Uptown’s own Fashion Night Out
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
The next fashion star will not be coming via Spain or France or even the garment district. He is much closer than you think.
And should all go according to plan, Northern Manhattan’s very own Joan Balbuena will be known for his twist on a timeless classic: the chacabana.
Although Balbuena’s chacabana, the archetypal shirt of men dressing for typically warm climes, hews to the same four-pocket standard, his modern take is fitted and is available in more than just the color white.
Instead, his selection is as colorful as a flock of tropical birds.
Also available are fitted dress slacks, and a women’s version of the chacabana, which is even more form-fitting.
The latest pieces were unveiled this past Thurs., Sept. 6th at uptown’s own rendition of “Fashion Night Out,” held at the Umbrella Lounge on Tenth Avenue.
The launch of the line was emceed by Dominican television personalities Alex Macias and Arlette Rodriguez.
Before the show, models, tall as skyscrapers in gravity-defying stilettos, sported selected items from Joan Fashion and its sister store, Lounge Couture.
They graced the sidewalk-turned-red carpet in front of Umbrella and were met with an explosion of camera flashes.
Balbuena and his wife Solanlly said they were thrilled by the response from community residents, international media outlets, and fellow small business owners.
“I’m grateful to everyone who has come and supported [us],” said Balbuena, who exuded calm despite the flurry of activity at every turn.
“I know a lot of journalists and media, so I think that helped,” he said with a touch of self-deprecation.
Indeed, Balbuena did have some star power to help him along; among them was his friend radio personality Coco Cabrera from Univisión Radio.
Through a friend, Balbuena was able also to connect with Dominican Republic’s Mr. Universe 2012, Erick Sabeter.
Both graced the runway in specially designed chacabanas.
Another special person came directly from Santo Domingo to support him: his mother, Doris Garcia.
Yuberkis Fernandez is an area make-up artist who lived in Spain for 15 years, where she worked for television shows and magazines.
“I’m delighted to be here.
Though I did a lot of work in Spain, since I’m Dominican [myself], I like to work with people who are closer to my roots,” said Fernandez.
She said she did not know Balbuena personally, but had come to check out the scene, and to lend support to a fellow compatriot.
“Dominicans are always very supportive of each other. People come from Jersey, Brooklyn, and other parts of the state to show support,” she added, smiling.
Umbrella Lounge, which hosts fashion shows regularly, was readily equipped with a catwalk and a sophisticated sound system.
Live music, courtesy of music bands Ruina Nuevas and Curi Luna, played throughout the evening.
The launch of the line, which is named after, Balbuena’s 207th Street store, was a community effort.
Among many of the local sponsors were Montezuma Restaurant and Marisco Centro.
And the models at this show weren’t imported from Brazil or Eastern Europe.
Instead, many of the models were locals—friends and customers of Joan Fashion and Lounge Couture, as well as local fixtures like Cirilio Mononto of the 809 Restaurant and Lounge.
Emilio Suarez, owner of Umbrella Lounge and faithful patron of Joan Fashion, garnered a loud cheer from the audience when he stepped out in an indigo chacabana.
Earlier that night he had been wearing a suit from, where else?, Joan Fashion.
“When he approached me and told me about this project, I welcomed it and wanted to support him. Joan and his wife work very hard every day and they’ve been doing since I’ve met them,” said Suarez. “I think he’s a very positive role model for immigrants in the neighborhood and I’m very happy for him.”
Suarez said he also appreciated the nuanced rendition of the chacabana.
“What he’s done with the chacabana is very innovative and creative,” added Suarez.
“I will definitely buy one.”
It took Balbuena a month and a half to plan just the show, but as the evening neared to a close, he said the work had paid off.
“It wasn’t easy. I really wanted everything to go well.
It was a huge effort.
I was stressed out because I wanted everyone to look and feel good.”
“I didn’t sleep for five days,” he added, “But in the end it was worth it. The effort was rewarded.”
By late last week, Balbuena had already sold over 25 chacabanas.
“And I’m just getting started,” he said.
Stop by Joan Fashion at 501 West 207th Street, just off Broadway for your own.