Paris. New York. London. Milan. Tucson? Those who are fashion-forward in their thinking won’t have to travel far to get their fill of today’s hottest trends and tomorrow’s cutting-edge designs when Tucson Fashion Week kicks off this weekend.
A lot has changed since TFW debuted in 2010 in the parking lot of Skrappy’s Youth Collective. Its founder, fashion designer Elizabeth Albert, has passed the torch to Paula Taylor, a local author, consultant, stylist and international events producer. House of PM, a partnership between Paula Taylor Productions and local stylist Melanie Sutton’s MHS Styling, is the new creative director behind the three-day event. According to the TFW website, “House of PM ... will expand Albert’s original vision while staying true to the mission of creating a platform for emerging designers to showcase their work, along with designs from local boutiques, international designers and national retailers.” Events will be held at three locations this year: the Tucson Desert Art Museum, The Tucson Museum of Art and La Encantada.
While the first year of TFW might have been a “complete disaster” according to Albert, it had enough impact to ensure bigger and better events in the future. Not only has the event switched hands and expanded to several locales, but it also has snagged an impressive list of local sponsors and international VIPs. Sponsors include Mercedes-Benz of Tucson, the Playground Bar and Lounge, the FORD/Robert Black Agency and Best of Tucson winners Shlomo & Vito’s Delicatessen. Betsey Johnson, the whimsical post-punk designer, is this year’s “Inspired Icon” designer. Not only will she be presenting her line, but she’ll also be in the judge’s seat. Bert Keeter, a runner-up on the ninth season of Project Runway, will also be in attendance when he closes TFW with his collection.
It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in downtown Tucson, and Albert was settling in for a long week of preparation for her fashion presentation on Friday, Oct. 18. CandyStrike, 197 E. Toole Ave., her studio and boutique, is her headquarters. It’s also just a stone’s throw from Skrappy’s, ground zero for TFW. Clothing, accessories and artwork greet customers in the front of the space, and behind the counter is where Albert goes to work. Magazine clippings of Ricki Lake in Hairspray, and stills from Valley of the Dolls and Grease are tacked to the walls next to a large table littered with bits and pieces of fabric.
“I think originally I started painting and I moved on to painting on fabric,” Albert says. “Then I started manipulating things I bought at thrift stores. I was poor, so you know, I would go buy things and cut them up and make them look cool. Pretty much anybody who’s creative does that. I realized that’s what I wanted to do for a living. I went to Pima (Community College) for a couple of years and learned all I could. While I was there I started doing fashion shows, like two a month, in Phoenix and Tucson. I entered some competitions in Scottsdale and then won one, and they invited me to their fashion week. That’s the birth of Tucson Fashion Week.”
Albert started her fashion line, Siobhan Clothing, more than a decade ago and expanded the line when she opened CandyStrike in October 2012. At first she designed skirts, dresses, shirts and swimwear for women of all shapes and sizes. Then she noticed the fervor for her cutting-edge plus-size designs.
“I do plus-size and straight-size, in industry terms,” Albert says. “I’m highly influenced by film and music. With plus-sizes my main goal is to make things you won’t see anywhere else. Since that market is so small, I think it’s important to make awesome clothes and not just ‘grandma’ clothes. Same with straight sizes, but I think with the plus-size industry especially.”
Her advice to young fashion designers?
“Just do stuff! I think it’s daunting (that) when you start studying fashion you realize how much it takes to be a designer and to make money,” Albert says. “But keep working. Don’t just think since you’re in school you can’t do fashion shows. If your city doesn’t have a fashion week, start one! Make shit happen! Don’t be lazy. Learn. If you don’t have money to go to Parsons, go on YouTube and learn. We live in an age of resources. You can do it!”
For Taylor, the fashion bug is in her blood.
“It’s in my DNA. Both my grandmothers were in the business as owners and buyers,” Taylor says. “My mother is the chic-est, most put-together woman I know, and my sister was a professional model and actress. It’s part of a family tradition.”
Taylor, who has a master’s degree in environmental science, first started working in fashion while she held a day job at the Tucson Botanical Gardens. Working under the tutelage of local seamstress and designer Pegi Golden in the mid-’90s, Taylor launched her fashion line, Ultravivid. Shortly after she opened a boutique with the same name in the heart of downtown Tucson. After a year and a half, Taylor closed Ultravivid and opened a shop in the foothills called Pour Moi in 2000. The boutique focused on designer labels and small European collections.
“I held a lot of events and shows in the shop and off premise, which helped me hone my love of production,” Taylor says. “I sold Pour Moi in 2008 and took a position with Bill Blass New York as a divisional sales manager, running trunk shows and events in Arizona and Nevada.”
Keeping an emphasis on local design and retailers is important to Taylor. Not only is TFW focusing on Tucson designers, but there’s a culinary angle as well. Several renowned local chefs will lend their talents to the proceedings on Thursday, Oct. 18, when they create dishes that complement Betsey Johnson’s outlandish designs. It’s part of a collaboration among TFW and the University of Arizona’s Terry J. Lundgren Center for Retailing and Center for American Culture and Ideas. Along with CandyStrike’s Albert, other featured local designers include Heather Lindquist, whose Tonatiuh line Taylor calls “clean, simple and smart designs”; Bowman & Hock, a local mother-and-daughter jewelry crafting team; Rebecca Jay Kids, which Taylor describes as a “whimsical girls’ line of clothing”; and Laura Tanzer, a designer who creates fashions described as “chic, sustainable and geared toward a real sophisticated woman.” Tanzer might be the definition of sophistication. Meeting her on a breezy Friday afternoon at Epic Cafe, I felt like I was in the gaze of a timeless fashion maven. She looks sharp, and there’s a touch of Katharine Hepburn about her. Like Taylor, Tanzer’s love for fashion is in the genes.
“I was born an artist, from a lot of talent on both parents' lineage,” Tanzer says. “I began making clothes for my Barbie with my grandmother and muse, Rose Loretta Tanzer. I started making my own clothes at age 10, then experimenting in my teens with patterns and fabrics and far-out designs, mostly to aggravate my mother. By 18, I was in New York City living with my grandparents and studying at Parsons and FIT. I worked on Seventh Avenue for other designers and the transition to NYU was logical. I knew very little about running a business, so I needed to balance my talent with business knowledge.”
Tanzer took an academic detour when she moved to Tucson to earn a doctorate in natural resources at the UA. This was after receiving degrees from Parsons, the Fashion Institute of Technology and NYU. Her original focus was to combine her talent and business practices to start her own design and manufacturing business. However, she’s been teaching sustainable business practices for the past nine years. But the New York transplant doesn’t seem to mind.
“Tucson inspires me because of the great beauty of the desert, the rawness of it. I love living with the outdoors at my beck and call, something one doesn't do in NYC,” Tanzer says. “I also love the laid-back lifestyle. I think Tucson has potential for a lot of great scenes—art and culture, small business, restaurants—these are all ramping up. Downtown is awesome. I love working there. The energy is palpable, very inspiring!”
Tanzer also has some advice for anybody thinking about getting into the fashion trade.
“Learn your craft and learn it well. A successful designer knows how to construct a garment. Learn all the components of design, construction and production. Don't be afraid of hard work and long hours.”