Hot to trot for Hot Couture!

Chef Nina admires Kuumba Designs’ linen eveningwear from the front row.

Chef Nina admires Kuumba Designs’ linen eveningwear from the front row.

A note to all event organisers: If you wish to start your fête on time, just invite the Governor General. The venerable lady is always punctual, and once she takes her seat, it’s time to get the party started. And so it did on Wednesday evening at precisely 7pm inside the formerly cavernous warehouse at The Johnsons Centre, transformed into a chic, rosily-lit venue for one night only.

The lights dimmed, the giant LED screen blazed with the Saint Lucia Hot Couture insignia and five hundred seats were filled with the island’s most fashionably clad derrières. Or to be precise, the 300 or so early birds who had the style to turn up in good time: I guess the other 200 who trickled in for the next fifty minutes, getting in the way of the photographers and generally messing up the vibe, didn’t realise the fastidiously punctual GG would be in da house.

Claudine Springer introduced the show and kept it moving along with her melodious but minimal commentary. Sir Lancealot kicked in the rhythms with the season’s infectious favourite, Kerwin Dubois’ Too Real and the highly anticipated fashion extravaganza Saint Lucia HOT Couture hit the runway walking. The Johnsons Centre made an impressive venue, despite the visual challenge of its supporting columns, dramatically designed in stark white with the enormous background screen showing images from the 50th Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.

The next two hours saw a production that was almost unanimously agreed to have been a vast improvement on the inaugural, and a credit to the entire production team. Saint Lucia’s local designers held their own on the same runway as the celebrated Meiling and Heather Jones.

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Saint Lucian swimwear designer Sophia Betts opened the show with her F.Y.A range, Ayana Whitehead striding along the runway adorned in a sexy black one piece and funky gold shades. The line up was impressively strutted by lithe Lucian models looking just as comfortable under the pink spotlights as the professionals from Trinidad and Jamaica.

Ethnic flavoured dance tracks from Lance kept with the Caribbean vibe as Queen Esther made a triumphant HOT Couture debut with a stylishly sustainable collection,proving that she is not only at the top of Saint Lucia’s fashion industry in her design prowess, but that she works bloody fast! Queen rustled up two gorgeous line ups; the first was classic Esther white and sisal, with a surprisingly preppy-tailored-disco mix of dresses, jumpsuits and separates.

Queen came back with an After Dark range, and Miss World Saint Lucia 2010, Aiasha Gustave surprised the crowd with a ‘live’ performance of her latest recording and a fair bit of gyrating from former SHE covergirl and Beenieman collaborator accompanied the Kuumba evening line, which had lots of sheer black with applique and vividly contrasting orange shantung silk. Kudos to Esther, and her son rocked that silk suit and locs!

Huge excitement erupted from the crowd as Fiona Compton’s Paradise Prints hit the runway on the exquisite frame of our own favourite model and 2Nite editor, Denise Lay. Brilliant, splashy tropical flowers adorned bodycon dresses, drapey jumpsuits and gauzy kaftans, hand-painted by the designer herself and a walking work of art for every woman. Teaming up with Même Bête was an inspired move and Taribba Do Nascimento’s fun, funky and rainbow-toned bags were perfectly styled without erring on the matchy side. Lady Janice and Chef Nina cheered the loudest and another HOT Couture debut was a hit.

Seamlessly onward to C.W.A.D and my notes start with the word ‘SKIMPY!’ Thelma Williams’ crochet bikinis reinvent the concept of string, while those abs I mentioned were out in all their oiled-up glory under teeny vests and teenier jockeys. Sexy as hell, and another Lucian designer being appreciated in regional Caribbean fashion events.

Not for the first time have Fair Helen’s national colours been used in fashion, but never in a respectfully sexy swimwear collection like Nicola Pierre’s House of Lush. Guys and gals in shorts and speedos and bikinis and cut-outs and halters, all flag-hued but remarkably un-olympic-team-uniform. The GG appeared to approve wholeheartedly.

Local fashion veteran Shazi energised the crowd with a mixture of vibrant rootsy flowing dresses and short fitted shifts layered with African inspired prints. Perry Martial’s bags were a wonderful hit of texture and colour right in line with Shazi’s latest vibe. His collection has a signature style, but new fresh detailing and designs are also part of the range. From voluminous white dresses to denim mixed with lime green cotton, lots of great looks from Monsieur Chalon.

