track.

 

Whatever the future of Pittsburgh’s fashion community looks like will depend on the kinds of choices that are made in the weeks and months ahead. Here’s to a new year of taking chances!

 

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