When we think of Palm Springs, it’s easy to think Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous, luxurious resorts and spas, world-class golf, and some of the best hiking in North America.
During its season’s peak months — January, February and March — social calendars fill with events such as the Palm Springs International Film Festival, Bob Hope Classic, Frank Sinatra Celebrity Golf Invitational, BNP Paribas Open and Kraft Nabisco Championships.
The event with the most style, however, has to be Fashion Week El Paseo, an event produced each March by Palm Springs Life magazine, a staple in the desert resort communities for more than 50 years.
With great buzz throughout and beyond Southern California, Fashion Week El Paseo showcases the top West Coast designers — from red-carpet-tested haute couture to exciting student collections — in six days runway shows at the big white tent at Larkspur Lane, in the heart of the prestigious El Paseo shopping district.
“Purveyors of fine fashion, accessories, décor, and spa services based on El Paseo opened the event with trunk shows, Fashion’s Day Out, and the Runway Bar El Paseo Fashion Show,” says Michael Mathews, marketing director at Palm Springs Life. “Then interior designers tried their hands at high fashion, creating outfits from décor materials and inspiration from a museum exhibition of world-class art.
“Exotic fashions and an exciting show of student designers’ collections preceded the white-hot men’s night, and the finale, featuring designer of the week Colleen Quen,” Mathews continues. “Two days of Fashion Food & Wine, a new event that added a daytime, foodie dimension to the week, was followed by the official closing party at Melissa Morgan Fine Art.”
Fashion Week began with a ribbon cutting in front of Vilebrequin at The Shops on El Paseo. Participating were Fred Fern, owner of The Shops on El Paseo; Ruth Ann Moore; David Murphy, president of Desert European Motor Cars; and Susan Stein, fashion editor of Palm Springs Life.
Fifteen retail stores — from purveyors of fine designer jewelry to children’s wear and everything in between — ruled the runway with a vibe that was distinctively desert.
The second night had 20 interior designers testing their ideas in front of a judging panel that included ex-catwalkers Beverly Johnson and Cheryl Tiegs. In ASID’s Project Runway, the designers created outfits based on artworks from Palm Springs Art Museum exhibition The Passionate Pursuit: Gifts and Promised Works from Donna and Cargill McMillan Jr. The catch: Each look had to use home-design materials.
The Wednesday-night designers, each a winner of UNESCO-endorsed Islands of the World Fashion Week…”., came from exotic locales. Eric Raisina of Madagascar created fashions from hand-woven and hand-dyed natural silks and cottons. Nadya of Indonesia showed fashions by Bali artisans. Designer K-Bobby of Jamaica featured his evening fashions. Harl Taylor BAG of the Bahamas exhibited men’s and women’s hand-woven straw and sisal handbags with embellishments of Swarovski crystal, bone, and wood. The evening also premiered V&G accessories and belts — all hand-painted, embellished with semiprecious stones and mixed media, and made with natural fibers. Messages of empowerment are painted inside the belts.
Julia Nish, a recent Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising grad, was the standout in the FIDM Debut 2010 show, which featured collections by nine of the school’s third-year design students.
Men’s night showcased Jamie Paul Holahan’s fun, young beachwear — floral bandeau bikinis, racy one-pieces with crystal detailing, and striped triangle tops fit for land or sea. But it all had an edge: a dragon tattoo-art, button-down shirt and board shorts; skull and roses swim trunks; splatter-painted skivvies; and graphic printed tees. The star of the show was a pair of silver foil pants paired with a very now-looking brown leather and turquoise stone belt. The models were high-energy, and so was the capacity audience.
Colleen Quen’s runway show — the marquee event of Fashion Week El Paseo — transported the audience to the catwalks of New York, or even Paris, where the materials are lush, the tailoring impeccable, and the designs eye-popping in an artful, organic way. A white gown with thin, hand-folded, and sewn flowers was the evening’s standout piece, earning the sprite, 47-year-old designer a round of mid-show applause.
A full house at Melissa Morgan Fine Art, host of the official Fashion Week closing party, enjoyed a night of art, food, wine, and even more fashion — including an exhibition of photo-based art by Peter Gurnz and Ben Cope, an installation by David J, the art-inspired fashions created by ASID members; and cutting-edge fashion presented by BoxEIGHT.
On Saturday, before the Fashion Week El Paseo finale, the big white tent hosted Fashion Food & Wine, the inaugural event that featured fine dining at its best.
More than 35 award-winning restaurants and their chefs from throughout the Southern California region served up dreamy dishes paired with wines that included Piper-Heidsieck, Silverado Vineyards, Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, Masi, Hess Collection, and a selection of vintages and varietals from Wilson Daniels (including Schramsberg, Gainey Vineyard, Girard Winery, and Sonoma Coast Vineyards).
Each restaurant has provided its menu in advance so that the festival’s team of experts could pair the cuisine with a particular varietal or brand that best complemented the food.
Melrose Heights looks forward to Fashion Week El Paseo 2011. For more information about the event, point your web browser to www.fashionweekelpaseo.com.
photography by Curtis Williams