A new fashion brand with Marion County roots provides high-end, handmade, art-inspired products. Showcased as part of Septemberfest, Beth Keener LLC is a partnership company owned and operated by Farmont State University alumnae Beth Keener and Melissa Craig.
Septemberfest is an all-day festival on Saturday, Sept. 20, in downtown Fairmont sponsored by the Fairmont State Alumni Association, Main Street Fairmont and the City of Fairmont. A Family Fun Zone will include music and a hay maze in the green space on Adams Street. From 3 to 3:30 p.m. there will be a Mr. Twist Magic Show. Phil Wiseman will DJ from 4 to 4:45 p.m. and play live music from 5 to 5:45 p.m. From 6 to 9 p.m. Downtown After Dark will provide live music, street fair vendors, a Community Beer Garden (proper I.D. required) and a glow-in-the-dark hay maze. Three Piece Soup will play from 6 to 6:45 p.m. and Tammy will play from 7 to 9 p.m.
An art exhibit and fashion runway event by Beth Keener LLC with the theme “Art Is Dead” will take place at The Gatherings, 216 Monroe St., from 5 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 20. The fashion runway show begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets for the exhibit/fashion show are available for purchase for $7.50 through Sept. 18 at www.bethkeener.com and will be sold at the door at the event for $10.
After growing up together in Marion County and becoming friends at FSU, Keener, Class of 1997, and Craig, Class of 1995 reconnected in 2012. Keener had just relocated from Nashville to Virginia to focus on her personal art and was creating a line of art canvas clutches. Craig purchased two of those clutches and commissioned an installation art piece by Keener for her home in Middleburg, Va.
“Beth was coming out of the Nashville art scene, and I was coming out of the Washington, D.C., work environment, and we were both ready to do something different and the partnership made sense,” Craig said. Keener uses her artistic talent and background in graphic design and art history to steer the creative direction, and Craig utilizes her business and communications background to lead from the business standpoint.
The Beth Keener LLC brand focuses on artistic luxury products available in a range of price points. From art canvas clutches that take 8 hours each to produce to bags made from leather, silk screen and vinyl, Keener reuses and repurposes materials into her designs whenever possible, from vintage jewelry to fur to animal bones.
“Each original product is either a one-of-a-kind, or a limited edition, to ensure our customers get to enjoy something as stylishly unique as they are,” Craig said.
Under its Artist Alliance, the brand has expanded to include collaborations with two other artists who create one-of-a-kind pieces. Grazia Zalfa is a jeweler and published designer, and Anthony Gaskins is a hat milliner and designer. At shows and on its web site at www.bethkeener.com, Beth Keener LLC also sells products from hand-selected vendors that produce high-end products and also give back to their community in some way.
“It’s one of our business plan goals to be a blessing back to others,” Craig said. “Over the past year and a half we’ve been focused on brand awareness, hitting the road, getting our name out there, trunk shows and studio spaces and getting the web site established. Our momentum is really heading west toward West Virginia and Tennessee, which is a nontraditional approach for a fashion brand, but I think it sets us apart. We can do Miami, D.C. or New York, but our momentum is a little more personal. It’s not just about how many bags we can sell tomorrow.”
For the Fairmont runway show, the company partnered with Student Government to recruit students to give them the opportunity to have real-life modeling experience.
“For us to be able to come back to Marion County for our largest show yet is very exciting. We said from the very beginning that we had a heart for home,” Keener said.
The “Art Is Dead” theme for the show originates from street graffiti Keener saw one day while going for a run in Nashville. After seeing those words painted under a train trestle, she began to struggle with the question: “Is art dead?”
“Even after something dies there is a remnant. How can you tell that story to people and communicate that visually? The best way I can think to do it is to use skulls and bones, the remnant, and make them visually appealing. I hope that it’s confronting, but that people also make the connection,” Keener said.
The show will include paintings, installation works, contemporary art and clutches and bags using industrial elements, hand-painted leather, fur and animal bones. Pieces also will have a repurposed, vintage flair. In collaboration with Rina Potesta from The Fashion Scene in Fairmont, Keener deconstructs vintage gowns, hand-paints new dress panels and reconstructs them.
“We hope those who attend the show see that art is not dead. It’s about to be reanimated on the runway,” Craig said.
About the photo:
Beth Keener, left, and Melissa Craig pose beside the Beth Keener LLC sign.