"Finding Ashley Stewart" Honors Curves Style and Scholars
Community leaders, celebrities, and style icons stepped onto the pink carpet Saturday night to celebrate the finale of the “Finding Ashley Stewart” competition at Brooklyn’s recently restored Kings Theatre. The end of the nationwide search, which included stops in Union and Newark, New Jersey, marked the choosing of the woman who embodies the style and spirit of the long looked over fashion brand.
The event was held with support from Iman cosmetics Creme of Nature, IMAN Cosmetics, Lyft, and others.
Often plus-size retailers aren’t able to offer their customers a chance to be involved in the glitz and glamour that they’re working to cultivate but this time the public was welcome to join in on the fun.
Flatbush Avenue was filled with full-figured women and their friends waiting on line for their chance to see who would take home the crown as well as performers including dancer Amanda LaCount, gospel singer Kierra Sheard, The BK United Marching Band, the Xinos Step Team, and headliners the Grammy nominated R&B group En Vogue.
Stylist Susan Moses shared how excited she was for the evening to get started aafter snapping a selfie with the very first plus-size super model Emme saying “You know I love when you bring music and art all together.” and “It’s a big moment for Brooklyn! En Vogue? I’ve been following them all my life!”
The “Art of Dressing Curves” author said that Ashley Stewart was special because “They’ve always been on trend. You can always rely on Ashley Stewart to give you the up-to-the-moment trend and I always appreciated that about them.” She then noted the fact that their trendiness was available “at an affordable price” something consumers across the country benefit from.
One of the stars of the the recently released HBO drama “The Deuce” Andrea-Rachel Parker showed up in shimmery eyeshadow and a curve hugging dress and revealed what made her feel “comfortable in her skin.” “I’m a dancer” said the young star “so music will instantly get me to a point where I feel sexy. As soon as I start moving and walking around in like a dance studio or even in my bedroom... another thing is the right outfit. As long as you feel comfortable in your outfit when you’re walking down on that street down in Manhattan you’re gonna walk like that’s your runway. You’re gonna walk like look at me! I look good!”
Since the airing of her breakout role in the hit Starz series “Power” the actress been fielding coveted invitations left and right but she felt it was important for her to be at this particular affair. “It was important for me to be here because I’m in tune with my body and what it means to feel sexy and confident, and creative and bold. I feel like events such as these help [you] keep that feeling of being comfortable in your skin and help [you] keep that feeling of loving yourself of wanting more for yourself no matter what shape, size, or height you are.
Women of all sizes hit the carpet including stylist and fledging Steffany Allen who wore one of her own original designs and Black Enterprise's Selena Hill.
Parker was accompanied by Avery Watson of Multi Artistry Entertainment. The Millennials Valuable Power Players recipient who is known for being one of New York City’s most stylish curvy girls is a dancer as well and she credits the practice for giving her body confidence.
She said she loves Ashley Stewart because “They’re a sexy, sexy brand. They’re a sophisticated brand.”
The event was hosted by the devastatingly handsome Boris Kodjoe who kept the crowd laughing as he ushered each of the 6 finalists on and off the stage. Kodjoe said that he was happy to be there because the company was “not just a clothing line, it's a movement, it's a way of life.”
He was joined on stage by his lovely wife Nicole Ari Parker who gave an impassioned speech on the power of kindness and the importance of women sticking together and celebrating one another. “Don’t be afraid to uplift someone” she said “it will come back to you tenfold.” She also advocated for what she called “kind-fidence” in addition to confidence.
DJ Olivia Dope provided the evening’s stellar soundtrack while donning a dapper white cape. Ashley Stewart Style Expert Tamara Ivey slayed the stage in black lace.
The contestants spoke about their influences and beliefs when questioned by the panel of celebrity judges.
Saint Thomas’ Theresa Larsen Royals ,who won the title, described herself as “confident, resilient and humble” and said her role model was her mother who she said was “the epitome of grace under pressure.”
After Amanda LaCount, pumped up the crowd with moves that were most recently on display in the Katy Perry video, gospel singer Kierra Sheard sang three joyful tunes about the grace of God.
Headliner En Vogue then brought the house down like it was 1996!
People were literally dancing in the aisles as they performed some of their classics including "Don't Let Go (Love)", "Whatta Man", My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" and the ultimate love song "Giving Him Something He Can Feel".
Pat Zollar, Detavio Samuels, and Iyanla Vanzant appeared to present three scholarships awarded throughout the evening totalling $20,000 to students Lydeah Kearse, Latchmie Marajh, and Kedeisha Freeman.
The commencement of this competition comes on the heels of what many are dubbing the most inclusive fashion week ever. Moses said “It definitely was the most inclusive and when I see journalists and other stylists that look like me it gets me really really excited.” Still she pointed out that “there’s still a lot of work to be done especially in the area of inclusiveness of diversity of more Latina and African-American women on the runway.”
A designer and author who has always been committed to including everyone April Walker was in attendance with founder of the Gillard Jones Agency and former Essence editor Darlene Gillard Jones.
Many retailers are just beginning to acknowledge the needs of the plus-size consumer but Ashley Stewart has been meeting their needs for decades, even when it wasn’t the most profitable, fashionable, or easy thing to do. They worked with charities like Dress for Success and dressed women, as CEO James Rhee said, for church, for work, for picnics, for important social occasions” at a time when “there was no press, there were no pink carpets, there were just stores in neighborhoods” and the brand “operated out of a roach infested warehouse” and “didn’t even have wi-fi.”
He credited Ashley Stewart surviving the very public bankruptcy struggles and store closings it endured because of its delay in adapting to digital age and becoming “a leader in the industry now” to “the hard work of the employees across this country and everyone who supports this brand.”
The night came to a close when “Ashley Stewart 2017” was crowned. NFL legend Carl Banks along with former Miss USA Erin Brady, who served as a celebrity judge, remarked that the women of Ashley Stewart are “volunteers, mothers, business leaders, activists, and you can't put them in a box” but as Saturday night proved they can be placed on quite the pedestal.
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