This past week marked the culmination of Orlando Fashion Week’s fourth year. Lasting from April 6 to April 9, this growing showcase of local fashion design featured seminars, designer talks, television appearances, and the presentations of collections by all of this year’s featured designers.
Lori Warren, Ciara Rodriguez, Lisa Nieves, Vanessa Shelley, Gloria Woods, Raul Castillo, Jacquelyn Brooks, Lidieth Bonilla, Pamela Botello, Claudia Gutierrez, Alana Nelson, Lourdes Atencia, and Bhavini Chawhan were the featured emerging and established designers this year, showcasing everything from casual wear and swimsuits to jewelry and gowns.
The show also included a Junior Designer Competition hosted on Friday night where the winner, Shirley Colon, received the Harriett Lake Little Red Dress Award and a scholarship to a summer design program. Lynn Eugene, Diana Watson, Alexandra Santiago, and Odalis Vazquez also participated in this junior contest, showcasing amazing talent for such young individuals.
The event was hosted at Baterbys Art Gallery, a charming and impressive collection of artwork ranging from budding local artists to renowned masters.
The creator and president of the event, Tina Bridges, has over 35 years of experience in the fashion industry, as well as eight years of teaching experience as a professor of fashion design. She is incredibly passionate about this event, which she created to foster the growth of local talents here in Florida. Because of Tina’s generosity, I had the incredible opportunity to split my time between seats in the front row for the shows each night and a place backstage, helping models and designers prepare while observing the intense and sometimes chaotic preparations that go into such an event.
On Friday, I spent the majority of my time at the gallery out front, watching the collections presented. Guests were graced with a performance by one of the models, Khady Vita, who doubles as an amazingly talented musician. The night also featured a silent auction, a cash bar, and celebrity guest commentator Marissa Clark from XL 106.7.
On Saturday, I took advantage of my backstage access, spending the night running about the staging area, helping models with zippers, finding a misplaced tube of lipstick, frantically erasing stains from a white evening gown with a Tide marker, and, when I had a moment to breathe, talking with designers and models about their experiences in the fashion industry and their feelings about Orlando Fashion Week. Everyone I spoke with was incredibly enthusiastic and kind, including several of the hair and makeup artists I interrogated while on a mission to find a missing model.
The models were especially wonderful to be around. All of them were helpful, excited, and extremely supportive of each other and the designers they walked for. One model, Sophie Fernandez, was in hair and makeup when the walk was demonstrated, and, five minutes before she was slated to go on, we realized she had no idea where she would be going. I was in a mad rush (there was an issue with a few lost buttons on the back of a halter top) and so in passing I asked one of the other models, Shante Armstrong, to explain the walk. When I came back a few minutes later, four of the models had converged to offer tips on the walk and words of encouragement. I was blown away by the support and hospitality of everyone, even under the extreme pressure faced on both nights of the event.
As a result of all the endless hard work, coordinating, last minute panic, and omnipresent support, the show came together as a wonderfully fun experience, displaying fashion of every kind to eager onlookers. I was so honored to be a part of this event, and I, alongside all those in the audience, thoroughly enjoyed this week of innovative fashion design.