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61 Things I Saw At Christian Fashion Week

What exactly happens at a fashion show for Jesus? I journeyed to Tampa, Fla., to find out.

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This year, the second annual Christian Fashion Week came to Tampa.

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Tampa-based founders José Gomez (a minister and entrepreneur) and his wife Mayra (founder of the group Model4Jesus) launched Christian Fashion Week last year. At 2013's event, eight designers showcased over 100 garments in front of more than 300 in-person attendees and over 2,000 online viewers.

The Gomezes created Christian Fashion Week to "celebrate the idea of fashion from a Christian worldview, reflecting common values such as modesty, boldness, and integrity." But what does that MEAN? What makes a blouse Christian? Here's what I saw when I went to Florida to check it out:

1. It's held at a lovely events center.

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Corporate sponsors of the event include Zondervan, a major Christian publishing house, and several local Tampa modeling and photography businesses.

5. A lot of fashionable shirts with Christian messages.

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The next night, the two-night runway show kicked off.

Proverbs 31 is a Bible passage that many Christians believe describes the ideal Christian woman.

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It includes things like "making bed coverings," wearing linen, buying and managing a vineyard, contributing to charity and being "of noble character."

26. "If you see something you like, it's OK to make some noise. This isn't Presbyterian Fashion Week," Gomez quips. "It's more like Pentecostal Fashion Week."

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"May you inspire the designers, provoke them and challenge them," he prays before the show begins, as heads bow in unison along the VIP front row.

27. I didn't have a photographer for night one, but just take my word for it that there were HOT male models.

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28. Seriously, all the male models were super hot.

That isn't my terrible iPhone camera flash obscuring their faces, it's God protecting you from looking directly at them because they're so beautiful.

32. A local composer created the runway music specifically for CFW.

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33. Most of the models are locals signed with Tampa modeling agencies and aren't necessarily Christians themselves.

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"We try to use New York–caliber models," Gomez tells me. "We want this to be a real fashion show."

35. Last year men were barred from the swimwear portion of the show. This year, Gomez decided to let men stay and watch the swimwear runway.

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Gomez changed his mind, he says, after people accused him of implying that Christian men, many married, couldn't handle the "temptation" of watching attractive women model swimsuits.

41. "Gentlemen, while you wait for your lady, there's a cash bar in the back," Gomez says over the mike.

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(This night, wine was available, although I felt a little self-conscious drinking some at a evangelical event.)

49. "Christian fashion, I would say, is still a developing notion," says designer Sumita Bhojwani, whose collection includes a lot of Indian influences.

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"There is not a clear definition to it, but by observing current trends, then creating designs in line with the times, yet those that display ‘modesty,’ keeping my dresses more affordable for a larger segment of the population; these are some of the perspectives I use as I contribute to building a definition."

50. "My collections are inspired mostly by my beliefs," Bhojwani says.

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"One, [the belief] that you ‘dress to express’ yourself, and second, that even in these hard economic times, you should be able to afford and be able to wear some exclusive one-of-a-kind collections."

51. "I asked God what he wanted me to make, and he said, 'a cape,'" designer Manjit Allen says. "So I made a cape."

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Allen and her husband, who are based in the U.K., quit their full-time jobs to launch their company, Narrowgate Ltd.: "It's not the designs that make it Christian. It's the fact that God's involved in it all. We love the spirit here in America. It's so easy to discuss God openly."

52. The show closes with Julia Chew's line Xiaolin. Julia is only 19.

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"Last year I was just starting as a designer, and as a Christian, I typed into Google 'Christian Fashion Week,' and what a coincidence that Christian Fashion Week is in Tampa, the city I live and grew up in," Chew says.

55. This gorgeous gown covered in feathers.

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"A lot of my pieces are experimental and made of materials I'm working with for the first time," Chew says. "I'm from China and so there are a lot of Asian influences."

56. And this dress made of petals with a goth Red Riding Hood cape.

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Chew says her designs are intended to create a "connection" to higher things: "I design from a Christian worldview, and I want to do a collection that all people, not just Christian people, will enjoy. I want people to have a connection with my line and that way I do believe people can connect spiritually from art."

58. Compared with many fashion shows I've been to in New York, where participants are often a bit snooty, everyone here is ridiculously friendly and open.

In all, I was surprised by the lack of overt religiosity at Christian Fashion Week. I used to cover New York Fashion Week at my previous job, so I wanted to see how fashion plays out both away from the Lincoln Center tents and when it lacks the secularity of 99% of fashion shows. I'd expected to find clothing with crosses and some (maybe awkward) shoehorning of a gospel message into a runway show.

But besides the pre-show prayer, the event seemed to me like a normal fashion show, save for less cleavage and no cocaine-fueled after-parties. It was also notably more racially diverse — in terms of both audience and participants — than many shows I've been to in New York. The clothes weren't on the cutting edge of trends, but the designers hadn't explicitly forsaken style in the name of modesty.

What's next for Christian Fashion Week? Gomez is already planning 2015's show and hopes to expand to semi-annual shows.

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"We want to increase to two seasons a year," Gomez says, who tells me that 11,000 people live-streamed 2014's show on ChristianPost.com. But the event is still a local Tampa venture and isn't yet self-sustaining, requiring corporate underwriters who pay up to $25,000 (for a title sponsorship). "Ticket sales aren't enough [to fund the event]. We have to have the sponsorship money."

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