Last week I sat down with Kate Michael, also known as K Street Kate and forever known as former Miss DC, at a new, local coffee shop and chatted about why she loves DC. The self-made model, philanthropist, and expert on all things DC (a combination which she perhaps rightfully claims is only possible in the city we all love) hosts or makes appearances at at least three local events and openings a night, where her biggest concern is picking out an outfit that works for all three. Between media appearances, runway fittings, and fundraisers, she wakes up early to blog about her experiences on her website, K Street Kate.
In our chat, the breast cancer and literacy advocate dispelled rumors about DC’s lack of fashion and divulged the fashion brand that DC would be – if it could be one. She told me what name DC should go by – if it could go by any other name, and most interestingly, the limelight-loving, fashionable media queen shared why she picked K Street, aside from the obvious alliteration.
DC hired her once, to represent the city as Miss DC in the Miss America franchise, again to work for the city’s green employment, and she’ll tell us why they should hire her for real as the most qualified pavement-pounding spokesperson around.
Cathy: Why did you pick K Street? Although perhaps not as catchy, why not M Street?
Kate: I picked K Street for several reasons. Mainly, I picked it because K Street is the most widely recognizable street outside of this city. If you ask people, “Name a street that you know in DC,” they’re like, “Well, how about K Street?” Because that’s where the lobbyists were. If you are outside the city, they think of Pennsylvania Avenue or K Street – or Constitution because that’s where all the tourists come in – but K Street is the most widely known. But the real reason I am K Street Kate is because now you find more than lobbyists on K Street. Now, you can find boutiques, restaurants, nightclubs – I mean, everything is on K Street. And I try to be everything about the city.
On an average day, what do you love to do in the city?
I love wandering around Georgetown and watching all of the tourists. I love just sitting at Dean and Deluca and having a chai latte and just hanging out. I love, increasingly, the 14th street corridor. I used to never go up there, but now I find myself up there at least four days a week – shopping or eating, and out at night spots, too. I’ve actually not been to Gibson, but it is on my list. I love Marvin next door; it is incredible. I don’t know, I guess it changes depending on my mood, and my favorite place right now is a toss up between 14th street and Georgetown.
What’s your take on DC’s bad reputation for fashion?
I completely disagree with that. People like to say that about us because the only people that get on TV are your 50 year old senator from wherever and not your normal 20 something ladies and gentlemen. Walking down the street, I see fashionable people every day. I like to read Rachel Cothran‘s blog Project Beltway because she takes pictures. She just snaps pictures of people she sees on the street, and says, “See, here’s someone fashionable who was right outside my window.” People here have their own unique sense of style, and maybe it’s not an Escada suit but they understand how to use accessories, and they use their small Senate salaries to be as fashionable as they can. I think it’s a complete misnomer, and I’m sick of people saying that actually.
If DC were a fashion brand what would it be?
Well, I don’t want it to be a local brand because we’re not. We’re extremely diverse. I might actually say St. John. St. John had the same designer for years and years and years, and with that designer – kind of like us – we were a little bit stagnant for years and years and years. We kind of had that very traditional, conservative feeling. And now there’s a new designer, which happens to be a departure from the original Marie Gray. And now we have a departure in the White House from what we’ve ever had before. And now it’s younger hipper. More couture. More out there. More accessible to people. So I guess with the changes going on in St. John, I might say St. John.
What’s your favorite place in DC?
I was just filming a documentary for the BBC, and they wanted me to take them to insider places that people don’t know about. So I took them to some fun places, and I also took them to some parks, because a lot of people don’t know that DC has more green space than any other metropolitan city in the United States. Meridian Hill Park at 16th Street is incredible. You can do anything there. And on Sunday afternoons, there’s this great drum circle, and you can kind of get lost in everything going on. I like to do that, but actually I don’t tell a lot of people that because I’m afraid that it’s going to get really busy and then it won’t be my place to go anymore!
If you could do over your year as Miss DC, what would you change?
I would learn Spanish. I was a dancer, and at my very first performance as Miss DC, I was invited to perform at a street festival in Columbia Heights. And I asked if I was going to be speaking, because I wanted to speak before I danced, obviously. But I danced, and then they pulled me up on stage to speak. And I was like panting, right? And the guy looks at me, and he gives me a second to slow down and then goes, “Blah blah blah,” in Spanish. And I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t actually speak Spanish,” and I got BOOed. I got booed at my first appearance. So, if I could do it all over, I would learn Spanish.
Is there an up-and-coming DC designer we should know about?
If you haven’t heard of Dana Ayanna Greaves (she goes by Artistic Aya), she is into the eco-sustainable and uses a lot of – I don’t want to say paper – but she does a lot of cutting things – old dresses or pants – to make new things out of them. The kind of recycled clothing kind-of-thing. She is great, and eccentric, and different, and unique. If you want to stand out at a party, her stuff makes you stand out. So, she’s definitely one to watch.
If DC went by any other name, what would you call it?
I would actually love it if DC went by another name. I used to wear Miss District of Columbia across my chest and when I would, tourists would stop me and say, “Oh, that’s what DC stands for!” and I would just kind of stare with my mouth open like, “I can’t believe you don’t know that.” Or one time I was in LA, and I had to wear the sash because I was at a film premiere, and someone said they hadn’t been to that island yet… So you know – who knows why we are the District of Columbia. I don’t know, can we be like the Capital City or something? Can we be something that’s more descriptive of what we are? I’m fine with us being “District,” because that’s what we are.
Why is it better to be Miss DC than any other state in the Miss America program?
I first competed in Georgia, and then when I realized I could do it in DC, I ran for it here. You will win for the state you are supposed to win for. Each state has a very unique sense of self. I could have never represented Georgia. Georgia is more about being a gracious hostess. It’s less about being an outspoken advocate for a cause. It’s just very different. I’m sure if I was from Washington State I wouldn’t be advocating the same things that I do here. I’m glad that I won Miss DC. It’s the only one that I could at the same time be known for being a philanthropist and a model and a politician and everything that I do. It’s the only place that I could have done that.
If this were a job interview, why would DC hire you?
Because the city needs, and has, in its mayor and other representatives at different levels, a spokesperson that can speak passionately about the city’s pros and its cons and how they’re going to make them better. You need to find someone who wants to live and breathe and work and play and shop, and I can’t think of anyone better placed. And sometimes I think even our public officials want DC to be NY. We shouldn’t want to be NY. We should want to be DC. We should be happy where we are, and you need to hire someone that appreciates the city for what it is and what it can be.
Why do you love DC?
One reason that I love DC is that it’s the kind of city that – it’s a big city, but not too big (which is what you hear all the time) – but a nobody can come here and can turn themself into someone spectacular. You know, I didn’t come here with a million dollars. I don’t have a trust fund. And I’m also not one of those young twenty-five to thirty somethings who’s making $100,000 a year, right? But most people know who I am. I didn’t come from anything spectacular, and I can still make something of myself, which is one thing I think is spectacular about DC that you really can’t find elsewhere. The other thing that I absolutely love about DC, and I say this a lot, is that it’s full of interested and interesting people. You go to a party or you’re out at a coffee shop; you meet someone who is interesting. They travel. They have interesting information to tell you, and they’re also interested and passionate about a cause. This is probably the most charitable and philanthropic city I’ve ever been to, and you just don’t meet people who are so passionate about who they are, what they want to be, and what they do. That’s why DC is the best place on earth.