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Fashioning Puerto Rico Into An Island Of Style… Winter Fashion Turns To Latin Sources

Fashioning Puerto Rico Into An Island Of Style

By VIVIAN GALTIER KELLY, Special to The Courant

November 7, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE HARTFORD COURANT. All rights reserved.

It's billed as "two days of passion for fashion." Its real name is PRF Trends (Puerto Rico Fashion Trends). And its objective is to play ball with the runway shows held in fashion capitals throughout the world.

At least that's the hope of Cristina Caraballo.

Caraballo, managing director of Pro Active Group, Inc., a Puerto Rican marketing and public-relations firm, is trying to establish the Puerto Rican equivalent of New York's Fashion Week, the biannual designer runway shows.

Her goal? To cast the spotlight on established and emerging Puerto Rican fashion designers.

Caraballo got the idea after a one-day trip last October to New York's Fashion Week, a multi-venue showcase in massive tents erected in Midtown's Bryant Park. She decided that Puerto Rico needed an organized, centralized set-up similar to the Bryant Park environment.

Her first tent shows were held in San Juan in April, after Caraballo took out a bank loan against her home and charged $10 a ticket to each show and an after-party (Fashion Week shows in New York do not charge admission and are by invitation only). Word spread and Caraballo was able to obtain twice the number of sponsors (including Sprint, Spirit Airlines and the Caribe Hilton) for a second round of shows in October. Many professionals offered their talents in hair, makeup and production design based on their faith that Caraballo will bring international press and buyers to discover Puerto Rican Fashion.

The ready-to-wear shows featured designers who sell to the top boutiques on the island and to an exclusive coterie of private clients, both female and male.

The best looks this season were by menswear designer, Sancho, Puerto Rico's answer to Gucci's Tom Ford. Afterwards, many accessory and fashion designers in the crowd said they would be signing on with Miss Caraballo for the next round of shows in April 2005. Among them is an up-and-coming accessories designer, Erika Peña, whose collection sells at the ultra-trendy Bond 07 in downtown Manhattan.

Prior to PRF Trends, there was never a successful, organized forum for Puerto Rican fashion and accessory designers to show their latest designs in the cohesive manner to the international press. Past efforts, most notably, San Juan Fashion Week, were mired in scandal.

Winter Fashion Turns To Latin Sources


October 3, 2004
Copyright © 2004 KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS. All rights reserved.

Ponchos and bolero-style jackets. Satiny skirts in bold greens, purples, oranges and yellows. Bronzer for the year-round tan look.

Red, round-toed pumps and skinny jeans.

Think of the above Latin-inspired items as the core pieces of your early-winter wardrobe, then sprinkle in furs, tweeds and argyles. Punctuate with a tropical print silk scarf. Add a glittery golden brooch or two.

The result: Luxe ensembles that blend Caribbean, Southwestern and European nuances with dress-up vintage. So Fall 2004 chic. So now. So h-h-hot.

"What we have now is a big eclectic mix, and the beauty is that it's heavy on elements that tie directly back to Hispanic culture," said Erika Prosper, director of marketing at Garcia 360, a Texas-based firm that studies Latino shopping habits.

"The Latin culture: fiestas, salsas, the joy of living . . . are all big in pop culture right now, right down to tapas. Latinas have traditionally mixed textures, and the influence is really strong this fall."

That's not to say that everything fashionably fly this season has to shout Ole! But the influence, which began with the peasant look in the 2001-2002 fashion season, ushered in the beginning of today's haute-couture girly-girl, after years of khaki onslaught.

It was those simple looks -- blousy, ruffly shirts, silk cargo pants and tasseled bags, said Nordstrom fashion director Gregg Andrews -- that flaunted Old World Spanish themes.

But as the feminine fashionista hits her stride, designers have added glamour to the mix. This fall that reads as lots of fur, faux and real; glitter; and golden brooches - luxuriousness grounded with items of Latin sensibility.

Ponchos, for example, are a fashion necessity this season, along with bolero-style jackets, slim-fitting skirts, and bright-colored high-heeled shoes.

"The return of femininity is driving a lot of what you see," said Betty Cortina, editorial director of Latina magazine.

"To suggest that Latin style is just about the peasant look or hot mamas and spiciness is ridiculous. It's about being a woman, not having to hide it, understanding your role, and realizing that it does not diminish any other part of you."

Trendmakers didn't intend for Latin chic to be a running theme of their fall fashion lines, said Marshall Cohen, fashion analyst for NPD Market Research. It more or less happened as designers looked around and created runway shows based on how celebrities put themselves together. Staunch people-watchers, they checked out patrons of in places, too.

"People are coming at this Latin fusion from all directions," Cohen said.

"But one thing is for sure. We are at the beginning of seeing south-of-the-border culture becoming mainstays of fashion."

One reason is that Latinos are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country. They spend more than 700 billion retail dollars a year, Prosper said, so marketers are targeting them big time.

Over the last decade in the fashion world, designers Carolina Herrera and Narciso Rodriguez have brought sophisticated and subtle Latin flair to their ready-to-wear fashions.

But it was Jennifer Lopez, with her chandelier earrings, voluptuous curves, and glowing bronze skin who did the most to inspire the lust for all things Latino.

This fall, the momentum continues. Tom Ford's final collection for Gucci, as well as the offerings of Prada, Akris and Chanel, all feature ponchos fashioned in fabrics from cashmere to cotton. Roberto Cavalli showed ruffled Gypsy looks with cinched waists in deep purples, yellows and limes.

Even the classic ready-to-wear designers are on board.

Ralph Lauren is having a very turquoise year, if his catalog is any indication. The signature Ann Taylor woman has luxurious dark hair decorated with a pink rose.

This month, Kmart will roll out fashions by music mogul Tommy Mottola's wife, Thalia Sodi. Daisy Fuentes introduced a line at Mervyn's this month. Carlos Santana has a shoe line.

How does one mix Latina spice and '50s glam without looking like a thrift-store reject?

Letting go of staid fashion rules is key. Remember, satin is perfect with tweed, and lime green goes with purple and is amped up with a touch of rust. Grab a waist-length tweed jacket to go with the silky rust ruffled skirt. !Estupendo! Strap on a pair of burgundy stiletto Mary Janes. !Fenomenal! Ditch the skirt for a pair of jeans for a chic nighttime look. !Fantastico!

Remember, said Prosper, it wasn't the chicks on Sex and the City but "Latinas who started wearing high heels with jeans."

Now feel the salsa beginning to rumble inside.

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