Even bullying birds, giant frogs and cayman alligators couldn’t stop me enjoying the 2nd annual Tobago fashion week!. Flown out via Monarch airline, (which I assumed, would be very Easyjet like and not fabulous at all,) I was pleasantly surprised to find it the easiest cross Atlantic Caribbean trip I’ve ever had. The premium Economy seats were more than comfy, the food was as good as Virgin Atlantics and the check in queues non-existent! A great experience!

On touch down at ANR Robinson airport in Tobago (named after Trinidad and Tobago’s 3rd president Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson) I was scooped up Tobago Tony who settled me into the extremely lush Tobago Plantation Villa’s adjacent to the new Magdalena Grand Hotel (formally The Hilton). This meant I had the best of both worlds. I was able to have my own self contained apartment with TV, air conditioning, balcony overlooking a lush manicured golf course and my own kitchen so I was able to cater for my own food needs. I was also able to amble 2 minutes next door to the Magdalena Hotel pool overlooking the ocean with its stunning pool, friendly and immediate staff (a rarity in the islands cos let’s face it-the staff out there don’t have a reputation for being feisty and stush for nothing!!) and take advantage of their restaurants for business meetings with a round of golf too!

Whilst the golf course was breath taking to look at and walk across it came with its own hazards. On the first day I was merrily minding my own business admiring the lush ocean and greenery whilst cutting across the course when a seagull swooped down at me screeching and squawking away hysterically. It then soared away and took a further 3 run up’s and used my head as a landing runway over and again as I freaked out arms flailing and screaming at it to shoo myself! When reiterating my experience to the other crews there from BET, VIBE magazine and local Trini press they laughed and suggested I must be mistaken. So the next day I had them walk with me (safety in numbers) and lo and behold the bully bird came and ran up upon us all causing much merriment! As if that wasn’t enough I also needed to look out for cayman alligators in the lakes on both sides of the path and giant bull frogs sitting on the narrow hump back bridge glaring at me!.(And if you’ve been reading my Juice for a while now you’ll recall that nature likes messing with me. from dolphin attacks to searing my legs underwater on rusty old anchors, I’ve had a few natural dramas LOL.

The Tobago Plantation location was buzzing like an annual summer fashion party as the designers, models, international press and organisers were all located on the same site so the pool on downtime was like a catwalk show in itself. I was glad that British designer Romero was out there with his mum Marcia who luckily gave me lots of good advice about how to behave in the Caribbean when talking to service staff (STUSH!) and to put absolutely everything in the fridge from sugar to sun lotion to crisps in case the sugar ants got it!-thanks Marcia!

The fashion weekend began on the Friday night with a cocktail party at Basso’s Bar at the main Pigeon Point Heritage Park venue, where the TFW 2102 runway was officially opened on the waterfront with breath taking views of the sandy catwalk and moon dipping into the dark ocean in the background of the fashion showcase. The audience was then treated to a brief preview of a few pieces from some of the designers who participated in Fashion Week. The main catwalk shows days were Saturday and Sunday.

In between the evening events we were treated to daytime boat cruises around the island, taken to Booku Reef and Coral Gardens) where we learnt a lot about the underwater fish as we watched their fascinating colours in their natural habitat. Our teachers were pair of very animated seamen called Captain Harry and his mate Michael who was on the mic. They answered all our embarrassing tourist questions. ‘‘Will they bite us’’? ‘‘What’s that fish called’’. ‘‘Are they following our boat?’’ ‘‘Will they sting us?’’ and so on. I learnt my lesson about not touching coral in the ocean years ago when Mariah and I had a swimming race where she advised me not to touch the rock that we were swimming towards. Not heading her advice I jumped up onto the ‘’rock’’ and had a lovely bright red rash all across the back of my thighs all summer long. Lesson learnt. Nothing touched. Our trip out to the nylon pool-a vast area of turquoise Blue Ocean that is so shallow that you can walk in it for miles was visually stunning. They revealed that each dip in this water took 10 years off your age. So technically I am now around 4 years old readers! Our adventure was finished with a fresh crab dumpling lunch on the shore.

