Watch: "Front row at West 18th Street" | 2:29
The Crossroads Arts District is the hub of a bustling, inclusive arts ecosystem – and integral to that community is the annual West 18th Street Fashion Show.
"It takes a very long time to carefully do what we have done," said Peregrine Honig, senior artistic director of the West 18th Street Fashion Show.
An annual rite of summer in Kansas City, Missouri, this year marked the nineteenth West 18th Street Fashion Show – a culmination of two decades of not only building a fashion event, but the development of an inclusive, creative, and entrepreneurial community now known as the Crossroads Arts District.
"That's what is incredible about the power structure of the West 18th Street Fashion Show. The businesses understand our worth, the residents understand our worth, the people that own the property on our block understand our worth. And it's only getting better because we're just taking up more space and filling up more property."
Honig has been involved with the West 18th Street Fashion Show since its inception.
From the lofts on the south side of the street to the world-renowned Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts a block north, she said that the neighborhood’s development is a testament to the variety of people that have worked together to make it happen.
"We all have a horse in the race," she said. "Everybody wants it to get better because everybody benefits from it getting better."
That spirit sparkles every summer when West 18th Street transforms into a 100-foot runway. "The West 18th Street Fashion Show... It's a show about loyalty, it really is," Honig said.
The Crossroads, an area just south of Kansas City’s downtown core, has not always been known for being an art district.
The Leedy-Voulkos Gallery opened in 1985 followed by several more galleries founded by Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) professor and artist Jim Leedy. Development continued in the area highlighted by the re-opening of Union Station in 1999. The Crossroads Arts District became an official neighborhood in 2001, just in time for Honig, who graduated from KCAI in 1998.
Honig’s work is featured in private and public collections across the country. At 22, she was given the distinction of being the youngest living artist to have work acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art’s permanent collection in New York City. Yet, it was Kansas City where she decided to work and live.
"There was like a really strong sense of intimate creative community. It was happening, it was very real," Honig said.
In the Crossroads, there was space and artists – and support. The Charlotte Street Foundation was founded around the same time. "I mean, Charlotte Street Fund was in its early stages of funding artists and creative people that had solidly shown that they had intention," Honig said.
"It was a very tight-knit group of people who had deep history with each other. We just kind of planted ourselves in these experimental spaces – and they were experimental," she said. "It was empty. It was kind of like this shantytown of studios."
But it was that space that allowed room for experimentation. And it was on West 18th Street where Honig planted her entrepreneurial flag. In 2003, she and a friend opened a lingerie shop as a side hustle when it was one of only three businesses on the block.
Her shop, Birdies, just like the neighborhood, has grown, evolved, and remains – now in one of the most concentrated art gallery districts in the nation, home to more than 400 local artists and 100 independent studios.
Birdies has a front row seat to the West 18th Street Fashion Show, right next to the VIPs happy to pay for the glamour and the gift bags, just next to the media and the photographers crowded at the end of the runway. The annual event, and its growth during the past 20 years, illustrates the greater entrepreneurial community that has grown up around it.
April Dion, director of marketing and public relations for the West 18th Street Fashion Show, said its remarkable how much the area, and specifically West 18th Street has developed since the fashion show’s inception. She believes the energy that creates the fashion show each year feeds into the neighborhood.
Models pose for photos backstage before the West 18th Street Fashion Show begins in the Crossroads Arts District, Kansas City, Missouri, by Luis Villareal and Sarai Vega.
"You're pouring it into this community, the commerce of it, and you're helping small businesses," she said. "We're actually just really pouring back into the economy here in Kansas City."
Honig recognizes the challenges that come with an "emerging" neighborhood. The rents have gone up, and Birdie’s is now one of many businesses on the block, but the community of creatives have held fast to what they started.
"As businesses, as artists, as designers – as jerks – we just dug our heels into the ground and said, 'No. We're not leaving.' Right?" Honig said. "Of course, it takes somebody that's got more money than we do to make our heels a little bit sharper in the ground. But the real estate developers have been very helpful to us, because it's a symbiotic relationship. We keep the neighborhood looking really cool, and then they help produce our events so that we can have a cool event."
The vibe of the fashion show – and the neighborhood – is one of inclusion. "The West 18th Street Fashion Show has a really strong and healthy relationship with people in power in the city, with the museums, with the real estate developers, because, from the get-go, we just all recognized each other's worth," Honig said.
"Owning a business, you learn to solve these problems and then you can apply those problem-solving skills to everything," she said.
It is purposeful, the unmistakable diversity found among the show’s staff, models, designers, and even the thousands of people who attend. Brooklyn Love, the show’s designer curator, said the goal is to always get more people involved.
"Peregrine’s essence is really poured all over West 18th, and I'm just really happy that I can continue to carry on the tradition of making everybody welcome," Love said. "I'm really proud of my city for how we're progressing, but we have a lot of work to do."
Honig thinks about the future of the neighborhood, how things might change, and what she hopes will be sustained. "I would like to think that the future of the fashion show and the future of the creative community in Kansas City retains a level of experimentation that just keeps getting bolder and more recognized."