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In God We Dress

Churchgoing fashionistas push style on Gap-buying suburbanites

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Ten minutes to go until showtime. Vince Flumiani is on his hands and knees in a foul stairwell behind the swank nightclub Blonde. Every second counts.

He lays a pair of jungle camouflage pants on top of paper bags covering the greasy floor. They're Da-Nang, a brand that costs about 200 bucks. You probably haven't heard of the label yet. Tonight is meant to change all that.

This frigid evening in mid-September, a store in Town Center called the Standard Style Boutique is supposed to secure citywide Cosmo-like credibility by nailing its first fashion show. Flumiani and his partners in the store have bet their fashion reputations on the idea that deep-pocketed nightlifers will finally grasp the allure of high-priced clothing. Flumiani wants to launch that revolution, but time is running out.

Usually, the stairwell serves as a piss spot for late-night partiers. Flumiani has turned it into a makeshift design studio and dressing room. Racks of clothes line the corridor. Color-coordinated piles of sneakers and sunglasses and stocking caps lie along a dusty railing. Club grunts pass by hauling leaky trash bags.

Seven minutes now. Kneeling, he uncoils a fabric tape measure wrapped around his neck like a scarf. Nearby is his emergency kit — two toolboxes filled with needles, thread, duct tape and superglue. He's a sartorial MacGyver, repairing broken dress straps and adding duct-tape treads to the bottoms of slick pumps to keep his models from slipping. With no model in sight, he guesses at inseams. He starts cutting.

Flumiani's partners, Matt and Emily Baldwin, wait inside the bar, making small talk with women gripping martinis and spilling cleavage out of their tops. The Baldwins aren't yet 30, and they're good-looking enough to turn heads in this scene. Emily has just returned from backstage, where she witnessed Flumiani's frantic tailoring. Remarkably, she appears unflustered, even as the club swells to capacity at 250. The chaos backstage is unlike their dress rehearsal two nights ago. In a warehouse attached to the Standard's strip-mall headquarters in Overland Park, the 36-year-old Flumiani choreographed the show like a high-stakes heist. He had drawn a map of the club's layout, marking entrances and assigning spots for the paparazzi. He moved furniture to create a built-to-scale catwalk that ran through halls and into offices for his inexperienced models to practice. From the 16-year-old Notre Dame de Sion student to the guy whose day job was in shipping, Flumiani gave everyone detailed instructions for their strut-turn-pose combos. Flumiani's vision called for a perfectly timed show with multiple costume changes for each model.

Tonight, though, rouged young women shiver in the hallway. Two of Flumiani's stylists tell him that they have more than 40 outfits ready, but he has little interest in how they've structured their rack system. "I'm a macro, not a micro," he tells one woman. "Whatever works for you."

Less than five minutes. He holds up the pants to check their length. They hang down to his shins. He slices back and forth, fraying the new cuffs to make them look worn. "I know it looks like a tiny detail and no one is going to see it, but you know when you know [if it's not perfect]. It's such a bugger, isn't it?" he asks no one in particular.

Seeing him crouched here in this filthy stairwell, it's hard to imagine that Flumiani once controlled a fashion empire. A few years ago, living in San Diego, Flumiani launched a label called Jedidiah. Flumiani, a Bible-study-going Christian, marketed the brand with subtle religious messages but still anchored racks at boutiques such as Fred Segal.

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