Art and fashion collide in the downtown Fort Myers River District on March 31 and April 1st as the 11th annual Art Walks the Runway fashion show returns to the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. The event’s organizer, Melissa DeHaven, can’t think of a better venue for Southwest Florida’s premiere fashion event.
“When you come inside and see the big runway and the lights and flowers, it’s just like wow!” said DeHaven. “You kind of feel like you’re in a bigger city, like Paris or New York or L.A., but it’s right here in Fort Myers.”
The glitzy, star-studded extravaganza features local, national, and international designers, top notch local entertainment and some of the boldest, edgiest, fiercest and sexiest runway models you’ll see this side of New York, London and Paris Fashion Week.
In the event’s earliest years, DeHaven struggled to find enough models for two nights of fashion. No more.
“It’s a really, really incredible show to be a part of and everyone always seems to really love it,” DeHaven said. “Everyone wants to be a part of it. All the models are always like, ‘I’m in!’ The hair and make-up people, everybody who’s a part of the fashion show is always really excited.”
This year, DeHaven had 65 models show up during two days of auditions.
“They’re all amazing and beautiful and they donate their time to be a part of the show. They get some great photos from the photographers who are all there to capture all the amazing fashion on the runway.”
Friday night’s focus is on local designers Subtle & Chic Boutique, Vivie Boutique, and Art4Wear. The latter is the design house created by mixed media abstract artist Yvonne Krystman, who uses the models that DeHaven assigns to her to build living, breathing, moving sculptures.
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“Dressing a model is like building a sculpture,” Krystman explained. “So this is to me like finishing a piece of art. Like putting all the things together and building a piece of art.”
Based on this mindset, Krystman chooses the outfits that her models will wear based on their personality and normal way of moving rather than their height, weight and figure.
“Usually I ask a model who’s assigned to me to send me a selfie of not their official photos but what you look like in your real life,” said Krystman. “Or when they come to the fitting, I try to talk to someone for five minutes to see how they move, see their personality. It’s my starting point … For me, no, I work around the model. I want my model to be comfortable and something that fits her personality. So that’s how I build my collection that’s going to be ultimately on the runway.”
This approach reflects her design philosophy of making her art useful by transferring it onto clothing thereby creating a portable gallery for all to enjoy. In the process, her two-dimensional paintings morph into colorful one-of-a-kind 3D sculptures that are infused with an unexpected and unpredictable kinetic element.
The result is so astonishing that some of Krystman’s clients refuse to tell their friends where they got their outfits.
“I have a couple of ladies, sisters, who’ve been buying a lot of my clothing but they do not tell their friends where they got it from because they said, nope, we want to be totally different.”
It’s easy to be totally different with Art4Wear, where just about all of Krstman’s designs are available for under $100.
That’s not the case with the fashion on display on Saturday night, which often costs four if not five figures.
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“April 1st, the couture fashion show is going to feature some incredible designers,” said DeHaven. “We have Asta Razma, Kenneth Barlis, Diana Couture and Milla Stone, who has her Zodiac Collection that she’ll be featuring. And the cool thing about Saturday is that a lot of these designers dress celebrities.”
That’s a huge selling point for the models who rock the runway on Saturday night. After all, what fashion-conscious young woman wouldn’t want to wear the same kind of thousand dollar dresses that Hollywood celebs and K-Pop icons like Carrie Underwood, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Meghan Trainor and Paris Hilton have worn to the Grammys, CMAs and Oscars?
“All of them, you can see, they’re like ‘please pick me, please pick me’ for like the really beautiful sparkly ones,” said DeHaven. “They get excited. They’re excited on Saturday when they see the fashion that they get to wear.”
While fashion may be front and center, Art Walks the Runway is also widely known for its eye-popping entertainment. On Friday night, that comes compliments of Young Nation Dancers. Saturday features incomparable contortionist Katarina Danks, who performs under the appropriately descriptive moniker of BendyKat.
Each year she returns, Kat challenges herself to find a way to make her performance unique and relevant. Music plays a big role in that equation.
“I would describe the music for my inspiration for this year’s performance as elegant electronic,” said Danks. “And if you can picture that, I would say it has, obviously, some electronic, Haus digital sounds with it, but orchestrated in these beautiful melodies. So it’s very intricate in the different layers of sound that you have going on, and as a performer I like to play up to each part of those different layers in different parts of my routine.”
