Byline: Merri Grace McLeroy

MIAMI — Previously labeled as more press show than trade show for Latin American and Caribbean designers, the fourth annual Fashion Week of the Americas expanded its designer collective beyond the Americas and focused more on marketing and selling in the U.S.
Having suffered an estimated $200,000 in losses from the cancellation of last September’s show, Audi of America stepped in as a white knight to sponsor this season’s event, adding more of a commercial element and further solidifying the relationship between car companies and fashion shows.
Held March 19-21 under a tent at the Roney Palace Beach Resort in South Beach, the show incorporated cars, jewelry and interior design, displayed at buyer events. By not limiting designers to Latin America, the show attracted more international attendees.
The show was orchestrated by Sobol Fashion Productions here and presented fall collections of 26 designers from 18 countries, including Italy, Spain, Canada, as well as Latin America and the Caribbean, in 13 runway shows. Categories included women’s collections, intimate apparel and swimwear, couture, pret-a-porter and men’s wear.
The closing night was a tribute to Mary McFadden, who was on hand to receive Audi’s Lifetime Achievement in Fashion award. The event included a retrospective show of McFadden’s fashions, as well as the Latin Moda & Music awards, hosted by Miami pop singer John Secada, and numerous parties and receptions at local hot spots.
FWA generates more networking and plans for future showings than actual onsite orders, according to attendees. About 50 buyers attended from some 40 specialty boutiques and multistore chains from nine countries. Local buyers from Saks Fifth Avenue, Burdines and Bloomingdale’s came, and several specialty-store buyers scheduled trunk shows for selected designers.
“We tightened the requirements this year and booked more established designers with a strong infrastructure and quality products to make this more of a buyer’s market,” said show producer and Sobol Productions president Beth Sobol.
As for fashion themes, femininity prevailed in women’s collections. Fabrics included stretch chiffons, heavy brocades and sparkling techno-fabrics, laser-cut silks and suedes and stitch-pleated leathers, used in silhouettes like a women’s tuxedo shirt. Embellishment, ruffles and accessories were prominent, yet subtle, in coordinated evening and business separates. Sheer blouses had puffed or ribbon-wrapped sleeves and extended fingertip cuffs in silk organza, silk chiffon or lace.
Denim was a big category, as several designers launched jean lines. Highlights included Alvarez-Calderon’s denim-leather colorblock coordinates; Celleri’s shredded, embellished and hand-painted jeans, and Zajar’s “rag doll” denim with yellow and red fringed colorblocks. Belts were another strong trend at the show, with anything that could be wrapped used as a belt or neck accessory. Zajar accessorized with large, asymmetrical suede belts designed to emulate the waist and hips of blue jeans.
Theissy Mahecha, owner of Talent Ensemble International, a New York designer showroom said: “The FWA designers are stars in their own countries, but they are new to the U.S. They will have to secure showroom representation in New York and have production in place before buyers commit to ordering.” Mahecha was at FWA scouting new talent and signed Laurencio Adot of Argentina and Sitka Semsch of Peru.
Miguel Navarro, owner of International Designers Showroom in New York, has attended all four FWA events. On this trip, he signed Venezuelan Franco Montoro and is negotiating with Bolivian designer Rosita Hurtado of Miami and Marcello Quadros of Brazil. Navarro said elements are coming together at FWA: “mature designers, international press, serious buyers, special guests, special events and committed sponsors, which are imperative for growth.”
Arcia Perrenoud-Vallestero, owner of Trend Spa Consulting in Hoboken, N.J., identified several designers to present to specialty shops, including Peruvian Jorge Luis Salinas’ crocheted collection; velvet evening coats by Maria Pryor, shown by Cienporcientodiseno of Argentina for TAK department stores in Lebanon, and resortwear by Miami-based Puerto Rican designer Sylma Cabrera.
Marsha Posner, president of JP International Consultants in New York, represents 30 specialty shops, including Martha’s in Palm Beach, Fla., Joe Brand in Laredo, Tex., Andrea’s in Los Angeles, and Alan Cherry of Toronto. She is planing a designer trunk show event for Celleri, Adot, Semsch and Alvarez-Calderon in New York. “These designers have been inspiring,” said Posner. “This event has inspired me to bring my stores.”
Rita Klein, ready-to-wear buyer for Marshall Rousso’s, a 16-store specialty chain based in Las Vegas, shopped for “exclusivity and established designers that can add an upscale, international flavor to our stores.” She said she will set up trunk shows to build relationships with selected designers including Celleri, Beverly Hills Swim, Mafud, Adot, Cabrera and Zajar. Celleri, a Miami-based Ecuadorean, plans a knockoff of his high-end jeans collection for marketing to specialty shops in the U.S.
Although this event focused more on buying opportunities and marketable labels, a few designers concentrated strictly on press shows. Around 600 members of international and industry press attended, including Fashion TV Paris, Terra Networks and E! Entertainment Latin America, which will produce and broadcast features on the Miami shows as it does for the Paris, Milan and New York runways.
Between shows, guests shopped for jewelry at the International Fine Jewelry Show & Sale presented by Hidden Society Magazine, browsed pop-artist Romero Britto’s “Fashion is Art” mini gallery and lounged in one of the decorator salons created by three Design Center of the Americas interior designers.
“Fashion Week of the Americas was a perfect lifestyle fit for our corporate [advertising] theme of ‘Never Follow,”‘ said Audi of America’s event marketing manager, Maria Nahigian. “The designers are enthusiastic, unique and fresh, the feedback has been positive and the Miami market is right for us. Fashion is a new world for Audi and, as a natural extension of design, we plan to continue the sponsorship+as long as the business side is successful.”

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