Runway for days

Sac Fashion Week has blossomed into a full week with more local interest and a handful of budding designers

Designer Hagen Valencia and model Lanis Clark assemble an ensemble in Valencia’s Natomas studio.

Designer Hagen Valencia and model Lanis Clark assemble an ensemble in Valencia’s Natomas studio.

Photo by Karlos Rene Ayala

See Janelle Cardenas’ and Hagen Valencia’s work at this year’s Sac Fashion Week Spring/Summer Designer Showcase on Friday, February 23 at DOCO Plaza (660 J Street) from 7 to 10 p.m. Visit for more information on ticket prices and times for the weekend’s events.

A city known for its cultural diversity and rapid evolution, Sacramento does have its own sense of fashion, according to designer Hagen Valencia.

“Sac has such great style,” Valencia says. “I would say it’s urban-casual for women, and for guys it’s more streetwear.”

He adds that Sacramento is home to so many talented artists who oftentimes stud their streetwear and urban-casual fashions with pops of funky colors.

Valencia is one of more than a dozen local designers working and creating in the area who help to define Sacramento’s style. He crafts original looks inspired by street fashion and Thrift Town’s vintage clothing and antiques. For the past eight years, he’s honed his skills behind the sewing machine. Still, he says he wants to stay in Sacramento and help make this city a place for designers of all levels to stake a claim in the emerging fashion scene.

That scene is on full display at the upcoming Sac Fashion Week. The event started in 2006 with an idea from its founder and producer Duane Ram who noticed that the only fashion shows in town were hosted on the weekends at clubs and bars. With a mission to highlight the city’s talent, Ram—with the help of his partnering producer Ryan Brough and a couple of trusted photographers—wanted to create a polished fashion showcase modeled after the San Francisco shows that Ram had participated in.

When it first began, SFW was a two-day event that Ram expanded each year into the full-fledged fashion week it is today. Now there are days dedicated to fashion films, model boot camps, fashion forums and panels and of course, the runway showcases dedicated to seasonal collections.

“I don’t think Sacramento is ready to have two fashion weeks like New York and LA,” Ram says. “We’re not quite there yet, but eventually with the new arena and the downtown changing and all the new stores going in, that’s a possibility.”

This year, fierce models will walk the runway in original fashions by local designers as well as designers from India, Russia and San Francisco, all surrounded by the raw DOCO Plaza that is still under construction.

Photo by Karlos Rene Ayala

Ram says he hopes the unrefined backdrop will let the collections be the focus on the runway.

“I think we have a lot of great talent here, but they need some help and support to get them to that next level, and shows like Sacramento Fashion Week will help them get that international exposure that they need,” Ram says.

Each designer cast their own models to rock their latest collections. As they finalize fittings, accessories and months of stitching, it all leads up to the big reveal this week.

Vintage modern

In an era when Cyndi Lauper and Madonna donned mesh half-tops and outrageously teased locks, Sacramento fashion designer Janelle Cardenas was raiding her mother’s closet and styling her three sisters in oversized T-shirts cinched with belts and accented with lacy socks.

These dress-up memories are still fresh as Cardenas sits beside her sewing machine inside her West Sac apartment that doubles as her workshop. Poster-sized photographs of high-fashion models wearing her brand, Love by Janelle Cardenas, line the walls of her living room next to images of Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy and Audrey Hepburn.

Photo by Karlos Rene Ayala

But Cardenas says her 5-year-old daughter, Anela, has been her constant muse and is the sole inspiration behind her Spring/Summer children’s collection “Love in Abundance.” It’ll premiere at Sac Fashion Week on Friday at DOCO Plaza where her daughter will also model her mother’s original designs.

“I’ve always wanted to be a designer as long as I can remember, but in my culture it was kind of frowned upon,” Cardenas says. “My family wanted me to be a doctor instead of an artist, but with my daughter by my side, she’s inspired me to push that envelope. She’s super feminine and loves dressing up, but she plays hard like a boy. A lot of the models I chose are also fearless, but they’re still very ladylike.”

Inspired by the ’50s and ’60s, Cardenas is usually known for her designs–– that hug feminine curves. At the same time, she uses clean lines in her sewing techniques and plays with contrasting fabrics like lace and faux leather paired with prints like cheetah or polka dots. She says her women’s collections are sexy and classy—but with an edge.

Although this is the first time Cardenas is dedicating an entire collection to girls’ ages 4 to 8, she says she regularly designs her daughter’s birthday dresses and outfits when she goes out on modeling auditions. She also asked some of the girls from Anela’s dance class to walk in this year’s showcase.

“I met each little girl and tried to capture something from their personality or their style because ultimately when the model feels good, they’re going to give it their all,” Cardenas says. “I want them to have fun on the runway.”

Busy style

Valencia peeks out from his Natomas workshop located inside his garage wearing a black silk kimono, red track pants, checkered Vans and a knitted gray beanie. His brown eyes brim brightly behind a pair of thick-rimmed, black glasses with chunky gold accents on either side of his face. He has that designer allure. His ensemble is busy, but it somehow works.

Photo by Karlos Rene Ayala

“For menswear, I feel like sometimes guys don’t know what to wear, and I feel like we’re in such a great time where a lot of people feel really liberated, and we can dress however we want,” Valencia says. “As guys, I think we can push it a little bit more, especially in Sacramento. There are so many different styles and cultures here.”

Valencia designs menswear under the moniker Gold & Thread. Ram notes that it’s hard to find a designer comfortable in that category because of its technical challenges. When he found Valencia, he says he immediately wanted to include his fresh and chic aesthetic with its busy patterns and functional designs on the runway. This year marks Valencia’s third appearance at SFW with his collection “Vision 9: organized chaos.”

The title succinctly describes Valencia’s latest designs. He took inspiration from ’70s fashion and implemented high-contrast with busy patterns like paisley, houndstooth, camouflage and bold black-and-white floral prints.

“I’m happy to see it. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for those kinds of designers, and it’s hard to find because men’s is hard to do,” Ram says. “I like what he’s doing a lot. It’s hip. Not really a suit-and-tie kind of thing but a hip, young look.”

Each piece is functional, like his take on a sporty coach’s jacket that is reversible with a solid black sleeve on one arm and a busy black-and-white pattern on the other. He also makes vests and hoodies that stay true to Sacramento’s streetwear style with a flash of fun via the inner lining’s busy print. There’s never a dull moment from shoulder to sleeve on Valencia’s pieces.

“Any time I go into a fabric store it’s, like, dangerous for me,” Valencia says. “I’ll be like, ’I need 10 yards of it. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it, but I love it.’ I feel like sewing today is kind of my sculpture. I’m able to mend fabric or kind of manipulate things. It’s like modern-day sculpture, pretty much.”