Spotlight on Fashion

By Valerie Vinyard

Fashionistas and regular folks alike will be stylin’ at the third annual Tucson Fashion Week of finery and fun Oct. 17-19.

Billed as “a three-day blaze of style, art, celebrity and cuisine” at three different locations, Tucson Fashion Week showcases local, national and international designers – ranging from up-and-comers to longtime celebrity designer Betsey Johnson.

This year’s event is a collaborative effort of Paula Taylor of Paula Taylor Productions and Melanie Hebron Sutton of MHS Styling.

Since the kickoff event at Maynards Market & Kitchen in February, casting calls took place, 15 designers were selected and 18 sponsorships secured – including the headline sponsor Mercedes-Benz of Tucson. Local chefs and mixologists are on board as well.

“This is three days of really unique, interactive and fun events,” Taylor said. “It’s not just about making clothing. It’s art, music, fashion and food.

“We hope to create a platform to showcase designers and to bring national recognition to Tucson. We’ve got some great talent here. This will help to educate them and give them some tools,” Taylor added.

All participants take part in a competitive professional show and receive constructive feedback. Prizes include cash awards, scholarship funds and opportunities to meet with designers, manufacturers and others in the fashion industry.

Sutton and Taylor’s idea is that through fashion events, charitable partnerships, unique experiences and collaborations, Tucson will find a place in the national fashion and retail spotlight.

The two are the new producers of this fashion extravaganza. They took over from the recently married Elizabeth Denneau, formerly Elizabeth Albert, who created Tucson Fashion Week three years ago.

Taylor relished the opportunity to put her skills to use. She’s been in the fashion industry for 18 years. The former owner of Pour Moi boutique founded Paula Taylor Productions five years ago and produces regional, national and international events. She’s the author of a textbook called “How to Produce a Fashion Show from A to Z,” published in 2012 by Pearson Prentice Hall.

“It’s been a part of my DNA for a very long time,” said Taylor, who did trunk shows while serving as a divisional manager for Bill Blass New York in Arizona and Nevada.

Sutton has 20 years of first-hand knowledge in the fashion industry – starting as a young model then a fashion buyer, fashion editor, prop/wardrobe stylist and consultant.

“They were the only people I would give my baby to,” Denneau said of Taylor and Sutton. “This is their playground – they’re much better equipped than me.” She was thrilled that Taylor made the proposal. “I couldn’t think of anyone better.”

In 2009, the 34-year-old self-taught designer won the people’s choice for Designer of the Year at Scottsdale Fashion Week. Denneau’s specialty is plus-sized fashions.

“It was the first time I had been at a really large fashion week,” Denneau said. “I thought, ‘Why doesn’t Tucson have this?’ Everybody wanted it – but no one was really doing it.”

So in 2010, she did it. Tucson Fashion Week debuted on a Saturday in a parking lot on Toole Avenue and featured a dozen designers. “The first year it was a disaster – but a beautiful disaster. People were really excited that we did it – so we did it again.”

The next year, the much-bigger production involved a core staff of 10 volunteers shutting down Scott Avenue and making it a runway. “After that, I was just really exhausted,” Denneau said. “I have my own company and my own clothing line. While I was producing this huge fashion week, I was also building a collection. It was just too much.” She was ready to hand over the reins.

This fall’s Tucson Fashion Week features three distinct fashion, food and fun programs at a different location each night – the Tucson Lifestyle Desert Art Museum, the Tucson Museum of Art and La Encantada.

Sutton said they’ve expanded Tucson Fashion Week, adding jewelry designers, a leather handbag line and a charitable component to raise funds for the University of Arizona’s Center for American Culture and Ideas and Lungren Center for Retailing.

“We want to create a memorable event that will continue each year,” Sutton said. “We hope to elevate the emerging designers to a new level and eventually make this event a full week.”

Denneau plans to participate in the event and will show “a capsule collection” of her fall line. “But it’s their baby now,” she said. “It’s cool to sit back and watch what they’re doing.”


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