Photo by Mark Gellineau for TrinidadLookbook.com.

So Show day 1 started with a bang. As we arrived they were on BMT and so final touches were still being made as they finished off building the stage. We laughed but hey as they say ‘’we’re on Caribbean time-it’s a vacation so no complication’’ (must be said in a laid back Trini accent!)
I was chuffed as I was sat in the very craved for front row seats alongside the other international press and celebs. There was a sudden flurry of excitement as the paparazzi started popping off their flashbulbs at a couple I didn’t recognize. I was informed it was American professional boxer Shane Mosley (IBF Lightweight Championship, WBC & WBA (Super) Welterweight Championships and WBC, WBA (Super) & The Ring Light Middleweight Championships). I could tell he was someone by the cut of his clothing, his manner and oh yes, the diamonds that were dripping from his very pretty lady friend who had her well endowed chest area out on a plate which had all the men mesmerised.
As usual for all events that I’ve attended in the Caribbean the night started with all asked to be upstanding for the singing of the national anthem. (Can you imagine if this were a law in the UK? -there would be riots!) . I smiled as I heard the anthems lyrics include the lines ‘”islands standing side by side in the deep blue sea”. The UK’S might say an ‘’island all alone that bullies the world with its grey, wet skies’’

My favourite collections from day 1 were by well known and respected designer Meiling whose clothing saw a great set of lovely easy long flowing summer style casual wear that would translate easily for the European clientele on a Sardinia beach.

Designer Geopal had loads of Kids strut their stuff in bright greens, lush blues, pink and purple. Once again we were impressed by the kids modeling-they can workkkkk it!

A great capsule collection made by Andrew Harris with his menswear modeled by strapping hunks (clever guy) had ladies in the crowd screaming and yelling with whoops of appreciation. There were white shirts juxtaposed with knee length schoolboy shorts and cute Stripy candy cane shorts. All which had a very European Puff daddy on the yacht feel.
Last year, many of the audience were gutted that they couldn’t immediately place orders for garments they’d seen on the catwalk so this year the event upped their game by holding daily sessions where fashionistas could place orders there and then at the fashion park! So if they saw a piece they liked on the runway they could purchase it the same evening. A show and a shop-heaven!
As well as being able to buy clothes immediately, the newer designers were also able to take advantage of major workshops, which were held during the day, by the more experienced designers like Meiling who were able to help guide and inform them a little more. New designers all agreed that the workshop with Meiling was very informative as the veteran designer explained many things about fashion and the industry that they had not known before. They added what was especially informative was information on the business aspect of fashion and getting into the export market.
TFW 2012 was organized by Designers United Stores (DUS), a non-profit group dedicated to enhancing the local fashion industry into a thriving and viable enterprise with entrepreneurial opportunities across many sectors. In its second year, (TFW 2012) continued the momentum of last year’s success by increasing the featured designers-around 24 this year. 99% of designers showing were from Trinidad and Tobago. I would suggest that in future to broaden the international appeal, at least 50% should be from foreign shores. Designers like the UK’s Romero Bryan for example who opened the show on day 2 clearly was a class above the rest in terms of couture. Mixing mainstream international designers with more local talent would help bring wider press awareness to the event.
120 young models were used to show off the clothing and these models were not only great clothes horses but unlike more western catwalk models had strong, athletic bodies that were exciting to watch in comparison to the usual skin and bone models we’re more used to on western catwalks. The models had character, personality, attitude and were so much fun to watch and admire.

I am always amazed at the number of young child models involved and how professional and composed they are. The kids designs are numerous and impressive. I caught up with 12-year-old model Janelle after the show. Janelle has been compared to a young Rihanna with her fair skin and light green eyes and is generally tipped for the top. Many may have concerns that she isn’t living her youth to its fullest but when chatting to her she seemed extremely grounded telling me she’s a tomboy at heart and not really a girly girl for the dresses she models. She eats what she wants and enjoys showing off the clothes. Originally from London her family moved to Tobago many years ago and now are thinking of moving to Paris to break Janelle into her next stage of her modelling career.

