Last year brought a contraction of sorts for Tampa Bay Fashion Week, the annual glitzy strutting of our local design scene. Organizers cut out a major runway show in the spirit of experimentation.
This year, the pendulum is going the other way with not one, but two runway shows.
Now in its ninth year, the event returns Wednesday through Saturday. Change for the event is not new. Started in 2008, Tampa Bay Fashion Week has varied in nature each year since.
"We take the constructive feedback we receive from various participants around Tampa Bay Fashion Week, from the designers and sponsors to the audience," said Nancy Vaughn, principal of the White Book Agency and executive producer of Tampa Bay Fashion Week. "We look at what's happening in the industry overall, and in our market, and do the best we can to incorporate the feedback, adapt to the changes or just experiment with something new.
"It's just like anything in fashion. Some garments are wins, some things come in style again, and some outfits maybe you should never wear again."
This year, in addition to showcasing local designers' work, retailers from International Plaza including Neiman Marcus, Lilly Pulitzer and Free People will be featured in two runway shows at the mall Friday and Saturday. Local designers will be offering their spring-summer 2017 collections, while the retailers will showcase their fall-winter 2016 collections.
"The audience will have a chance to shop the looks from both designers and retailers now, purchasing their wardrobes for this upcoming season and custom-ordering what's new and next," Vaughn said.
Last year, Tampa Bay Fashion Week didn't include a runway show. Instead, designers were showcased in PURE Haus, a rotating trunk show for four days in a popup shop in International Plaza. The experience was an eye-opener for many of the local designers, who got a taste of offering their wares in a retail setting. They interacted with customers, and the introverted ones realized the value of a hiring a salesperson.
"They're important because people become engaged with the clothing," designer Elizabeth Carson Racker, who has participated in Tampa Bay Fashion Week since 2013, said of trunk shows. Racker, who has her own boutique in Tampa, designs custom, made-to-order pieces and specializes in evening wear.
While the popup was in keeping with the industry trend, some missed the glamor and exposure of a signature runway event.
"Some designers asked us to do both, but our event hasn't had the resources to do both — in money, staffing and time," Vaughn explained. "The popup made for extremely long back-to-back days for our team, too."
They opted to bring the night runway show back and add a second daytime event, with an emphasis on making it as simple as possible for customers to buy the looks during the event.
Organizers are using a new app called MeSpoke, which was developed locally. The app helps customers identify clothes in front of them and get to the designers' websites to shop. Customers can also shop more low-tech from their seats using runway cards with designer information on them.
Designer Tracy Negoshian straddles the local designer-national retailer line. Her eponymous brand was established in 2009, selling wholesale to boutiques across the country and online. The St. Petersburg resident now has three flagship stores: one in Naples, one at St. Armands Circle in Sarasota and another at Sundial in St. Petersburg. Her line, which features colorful printed clothing designed for women from their 20s to 60s, is also carried in Dillard's. She'll have the advantage of having people find her online, at her stores or right there in the mall during the event.
"Tampa Bay Fashion Week is great for the brand," Negoshian said. "As with a lot of brands, hanger appeal does specific styles no justice. Having women in the product and on the runway really brings the brand and style to life, and shows the style on a body."
Racker, whose resume includes showing in Ebony Fashion Fair, BET's Rip the Runway and New York Fashion Week, said the events have definitely helped expand her brand, from being in the runway shows to getting product placement in swag bags that attendees receive. And having her clothes shown at International Plaza is a bonus.
"I can honestly say, Nancy really focuses on the designers and gets us the exposure we need. . . . It's been one of the best show productions, and it's about getting people there and focusing on what's important. It's the show to do here."
Maggie Duffy can be reached at [email protected] Follow @mdalexis.