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Saloon Couture

Carytown boutiques challenge the malls by sexing things up along a Shockoe Bottom runway.

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They don’t. But they strut across an ad hoc runway with enough fortified exuberance to pull the crowd’s interest away from the hockey game on TV, and perhaps from the so-called lifestyle centers that would never show merchandise in a setting like this. Pleated miniskirts, leather-look dresses, stretchy tops and furry little jackets draw catcalls and cheers as DJ Waleid pumps throbbing house music into the room. An improbable number of cameras flash. For a little less than an hour, it’s as close to professional fashion as Richmond gets, and no one in the crowd is thinking about Nordstrom or Saks.

This is a push for the small labels and the individual looks of specialty boutiques Glass & Powder, Posh, Need Supply and Adonis & Aphrodite. It’s also a chance for barhoppers in Shockoe Bottom to see flirty clothing on people they recognize. One blonde model, Josie Bragg, is a lawyer by day and a bartender on weekends. “I’ve got to be in court in the morning,” she squeals about her blown-up hair, “so I hope we can get this out.” She throws on a red dress and grabs hands with two other models for a campy group pose on the runway.

Then a striking pair strides out in sleek, all-black ensembles. “This is for your sinister, edgy couple,” Valente advises the crowd. “This is all about the accessories and making it your own.”

Two onlookers sip Jack Daniels and water, and observe the colliding worlds of happy-hour regulars and local fashionistas. “We came expecting nudity of course,” a guy named Merritt says, grinning. “The invitation said sexy, but we’re not sure what that means in Richmond.” S

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