A check on the normally inscrutable Shala Monroque revealed obvious approval as Treasure Frederick’s retro floral creations and asymmetric tailored white linen hit the runway. New York via Marisule’s Ms Monroque really sat up and took notice and next day admitted Saint Lucia’s best kept fashion secret was one of her favourites—she also digs his mini handlebar moustache!

Intermission Investigation

As Resort Essentials came to a jawdropping close, five hundred stiff bums left their seats with a loud murmur of approval, and I was off to do my intermission research, aided and abetted by two Smirnoff ices and several cigarettes with designers, audience members and a few ‘bad girl’ fashionistas who cannot be named.

Everyone reported back positively, so far so good, venue great, lighting awesome, models gorgeous, fashions wonderful. It was clear Mae Wayne and the team had delivered the goods so far, and if an hour seemed a long time to wait, it was probably down to anticipation for all but the most jaded critic.

You’d think the fashionable Rodney Bay real housewives crowd would be above stealing other folks’ seats but no, a flurry of confusion accompanied the opening shots for Saint Lucia Hot Couture part two, party wear for After Dark against a backdrop of The Bachelor.

The guys strode onto the purple-hued stage in Meiling Menswear and I swear Rick Wayne jumped out of his chair in delight at the floral profusion of printed shirts and contrasting solid pants—Anthony Reid must have a muse right here on the Rock of Sages! Wild yes, but cool and funky and so Caribbean I wish every guy had the coconuts to wear those banana yellow drainpipes.

Robert Young’s The Cloth was another visual highpoint of the show, as stately, beautiful and bald amazon Leanna walked down the runway shouldering a bunch of bananas. If the HOT Couture producers wanted a Caribbean cultural vibe, this was the collection that added depth to the sun, sea and sand motif, and the choreography was reverent, serene and almost moving in its storytelling. Super clothes too—densely complicated prints and patchworks, signature appliques and buffalo gal white skirts against stark black, always interesting.

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Saint Lucia Hot Couture 2014 climaxed with a joyful finale and very local celebration as Fiona Compton’s Paradise Prints returned to the stage in a blaze of floral glory to the strains of Mongstar’s party anthem.

Smouldering model attitude gave way to a virtual conga-line of laughing, dancing and whining as Fiona and Taribba took to the stage egging on a proud and appreciative crowd. Tears flowed in the Compton seats as the youngest daughter of Sir John proved again that she’s a new fashion force to be reckoned with.

And that triumphant moment of national pride drew the show to a high energy close with the promise of more to come next year. A flawless production by virtually anyone’s standards, and a credit to the vision and teamwork of the collaborators.

Mae Wayne, Richard Young, Adrian Augier, Dahlia Francois and Dahlia Guard built a team, played to their strengths and pulled off an excellent show with a strong Caribbean flavour which never lost its Lucian-ness, and that’s a smart strategy for building a longterm regional and international brand.

Behind the scenes may have been pandemonium but if you watch Project Runway you’ll know that’s normal. What we saw from the front of house was a source of pride for anyone who knows how hard it is to make a living from the fashion industry, and a fine example of what the public and private sectors can achieve by forming the right collaborations.

Next day the team gathered at Tapas on the Bay for some well deserved brunch and a chance to meet the media. Feedback was all good: SLTB Director Louis Lewis and Marketing Director Tracey Warner Arnold praised the production team and agreed that Hot Couture is now a key event in the Jazz & Arts calendar. Chef Nina was still emotional about her little sister’s success and was just happy to have sat in the audience to support another creative industry on the island.

Shala Monroque was full of praise for the show and very impressed by the local talent. Indeed she was whittling down a major Trunk Show shopping list when we spoke, so watch out for New York ‘s Summer of Saint Lucia once the Prada muse is papped wearing her new Hot Couture wardrobe.

And what better PR could we want for our burgeoning fashion industry than Shala Monroque’s seal of style approval?

In Wednesday’s Star, designers from across the Caribbean shine at Saint Lucia HOT Couture and an interview with Shala Monroque. Look out for more gossip and lots of photos.

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