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Raising the consciousness and the bar on local fashion

Raising the consciousness and the bar on local fashion

Rotterdam native Mike Schinnerer's benefit fashion show 'Stitched’ promises to be the most ambitious in region history
Raising the consciousness and the bar on local fashion
More than 100 models will take part in “Stitched: The Capital’s Fashion Experience." Right: Mike Schinnerer
Photographer: william leblanc/ytk works

Mike Schinnerer wants to see the Capital Region’s creative landscape change, especially when it comes to fashion. To do that, the graphic designer and founder of Stitched: The Capital’s Fashion Experience is organizing what promises to be the largest local fashion show in recent history. 

“It needs [to be] a big statement to make fashion matter in the Capital District or upstate New York in general,” Schinnerer said. 

On Saturday, Sept. 28, he and his team will transform the Times Union Center, bringing in a red carpet and 120-foot runway. About 110 models are slated to wear designs from more than a dozen designers from across the country. There will be live music by the likes of Jocelyn and Chris Arndt, among others, and a pre-show cocktail party with several local boutiques.

Between the models, makeup artists and hairstylists, Schinnerer anticipates at least 225 people working backstage alone, not to mention the hundreds of people in the audience. 

It’s taken weeks and months of preparing designers and models and photographers. It’s a lot to put together, but that’s the point. 

Growing up in Rotterdam in the late 1980s, Schinnerer was the kid who wore polka-dotted hammer pants while most stuck with jeans and a t-shirt.

However, his start in fashion was incidental. 

“At that point, I was into graphic design, that’s what I went to school for. Fashion wasn’t big in our area. To tell you the truth, it still isn’t, and that’s what I’m trying to change,” Schinnerer said. 

He studied at the University at Buffalo and in his last semester there managed to land an internship with Sports Illustrated in New York City. The day after graduation, he landed a job at the publication as a graphic designer. 

“I was part of the photo department too, helping out. So I became friends with the swimsuit editor. Her name is Jule Campbell,” Schinnerer said.  

He eventually got involved with the famous swimsuit edition, working as a liaison between models like Tyra Banks and Heidi Klum and their fans via Q&As on America Online. 

During that time, he also had the opportunity to work on special projects in the art department, including “Michael Jordan: A Career in Pictures.” He also worked with famed trend spotter Faith Popcorn. 

“They had these roundtable meetings for people that have specialties, like a graphic designer, a clothing designer, the head of Vogue magazine, that type of thing. Each year she (Popcorn) wrote a book on the trends for the following year. So I sat next to all these fashion people and got interested in everything they were doing,” Schinnerer said. 

A few years later, he went to work at The Source, a hip-hop focused magazine. 

“This [was] the first time I was really into big photoshoots. One of my first ones was [with] Jay-Z. He’d just done a music video; I think it was ‘Hard Knock Life,’ ” Schinnerer said. 

He also experienced his first fashion show in 1999. 

“My first fashion show was Rocawear, Jay-Z’s first label. I just helped set up the fashion show and do basic stuff. But I gained a lot of interest that day watching what happens at a fashion show,” Schinnerer said. 

He went to work at Maxim for two years before moving back to the Capital Region to be closer to his family. 

Unexpectedly, that’s exactly when he really started to get involved with all things fashion. 

In the early 2000s, he began organizing model calendars, and eventually got into organizing the Volume Fantasy Hair and Makeup shows, and small fashion shows around Saratoga.  

“We would do shows every three months, so four a year out of the Dance Museum. It was just fun to bring artists together to do things that they like to do that maybe they [didn’t] have the organizational skills to put together. That’s my strength, besides the graphic design,” Schinnerer said. 

Though the shows were small, people began to take notice of them and of Schinnerer’s ability to take dramatic visual concepts and realize them, whether on a runway or in photographs. 

Two such people were Katie Otis and Eli Rabinowitz, both volunteers with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region (RMHC). They recruited Schinnerer to work on Capital Masquerade; a fundraiser ball unlike any other in the area — one that felt more like a glamorous, over-the-top party. Schinnerer became part of the event’s organizational “Dream Team,” including Matt Mazzone, John Daniels, Maureen Neufeld and others. Schinnerer was in charge of creating many of the stunning visuals surrounding the event. 

The annual party started in 2015 as a kickoff to Halloween weekend, drawing more than 400 people. Each year, there’s an elaborate theme (Silver Screen, Streets of London, The Mad Hatter’s Ball, etc.), which is presented through larger-than-life props, entertainment and culinary options. In the last four years, the event has raised more than $460,000. 

Through volunteering with the Masquerade, Schinnerer eventually became the marketing/graphic design coordinator for the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and he remains passionate about all the organization does for those in need. 

It’s part of the reason why proceeds from the Stitched fashion show go toward RMHC. He also saw a need when he heard that the annual Saratoga Fashion Show, run by Natalie Sillery of Saratoga Trunk, was coming to an end after 21 years. 

