Fashion Files

Erykah Badu's Rockin' Runway combines music and style for Charity

It's Friday night at 9:30, and Erykah Badu has yet to arrive at her own event.

By now, Minc is thick with smoke and people; moving through the crowd requires elbows and courage. It's an eclectic bunch--men in halter tops and fake furs, big women in tiny dresses. If I'm going to arrive at a fashion show wearing jeans and a Target hoodie, I'm glad it's this one. It's pretty tough to stand out.

A polite voice comes over the speaker system: "Erykah's running a little late, which she's been known to do," the voice says with a slight chuckle. "We're gonna hold off the opening for another 15 minutes or so until she arrives."

"Go figure," the guy beside me mutters. A famous R&B artist? Late? Never.

And yet, Badu isn't your typical diva--no matter how big that Afro gets. Yes, she's won Grammys and been in an Oscar-nominated film (The Cider House Rules), and yes, she's known to wear turbans roughly as tall as a toddler, but the Dallas native is a homegirl through and through. Just stop by Black Forest Theater one night--that's the South Dallas venue she helped rescue from urban obscurity and where she holds some of the coolest musical house parties around, attended by Prince and Musiq and Snoop Dogg. Proceeds for those shows go to a good cause, too: Her foundation Beautiful Love Inc. helps fund music programs for inner-city kids. The woman may not be punctual, but you can't say she isn't generous. In fact, this event, Rockin' Runway, is another fund-raiser. Held at Exposition Park's gender-bending Minc, it's a runway show featuring fashion inspired by rock and roll. Or fashion that goes with rock and roll. Whatever--it's for charity.

"Fashion has always had a place in rock and roll," says Sabrina Gunaca, editor of the heavy metal magazine National Noise and one of the coordinators of the evening's event. "Dallas is the third-largest fashion market in the country and the eighth-biggest music market," she explains after greeting Badu's sister and host for the evening Nayrok, a beautiful Barbarella of a black woman in a skintight skirt and silver gloves.

But I feel a little queasy at a fashion event, like I've gone over to the dark side. After all, fashion and rock have always made uneasy bedfellows. For every David Bowie, for every Gene Simmons--men who embraced fashion as part of music's overarching theatrical appeal--there's some purist punching a hole through the whole blasted artifice. A Nirvana. A Pearl Jam. And yet, if their fashion wasn't influential, then why did I spend the '90s in torn jeans and flannel shirts, looking like a lesbian?

The truth is that the fashion of rock--or the rock of fashion--influences us more than we all care to admit. The hair, the torn-up clothes, the leather and lace. Just think about the dangling cigarette, one of rock's most enduring fashion legacies. It's no accident that the first model of the event walked onstage and lit one up dramatically. Until something better comes along, it's still the universal symbol for rock-and-roll cool.

To a soundtrack that included Nirvana and The Killers, models strutted across the stage with '80s style and swagger that would make Mick Jagger proud: They wore torn shirts and fishnets, jelly shoes and stilettos, ripped gloves, off-the-shoulder sweaters. It looked less like a fashion show and more like my eighth-grade shopping spree at Judy's. But what do I know about this stuff? (Exhibit A: Target hoodie.) Stylist Harwood Lee put together a show that reflected the ultimate irony of rock: that a ratty, ragged look takes time.

By 11 p.m., the models had taken their bows on the catwalk, and the bar was thinning out, but Badu still hadn't shown. How rock and roll of her.

 
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