Easy. Playful. Refined. These words define the desert aesthetic and were clear undertones as Fashion Week El Paseo rolled out its third night of runway with the locally focused Scenes From El Paseo show.
Ten stores of the Palm Desert strip presented collections heavy on mixed prints, loose fabrics, and bold strokes of sparkle wearable now through late fall. Each round of ensembles appeared fresh and distinctive, yet pleasantly familiar. That’s the thing about style in this lively resort town — it’s rooted in timelessness yet remains decidedly on trend.
“These eight days just keep your heart pumping all week long,” local artist and Fashion Week regular Karen Barone said on her way inside the tent. “And the fashion, you just don’t know what to expect. [The El Paseo participants] really put their heart into it because they’re all about the people who live here in the desert.”
As the lights dimmed and guests settled into their seats, 10 models in delicate diamond trimmings from presenting sponsor El Paseo Jewelers lined the catwalk. Mark Ronson’s catchy “Uptown Funk” dropped a beat and it was clear the El Paseo family came prepared to party.
There were models on ladders (Grayse). There was adorable kids wear (BB.one). And — oh, yes — there were men, and they responded with equal provacation to the cat-calling crowd (Tommy Bahama, Mares Menswear).
Grayse opened the evening, maintaining course with an emphasis on light-catching bling. Creamy metallics and graphic-patterned crystal detailing mingled with whites and floral tones of fuchsia, blood orange, and periwinkle. Fitted, fully sequined gowns and cocktail dresses — including a sleeveless black-and-white checker-print nod to Twiggy — complemented posh separates fit for the office or brunch. Following their walk, each model struck a pose on three ladders that had been brought to the stage as a backdrop for the Grayse collection as the mother-daughter design team, Marie and Kelly Gray, emerged for a well-applauded wave and bow.
Grayse owners Kelly and Marie Gray stand before their models on ladders.
The balmy tent got hotter as Tommy Bahama took the stage. Island vibes unfurled with a dandy in flamingo-print swim trunks, a breezy, unbuttoned white linen shirt, shades, and a crocheted raffia hat with Tommy’s signature marlin pin. In keeping with the Seattle-based brand’s mantra of spontaneous, stylish relaxation, the collection peacocked bright colors and vacation wear that won’t require a steamer after spending a few hours in a suitcase.
Tommy Bahama's collection peacocked bright colors and vacation wear.
Eileen Fisher showed a modern-dance film as the runway filled with looks reminiscent of a dancer off duty. Free-flowing, eco-friendly fabrics in white, deep chambray blue, and shades of rust are suitable for meandering along El Paseo or amid the spice shops of Marrakech. Espadrilles, casual tote bags, a faint pinstriped material, and a selection of well-matched scarves bound the simple story together.
Eileen Fisher showed free-flowing, eco-friendly fabrics.
Gypsey-inspired embroidery from Johnny Was brighted up the runway.
Prints reemerged with Johnny Was, lauded for gypsy-inspired embroidery and gauzy, multipatterned textiles. The jaw-dropper: head-to-toe color in the form of a patchwork maxi skirt; sheer, floral-embellished button-up top in navy; and a knotted headscarf.
The casual-chic jewelry collection of UNO de 50, handcrafted in Spain, made evident that spring/summer accessories are best worn layered. That drop-tassel style favored among festivalgoers got a smart night-out update in thick gold chain, while flashy jewel pendants made a major statement worn doubled up. And, yes, the bolero necklace is around for another season.
Flashy jewel pendants came in twos for Uno de 50.
Nina McLemore — who has dressed Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, and Janet Yellen — showed sharp button-ups and blazers in tertiary hues paired with knee-length pencil skirts and straight-leg trousers. Collars were popped and models’ locks were slicked back in chic, bouncy ponytails, suggesting McLemore’s tailored approach works as well for the young set as for her veteran clients. A hot pink blazer was jazzed up with red lining. An oversized bauble necklace amped up a black-and-blue two-piece.
Collars were popped on Nina McLemore models.
This blue sport coat revealed a colorful interior.
Next up, the fellows of Mares Menswear gathered at the top of the runway, whispering with one another and pointing at various Fashion Week Divas in the front row. They teased the crowd during their runway strut, licking their lips, flashing wry smiles, and gesturing for louder cheers. Locally based husband-and-wife storeowners Richard and Maggie Mares showed a range of everyday drivers from their stable of designers — polos layered beneath pullovers and hoodies, earth-toned slacks, and choice appearances of paisley. One pleasant surprise was a cobalt-blue sport coat lined in a chocolate floral-esque print, revealed as the model disrobed the piece to drape it atop one shoulder.
If the men hadn’t fully roused the crowd, Out of Your Closet’s cheeky lineup of vintage finery — set to the French song “Pour le Plaisir” by Sara Lugo — definitely did. A black ruched-leather midi dress with puff sleeves catapulted some in the crowd to their feet, and a vraiment chic dusty mauve rolled-shoulder crop sweater paired with plaid capris kept them standing.
Out of the Closet's outfits brought the audience to its feet.
Breezy getaway ensembles dominated the BB.one collection. But two sheepish little girls, each hand-in-hand with a grown-up model and waving at the “aww”-struck onlookers, stole the show. One girl wore flowy charcoal-colored separates in hand-dyed polka dot; she curtsied at the end of the runway and gave the cameras a little side-eye smile. The second girl arrived in a vertical-striped spaghetti-strap jumpsuit in cool jewel tones.
Two sheepish little girls, each hand-in-hand with a grown-up model and waving at the “aww”-struck onlookers, stole the show.
El Paseo Jewelers closed Scenes From El Paseo with “lots of sparkle,” as owner Raju Mehta described it — a second wave of diamonds and precious gems. Tassel necklaces, jumbo rings, shapely drop earrings, and bracelets gave way to a set of emeralds for the final look of the night. “It’s a lot of our new pieces,” noted Kavita Mehta, Raju’s daughter and El Paseo Jewelers’ brand ambassador. “We’re just really excited to share them with the desert, and hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did making it.”
Prior to the show, the evening began with the annual Little Black Dress cocktail reception benefiting local nonprofit GirlFriend Factor, which provides grants to adult women pursuing higher education at Coachella Valley institutions. The organization has provided more than $500,000 in scholarships since its inception in 2006.
GirlFriend Factor founder Joan Busick is enjoying what she calls “an extreme awareness of our organization in the community” as the scholastic season winds down thanks in part to the support received through Fashion Week El Paseo. “People are getting the joy that we have and the fun that we have,” she said. “We’re establishing the fact that you can still have a good time while you’re changing people’s lives.”
Also at the reception were a Saks Fifth Avenue activation featuring pampering stations by Clinique and L’Oréal; passed hors d’oeuvres from AC3 Restaurant + Bar and bar service by Liquid Catering; a silent auction; and a Joan Rivers impersonator offering commentary on attendees’ ensembles.
Fashion Week El Paseo debuted 13 years ago as a way to showcase the fashions of El Paseo stores. Though its designer offerings have exponentially expanded — on deck tonight are Michael Costello and fellow former competitors of Project Runway, and Wednesday features Alice+Olivia — the annual locals’ night holds a special place in this community’s heart.
There’s a noticeable bond that ties these El Paseo stores together, a sense of camaraderie evident in post-show conversations and congratulations among storeowners and clientele. The vibe is easy, playful, and refined. And it’s nights like this that work to solidify that bond for many years to come.
For more information and tickets, visit fashionweekelpaseo.com.
VIDEO: Watch the entire show from start to finish featuring the shops on El Paseo.