Models showcase designer Damien Lee’s collection during a runway show at Baltimore Fashion Week in 2021. Photos by Kevin Higgins (Perimeter Photos) & JDH Photos.

Nate Couser first began designing jewelry after his therapist suggested he harness his creativity as an outlet for the grief he felt following his grandmother’s murder.

Over 15 years later, Couser now owns VashtiBlue Jewelry Studio and will debut his work at Baltimore Fashion Week after working behind the scenes for several years.

The 15th season of Baltimore Fashion Week, now called the Shows at BFW, kicks off this Saturday, Aug. 13.

Former model Sharan Nixon launched Baltimore’s inaugural fashion week in 2007, inspired by the behind-the-scenes hustle she witnessed as a photography assistant at a 2005 Elie Saab show at New York Fashion Week.

Since its inception, Sharan has handled all of Baltimore Fashion Week’s promotional materials, including press releases, social media, and website design, by herself.

“It’s been a long, extensive learning experience, and I am not regretful for any of it,” said Nixon.

The Shows at BFW will commence on Saturday evening with the 4th Annual Fashion Umbrella Impact Awards, a gala fundraiser that celebrates Baltimore-based creatives and leaders making an impact on the community.

Monday, Aug. 15, will be dedicated to “Off the Rack” events, a group of runway shows at Baltimore Center Stage featuring local designers who do not yet have a full collection. Featured creatives include Nixon herself, with her brand Carter Kennedy Showroom; professional stylist Sterling J; Couser’s VashtiBlue Jewelry Studio; and Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Rashod Bateman’s debut label “Dark Lords.”

For most of the Off the Rack designers, this will be their first time publicly showcasing their designs.

Wardrobe stylist Sterling J used to attend Baltimore Fashion Week, hoping to one day see her work exhibited. 

“I’ve been styling pretty much all of my life,” said Sterling J, who will be styling a select number of models out of their own closets for her show.

The opportunity arose after Sterling J approached Nixon for a mentorship. After working under Nixon’s wing, she launched her styling career and now works with other runway organizations to style their shows.

It is also the first Baltimore Fashion Week for Bateman, who has been working on his label “Dark Lords” during his downtime between the Ravens’ regular playing season and their summer training. Bateman, who has been balancing the debut of his label, football preseason, and a soft tissue injury throughout the past month, was unavailable for comment.

While this is the first time Couser will be showcasing his collection, he’s no stranger to Baltimore Fashion Week.

Couser, who is also a Baltimore City educator, performing artist, and podcaster, interviewed models and designers for his podcast, “The Artist Exchange Radio Show,” during his first Baltimore Fashion Week. Since then, Couser and Nixon have built a strong friendship, and Couser was selected to display his work at the Shows at BFW this year.

“I love mixing different styles and coming up with my own personal expression of that,” said Couser, whose off the rack crochet collection is primarily inspired by Diana Ross’ 1975 film “Mahogany.”

From Tuesday, Aug. 16, through Saturday, Aug. 20, the Shows at BFW will host networking events, including lunches, meet-ups, and virtual discussions with industry professionals. 

Sunday, Aug. 21, is dedicated to a solo design showcase featuring a full collection created by up-and-coming designer Elise Little.

Little began her sewing journey at the beginning of the pandemic, when she taught herself how to sew cloth masks for neighbors and friends. Since then, her skills have blossomed, and she will debut her brand “Elise Sew Official” at the solo design showcase.

While it can be easy to get caught up in the glamor of fashion week, Nixon’s sights for the Shows at BFW are set on a single goal: raising money for her nonprofit, Fashion Umbrella Foundation. 

Founded by Nixon in 2013, the Fashion Umbrella Foundation is dedicated to providing educational and entrepreneurship opportunities to Baltimore youth. Baltimore Fashion Week has since been brought under the Fashion Umbrella Foundation, and the proceeds from the show go towards the foundation’s scholarship programs.

The Fashion Umbrella Foundation also hosts outreach programs throughout the year, including a mid-winter school supplies refresh, an educational honors ceremony, and a youth open mic.

Nixon is expanding the Shows at BFW beyond their current boundaries. 

“I’m such a perfectionist that failure has never been an option,” said Nixon about her ambitions for the future.

She’s already planning for next year’s events, which will include a “Designer Debut” at New York Fashion Week in September, a runway show for women above age 30 slated for late March, and an emerging designer platform in June. 

To purchase tickets and find more information about the 2022 Shows at BFW, visit theshowsatbfw.com.

Liv Barry

Liv Barry is Baltimore Fishbowl's 2022 summer reporting intern. Barry is rising junior at Washington College, where she is majoring in communication and media studies and double minoring in journalism,...