The FashionART Runway Show returns for its fourth and boldest year
As the quintessential hippie town, Santa Cruz seems like the last place on earth where a fashion show would be a hands-down hit. Granted, with its cutting edge, jaw-droppingly artistic style, the annual FashionART Runway Show has a slightly more psychedelic feel than most productions of its kind, but you still have to marvel at the near-fanatical zeal with which it’s been embraced by a community known for its love of all things earthy and organic. Spawned by River Street’s MichaelAngelo Gallery and sponsored by local banks, businesses and individuals, the event draws a crowd of nearly 1,000 each year. Just what is it about this show that inspires such fervor among its patrons?
MichaelAngelo Gallery owner and Runway Show founder Angelo Grova has an answer. “There’s a huge need for people to see things that are different in this community,” he notes, adding that the event’s success is tied to the fact that people are increasingly seeing the value of fashion as a mode of individual style and expression. “I think that’s happening more and more in Santa Cruz than it was in the heyday of Birkenstocks and flip-flops,” he says. “Even with the recession going on, I think there’s a lot of self-gratification for looking good—it really brings people’s spirits up. We need it!”
Grova and his friend Amanda Thurber started the FashionART Runway Show in 2006 with the intent of creating an event that would take the place of the Miss California Pageant, which was held in Santa Cruz from the mid-’20s until the mid-’80s. The first Runway Show, which found Grova and company setting up chairs and a makeshift sidewalk runway with red carpeting in the gallery’s parking lot, was hardly the big-budget affair that Miss California is, but its do-it-yourself aesthetic didn’t deter a crowd of 400 or 500 people from turning up, proving to Grova and his collaborators that this was an idea that could work. In light of the big turnout, the show’s organizers moved the event to its current site, the Civic Auditorium, the following year. The production has gotten bigger, better and more elaborate each year since then, with DJs, designers and specialists in hair, lighting and choreography all pitching in to outdo the prior year’s show. As artist coordinator Tobin Keller states, the fourth annual Runway Show, which takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26, is no exception: “We’ve had three years to see what works, so I think there’s more energy involved, and we really know how to put on a better show. That’s important in this kind of thing—it’s not just showing nice frocks.”
The frocks themselves, however, are also at an unprecedented level of eye-popping splendor. Along with nine designers—the largest group yet—the Runway Show’s staff has pulled together 13 artists displaying individual works. Among these is Keller, a fourth-year volunteer and third-year participating artist. “I’m one of the … I guess you would call ’em exhibitors? I’m not one of the designers—I have a single flamboyant piece that goes on the runway,” he explains. The title of that piece is The Beautiful Monster and Her Handmaiden, and though we’ll have to wait for the Sept. 26 showing to find out exactly what sort of scene that evocative moniker describes, Keller does divulge that his work consists of two separate garments, one made of cotton organza, and the other made of “a weird material called tarlatan. It’s a printmaker’s fabric.” The artist, who also reveals that this work is filled with “lots of crystal beads—as many as I can afford,” laughingly mentions that after giving the piece its title, he discovered that the French painter and poet Francis Picabia once published a book of poetry called “I Am a Beautiful Monster.”
This year’s fashion show features everything from beachwear and fashionwear to punk and rock star looks. Two notable local designers whose works will be shown are Manuka Sanyal, who designs lingerie created from bamboo, organic cotton, French lace and other eco-friendly fabrics, and Jill Alexander, who designs cocktails dresses and formal wear for plus sizes. “I wanted to show that you don’t have to be a size two to be fashionable and be in style,” Runway Show fashion designer/design coordinator Miguel Rodriguez says of his inclusion of Alexander on the roster. “Everyone should be able to express themselves—it doesn’t matter what size you are.”
In spite of all the eye candy and showmanship, the Runway Show isn’t just about razzle-dazzle: In the “Derek Zoolander Center for Kids who Can’t Read Good” department, this year’s presentation features a silent auction and raffle whose proceeds will benefit Los Amigos de los Niños (Friends of the Children) of California, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping second graders learn how to read. Supportive parties have contributed several major gifts to be auctioned and raffled off, such as accommodations at a ritzy apartment in Paris, a three-night stay in Florence, Italy and artwork by some of the world’s top designers.
As a college teacher, Keller has a personal interest in Los Amigos de los Niños’ cause: He is saddened when his students display reading and writing skills far below average. “I think the entire committee is delighted to be working with Los Amigos, and I know they are thrilled to be involved with this event,” he states.
The drawing and silent auction will be taking place during a trunk sale in the Civic parking lot from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., allowing spectators to gear up for the show by browsing and buying the works of designers and local boutiques.
Lavish as the Runway Show might be, the rewards that its coordinators reap are emotional, not material. All people involved are volunteers, and Grova claims the event never puts any substantial cash in his pocket. Still, when all is said and done, the high-energy spectacle is well worth the expenditure of money, time and effort. “It’s just a vibrant, bizarre, blow-out kind of event that’s really different than anything else that’s happening in Santa Cruz,” Grova enthuses. “You don’t usually see these kinds of things out in the street.”
The FashionART Runway Show takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. A trunk show featuring a raffle and silent auction precedes the event from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 426-5500 or go to michaelangelogallery.net/fashionart_runway_show.