Washington at its fashionable best
by Joe David
Photos by Patricia McDougall and Nicole D’Amecourt
(As published in Hollywood on the Potomac, April 18, 2019, reprinted with permission)
The stage of the Dean Acheson Hall at the Department of State sprung to glamorous life last week, when it became a catwalk for beautiful women primarily from the diplomatic community to exhibit one-of-a-kind haute couture. It was a moment Washingtonians long awaited. For one dazzling hour, the city got an exclusive peek at the hot, new fashions by designers from around the world. Each one of the carefully crafted dresses and gowns were modeled by Ambassador wives and members of the diplomatic community who delighted the audience with their stunning look as they glided with flawless ease across the stage.
In her opening statement to the fashion show, Maria Royce, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, set the theme for the morning event by reminding the audience what Benjamin Franklin once noted in the 1700s. “Fashion speaks for diplomats.” Royce then underscored his comment by adding, “I believe fashion has played and will always play an important role in cultural affairs.”
With this thought in mind, the Associates of the American Foreign Service (AAFSW) went all out in developing the theme for the AAFSW fashion show. In collaboration with Jan Du Plain, Du Plain Global Enterprises, and Indira Gumarova, the Czech Republic fashion consultant, AAFSW worked hard to help Ms. Gumarova bring to life her vision of fashion and diplomacy. Her husband, Ambassador Hynek Kmoniček, ambassador of the Czech Republic, was the master of ceremonies. Like a gifted emcee, he radiated charm and verbal skill and connected immediately with the audience with his anecdotes and his international view that supported this theme.
“To create this beautiful moment, the best of the most talented, up-and-coming designers in the
world were chosen to represent over 20 countries,” Indira Gumarova, wife of H.E. Hynek
Kmoniček, said. “Each costume that these lovely women wore had its own special motif, ethnic
in origin and international in style, and each costume recaptures with elegance the modern and
sophisticated style of each designer’s respective country.”
For the over 350 guests attending the show, it was an exciting moment of fashion and diplomacy,
a tasteful mix of design and originality that had the audience wildly happy, snapping photos of
and with the models, long after the show ended. “For one glorious moment, Washington spoke
to the world and gave special attention to fashion and diplomacy,” Sheila Switzer, program Chair
at AAFSW said. “Our large, multicultural and political hub, strategically located in America at
the Department of State, proudly became the glamorous setting for this conversation. Like New
York, Paris, and Rome, Washington shined and abandoned the stigma that Cindra Wilson once
gave it (a “dowdy” city without any fashion grey areas – The Atlantic, September 20, 2015). For
one hour, Washington was transformed into a world fashion capital.”
“By having such a terrific show, we have given up-and-coming designers from around the world
an opportunity to present their styles to one of the most prestigious international and diplomatic
communities in the world,” Jan Du Plain said. “The overwhelming excitement that our show
created was thrilling! It convinced attendees that Washington is a rising new star in what is fast
becoming the capital for diplomacy and fashion.”
AAFSW was established in 1960, making it the oldest non-governmental organization to support the American Diplomatic community. Today it operates as a primary advocate and support network for family members of foreign service employees. What makes it special is that it expressly serves all segments of the foreign service community. This includes: employees; spouses, partners and other members of household, as well as children of Foreign Service employees, divorced or widowed spouses, and retired officers and their partners.
Indira Gumarova has been an influential participant in the Prague’s cultural scene for many years, promoting local businesses and cultural events. For 20 years, she has proven herself to be
a dynamic, multi-lingual marketing professional in New York’s creative industry. Her clients have included notable Broadway productions, authors, musicians, and fashion designers.
Sheila Switzer is an international leader and diplomatic liaison for AAFSW who has dedicated her life to promoting understanding, appreciation, and respect between people around the world. She has been a diplomatic spouse for over 28 years, and she and her family have served on assignments throughout Europe and Latin America.
Jan Du Plain has achieved a broad and solid background in public relations, which began while working on her father’s award-winning weekly newspaper in California. Her experience alongside her father became the foundation for the career success that followed in Los Angeles and New York, before she settled comfortably in Washington, where she quickly established herself as an important contributor to the Washington cultural and diplomatic community.
Among the over dozen countries represented in the fashion show were: the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Nepal, Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Malta, Uzbekistan, Australia, Iraq, Botswana, Mozambique, Azerbaijan, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, and Italy among others.
In the audience were ambassadors representing the various participating countries, as well as government, fashion and community leaders including the Honorable Esther Coopersmith (UNESCO), philanthropist Annie Simonian Totah, Mrs. Isabel “Didi” Cutler (wife of Ambassador Walter L. Cutler), Commissioner Alberto Ucles (DC Commission of Arts & Humanities), Michael Aiken (President of Link Strategic Partners), and Commissioner Jason Anthony (Mayor’s Commission on Fashion Arts & Events).