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Picking Up Crumbs: Interview with Anna Lee of Voltage

24 Apr

2425784255_052d5928d4Tonight marks the 5th Annual Voltage Fashion Amplified and I sat down earlier in the month to interview MNFashion Director and Voltage Producer Anna Lee about her pride and joy.  Check out the excerpted interview over at Decider.

Friday, April 24, 8pm
First Avenue Mainroom
701 1ST AVE. N.

Read the full, much longer interview transcript after the jump.  There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there and I had a great time speaking with Anna.

Decider:What is Voltage Fashion Amplified and how is Voltage different from previous years?

Anna Lee: Voltage Fashion Amplified is an annual runway show that is brought to a new level by the fact that we bring in some of the top independent bands in the Twin Cities.  I feel like it gives so much dimension to a runway collection being shown.  You have a band up on the First Avenue mainstage wearing a work by a designer or a group of designers that put together a new look for them for that night.  It’s an exciting night.  Even though it has always been on a Tuesday or Wednesday night all 4 years before- this is the first year doing it on a Friday-people are really shocked at how much of a party it becomes in the middle of the week, so we are really excited this year to have it on a Friday night, we’re going to do a post-show afterparty with DJ Real Talk Radio. The runway is a little different this year, longer and taller for better viewing.  Another thing that’s going to be different this year is that we’re setting up a little Voltage shop so you can support the designers immediately that night, go check out their wares in the table area, we’re setting that up as a kind of new element this year.

D: It’s great that you’re giving people an immediate outlet to support the designers directly.

AL: Well, I think Voltage came out of a response of a lot of people just feeling frustrated with what was going on with the fashion scene where you would just do a fashion show and then that would be it, nothing would come of it.  When you come down to it, a fashion show is a marketing tool and you need to be marketing something.  So every year we have taken different steps to work with the designers.  The last several years we have had a design panel that the designers met with monthly to talk about the line and define who their customer is and make it into something that’s going to be feasible in the Minneapolis-St. Paul marketplace.

D: And that’s the thing that so many artists are struggling with- how do you make a living?  This is one of the reasons you founded MNfashion- talk about their mission and how Voltage impacts MN Fashion.

AL: MNfashion really sprung out of Voltage.  We started to develop higher standards for what designers should be getting out of a fashion show and also a lot of the designers started to think, “Well, OK, if I’m going to keep doing this I need to be selling something.”  You know its great that a lot of retailers have taken on local designers, some do nothing but.  But it did define the need for an organization like MNfashion- we did realize that if Voltage was going to continue to thrive then we needed we needed to start developing a bit more as far as business workshops or marketing and things like that so we look to support the community in that way.  We are still in our application process [to become a 501(c)3 non-profit organization] we’ve been working with Springboard for the Arts as our fiscal agent, so we can receive tax deductible donations so it gives us time in the application and preparation process to really define what it is we’re doing. We really feel good about where we are at right now we are able to be a bit more responsive to what people need and I think it’s evident to a lot of people that people are looking for new answers.  As a board of directors we’re taking a look at what we are going to be offering next.  So this is the first year that MN Fashion will be the beneficiary of Voltage.  In the past, we’ve chosen different programs through Springboard for the Arts, like Artists’ Relief Fund.  This year proceeds are going towards the development of a potential sewing co-operative where we would like to start developing resources for designers to figure out how to be producing on a higher level.  So that’s where the money is going this year- I think it’s been a fairly natural progression except for that we’re developing the programs ahead of the organization but we have a very talented board of directors taking a look at how far we’ve come really refining what it is were doing and into 2010 to really start putting out there the things we’ve been working on.  Patience has been incredibly important because it’s in my heart to be everything to everyone right away and that’s so impossible but MNfashion is definitely giving us the ability to answer some of the questions we faced when we started producing Voltage.

D: When you’re producing Voltage you were talking about what designers can expect and what you can expect designers to be doing- how does that play into the selection process and how are designers selected for Voltage?

AL: Designers put together a proposal that includes their past work and a concept for Spring 2009.  Retailers, industry designers, buyers from Target and formerly Macy’s, local industry experts take a look at what people are putting out there.  You know the quality of what designers are expecting of themselves and what the shops are expecting.  We’re excited with what designers are coming to us with.  I think it’s also important that we start developing programs for people that we would like to work towards Voltage.  So that’s one of things we are looking at right now is how can we provide additional support so everyone can get to that higher level.

D: Is designing for a band the training ground for doing a runway show?

AL: It is a foot in the door for a lot of designers- a lot of the band designers will attend the runway designers meetings so they can really benefit from the things these designers are learning as well.

D: Do you encourage a mix of sportswear vs. couture lines?

AL: Absolutely- I think it depends on the designers- I think that people are going to respond better to the sportswear although I think we need it.  I think as a designer if you can create a more ready to wear version of your couture then you’ve got it made, you’ve got something that’s incredibly stunning on the runway but then people find they’ve got something accessible they can purchase. Every year we have some meanswear but we find that the women get a lot more excited.

D: I was going to ask you about that because last year there was only one full menswear line.

AL: And what did you think of that line?

D: I’m going to take that question off the record.*

AL: Ok, exactly.

D: In the first Voltage, were the bands a conscious choice, like, “we have to get bands in here to get people in”?

