‘Believe the Hype’ Column by Christine Stoddard: Farewell to New York Fashion Week but not to Brooklyn Fashion

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

Another New York Fashion Week (NYFW) has come and gone, not to stir up a storm again until September. As it stands, the “week” sprawls into nearly a fortnight come February. This year the Starrett-Lehigh Building in Chelsea rivaled Spring Studios, which had been NYFW’s hub for more than five years. Yet those are not the only sites where fashion shows take place; they are merely the ones where major designers trample the runway. But not every designer is a household name. There are designers who make a name (and a living) for themselves without being known by Midwestern housewives. 

A Brooklynite’s Foray into NYFW

Now, not being a household name does not mean obscurity or failure. Some designers prefer to be uncommon, aiming for a narrowly-defined customer versus aiming to be loved by all. On Feb. 10, The New York Times ran a story on B Michael, a designer who has dressed everyone from Beyoncé to Halle Berry. Yet you might get deer-in-the-highlights looks if you mentioned B Michael in Des Moines. While he has a new book out—a memoir called MUSE: Cecily Tyson and Me: A relationship forged in fashion—he had zero presence at this year’s NYFW. Maybe some designers, even successful ones, don’t want the hassle of producing a world-class event and all of the digital media content that is expected these days. These things require different skill sets than producing the garments themselves, and B Michael basically runs a three-man shop. However, not every designer can afford to be so selective when it comes to opting out of NYFW. Up-and-coming designers may feel they have to participate in order to get their name out there. 

Designer: Candence Caprice. Photo by Nani Creative.

This latter category intrigues me because they are fledgling artists fueled by passion. When Lina Neubauer aka “Rainstorm”, a current Fashion Institute of Technology student, invited me to model in her Rising Collective NYFW show, I jumped at the opportunity. This was a confident young businesswoman with a vision and several events under her (very stylish) belt. The fact that she was uplifting newer designers thrilled me. Most of them were FIT and Parsons students or recent alumni. On Feb. 17 at Dom Lounge in Gramercy, we—the show producer, designers, models, hair/makeup stylists, dressers, and other crew members—collectively made many dreams come true in one night. I especially loved the energy of Hayden Lehr, who had me model her mini skirt made of recycled soda tabs and a crop top bearing her line’s logo. Just 21 years old, this was her first-ever fashion show. I heard more than one person congratulate her for having such a cohesive look: punky but still modern and bright, with clean lines. You can find her on Instagram @haydenlehr. 

Rainstorm, who also goes by Rain, was generous enough to have the “Don’t Mind If I Don’t” comedy show attend the event. In the Jan. 25, 2024 edition of the Brooklyn Downtown Star/Greenpoint Star newspapers, you may have seen the article “Brooklyn Goofballs Release ‘Don’t Mind If I Don’t’ Episode on Bagpipes.” The whole concept of our comedy TV show is that fans and experts try to persuade my boyfriend,  Aaron Gold, to like things he hates. The TV show stemmed from Aaron’s long-running podcast. Now I am in the mix as his co-host/art director and we have a team lending their directing, cinematography, editing, and producing skills. So far, we have filmed episodes on bagpipes, psychics, Shakespeare, painting, and now fashion. The hope is to convince Aaron that fashion has aspects worth appreciating. 

Fashion Week Brooklyn

Last weekend’s fashion experience made me wonder: Why is there no Brooklyn Fashion Week? Google proved me wrong. There is a Brooklyn Fashion Week, but the name is actually Fashion Week Brooklyn. It just doesn’t have the cachet or visibility of NYFW because, as cool and creative as our borough is, Manhattan is still our city’s center of commerce. FWBK was founded by the non-profit BK|Style Foundation, which aligns itself with several social causes, from human rights to HIV/AIDS awareness, and also produces international fashion events that highlight Brooklyn designers. This year, we can expect FWBK on April 7 and 13 at Kings Plaza Mall in Mill Basin.

The storefront of MOSHOOD at
Restoration Plaza in Bed-Stuy. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

In doing some digging about FWBK, I found out that MOSHOOD/Afrikan Spirit, a Bed-Stuy mainstay of three decades, is in on the action. This is yet another gem located at Restoration Plaza. When I recently popped my head in there on a Saturday, the spot was, well, it was the spot. MOSHOOD’s designs have appeared on BET’s Teen Summit, Queen Latifah’s sitcom “Living Single,” and Brandy’s sitcom “Moesha.” The line, which blends African tribal designs with Western flair, has the slogan “WEAR MOSHOOD, WEAR YOURSELF,” as well as the saying, “We focus on the ensemble, not just the pieces.” Through FWBK, Moshood showcased designs at V.O Curations in London on Feb. 17. 

Designer: Hayden Lehr.
Photo by Nani Creative.

Another Brooklyn designer in that same show (there were ones from the UK and New Jersey, too), was “Free.” This tongue-in-cheek designer is totally new to me. Founder Richard Kauli, a graduate of Brooklyn Tech, declares a “distaste for the attention economy and mass surveillance of a free state” on the line’s website, the cheekily named FreeInQuotes.com. Three principles seem to guide the brand, which I am pulling directly from the Info page:

1. Lack of new/original thoughts and ideas as we consume mass media (group think)

2. Privacy is no longer possible (mass surveillance from governments and advertising companies)

3. Social media leads to constant comparison to others (lower life satisfaction and increase depression and suicide)

One example of a T-shirt you can buy from “Free” bears the words: “Great Minds Think Like Us.” Maybe calling “Free” anti-fashion would be more apt.