“Stitched is a term used in fashion. Stitched is also a term for mending, as in helping sick children and their families. Stitched in our eyes, also means fixing a broken fashion presence and community, where Albany and the greater Capital Region is far behind many smaller cities in this country,” Schinnerer said in a statement.

“The concept was a natural fit for me. It blends my strengths of model/fashion photography, editorial [and] collaboration. . . Although I’ve been doing this on a smaller scale consistently over the last 18 years in the area, there is a void of a large-scale fashion presence.”

He founded Stitched last year to make fashion matter in the Capital Region, bolstering local models/designers and eventually create an entire fashion week. 

With a committee of 15 coordinators, photographers, stylists, etc., he’s been recruiting designers, hair/makeup artists and models for the show and working with them.

The show’s headlining designer, Khang Le, has also been training models for the show. That alone sets the show apart, as many benefit fashion shows don't necessarily train models in how to walk on a runway. 

“He has taken on the role of doing runway walks and classes at Best Fitness. We’ve had six classes where we teach models, up to 30 in a class,” Schinnerer said. 

Best Fitness, a fitness center with three Capital Region locations, partnered with Stitched, giving them the space to rehearse. 

“I think fashion is always on everybody’s mind. With everyone focused on their bodies and looking good, it’s a good fit,” said Eric Taylor, the director of sales and operations at Best Fitness. In the coming years, he and Schinnerer hope to build a fitness fashion aspect into Stitched events. 

Schinnerer’s goals for Stitched and for fashion in the Capital Region are lofty, but perhaps not impossible. 

“Philadelphia Fashion Week has been around 13 years. They’re [creating] their fashion district this year, so it took them 13 years to build it. That would be a goal of mine, [to make] Pearl Street or Broadway a fashion district where at least a couple of young designers from the area mix with some national stores,” Schinnerer said. 

Others have organized popular fashion shows and events over the years, like Electric City Couture and Albany Fashion Week.

However, in the coming years, Schinnerer hopes to not only create successful, upscale fashion shows, but also to support local artists and designers, helping them to raise the bar in their careers. 

“When you’re looking at the Capital District landscape, there [aren’t] many designers. I’m trying to make it a place that encourages designers. While we’re teaching models how to walk, I want my committee members to teach designers how to sew and bring it to a community reach,” Schinnerer said. 

There are 14 designers and two boutiques on this year’s line-up, some national and some local, like Elona Mitchell-Strong. The Schenectady native is a model and designer of 2 Strong, a fashion line that she took to Atlantic City Fashion Week and New York Fashion Week just earlier this year.  

Juda Leah, another featured designer, runs his design studio and showroom, called Juda Leah Atelier in Hudson. His work focuses on custom designs, evening wear and bridal. 

The show’s headlining designer, Khang Le, works out of the Syracuse area. His avant-garde designs have been a part of 14 fashion weeks across the country in the last year alone.

Other showcasing designers include Jacky Tai, Vilma Mare, Toshiki & Maryszka, ‘E ko logic, Chloe Schnell, Mario & Lee, Ambrosia Jeen and four student designers: Made In Truth, Mei Dong, Addy Thurston, Va’Ceia Designs. There will also be two boutiques showcased; Mark Thomas Apparel and Circles.  

Based on the sheer number of designers and models alone, Schinnerer said there really hasn’t been anything like this in Capital Region history. While the task of organizing the event has been overwhelming for Schinnerer at times, those who have experienced his shows are just excited at the prospect of what Stitched could bring to the area. 

“Mike’s productions are of amazing quality and that, I think, is a regional benefit,” said Richard Lovrich, the art director at Proctors, during a recent Stitched photoshoot. 

“That excites me tremendously because it raises everyone’s bar and it has a heart behind it. Fashion and style can often be written off as being self-serving and selfish and here is fashion and doing good at the same time.” 

“I think Albany needs a real kick in the pants to actually get fashion moving. So I’m going to try it and we’ll see,” Schinnerer said, adding, “I love working with the talented people in this area and I would say that a lot of them compare to New York City talent because I’ve been there and I’ve worked with them. It’s just that they don’t have the showcase that they need and that’s what I try to provide.” 

Stitched: The Capital’s Fashion Experience 
WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Sat. Sept. 28
WHERE: Times Union Center
TICKETS: $35-105
MORE INFO: stitchedny.com 

Featured designers
Jacky Tai 
Vilma Mare
Toshiki & Maryszka 
‘E ko logic
Chloe Schnell 
Mario & Lee
Juda Leah Atelier
Ambrosia Jeen
Elona Mitchell-Strong 
Mark Thomas Apparel 

Student designers
Made In Truth
Mei Dong
Abby Thurston
Va ‘Ceia Designs 

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