AL: I got really sick of doing fashion shows where people would just show with a DJ- nothing against DJs, there are some great DJs here- it’s just a little more impersonal and I have always loved the music scene in the Twin Cities.  Live music has always been one of my biggest inspirations.  I just go to a show and I just feel the energy and your brain functions differently. So I’m talking to some people and it came up’ “You should do a fashion show with rock and roll” and I was like “Hell Yeah”.  So we started working on it back in 2003 in the summer and there were a few people from the beginning that are still there.  I can’t say enough about the committee we’ve developed for Voltage.  It wouldn’t have the energy behind it if we didn’t have people like David DeYoung, Eclecticoiffeur managing the styling, my stage manager and technical director Sara and Beth, people who have been there from the get go.  And we’ve had lots of people just kind of come up like, its all about “Work with us for a few years, and if that brings you to another place in your career, cool”, just make sure to train someone in on your job.  And it’s really been set up for people to get their creativity out, maybe something they’re not getting at their day jobs and because we set such high standards, people are proud of what they are a part of.  That’s on of the things, I think, that has made it successful, and made us something people are excited to work with.  I don’t know if we could have made such a successful event if we had not brought in the connections to the music scene, we tried to bring in the right people to make it happen and then you get investment on so many levels.  David DeYoung telling me to check out these bands.  So I’ve been really thrilled with how this all has evolved.  It feels in a way similar to the beginning only a lot bigger than it was.  The community has a lot more opinions about it and so people get more invested in it.  I remember the first year we did it, we had people saying “Aahh, good luck, I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out” and now people are like, “What can I do?  How can I get involved?”  That’s very gratifying.  That’s why we keep doing it.

D: How did it wind up back at First Avenue?  There was talk of having it moved.

AL: One of the things that had become difficult was that we began to feel like, oh, Wednesday night, or I can’t see anything.  So we were trying to figure out where else we could hold it.  So I wrote to First Avenue and said, “I gotta be honest and they said, “That sucks, understand, good luck.”  So we did some investigation and when it came right down to it, there was just o replacing what we’ve got and fortunately we were able to make it work so that we’d have a Friday night.  It had never worked out in the past because they had needed the whole venue.  But we’ve been doing the right things, because they said, “Yeah, you can have a Friday night, let’s just make it a whole night.”  So we decided to do the afterparty and I think it’s going to be great.  So it’s one of things where I am glad we investigated, but when it comes down to it, there’s no place like First Avenue.  So yeah, I’m thrilled.

D: You also are featuring an IKEA Design Challenge this year.  What’s that about?

AL: Yeah, super cool- They wanted to get involved.  I get really protective of designers, that’s one of the things I’ve noticed over the last few years of doing Voltage.  I’ll have people asking me if I know any designers that can be in this fashion show and my first questions are always “What are your goals for the fashion show?  What are the designers going to get out of it?”  Because often times, and I’ve been in this place where for events before doing Voltage, you feel like you’re just the entertainment getting people into the club.  But I had been talking to IKEA for a while and they were excited about what we were doing and they were excited about supporting on a local level.  So we determined that we would do a design challenge where each designer would buy whatever they want and make something pretty wild.  We’ve got a panel of three judges that will select the winner the night of.  We contemplated doing an audience choice and decided, you know what, let’s keep it simple, let’s just get three high-level judges and the winner will receive a $1000 studio makeover.  They will be in between segments, so after each vignette the runway designers and the band come out for a curtain call and show off the collection and we’ve got a bit of time as we turn over two or three models will come out and at the end of the night we will announce the winner.

D: Good, so we get to know, we get instant gratification.  Is there anyone that you’re particularly excited to have this year?

AL: I am always excited about the bands, I’m always excited about the designers.  I am thrilled about Maria Isa.  Seriously, I am really excited.  There are going to be nine of them onstage, it’s just going to be killer.  I can’t play favorites on the designers because I work with them so closely.  I’ve got to be protective of them.  They’re starting to work in surface design and they’re starting to work in lifestyle with what they are designing and they are getting to know why they are creating and finding an audience for that.  And so I think on the whole the designers are pretty exciting.

D: Do you have any larger trends that people should be aware of this summer?

AL: You know, what I always tend to say with trend forecasting is that I just love the concept of developing your own style and comfort level, find your basics and your silhouette and do what you want!  But I think that this next season, bright colors are definitely important.  So yeah, get some bright colors and work them into your own personal style.  I feel that you could take almost anything and depending on what you put it with, what you accessorize with it, it will work.  A personal trend is accessories and a basic silhouette, you can always change that up.  So I’m not a big trend forecaster!

D: Just do what you want?

AL: Yeah, that’s actually one of the things that makes what’s going on in Minneapolis really exciting because we have lots of designers that are like, “This is what I see as important”.  I think a lot of them are paying attention to trends but I think that weve got a lot of artisans and that’s where it gets a little more difficult to get them into the mindset to be selling their work.  But I think a lot of designers are getting excited.  A lot of what they offer is different from what’s being offered at the major retailers so that people are compelled to support that too.

D: There is a huge arts and crafts handmade movement going on right now.

AL: I see that supporting local on all levels is inevitable and very exciting.  It is also a little scary right now.

D: It’s a return to a more economic fashion and use of materials.

AL: That’s why I am excited.  A lot of these designers are making a statement but making sure it’s relevant.  While not everybody might find a certain collection relevant there will be part of the community that will.  I feel like what we’re focused on is finding solutions to the questions people are asking right now, and the more we can cultivate the artistic industry in the Twin Cities on all levels, the better we’ll be.

*It’s not off record at all.  It’s all right here.

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