The result is a mesmerizing gravity-defying demonstration of strength, agility and flexibility that elicits gasps from the audience.
“She just held her body with one arm and her legs are in the air!” DeHaven exclaimed. “It’s incredible. The people in the audience are wowed. That is what happens. They’re just amazed. I hear the gasps and their eyeballs go really big. Like, whoa. “
While this year Freakshow co-host Brittany Gonzalez will host Art Walks the Runway and Dj Dream Jay will provide that distinctive runway sound, all eyes will be on the models as they saunter, strut and sashay the latest local, national and international fashions.
- Art Walks the Runway a glitzy star-studded art-centric fashion extravaganza
- On March 31st, Art Walks the Runway treats attendees to best in local fashion
- On April 1st, haute couture dominates at Art Walks the Runway
- Yvonne Krystman is a contemporary mixed media visual artist and fashion designer. Her wearable art is shape-shifting visual artwork whose new forms inspire new perspectives. She is experimenting with a wide variety of materials to express the ideas she explores, and that includes, but is not limited to, mixed media works on canvas, clay, conceptual photography and more. She then photographs her work and transfers it into award-winning fashion thereby creating a “Portable Gallery.”
- Kenneth Barlis is a globally recognized brand that has a penchant for elegance and luxury. Motivated by its artistic, imaginative, and modern design, the Barlis brand has been worn by musicians, influencers, and A-List Celebrities on the red carpet, magazine covers, concerts, and music videos. Barlis offers an evening gown collection, men’s line and, since 2019, a bridal collection that expresses the idea of bringing the modern fairytale to life. Kenneth Barlis collection is available in Melrose Ave., Los Angeles and San Diego, California.
- Couture designer Diana Putri is known for dressing celebrities such as Ariana Grande, Carrie Underwood, Carmen Electra, Camila Cabello, Janet Jackson and many others. As a young mother, she noticed that nothing at the stores she shopped fully satisfied her passion for fashion. So she started making her own pieces. Her reputation for empowering fashions that inspire self-confidence spread by work of mouth.
- Katarina Danks is a contortionist, hand-balancer and performance artist. During her performance, she will stage an artistic fusion between acrobatic movement and visual expressions of art. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she is trained in both Mongolian and Western contortion techniques, which she has learned from the world’s most prestigious trainers and performers in Europe, Canada, the U.S. as well as at circuses like Cirque du Soleil, the Big Apple Circus, Ringling Brothers, and Circus Roncalli. She has performed locally for Circus Transform US, the Fort Myers Film Festival, Telemundo Television, HSN, Papa John’s and previously at Art Walks the Runway. More about Danks is available at swflcontortion.com and Instagram @Bendykat.
- Music forms an integral part of each BendyKat performance. “Music and I have a beautiful relationship,” says Kat. “I find inspiration through all types of music and, to me, when I’m asked to use music for my performances, that is a really important piece for me to deliver a great product or show for the audience. It’s like a beautiful storyline, in a way, that you’re interpreting and want to bring to life through your own art. So to me it’s an extra layer of how I do what I do and make it beautiful or interesting or scary or creepy, but at the same time that’s appropriate and relevant to where I’m performing at that time and place too.
- Although the duo are keeping the specifics under wraps, for this year’s performance Katarina Danks is collaborating with local artist Israel Alpizar to add a projection mapping component to the show. The hottest new thing in public art, projection mapping is a highly-imaginative, immersive storytelling technique that combines light, color, movement, sound and even interactive components. By mapping moving, projected imagery onto buildings, sculptures and even models, artists are able to transform their “canvas” into something wholly alien and original. Or as journalist and art consultant Louis M. Brill puts it, “Whether its canvas is a 13th century castle, an iconic museum, or even a half-kilometer-long string of grain silos, projection mapping has effectively released high-definition video from the rectangular prison of the display screen.”
- Saturday night’s entertainment will also feature Tampa-St. Pete singer/songwriter Summer. “She has an absolutely beautiful voice and she’s such an amazing entertainer,” says organizer Melissa DeHaven.
To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida visit Tom Hall’s website: SWFL Art in the News.
Spotlight on the Arts for WGCU is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.
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