Front row at Tampa Bay Fashion Week: PURE Haus pop-up shop puts focus on designers

Three years ago, Desiree Noisette was a construction law attorney in Tampa. Today, she runs a successful boutique swimwear and clothing store on Beach Drive in sunny St. Petersburg.

A belief that “fashion has the power to help women feel confident and beautiful” led Noisette to open Cerulean Blu in St. Pete Beach in 2012, the same year she started pursuing fashion design, and, well, the rest is history.

“Now I’m making apparel for women that is designed to enhance confidence and the feeling of beauty,” says Noisette. “I love what I do.”

Noisette hopes to expose the local community to “some of the creations they inspired” through showcases like Tampa Bay Fashion Week.

Designing a new fashion format for Tampa Bay

Fashion designers from around Tampa Bay and across the country, including Noisette, showcased brand new collections at Tampa Bay Fashion Week events in September 2015. 

The week-long series of fashion shows and VIP soirees has always aimed to “highlight emerging and established fashion talent in our region, and to contribute to the fashion community in our area,” explains White Book Agency Principal Nancy Vaughn, the Founder of Tampa Bay Fashion Week.

Now in the eighth year of TBFW and with an eye on current industry trends, Vaughn’s team decided to try something new: a “more designer-centric option.” 

For 2015, Fashion Week in Tampa shook up the expected runway show format to instead produce a series of retail-centric trunk shows at International Plaza.

“It's all about experimenting and change, just like the fashion industry itself,” Vaughn says.

For Noisette, the trunk show setup makes sense; it provides customers and buyers from bigger stores the time to touch and inspect garments, to “know if it will resonate.”

“Runway shows are exciting,” Noisette says, but “the new format allows designers to focus more on business, while still connecting with and listening to the ultimate consumer - our retail shoppers.”

So, PURE Haus, which stands for pop-up retail experience, was born and took place September 16-19. Each TBFW designer showcased complete collections during these daily PURE Haus trunk shows on the upper level of International Plaza and Bay Street, with models displaying garments from a central, raised platform.

Before and after trunk shows, audience members and store buyers alike were free to browse -- and buy.

Pure HAUS trunk shows included designers from around the Tampa Bay area and across the country:  
  • Allison Elizabeth Designs by Allison Bailey, who graduated from the Illinois Institute of Art Chicago in 2012;
  • Priscilla Kidder, who has been sewing since she was 14 years old, showcased Be-Bops Custom Swimwear, a line she launched in 2008;
  • First-time presenter Jessica Martinez, a recent fashion design graduate of Sanford Brown IADT School of Design;
  • Art Institute graduate Wendy Ohlendorf, who traveled to Tampa to participate in Pure Haus with designs from her Portland, Oregon flagship store, Magenta
  • Oscar de la Portilla, a multi-talented painter, sculptor, goldsmith, potter and designer, visited Tampa from Cuba to present the Escandon trunk show;
  • Returning TBFW designer and Tampa native Elizabeth Carson Racker, whose designs have been shown in cities around the world;
  • Karyn Seo, who will open a Tampa location of her clothing company, Caite, in late 2015;
  • Rhonda Shear, whose successful brand Rhonda Shear Couture is based in St. Petersburg;
  • Eco-organic fashion from Accessuri by Rachana Suri;
  • A student showcase by the Sanford-Brown IADT School of Design. 
First-time TBFW designer Bailey “really liked” the trunk show format, Vaughn says, while Suri, whose work was also on display at TBFW for the first time, sold both off-the-rack items and custom orders.

Along with trunk shows, in-store PURE Haus events also included a Beauty Bar, where shoppers could get makeover tips, and a purse drive for Dress for Success Tampa Bay, in which attendees could donate new or gently used purses.

Fashioning a local presence through TBFW

Karyn Seo worked in business, sales and merchandising in New York City in the 1980s and 90s, where she spent time in fashion houses such as Liz Claiborne and Tommy Hilfiger and learned about Indian-inspired design: “handicrafts, print design and incredible embroidery capabilities.” 

In 1998, while traveling regularly to India to continue to learn about fashion design, Seo developed her own fashion company, which is now Caite, Inc.

Setting a good example for her young daughter pushed Seo to “do it my way,” she says. “I could grow a company that represented incredible and intricate designs, along with great quality and affordable pricing.”

Today, Seo ships designs to well-known catalogs and around 2,500 stores nationwide; a Tampa location of Caite will open in December 2015.  

To further appeal to local Tampa Bay shoppers, Seo says, the store will offer products at “outlet” prices. Fashion inspiration, she says, comes free.

“Inspiration truly comes from everywhere,” Seo says. “It's all about stepping out and feeling vibrant and gorgeous every day you get dressed. I truly believe when you look great, you feel great.”

For Noisette, whose designs are “inspired by the woman in search of paradise,” Tampa Bay is just the right place to find design inspiration. 

“I feel like we have [paradise] in St. Pete - in our community, the landscape, the beautiful ocean -- and I believe my collection reflects our lifestyle,” Noisette says. 

Interested in seeing more designer work or photos from the TBFW Pure HAUS events? Search the #TBFW on Twitter and Instagram. 

Will the format stay the same in 2016? Vaughn isn’t yet sure. 

Whatever the next iteration of Fashion Week brings, Vaughn says, “This new format went well. The designers made sales, and goals were met. It was a great experiment for us in fashion and retail in Tampa Bay.” 

Tampa's fashion industry is still growing

While Tampa Bay Fashion Week is the area's largest style-centric event, other fashion-forward events that take place in the Tampa Bay area on an annual basis include St. Pete Art & Fashion Week, held each September; the HAUTE Accessories fashion show in early September; Tampa's Fashion Night Out, which will take place in 2015 on October 23; Fashion Networking Night Out on November 13, 2015; and Bow Ties and Clutches, a fashion charity benefit for Joshua House that will be held December 11, 2015.

The Trashy Flashy Fashion Show on November 11, hosted by Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful takes a different approach to traditional design, asking applicants to create couture-insured pieces from recycled or reused fabrics and materials.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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