New York, Milan, Paris, London — these are the cities you immediately think of when someone mentions the word "fashion." But if you look around the shops and the people in or around the 30A corridor, you might be surprised to find that South Walton has a style all its own.
Jami Ray of 30A Street Style says it's the area's rich culture that forces residents and tourists alike to step out of their vacation clothes.
"People might hang out in their bathing suits and cover ups, but events like Digital Graffiti lends itself to different attire," she said.
As a street style blogger — and let's face it, a fashion lover — Ray recognizes the distinct style of SoWal, not all of it conventional.
"You see a lot of preppy styles, oxfords and stripes," she said. "But you also see some with an edgy kind of style, a rocker vibe and laid-back beach Bohemian styles, which is fun."
While the area may lack the plethora of labels available in major metropolitan cities, Ray points out that stores have definitely taken notice to what their local customers want to wear.
"Stores like Deja Vu, Barefoot Princess/Island Clothiers Willow do a good job curating clothes that give us the feel of big cities," Ray said.
Stephanie Carter, local designer and owner of Deja Vu, chose to make South Walton home for her family and her fashion line after receiving a positive response from the community at Rosemary Beach's West Indies Market.
Carter, along with several other Walton County boutiques added local flare to last week’s South Walton Fashion Week.
"It was a collaboration between Cultural Arts Alliance and Monark Events in an effort to fill a much-needed gap by placing South Walton on the fashion map and providing an opportunity for regional emerging designers to participate and elevate their burgeoning careers," said Jennifer Steele, Executive Director of Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.
Lessening the guilt of materialism, the first ever South Walton Fashion Week (or #SWFW as it was regularly referred to on social media) wasn't solely about showcasing pretty clothes. While the event did include trunk shows and late night shopping, it also benefited the community by donating proceeds to the Cultural Arts Alliance.
"This area is already brimming in fashion with talented local designers living, working and creating in our backyard, not to mention an abundance of incredible boutiques reflecting true South Walton style," said Hillary Fosdyck, co-founder and event designer of Monark Events.
The long weekend event at Grand Boulevard hosted celebrities such as Mychael Knight, from "Project Runway." You can see him enter the designer's work room once again in the "Project Runway All-Stars," beginning Oct. 24. Joining Knight on the judges’ panel was Cassie McConnell Kelley of the fashion blog, Womanista and singer/songwriter Holly Williams. Hosting was Heather Roop, whom some might recognize from the soap opera, "All My Children."
"Creativity and wear-ability is very important when you are a designer," said Kelly before the runway shows started. "Everything can look good on a model, but I want to feel good and look special in what I wear."
"I'm artsy-fartsy — all about the fantasy," Knight added. "When I'm judging the shows I'm going to look at the story it's telling and asking 'Is this fashion?' "
The response was so good from designers and fashion lovers alike that 2014 SWFW is already under way, giving even more proof of South Walton's good taste.
"When people hear you're from the south, they assume you don't know anything about fashion," said Knight, who hails from Atlanta. "But we had Scarlett O'Hara, and she made a beautiful dress out of curtains."
Alongside runway shows that featured clothes from nearby boutiques, the headliner event for South Walton Fashion Week was the competition between the emerging designers. Regional designers from New Orleans, Mississippi and even an Emerald Coast native were given an outlet to highlight their talent and creativity. The winner of the competition was awarded $1,500, a custom photo shoot, a spread in VIE Magazine and a six month-long display at Grand Boulevard's Town Center.
Ashlie Ming, a New Orleans designer, was the lucky winner of the Emerging Designer Contest. Ming, the designer behind New Orleans label Blackout, has southern roots, but big-city experience as a graduate of The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles.
"I couldn't have dreamed of a better way to share my brand with an incredible new market within the Florida Panhandle," said Ming. "All of the wonderful exposure SWFW gave me will undoubtedly help my brand expand throughout the South.”