Golden Hanger Awards Light Up San Diego Fashion

San Diego doesn’t often come to mind when counting the world’s fashion Meccas. Yet on a Saturday night in Fashion Valley (of course), one could see a fashion show as vogue and vibrant as could be expected in New York or Italy.

The Annual Golden Hanger Fashion Awards Gala presents the latest work from the students of San Diego’s Fashion Careers College, and after more than two decades of showcasing their talent, these fashion apprentices seem to have hit their stride.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary, FCC unveiled its 23rd annual awards gala raising money for Make-A-Wish Foundation of San Diego and Variety Children’s Lifeline. Hosted by KUSI news anchor Sandra Maas, the gala featured local San Diego celebrity models Shally Zomorodi of Fox 5, KUSI Style Guy Leonard Simpson of Fashion Forward, KGTV 10 weather personality Kerstin Lindquist, and Make-A-Wish Foundation Community Development Manager Alex Cano as they accompanied Make-A-Wish children-turned-models down the runway.

Youngsters such Noah Virissimo and Ashleigh Wojcik sported creations tailored to their childhood desires yet with a decidedly fashionable flair. Working the runway with charm and innocence, the kids brought the show to a standstill as guests swarmed the catwalk to stuff the circulating donation box full of cash for children’s charities.

Displaying a bit of living history, the affectionately-named Fashion Divas — former models of the college spanning the last three decades — hit the runway demonstrating their seasoned flair and professionalism.

The main event featured collections from 16 FCC students, each with his or her own theme, style and attitude. Crystal Hibler’s 1950’s-inspired ensembles set to a “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy” beat set the right tone for the evening and her models were clearly having a ball in their classic couture.

Other designers chose similarly boisterous themes to spotlight their collections. Irina Borchtevskaia closed the first half of the program with her Beyoncé-inspired lark, as her models hit the end of runway striking poses inspired by the R&B singer’s hit video “All the Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It”).

A special entr’acte presentation honoring fallen pop icon Michael Jackson brought an extra pint of pizzazz, as the FCC Dancers grooved to a few of the late singer’s greatest hits, bedecked in apparel befitting each song.

Though the collections catered exclusively to women’s attire, the women themselves were treated to a bit of beefcake as six-pack sporting hunks strutted down the runway, tearing t-shirts from their muscled torsos before retiring to the background as fodder for the models.

The show culminated in a fascinating collection of designs based on paintings displayed in the Timken Museum of Art in Balboa Park. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Jacques-Louis David and Bartolomeo Veneto, students designed extravagant costumes and ensembles reflecting the gallery’s art collection.

The most ambitious work was perhaps that of flamboyant designer and model Prince Charming, who took Thomas Birch’s “An American Ship in Distress” and turned it into a walking maritime vessel that just spanned the runway, allowing the model only the radius of her own feet in which to turn.

The event reflects the 30-year result of FCC founder and CEO Patricia O’Connor’s work to bring fashion to San Diego. In March of 1979, she enrolled just seven students into her newly established school with the goal of being involved in everything fashion related. Today, her student body ranges between 120-140 students.

As her student body grew, O’Connor realized that her young fashionistas would need an outlet to show what they could do. In 1986, she unveiled the school’s first Golden Hanger Awards show. But she realized that she could accomplish much more than showing off her students’ work. In the flush of prosperity, O’Connor realized that she would have to give back to the community. A devoted advocate for children, she partnered with Make-A-Wish Foundation and, later, Variety Children’s Lifeline to funnel some of the proceeds of the even back to children’s charities.

As for the students, FCC Public Relations Director Lisa Paik says they are an amazing group of people and that they are learning more than just fashion.

“It’s not only about you, “ says Paik, “It’s about something greater than you.”

Unpublished article for North Park News.