“I don’t consider myself a fashionista or someone that’s really, really into [fashion],” says Johnson, a member of the hip-hop duo Abstract Theory, an event organizer, and freelance social media coordinator.
So he consulted with local designers Maya Temple and Rainclashh of O.O.T.W Creations to get some idea of how fashion shows worked. As a result, the event — happening Sat., Feb. 22 at Mr. Smalls Theatre — will present high-concept performances combining the talents of local designers, musicians, and artists.
In total, Johnson says there are around 60 people involved, including 40 models and music acts including Abstract Theory, Walkman, The Childlike Empress, and Hunnycomb. Besides Temple and Rainclashh, the show will also feature fashion by Anika Ignozzi of O.O.H Baby and Stew Frick, and visual art by Mariah Wild, Cameron Schmidt, Dante Wallace, and Brendan Donovan.
The three other teams will pay tribute to bears, big cats, and the honey bee, respectively.
Johnson says the theme came from his own love of animals, and because it seemed like a natural fit. “Animals are a great way to represent who we are,” he says.
To really drive the theme home, he also recruited his vocal coach, Christie McKernan, who works for the South Hills-based School of Rock and does set design. McKernan devised a multi-layered environment for the performers to play in, with trees in the background, beehives in the middle ground, and bushes in the foreground.
“I think that’s a cool element I’ve never had at a show,” says Johnson, who also helped organize the big Under the Bridge show last year in Homestead. "I’m really excited we’re going to have something like that.”
The visual artists also created paintings, drawings, and wood carvings of the selected animals to hang on stage as a backdrop.
He adds that the show will be more immersive, with models walking off-stage into the crowd on a runway as the musicians perform. There will also be drink specials dedicated to each team and vendor booths from the designers where guests can peruse and purchase locally produced clothing and accessories.
But while the title implies some element of competition, Johnson says there are no real winners, just people displaying who and what they have to offer.
“I don’t think art should be a contest,” he says. “I feel like if it was that way, then it would be more of a popularity contest, and it’s just like, ‘Well, how many people did you get to come see you?’”
Mainly, he wanted to show to serve as a way for various creative scenes in Pittsburgh to cross-pollinate (pun intended) and perhaps introduce audience members to people and ideas they never would have explored before. He also wanted to focus on the Pittsburgh that gets lost in the dominant conversation around the city becoming a tech hub, and the opportunities that go with it.
“Pittsburgh is definitely on the up and up,” says Johnson, citing the Google offices that settled in and completely changed the area around Bakery Square, as well as the city’s failed bid to lure Amazon’s new headquarters to the region. “There’s a lot of things going on tech-wise, but I want people to understand that this city has potential in all areas.”