Kitara’s Angels are Bronx women who walked their fifth fashion show at Bronx Fashion Week earlier this month suited in bright, floral printed jackets, capes and corsets — the latest collection by 21-year-old founder and designer Kiara Carrion.
Providing runway opportunities for women in the Bronx, regardless of shape, size or experience is the mission behind Kitara’s Angels, founded by Carrion in 2019, and more broadly Carrion’s inspiration to design haute couture clothes.
“Besides it being my hometown, I believe that in the Bronx there is an amazing mixture of cultures, backgrounds and very talented people that don’t get enough opportunities,” Carrion said. “I used to go to auditions and it was always like, you’re too short, you’re not the right size. If I’m feeling this way, I know there has to be many girl who feel the same way I did.”
To extend fashion opportunities to more young women, Bronx Fashion Week Founder and CEO Flora Montes this month is launching a year-round after-school program at South Bronx Community Charter High School. It will instruct juniors and seniors about the history of the industry, photography, modeling, makeup, and how to design, create and show collections.
“Young women in the Bronx face barriers. Many are dealing with something — like poverty, single homes, living in a housing project. Not everyone, but I think of my mom struggling as a single mom,” Montes said. Appearing in a fashion show, she said, “brings them that joy for one minute, putting their problems aside, getting dressed up, pampered with their makeup and being able to hit that runway.”
The new high school fashion program, too, will provide teachers and mentors for students interested in entrepreneurship — providing the kind of guidance that Carrion received from her mother, Lysandra, who worked mostly from her Bronx home under the name Imagenes de Lysandra designing clothes for pageants and bikini contests in the 1980s.
Carrion has been designing clothes since she was 15, a talent that is added to her already impressive résumé as an actress, singer, guitarist, model, student and professional Knicks City Dancer. Her latest collection, That Girl, takes inspiration from the framed, feminine silhouettes of the 1950s and 1960s, while adding modernity through jackets, bustiers and flowing palazzo pants.
Cariion’s first collection, titled Teal, was an homage to women with ovarian cancer, and her previous collection Cleopatra, which featured gold beads and long capes, took inspiration from the Egyptian queen’s display of power.
“The models felt powerful. I had a hard time getting them out of the clothes afterwards,” Carrion reflected. “That’s a good thing, because when you see that a model reacts that way, it tells you that what you were trying to portray in your vision, the models were feeling it.”
Her collections have shown in Harlem Fashion Week, Bronx Fashion Week and charity events to raise funds for Autism and ovarian cancer.
Montes wants to inspire more Carrions with her high school program.
“Fashion is more than fabric,” Montes said. “They (students) are going to learn about themselves, I want to teach them confidence, presentation. Even if they don’t get into fashion, when they stand in front of an interviewer for a college or a job they can stand next to someone from an Ivy League.”
Montes’ hope for Bronx Fashion Week is for the event and the community to be recognized for the fierce, original, inclusive talent it showcases.
“We’re invisibile. Fordham has recently started a fashion program, but not once have they reached out to Bronx Fashion Week. Mercy College also, and I’m in Mercy College. They look at Manhattan, and I think there’s something wrong with that,” Montes said. “I hope that with this program we can stand up and finally be noticed as the fashion house that we are.”
Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson also sees the potential for change that fashion can bring to the Bronx, in terms of individual and collective growth.
“We have to tell the narrative of the Bronx in a positive way,” Gibson said, adding that she wants to work with Montes this fall to develop more fashion opportunities in the Bronx. “You don’t hear about the kids on scholarship, the kids excelling, being safe in a program or community center. I want these young people to see a pathway to a career.”