FashionAFRICANA celebrates different shades of beauty

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, 8:51 p.m.

Growing up in Hazelwood, Demeatria Boccella would flip through fashion magazines.

She found something was missing.

“There were no models of color,” says Boccella, who is dedicated to changing that. “I was so interested in fashion, but I never saw anyone who looked like me. I had low self-esteem, because there weren't models of color to emulate. I decided I wanted to do something about it. Women of color are beautiful, too.”

Her passion for fashion is a big reason there will be a runway full of African-American models Saturday night at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. They will be taking part in the 11th annual FashionAFRICANA, an event that brings fashion and art together and shows the beauty of black women and men. Boccella is executive producer and founder of the event along with Darnell McLaurin of New York, who owns Utopia Model Agency.

The event is “Paris meets Pittsburgh,” McLaurin says. Paris-based fashion photographer Mario Epanya, who started an ongoing global dialog in 2010 when he proposed the launch of Vogue Africa, will have an exhibit at the center. “Glamazonia” will be open that night and from Dec. 11 through March 30. It is a tribute to African beauty and hairstyles.

Epanya celebrates his African ancestry and customs through his interpretations of the aesthetics and shapes used by African ancestors for ceremonial and special-occasion dress. This showcase of beauty features more than 30 images of black women from contemporary full-color photography to vintage black-and-white images, celebrating the beauty and diversity of the African diaspora.

Boccella reached out to Epanya, who was willing to help. The Cameroon native will be in the States for the first time.

“This is surreal that he is coming,” Boccella says. “I am so excited for him to come here, because he is so talented. His exhibit will be brought alive through the models.”

The event is viewed as a high-fashion couture show that showcases African culture with a European flair, McLaurin says.

“You will see Mario's exhibit come to life,” McLaurin says.

This show is more like live art, and it has a theatrical component to it, too.

The hope is that young women and men of color see this and know that they can be shown in a positive, beautiful light through fashion and art.

Using Africa's diverse cultural heritage, the show reflects the vitality of the creative human spirit and has showcased the diverse talents of fashion designers and artists from all over the world including Africa, Europe and the United States.

Designer Kiya Tomlin is creating a dress for the show that model Sade Turner will wear. It is a burgundy-based print made of African fabric and will be sleeveless with a leather belt. Tomlin says she liked the color scheme of the material.

“I was more than happy to be involved in the event,” she says. “It sounds wonderful.”

Turner saw the garment for the first time Thursday.

“I am excited to wear this dress,” says Turner, from the East End, who was part of the show last year. “I loved it the minute I saw it. It has a classical look.”

Handbag designer Sandra Reiman of Squirrel Hill will help accessorize models.

“I am honored to be a part of the show,” she says. “It's a melting pot of designers and ideas. Fashion has no borders.”

Reiman is a native of Colombia. Her current collection can be viewed on her website,

“I want to help raise awareness,” Boccella says. “There is more to be done. I want people to embrace diversity. I want this event to be inclusive, not exclusive. ... I am in an interracial marriage, and I want my daughter to know that things are not just one sided.

“While we all know that beauty is more than skin deep, we also know the power of fashion to influence behavior,” Boccella says. “We hope to raise awareness about the power of the fashion industry to shape how all people of color, and especially young women, perceive their self image and place in the world.

This will be the second year participating in the show for Jarvis Powers of Robinson, an up-and-coming model who has participated in New York Fashion Week.

“This is more than just a fashion show,” Powers says. “It is deeper than that. It is a tribute to African influence in fashion and art. For me, it is a very powerful event. It is not easy for black models or models of other ethnicities to break into this business. There is beauty in all people. I hope this event continues to grow because it is important to this city. I am excited for this year's show. It is really more than a show. It is a production that engages the audience and sends a wonderful message of beauty in both fashion and art.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at or 412-320-7889.

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