I love Project Runway, but nothing deflates my spirit more upon tuning in than team challenges. Because I know what’s coming: Drama. When designers are paired together at random, inevitably, the drama outweighs the work and the creativity.
In reality reality (as opposed to TV “reality”), there’s a collaboration I can’t wait to see hit the runway this year at Tampa Bay Fashion Week (aka FWTB). Enter “Wicked Betty Designs” — a partnership between uber-tattooed, blue-dyed-dreadlocked designer Punk Rock Betty (Nicole Mabalot) and wicked wife and mama Michelle Cobble of Wicked Threads Wardrobe Styling.
Here’s the dynamic: Michelle, a stylist and self-professed fabric freak, shops locally to find the materials for Wicked Betty Designs. She sets out with a gallon-size Ziploc filled with baubles handed down from her grandmother. Vintage buttons, pins and other shiny things inspire the fabric selections. Then, Michelle “throws” all the fruits of her labor at Nicole (imagine a girl peeking over a mound of freshly picked material that landed in her lap…aaaaand…end scene).
Nicole loves it. Without sketching or making patterns, she gets to work, letting the fabric “speak” to her, and molding it to match the picture in her mind’s eye.
Michelle’s love for Punk Rock Betty fashions and desire to help shine a spotlight on her talented friend sparked the Wicked Betty match. “It’s always been a positive thing,” she says. “It’s a reflection of us.”
Nikki says, “Michelle and I are so in tune with each other as far as Wicked Betty Designs goes, it’s kinda freaky.”
All this sweet serendipity may make it seem like there’s nothing wicked about Wicked Betty Designs. Oh, but there is.
I got to preview Wicked Betty’s “Soleil Noir” collection. The runway show will transition from light to dark in a dramatic eclipse, starting with soft pink, then white, gray, black and finally purple, symbolizing midnight. And there will be tulle.
If ever there were an official fabric for celebration, it would be tulle. So it’s fitting it should float down the runway for Tampa Bay Fashion Week’s 5th birthday. From what I hear, it’s gonna be a party.
In what’s being described as “an opportunity for the ladies to behave poorly,” there will be an all-male showcase on the runway. “So that’ll be special,” says Executive Producer Nancy Vaughn. It’s something they haven’t done since the first year, so in a way FWTB is going retro.
But Fashion Week wouldn’t be a “Week” if there weren’t six other days of events attached to it. Kicking off on Sat., Sept. 15, “Kid Couture” takes the cake at Glazer Children’s Museum. From educational to cocktail, a full event schedule is available at fashionweektampabay.com.
Topping my to-do list:
“The History of Fashion” vintage showcase at the St. Petersburg Museum of History on Tues., Sept. 18; “Karma — The Shops at Franklin,” a pop-up retail shop experience in downtown Tampa on Thursday the 20th; and “Runway Shows and FWTB Boutique” at a yet-to-be disclosed location on Friday night, Sept. 21 (see website for updates).
Signs point to a runway presence that will swing between naughty, nice and fierce. We’ll see lingerie by gal-next-door (yet internationally acclaimed) designer Rhonda Shear, a full clothing line and corsetry from House of Donshey, no doubt something sparkly à la k.hendrix and something curvy from Audrey “Pat” McGhee. Essence Flowers returns for the fifth year, while local favorites Rogerio Martins and Spathose, plus newcomers Ashton Anderson and Lapratto, make their FWTB designer debuts.
Without a cake or any candles, I asked the Fashion Week team to divulge their birthday wishes as FWTB turns 5.
“We’d like to shine a spotlight on what started this event in the first place,” says Arcadia Jimenez, “and that’s to help each other out as a community and pay it forward. We’ve had some amazing talent come out of the Tampa Bay area and we should be proud of that and continue to develop as a fashion community while lifting each other up. It’s not just our birthday party, we’ll be celebrating the Tampa Bay fashion community as a whole!”
It takes a village. “From the designers and models to the backstage crew and passionate front-of-house team to the fashion industry media and boutiques,” Nancy wishes for Tampa Bay’s fashion scene to be celebrated. “This community event really is for everyone,” she asserts. “No, seriously, you wear clothes, don’t you? See you at the b-day bash!”
Gender essentialism. Thumbs down.
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