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Boston is home to hip young designers. Now they have a place to strut their stuff

JAY CALDERIN IS GENERALLY UPBEAT AND ENERGETIC, but as he thinks back to the first 10 years of Boston Fashion Week , a hint of fatigue begins to creep into his tone.

"It could be incredibly frustrating," says the School of Fashion Design instructor and founder of Boston Fashion Week. "We'd have these great designers, and these great shows, but there would be no lighting. Or bad lighting. The clothes were amazing, but it would be this huge waste of effort because it wasn't always possible to produce shows that matched the quality of the clothes."

Boston Fashion Week has been on hiatus since 2004 -- put on ice after Calderin felt it had grown stale. But inspired by a fashion festival in Montana (yes, Montana), Calderin will reintroduce Boston Fashion Week this fall as a hybrid of runway shows and fashion films. By using locally produced films showcasing the work of Boston designers instead of relying strictly on runway shows, he hopes to retain more control over the quality of the shows. Toward the end of its initial 10-year run, there were complaints that some fashion shows were too amateur to be part of the week.

"You'd have shows by someone like [renowned designer] Denise Hajjar ," says Sondra Grace , head of fashion at the Massachusetts College of Art . "Then you'd run to another show and it was clear that the dresses still needed work. Jay would have a full calendar of shows for the week, but I think it was hard for him to make sure the quality of the shows was consistent."

Boston Fashion Week began in 1995 as a forum to celebrate local designers, but unlike New York and Los Angeles fashion weeks -- spectacles that have big-budget corporate sponsors and serve as platforms for national and international designers -- Boston Fashion Week was a nonprofit. After nine years, Calderin was feeling the event had grown repetitive, and shut it down.

"I hate to use the word rut, but when I think about fashion, it's about staying ahead of the curve, not riding the curve," he says. "We wanted to do something different, not just emulate another city."

It is no coincidence that Boston Fashion Week makes its return in September. Buoyed by an increasingly upscale and vibrant retail scene, designers say there is a new emphasis on fashion in the city. Calderin and other tastemakers say there is also a renaissance of new designers here. Younger designers such as Boston University junior Sam Mendoza are making couture frocks out of vintage curtain fabric for women who want to stand out from the crowd, while a pair of Cambridge designers under the name 4March are creating eco-friendly clothes that focus on glamour as much as the environment.

The Internet is allowing this new crop of designers to stay in Boston and still enjoy a presence in other cities.

"I'd rather be in Boston than New York," says Norwood designer Cheng Lin . "I don't need to be in New York to execute my vision. I can do it here and there's a market for it."

The return of Boston Fashion Week isn't the only indicator of a fashion revival. IMG Fashion , the company that produces mammoth fashion week events in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, approached several local stores last year about staging its own fashion week in Boston. A representative for IMG, however, said they currently have no plans to stage events here.

Calderin's vision for his reinvigorated fashion week emphasizes the celebrity and the glamo ur of fashion. He reasons that what excites people about runway shows are the parties, the red carpet, and the opportunity to gawk at models and chat with designers. Putting the fashion on film (technically, digital video or tape) will also allow designers to show at more diverse venues across the city.

"I think we're going to have a small group of people who get it and buy into the idea and try it out," Calderin says. "There may still be people who want shows, or they prefer to host a night at a club or hold an open house. It will work because the audience is varied as well."

Local designers such as Jess M e yer , who creates her line Myre in South Boston, say the shows' return will help local labels with a large Internet presence connect with local audiences.

"There is a fashion scene in Boston, but you have to look for it," she says. "I think a lot of people want to make Boston into New York, and it's never going to be. You just have to embrace what it is. It's different, and hopefully Boston Fashion Week can convey that."

Christopher Muther can be reached at

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Fashion writer Christopher Muther discusses the designers and their fashion.