Q + A: Berny Martin, Founder of Midwest Fashion Week

Last week, the Artsgarden played host to Midwest Fashion Week. Pattern sat down with MWFW founder Berny Martin to discuss this year’s changes to the shows, the future of MWFW, and his own line, Catou.

How do you feel about how Midwest Fashion Week went?

With our event, you’re always feeling the stress — anticipating the worst and managing the best. The moment when everything is done I can go home and relax and start to think about tomorrow, and next season, and even next year and see what I can do better.

Midwest Fashion Week is obviously very established in Indy. Can you talk about some of the changes made to the shows this year?

A few people were saying that [this year’s] a step down, and it’s not. What people don’t realize is that MWFW is happening exactly the way I want it to happen, the way I imagined it — perhaps even faster…

It took New York City between 20 to 25 years to get to New York Fashion Week. From the ’50s to the ’70s, it used to be in hotels, and the merchants would go in and look at the clothes. In the ’80s they started to do the real runway shows. For me, its happening a lot faster thanks to technology and education. A lot of things have changed.

We are concentrating solely on the fashion shows — no more educating people about the things that are happening, and next season, you’ll see that even more. We’re no longer in the business that MWFW is selecting the models anymore. That will be handled by the designers and the agencies. We did what we had to do for the last five years with educating people and letting people know who we are and where we’re at; now, we’ve been getting national exposure. Other people are investing in this from other cities, not just Indianapolis. I think everyone is ready, so now, its up to us to [go to] phase 2.

All the fundraising, all the educational stuff we used to do, seminars during the day — they were great tools for us to educate and infiltrate and spread the news. A lot of people downplay what we were doing, but we knew exactly what we were doing. It was all about educating; we didn’t know what other ways we could have done it to let other people know about us. Now, with the expectation of so many other Midwestern designers coming to Indianapolis, booking a hotel, booking [a show], and some of them even staying here for the whole week, it’s up to us to show them ‘what is this.’ Every single one of them are looking for leadership, and that’s exactly what I [wanted] when I first established MWFW: that it eventually grow to other groups. That’s exactly what we really wanted: to make other people come to Indianapolis and really invest their interest into our fashion industry. We need to stay organized, we need to stay focused on it and deliver what needs to be delivered.

There’s still room to polish, of course. There’s so many ways I could tell you we need to polish, but there’s no doubt about it. We are here. I’m excited.

Can you tell me a little bit about Catou?

My collection was all about mixing two different cultures that don’t really have anything in common [besides] royalty and kingship: Southern Africa and Southeast Asia. So what I did for this spring/summer collection is mix silk and high pattern, high colors like butterscotch, the prints… all representations of both cultures blending together.

All the pieces are custom. I have my own showroom here [in Indianapolis] and of course, we are selling in New York right now, and Connecticut. We are in talks with some boutiques in Chicago and Florida. The next step is really to spread the new modern man with Midwestern flare to other cities. I’m not taking away what Midwestern men are comfortable with — we’re not telling them, ‘Go look like a Londoner, or a Parisian.’ We are sticking to the truth of what a Midwestern man looks like. Of course, I push a little bit of a button, but something acceptable.

What’s coming up in the next couple months?

We have a launch in Chicago. We’re doing a big launch party in Chicago in November. We’re launching Catou for kids — we call it Petit Catou, little Catou. We are also partnering with so many other groups here for events. The next Midwest Fashion Week we already have the dates for, so all that is into play.

We are forming a community. The people that we are working with, it’s like a family. Even the people outside of Indiana, I have known them for years. It’s not stuffy. I hate corporate bullshit. And this is what I really want people to get out of it; I really want to represent a Midwestern atmosphere,…a Midwestern culture. It’s extremely important to me. That’s one of the reasons why when we do this, we make sure the people involved are from the Midwest, from Indiana, from Indianapolis. We have to let you guys develop here. When I’m in New York, I’m doing New York. When I’m in Indiana or the Midwest, I’m doing Midwest.

Can you tell us any of the changes you’re already considering?

One thing for sure, we are going to be all about developing jobs. We have been training people for years, and talking about changes, it’s really going to be me, sitting back. It’s going to be me, to really trust the relationships I’ve built and the people I’ve trained. I won’t be involved in so many little things anymore.

If anyone was interested in becoming involved with Midwest Fashion Week, are there opportunities for them to do so?

Easy! It’s not even coming out to the shows. I really have an open door policy, whether its good or bad. I’m really up to listening to the good and the bad. What I don’t appreciate is when people criticize and don’t do anything. Let’s talk.

Videos of all the Midwest Fashion Week shows are available via Nightlights TV.

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