Paris, France. New York City, New York. Milan, Italy. Gainesville, Florida.
Fashion shows in the first three cities are known for their grandiose and exorbitant price tags. In Gainesville, the scene is a bit different.
Local boutique owner Elizabeth Schmidt, who owns downtown store Calzatura, wants to keep the attention on the clothes.
“If it’s a fashion show, that is what it should be about,” Schmidt said.
Albert Coronel, producer of Gainesville Fashion Week and owner of neutral7, a signs and graphic design group, desires the glitz and glamour.
“We want it to be a high-end event,” Coronel said.
The difference of opinion has caused many business owners to question the focus of Gainesville Fashion Week 2011. This year’s GFW is slated to be the biggest show yet and “way more glamorous” than previous shows, according to model coordinator Flavia Cervantes.
Every year since its debut in 2008, the show has steadily expanded. This year’s addition to the event line up is a black tie event benefiting Rocket for the Arts, a nonprofit that promotes art education in elementary schools.
However, for some of the the local boutiques, the glam vibe of GFW’s fourth season is not what they are looking for in a fashion week.
The event has come a long way from the original grassroots effort. This year, only two Gainesville boutiques, Three Thirty Couture and Jacquelyn Brooks, will participate. Only half of the designers in the show will be local.
“It’s not what it used to be,” Matthew Turner, owner of local boutique Wolfgang, said. “It’s more razzle dazzle.”
Turner and Wolfgang have been fixtures of GFW since its origins. This will be the first year that they will not be a part of GFW.
After three years of participation in GFW, Calzatura will also not be showing a collection. Owner Elizabeth Schmidt fears that this year’s show is more about the “stuff” than substance.
“Keep the focal point: style,” Schmidt said. “If that is lost, people won’t get what they came for.”
This year’s show is “gossip” themed. Bright pink “HOT” cards were passed out to potential models, which accompanied the promotional “OMG” cardboard signs. The “HOT” cards were distributed around Gainesville, focusing heavily on UF and Santa Fe campuses.
Coronel attributes the successful model turnout to the ubiquitous fuchsia cards. Over the course of two casting calls, over 200 models showed up, packing neutral7. A final 70 were chosen to walk in the show.
“We want everyone to be a star,” Cervantes said. “These are the hottest models we’ve had yet.”
In order to strut their stuff for the judges, models had to pay an application fee.
Both Turner and Schmidt oppose the application charge on principle.
For a boutique to have a show in GFW, they must pay a $500 sponsorship fee. The money is used to put on the event. In return, the boutiques receive the publicity and their time on the runway.
However, the cost wasn’t worth the benefits for Calzatura.
“The $500 is just a baseline,” Schmidt said. “I don’t want to pay for a headache.”
As the producer and business mind of the operation, Coronel believes that the publicity that they would receive by walking at GFW is well worth it.
“We have to raise revenue to put the show together,” Coronel said. “I think the amount for a boutique is decent because of all of the publicity.”
Instead of using GFW, Schmidt turned to Groupon.com and LivingSocial.com to generate new clients. She sees the local daily deal websites as a more reliable promotional method.
Ideally, Turner and Schmidt would like to see more of a focus on Gainesville’s own stores.
“The bottom line,” Turner said. “is that the local boutiques are the heart of what fashion is in Gainesville.”
Originally, GFW was an event that brought together small businesses in the community to showcase local talent. The first GFW was born as a celebration of Wolfgang’s one year anniversary in conjuncture with Sharab Lounge’s grand opening.
“It was more down-to-earth,” Turner said. “It had good intentions.”
The event was well-received, and Gainesville Fashion Week became an annual event on the Gainesville calendar.
Cervantes cites GFW as a way for the community to embrace fashion as a lifestyle and means of self-expression.
“Initially, there was no official fashion presence,” Cervantes said. “But I knew it was there.”
While the boutiques miss the local feel, Coronel is proud of the strides GFW has taken. He describes the operation as a business that continues to grow.
“The first year, it was a bunch of friends with an idea,” Coronel said. “Every year, we have learned new things.”
Coronel is already taking this year’s lessons and planning for next season’s fashion week. In order to regain the support of the local stores, he is considering creating a boutique showcase night. He admits that is has been difficult to balance GFW’s expansion and maintaining a connection with the grassroots community.
Despite any discrepancies of opinion, boutique owners and members of the GFW staff agree that any event that brings people together for the sake of fashion is vital for the Gainesville community.
Even though Calzatura won’t be showing any clothes, Schmidt still plans on attending some of the fashion shows.
“Any event that exposes people or businesses in Gainesville is fantastic,” Turner said.