Photos: KC Fashion Week designers fill historic Grand Hall with retro-inspired looks

Elise Hardenburger wears a design by Coco and Ilia designers Cortney Sims and Ilia Siegwald.
Elise Hardenburger wears a design by Coco and Ilia designers Cortney Sims and Ilia Siegwald. Special to Ink

Kansas City designer Jon Fulton Adams likes to put men in skirts. Teisha Barber, president of Kansas City Fashion Week, agrees that yes, that’s more and more common. Skirts are comfortable and allow a certain freedom of movement that pants do not.

Adams mainly designs T-shirts for his company, Queen’s Rocket, and this is his first foray into Fashion Week — a sort of side project, he says.

Each year about 70 designers from across the country apply to be part of Kansas City Fashion Week, which is in its 11th season and runs from March 26 through April 1. This season Barber and her team selected 36, their biggest group yet.

Adams helped a friend who walked as a model last year and, impressed by what he experienced, decided he wanted to be part of the event.

He calls his menswear designs very modern. “I try for a lot of pattern, a lot of color. I don’t want to be boring on the runway.”

But, he adds, “I don’t go for shock. Any of these pieces are wearable alone. Maybe you wouldn’t wear them the way I put them all together, but you could wear individual pieces.”

The pieces he’s showing for Fashion Week are largely in unusual fabrics. “The fabric in the skirt is a scuba knit; it’s been rubbed with gold. I hand-knit the vest. I put a lot of handwork in my designs, so there’s a level of craft in the design. It’s not fast fashion.”

Design team Coco and Ilia — Cortney “Coco” Sims and Ilia Siegwald, both of Columbia — say their pieces can be worn beyond the runway, too. Just not by everyone.

The two are showing a selection from the first line they’ve produced together, called Blackout. It’s inspired by Muhammad Ali’s style, and they describe it as high-end streetwear.

Siegwald says, “We wanted to translate the empowerment that we felt he exuded for a bunch of different communities into streetwear for women, so it could be something empowering for women as well.”

They know that not everyone can pull off a red and orange bubble fur coat with a People’s Choice patch on the back. Or the red sequinned, high-waisted flare pants with the matching crop top. And that’s OK — fashion is partially art.

The two started working together about three years ago at Stephens College in Columbia.

One would create a design only to discover that the other had imagined almost the exact same thing — they say it was “freakish” how that worked. They knew they were meant to be a team.

They shared the same goals and concepts, too. “We love working with the idea of empowering women and having this unified unit of women that dominate. You’ll see ’70s silhouettes and that carefree vibe going on as well,” Sims says.

Stephens College junior Tobie Roberts is also looking to empower women — future women in her case. She’s showing from her line called The New Jackies.

Roberts says that when girls enter pageants, they typically go to their pageant interviews wearing suits — it’s common enough that they’re referred to as “little senators.” But that didn’t ring right with her.

Like Coco and Ilia, Roberts based her look on a retro style, borrowing from the ’60s. “You see a lot of the high neckline, the straight ’60s line down the middle, box style, there’s a pure white jumpsuit, and very monochromatic.”

She’s already selling her pieces out of Natalie M, a bridal and pageant store in Overland Park.

“I thought, let’s take this idea of a little senator and make it updated, so these girls don’t feel so uptight, they feel very young and still like little kids,” Roberts says, “so they don’t feel so uncomfortable and feel like themselves.”

Barber says the runway events will be “European style” this year. “Every model will walk on the floor — it’s not going to be an elevated runway.”

Additionally, this is the first time Fashion Week events will be at Power & Light’s Grand Hall. Every other time they’ve been at Union Station, and they will return to Union Station in the fall.

A portion of the proceeds from two of the events will benefit the nonprofit Kansas City Fashion Council, a “fashion-related business networking and educational ‘cooperative.’ 

Reach Anne Kniggendorf at

Kansas City Fashion Week

Local, national and international designers will collaborate with stylists, makeup artists, models and photographers to present their collections at runway shows at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at the Grand Hall, 1330 Baltimore Ave. The Bubbly & Bowties Cocktail Kick-Off Party is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at R24 Studios, 1408 W. 12th St. Admission ranges from $40 to $120; the kick-off party is $30. Go to for more information.