The final day-day 2 of the event saw the Caribbean paps get very excited by the arrival of Anya Ayoung Chee ( Miss Trinidad and Tobago Universe 2008 and also the winner of Project Runway’s ninth season in 2011. ) who hundreds of attendees gathered around for photos and autographs.

JASMINE WITH ANYA.Photo credit- Maurice Goddard…

Starting off the show on the final day was the UK designer Romero Bryan. I met Romero years ago when I was an MTV NEWS presenter in 1998 when he came to the Met hotel to try and get Destiny’s Child to see his dresses. I helped get his designs to the girl band and he continued his relentless career himself showing his wares on celebs from Kelis to Samantha Mumba and more recently supermodel Alek Wek. Romero’s designs blew everyone away last year but this year he took it to another level with his chiffon flowing silks. Long knee length cocktail dresses all mono chrome. All extremely Sexy. Classy. Breathtaking. Particularly one long white gown that was covered ion Swarovski crystals that he sells at £250,000! Gulp!

Of course-fashion tastes vary and whilst I like to stay open minded about all looks and styles, there was one designers’ collection -Francis Hendy -that frankly contained so many garish coloured suits and such perplexing pairing that was so mismatched that frankly it made me wanna chuckup. I did however like a lot of Christian Boucards stuff- his leopard print chiffon capsule collection reminded me very much of early Roberto Cavalli designs. I also thought Hak Gui’s collection of bright rain macs with cutout backs was very cute and edgy and would work well here in the UK.

It was refreshing to see a couple of collections included for ‘’the fuller figured woman”. After all, it’s always like the elephant in the room when clothes are shown off on stick thin models so you have no idea how things will look on real women. Many real women and men modeled and it was great to see that the audience reacted to it well. If we had more shows like this our youngsters wouldn’t grow up with unhealthy body image issues of themselves!

The show closed with a very dramatic final theatrical performance of a clothing collection by ‘‘the cloth’’, which saw models dance trancelike down the catwalk in a contemporary dance meets African dance set. A unique and dramatic way to close the weekend.
Tobago fashion week really showed that the islands are moving fast and will soon be playing on the much wider world stage when it comes to fashion. The American press was literally falling over themselves to get shots of the Jamaican style lycra clothing that we often see in Dalston Market. There’s no doubt that these small island designers should not be overlooked when it comes to European fashion showings too. A few summery style ethnic pieces could work well alongside any new york, Milan or London fashion week moment of fabulousness!.

For my final 2 days I visited a very important Trinidadian media big wigs home aptly called Coolo Breezo up in the Tobago Hills. It was a stunning house not very unlike the home of Richard Branson in Necker Island where I stayed in the past. All open plan to the winds and classically furnished with a swimming pool and tennis courts overlooking the island it truly was paradise. Perched atop Lambeau Hill Coolo Breezo is a 3 bedroom villa offering panoramic views across Tobago and aptly named for its constant Caribbean breeze. We spent a wonderful afternoon and evening here drinking Ciroc cocktails as we flitted between swimming in the pool and relaxing in the Jacuzzi. Next time I am in Tobago this is where I want to stay! (smile)…..
One afternoon I was flicking through the guest guidance book and laughed hard as I read ‘’ we know that some visitors to the Caribbean assume that all West Indians move around in a permanent haze of marijuana smoke. Though some people do indulge this is hardly the reality. Marijuana is illegal to grow, sell or possess. Do not consider taking drugs out of the country under any circumstances. Customs officers have seen all the methods of concealment. A long stint in a T& T prison is not the joyous experience you might think it is ‘’ LOLOL!
Roll on 2013 and Tobago Fashion Week!-it will be a contender on the world stage very soon-mark my words!

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