Ruffles, flowers, lace and leather with a touch of culture marked the designs at this year’s Beauty By Design fashion show for the 31st annual African American Heritage Festival on April 30 in Campbell Hall.

It was the first fashion show of the week-long festival, and it fit perfectly with the theme “Uzuri,” which means “beauty,” said Kristen Edwards, a Beauty By Design committee member and sophomore in communication technology.

Previous Heritage Festival Thursday themed events have been auctions or events similar to last year’s talk with Aaron McGruder, the cartoonist and creator of the controversial animated series “The Boondocks.”

Edwards said that other than the eye-catching designs and confident models, the highlight of the show was its host, Toccara Jones, who is most famously known as a contestant from the third season of the popular television series “America’s Next Top Model.”

Jones, who is a Dayton native, appeared fashionably late but was met with a standing ovation from the crowd. Her appearance cost the Heritage Festival committee more than $4,000, and she worked to give the crowd every penny’s worth.

Her sassy humor and lively personality kept people engaged as they waited for each model to come out.

She jumped down from the stage and said she would try out the runway to make sure nobody would fall down. Jones even brought up audience members to show her how to do the latest “swag surf” dance.

The local designers included: Akira Burgess, Brittany Lawson, Nyemadi Williams, Chanel Woods, Michael Schundo, Ngockhanh Ngo and Crystal Lappie. They each presented their collection of three outfits, which showed an urban, couture and heritage style.

“We wanted to make sure that the show wasn’t just about clothes,” said Joseph Gould, a third-year food and science major. “We wanted it to represent people’s backgrounds and lifestyles in a beautiful way.”

The winning designer, Brittany Lawson, a Columbus College of Art and Design graduate, featured a Spanish-inspired matador outfit with a removable skirt that turned into a short set, a multi-layered paisley-printed revealing dress with a single strap, and a black form-fitting leather vest and Capri pants suit with ruffled pockets.

Gould said the most fascinating part of the show was when the crowd went wild as the model came down the runway, took off her skirt and threw it over her shoulder like a jacket.

Lawson, who has been designing since 1996 when she made her own prom dress, works with the alterations team at Dr. Mojoe in the Short North. She composed her three pieces for the fashion show in a month and won the $150 prize and a full-page fashion spread in HIPolicy Magazine.

She said she did not expect to win and just thought the show would be fun.

“I design a lot of quilts and bridal dresses on the side so this is a really nice pay off,” Lawson said.

The panel of judges included Columbus’ CW Star, Brittany Gerena, who is also a senior in communication; Candace Brown, an Abercrombie & Fitch designer; Ray Miller, the editor of HIPolicy Magazine; Ryan Kemp, the creator of Chelz and Ciege clothing line; and a guest judge selected from the audience.

Other designers incorporated various American Indian and West African tribal pieces, as well as Vietnamese and Japanese-infused designs.

One outfit that stood out for its versatility was a dress by designer Crystal Lappie, which could be worn by a bride, bridesmaid or a wedding guest.

One of the models, who were all Ohio State students, said she was not intimidated at all by the runway.

“Even though we didn’t have much time to rehearse, I think Toccara made the models feel more comfortable,” said Tamika Thomas, a senior in communication. “She would even give us suggestions as we walked down the runway and told me work my hair and do a little shoulder pose.”

A question-and-answer portion preceded the fashion show, where students got a chance to hear candid and unashamed responses from Jones about being plus-sized in the fashion industry.

Even when the Beauty by Design committee signaled for Jones to wrap up the Q-and-A session, she still went on to answer all the crowd’s questions. Jones presented herself as a down-to-earth host and told people to follow their dreams no matter how they look, said Kristen Witcher, an undecided freshman.

“Toccara is what made the fashion show fabulous,” she said. “Other than that, it was a bit disorganized and moved slow.”

Edwards said it was crazy backstage, but that’s normal for a fashion show and adds to the excitement.

Gould said he and his committee encountered many obstacles, but the most challenging part about organizing the show was moving it into Campbell Hall instead of its original site at the Richard C. Larkins Outdoor Performance Area.

“My entire vision for it to be outside was shattered by the rain,” he said.

Edwards said that although the committee didn’t have any decorations, moving the show indoors made it more intimate.

“Our show’s tagline was ‘Fashioning the Seams of Perfection,’ so it may not have been perfect, but as the first one for the Heritage Fest, we made an impression and fashioned something great for future committees,” she said.

Heather Hope can be reached at