Art Walks the Runway at the Sidney & Bern Davis Art Center

Art Walks the Runway is a star-studded two-day fashion show that takes place at one of Southwest Florida’s most scenic and historic sites, the Sidney & Bern Davis Art Center in the Fort Myers River District. Produced by Melissa DeHaven, this must-attend event showcases the hottest local boutiques and one-of-a-kind couture fashions.

DeHaven was inspired for Art Walks the Runway by Punta Gorda-based couture designer Helen Gerro.

“She walked into the art center and saw this space and thought it would be a phenomenal place and space in the heart of downtown Fort Myers to hold a beautiful fashion show. The Art Center decided it was such a great idea to put on a big fashion show here for our city that it kind of became one of our signature events, because it’s the tenth edition,” DeHaven said.

The space DeHaven is referring to is the art center’s large atrium. Formerly the mail sorting room of the original 1933 post office, the space features gleaming stone floors and towering two-story white walls. DeHaven described the venue’s transformation for the event:

“If you’ve been to the Art Center you know that this room turns into many different events, from film festivals to concerts. But when you come for the fashion show, you walk in and there’s this big, beautiful catwalk that takes up pretty much the entire center of the room. It’s nicely decorated, the way the lights are, and there are flowers. You walk into the room and you’re like I’m at a fashion show.

The first night of the show features local shops known for their cool and trendy styles. This year there are three: Forema Boutique, Ocean View & 7th and Apricot Lane. Recognized for its inviting, joyful and bohemian atmosphere, Forema specializes in chic and affordable clothing. Born from a love of fashion, Ocean View & 7th focuses on beautiful, on-trend styles that take a woman from day to night, from the beach to a girls’ night out, from work to dinner. Apricot Lane offers designer clothing, jewelry and accessories in the latest styles and trends. Forema and Apricot Lane are located in downtown Gulf Coast, while Ocean View & 7and call Bell Tower home.

“I think the favorite of the fashion show is the Saturday night couture party, which is something so special that you can see these cool designs walking down the runway, unique things that you would see at New York Fashion Week or LA Fashion Week or some big fashion show,” DeHaven said.

This year’s couture party features stunning looks from Isabel Lopez, Sha Ali Ahmad and Helen Gerro, who returns to the event this year after a five-year hiatus.

Award-winning designer Isabel Lopez made her debut at a very young age in her native Colombia. Lopez’s designs have been on red carpets and runways around the world, and she now lives in the United States. Lopez’s brand, Isabel International Original, is now synonymous with gorgeous fashions that accentuate the natural curves of a woman’s body while capturing the spirit of elegance.

Born in New Delhi, designer Sha Ali Ahmad has designed refined women’s clothing for Adriana Papell, Niteline, Scala USA and Ashro Lifestyles. Her label is sold at Macy’s, Dillards, Nordstrom, David’s Bridal, Bloomingdales, Saks 5th Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Neiman Marcus, among others. Co-founder of Kauai Fashion Week in Hawaii, Ahmad has also styled a plethora of Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities.

Minnesota-born, Punta Gorda-based designer Helen Gerro taught herself to sew and design at an early age. She moved to New York when she was 21, immersing herself in the fashion industry and the garment district. Gerro sold his own line to fine department stores and boutiques across the United States. A self-taught artist, Gerro now creates couture based on his own original paintings, making each piece uniquely hand-painted postmodern. declaration. Gerro’s daytime art couture pieces have been seen on the runway at numerous fashion shows, from Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Fort Myers, Punta Gorda, Naples and Miami to New York and Atlanta, and a Trunk Show off Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.

“We are so excited to have Helen back. She has two segments she’s going to have on the show this year,” DeHaven said.

The first is Gerro’s internationally acclaimed day-glo dresses, as she explains.

“I’m really known for doing the day-glo dresses, which are done in blacklight fluorescent paint and they really pop on the runway. They’re really exciting to watch because they come to life and are painted on parachute fabric this year, so they’ll really swell and sink down the runway. It’s almost like the track is on fire with this fashion,” Gerro said.

It’s not just the fluorescent paint that makes Gerro’s dresses stand out. It is the artists who inspire his creations. This year, she chose six: Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, Salvador Dali, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh.

“I painted these long pieces of fabric that were 80 inches high by 21 feet long. I had to gut my whole living room to stick them on the wall to paint them as a mural, and then I had to to make a dress so when you see them, it’s pretty amazing to turn them from fabric into dresses, that was quite a challenge,” Gerro said.

The second segment is super top secret, but Gerro, whose couture walked the red carpet at Cannes, hints that his model will be wearing a dress she cut from five yards of canvas she used for a painting.

Fashion aside, Art Walks the Runway has also established a reputation over the past decade for unique entertainment. This year is no exception. Katarina Danks will perform both nights. Danks’ performances blend an artistic blend of contortion, gravity-defying hand balancing, jazz and contemporary dance choreography that earned him his well-deserved nickname Bendy Kat. And Adriana Gomez will be there again with her Elements of Body Art, a theatrical performance that combines dance with the human body as a living, breathing canvas. Melissa DeHaven described it:

“She has models that she paints and she sets up this beautiful story, and so this year’s runway segment is going to be the garden of life and it’s basically sowing the seeds of love and she’s going to paint these beautiful body [images]. There will be a farmer. There will be a rose. There’s going to be a butterfly and, I think, a hibiscus. This part of the show is always beautiful also because you see, like, you see the body as a canvas.

Most attendees dress up and make it a night out by dining at one of the many fine restaurants in the River District. Then they head to the Davis Art Center at seven for cocktails, socializing and photo ops under the lights of Caloosahatchee Manuscripts, the city’s legendary Jim Sanborn twin-drum light sculpture.

On Friday night, the Art Walks the Runway party doesn’t have to end with the show. Many attendees can enjoy Sidney’s, the Art Centre’s new rooftop bar and sculpture garden.

“On Friday night the rooftop will be open so anyone who wants to go see the beautiful views up there can end their night on the rooftop dancing and mingling.”

“Be there and dress up and wear something fun and exciting that you normally can’t wear. [someplace else] and come enjoy the show,” Gerro said.

Art Walks the Runway takes place Friday and Saturday, March 18 and 19 at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in downtown Fort Myers. Doors open for cocktails at 7:00 p.m., with the show starting at 8:00 p.m. both nights. Tickets for the Friday night show are $30 in advance, $35 on the day, and an additional $10 for premium seats. Tickets for Couture Night are $45 in advance, $50 on the day, and an additional $10 for premium seating.

To read more stories about the arts in Southwest Florida, visit Tom Hall’s website: SWFL Art in the News.

This Spotlight on the Arts feature is funded in part by Naomi Bloom, Jay & Toshiko Tompkins, and Julie & Phil Wade.