The words “luxury couture” don’t immediately spring to mind when one thinks of the black cable network BET. Yet, after years of millions witnessing the latest in hip-hop culture blare across its airwaves, the minds behind its Rip the Runway franchise seek to change that.
The latest edition of this well-known extravaganza aired on March 20th (soon followed by reprises) with a new goal: to elevate itself into a platform that showcases the best of urban music blended perfectly with the epitome of high style.
In the past, the popular television event has been seen as anything but serious by professionals in mainstream fashion. But this year the fashion fest hosted by singer Kelly Rowland and actor Boris Kodjoe saw Rip the Runway: 2013 become a sartorial spectacle that rivaled the more dramatic showcases of Fashion Week.
Top-notch hair and make-up artists created glamorous looks that complemented dozens of outfits presented in several thematic sections for a show that was developed over 12 weeks. Notably absent? Sagging pants and models strutting too aggressively, aka “pimp walking.”
Every effort was made to avoid the “g” word: ghetto. And it worked.
Hopefully this evolution — the brain child of Rip the Runway fashion producers Carline Balan and Michou St. Jules — has ensured that 2013 will be the year BET is be taken seriously by fashionistas. While honoring its roots, these ladies tapped leading fashion industry talent to help expand the BET brand beyond the urban market to approach more exclusive fashion strata.
“From last year’s show, to what it is this year, we were able to get Beagy, who’s a Vogue stylist,” Balan, an entertainment industry veteran, explained. “We got people who’ve never worked on the show to come on board. We really went in and chose stylists who hit the entire spectrum: editorial stylists that are Vogue, that are V magazine, that are Marie Claire, that are that world… and then we got a couple of stylists that are music stylists.”
A more traditional fashion show, yes, yet Rip the Runway stayed close to its musical roots — with a twist.
“I personally think the fusion of the music and fashion will always be here, but fashion more in the forefront,” St. Jules told theGrio backstage before the show. “That’s our goal with every year, pushing the envelope on the fashion, so that when you are watching, the music is there, but it’s all about the fashion.”
During busy preparations for taping at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City in February, Balan asserted that just as BET seeks more alignment with fashion, Rip the Runway is actually mimicked by other brands.
“If you’ve watched the last two years, you see the elements of BET Rip the Runway in the Victoria’s Secret show,” Balan noted. “It’s more fun, the girls are having fun, the artists are walking with them, dancing around them, and interacting. The fashion world always copies the urban world, but they just have more of an air about it as opposed to the way we are.”
Still, there was some “curtailing” of extreme elements that had given BET’s fashion night a bad rap. “The model doesn’t bop as hard as she used to on Rip the Runway,” was one example Balan gave. Yet, it remained a party on a stage, featuring performances by some of the hottest rappers today such as Rick Ross, Meek Mill, and Trinidad James. Models sashayed to personal serenades from Omarion. Jaden Smith debuted his Misfits collection with the help of his little sister Willow. Boris Kodjoe modeled his menswear collection, Alfa.
These famous names aside, Rip the Runway is designed to help fashion lovers discover the unknown. “We find the dopest fashion, people who don’t have the light shining on them, to break talent,” Balan said. “It’s sort of like Trinidad James. He’s huge, but he’s really a new artist. So it’s like, you’re a new artist, you’re a new designer, let’s merge it together. Like Nicki Minaj. The year before she blew up, she hosted Rip the Runway.”
Internationally renowned stylist Beagy Zielinski spoke positively of the show’s fresh direction.
“I think it’s been a really great experience. Production’s been great on the show,” Beagy said.
“I hope that this show will help them look at this differently,” she said of fashion insiders. “I think that a lot of people in fashion may not have really wanted to participate in this venture, because they sort of assume it would be typical of what people associate with BET and black culture, baggy jeans — that’s not what we do. That’s not what this is about. We do high fashion, we do major labels from Paris and London, just like everybody else, and I hope that we were really able to showcase that this year.”
Will traditional style arbiters see a change?
“I think people will really notice a big difference. We made a conscious effort to elevate — as I think you should with anything that you do. Every year and every time you do something, it should be better,” Beagy added.
These refinements, which I witnessed from a balcony seat in the ballroom, certainly dazzled in a trippy swirl of activity. Huge celebrities, two-story-high animations, and enviably attractive clothing were presented with expert production values for an enthusiastic live audience. This marvel of fashion entertainment was certainly more flashy than most shows, but anything but tacky.
I would even call it exciting and tasteful. Just like the flashing lights that night, the future of the new Rip the Runway looks bright.
“I think people are going to start watching more than ever,” Balan said. “And respecting it. And there is going to be amazing buzz, and hopefully [we'll continue] to do that every year.”
An encore presentation of BET’s Rip the Runway will air this Sunday March 29 at 8:00 pm.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.