SPAFW benefits Warehouse Arts District

SPAFW, St. Pete Fashion Week

BY PUNEET SANDHU, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG –For the fourth year running, the “St. Pete Art and Fashion Week” (SPAFW)—a multi-day event including art exhibits and culminating in a runway fashion show—took place at different venues in downtown St. Petersburg, and last week from Sept. 15-20 marked another great week for the arts in the Sunshine City.

SPAFW is organized by Luxe Fashion Group LLC., a marketing and PR firm owned by Dona Crowley. This year, a portion of the proceeds raised by the ticket sales, auctions and artist sales for SPAFW will be given to the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA), a non-profit membership organization that is raising money to purchase artist studio space in St. Petersburg.

Mon., Sept. 15 was the opening night party for SPAFW in which clothes designers, artists, and ticket holders met at Moscatos restaurant for an informal meet-and-greet. Wed., Sept. 18, the newly formed Raw Studios, 2338 Emerson Ave. S., founded and created by WADA artist Gina Foti, held an art exhibition called “Disconnected” that featured several St. Petersburg artists. Inside the studio, artwork depicted the trappings of the cyber world and questioned the increasing human disconnect.

Explaining the concept behind “Disconnected” Foti said, “We’ve become so disconnected from each other through social media and I came to this conclusion … that we all end up feeling like we’re competing with everyone now. We post pictures of ourselves at other people’s events, so that instead of an event being about the person throwing it, it becomes all about us.”

Friday night, Sept. 19, the exhibit “Art Inspired” was showcased, focusing on artists who are part of the Warehouse Arts District. At the event, WADA artists had some of their artwork for sale.

The biggest event was Saturday’s fashion show at the Raymond James building, 200 Central Ave. Crowley estimated that about 200 people purchased tickets for the event. Before the runway show began, a variety of WADA artists—painters, sculptors, jewelry makers and make-up artists—displayed products for sale at vendor stations.

For the runway fashion show, six area designers were featured: Be-Bops Custom Swimwear, Boutique La Rochelle, Cerulean Blu Swim and Resort Wear Boutique, Curb Gear, Helen Gerro, and Purabell House of Fashion. The clothes shown ranged from simple floral designs by Purabell, to funky, otherworldly costumes by Curb Gear.

“It’s more of the art couture pieces, the one of a kind pieces which can be custom made to order,” Helen Gerro said of her showcased designs. “I try to do an influence with art and fashion. Some of it’s a little more avant-garde, cutting edge.”

April Drayton, designer of Curb Gear, said she showcased “ready to wear, costume and couture” for the fashion show, while Priscilla Kidder, designer of Be-Bops Custom Swimwear, said some of her swimsuits were inspired by photographs of Audrey Hepburn. Lisa Rochelle, of Boutique La Rochelle, said her featured designs were inspired “by the great outdoors, from way the wind blows, flowers blooming ever so bright, beautiful, and full of life.”

As far as the beneficiary of SPAFW, Rob Bocik, vice president of WADA, explained that the name “Warehouse Arts District” is simply the title given to a certain area of St. Petersburg by the city itself, an area which used to be the industrial part of St. Petersburg. The Warehouse Arts District Association, on the other hand, is the nonprofit that is fundraising to buy property within that area for artist studio space.

“Right now, we’re raising funds for what’s called the Warehouse Arts District Enclave, and it is the purchase of a 2.7 acres and 50,000 square feet of warehouse space that the Association is purchasing to keep under the 501(c)3 nonprofit so that we can keep the space affordable for artists in the future,” Bocik said.

“Space is becoming expensive and what has happened all over the country is that artists move in to these rundown buildings because it’s affordable, and once we move in and make it cool, we get thrown out by developers. And that’s happened quite a bit. That’s the point of the WADA Enclave Project, so we can keep those rents affordable in perpetuity,” Bocik averred.

The Enclave, 515 22nd St. S., will consist of repaired warehouse buildings already in existence in the Warehouse Arts District, which will be rented by artists as a place to carry out their work. The size of the buildings affords artists plenty of space to create, Bocik said. Additionally, Bocik said that an outdoor, covered-stage auditorium would be built for use as a music venue.

“The Enclave is a $1 million dollar project and we’re raising $350,000 by Nov. 1 for our down payment, due diligence, closing costs, things like that,” Bocik said. “The city has stepped up with a matching $50,000 grant.”

Bocik said the Enclave hopes to start renting new space to artists by spring 2015 but will continue repairs on the buildings for three years.

Raising funds for the WADA Enclave down payment costs was the goal of this year’s SPAFW.

“In Dona’s kindness of wanting to support the arts, she contacted us because she wanted to donate to the WADA and to the Enclave project, so she asked us to be involved in it just as a supporter, and asked us to help out with the marketing,” Bocik said.

Crowley said that the amount raised for the Enclave project will not be known for another few weeks, but she hopes to have raised at least $2,000.

Though the Enclave is not yet open, the WADA hosts tours of the area on the second Saturday of every month for the public to see the still on-going project.

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