Snow at Floyd Bennett Field

But enough about fashion for now. While I believe the arts are essential to a beautiful, joyful, and meaningful life, I am also aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Physiological needs come first. After another snowstorm, I had to know: Did the tent shelter for migrant families at Floyd Bennett 

Field have heat? Did the shelter run into any issues during the storm? A couple of days would pass before I could head over there. That meant a week had gone by since my last visit, when I staked out the public transportation situation. By then, most of the snow had melted. It was easy to drive my car around and not worry about ice or running into a snowbank.

Floyd Bennett Field, with the remnants of the snowstorm.

I noticed that steel barricades had been installed since the previous week. They formed a corridor that went from the tent shelter to the bus stop. Families walking from the shelter to the bus stop, which involved going down one road, crossing another road, and then cutting across a large empty lot, largely stayed within the barricades. I noticed one little boy stumbling along the barricade, just outside of it to play in the bits of snow that remained. A man I presumed to be his father walked inside of the barricade, almost parallel to the boy.

I parked my car at the intersection before the large lot. In the couple of days leading up to that point, I had called and emailed organizations on the NYC 311 webpage entitled “Asylum Seeker Resources.” I have many questions and many stories I am researching to write about immigration in New York City. Only one source picked up the phone: the principal of Brooklyn Collegiate High School, who said that the list is horribly outdated. The school no longer provides resources for asylum seekers. This is why on-the-ground reporting still matters. We cannot count on the Internet for everything.

I got out of my car and stopped the first family to get some quick answers. In Spanish, I introduced myself and asked if there was heat in the tent shelter. The answer was yes. And were there any problems at the tent shelter during the snowstorm? Or since? No. 

What a relief! I look forward to finding out more about our city’s asylum seekers and promise to bring updates in the Brooklyn Downtown Star/Greenpoint Star.

‘Believe the Hype’ Column by Christine Stoddard: Standout Asian Cuisine & Migration of Two Kinds

By Christine Stoddard | [email protected]

The best meal I had on the go this week–and, yes, I am so often on the go–was the Braised Chicken Congee Bowl at Maya Congee Café. Though I have passed the Fulton St. location in Clinton Hill on many occasions, this was my first visit. Decked out in red and gold, the quaint spot, which houses a small market, cheerfully reminded me that it was Lunar New Year. We are in the Year of the Dragon, which happens to be my Chinese Zodiac sign. How fortuitous.

View of Maya Congee Café front door. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Chino Grande

Now, my best sit-down meal of the week goes to Chino Grande, owned by Josh Ku of Win Son fame. Nestled on Grand St. in South Williamsburg, the Asian/Latin fusion restaurant even boasts regular karaoke. While I did not stay to sing my heart out, I have no regrets. The chic Mid-century design immediately pulled me in, setting a tone of relaxed sophistication. The green booths felt serene and the friendly staff contributed to the comfy atmosphere. My date and I delighted in the Chips (plantain, taro, and sweet potato) with the Sauce Caddy (Green Sauce, Ketchupmayo, Spicy Duck Sauce). We also shared the Crab Rangoon Toast and Pilón Smashed Cucumbers, and each ordered a Chorizo Egg Roll. For large dishes, I was very pleased with the presentation of the Twice Cooked Chicharrón de Cerdo (leeks, shishitos, fermented chili paste) and the lightness of the Salchicha Arroz Chaufa (longaniza, lap cheong, chorizo, red peppers, peas), which was the most guilt-free fried rice I can remember tasting. For a cocktail, I opted for the popular Chiquita Chinita (Mezcal, Red Bull Pepper, Toasted Rice), while my partner ordered the Ni Haody! (Rye, Jujube, Black Walnut, Sweet Vermouth). We finished with the tantalizing Ice Cream Sandwich (Maria cookies, guava, and cheese), which just so happened to combine some of my childhood favorites.

Chips and sauce caddy at Chino Grande. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Hardware & Discount Store

My biggest shock in the local business community this week was seeing that Fulton Home Center and Hardware Corporation is moving. You, like me, may better know this neighborhood shop simply as “Hardware & Discount Store,” as that is what’s printed on its awning. It is, or shall I say was, located near the Nostrand Ave. stop on the A/C. Now it is moving to 1507 Fulton St., by Kingston and Fulton. According to hand-written signs taped to the windows, the shop lost its lease after 40 years. I popped my head inside as movers cleared decades of inventory, and briefly spoke to the understandably frazzled owner, who took my business card and then had to get back to work. Any tips are appreciated.

Sign taped to the window of Hardware & Discount Store on Fulton St. in Bed-Stuy. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Floyd Bennett Field Migrant Shelter Bus Service

Family tent shelter at Floyd Bennett Field. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Ever since I heard about the migrant family shelter opening at Floyd Bennett Field, I have had concerns. The park is a known flood plain; on virtually any visit after a rainstorm, I have noticed soggy ground and huge puddles. In January, a rainstorm sent the city scrambling to relocate 2,000 parents and children from the tent shelter to James Madison High School in Midwood. Some Madison parents protested and there were complaints about how much sense the last-minute, poorly planned move made for a one-night respite.

Q35 bus stop outside of Floyd Bennett Field. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

Apart from the flood plain issue, I have wondered about public transportation there. I have only ever driven to Floyd Bennett Field, located on the tailend of Flatbush Ave., going toward the Marine Parkway-Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge. There is a no-man’s-land quality to the park, which is littered with abandoned buildings and empty lots. The Q35 bus stop, which you will find just outside of the park, is a solid 5-7-minute walk from where the shelter tents are stationed. Make it 10 for the parents walking with younger children and strollers. In the nearly two hours I observed there on a windy Friday afternoon (after-school hours), the bus came three times. Many migrants waiting for the bus did not have proper winter coats. Their situation is dire.

Large empty lots stand in the way between the family shelter and the Q35 stop at Floyd Bennett Field. Photo by Christine Stoddard.

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