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Tampa Bay Fashion Week Nurtures Local Talent

Twenty-two-year-old Simone Fratus is sitting in a computer lab at the Art Institute of Tampa, doing homework with a friend.

"Right now, I have on knee-length riding boots with studs on them and an oversized shirt and leggings and tons of accessories -- everything that I could just kind of throw on together. Three necklaces, a whole wrist full of bracelets. So I guess today I felt 'downtown girl,'" Fratus says with a laugh.

Fratus may soon be feeling “uptown girl” -- as in, New York. The aspiring celebrity stylist hopes to land an internship in the Big Apple after graduation.

"When you think fashion, you think New York," Fratus says. "When you go there and get the basic experience and you get really thrown into the mix, after that, you build your platform, and you can go anywhere and you know exactly what fashion's like. So if you've been there, you can go anywhere and you can succeed."

Nancy Vaughn, the founder and executive producer of Tampa Bay Fashion Week, knows Tampa Bay will never be New York, but she says that's beside the point.

"Our goal with Tampa Bay Fashion Week is to support the fashion design talent while they’re here," Vaughn says. "A lot of them are going to go off to New York. They get internships, they get opportunities abroad. As long as they get a support system here, the thought is that they’ll come back. And that’s exactly what Ben is doing."

As in, Ben Chmura -- a former Seminole Heights resident and finalist a few years ago on the TV design competition Project Runway.

"There’s not really a ton of design opportunities," Chmura says in a phone call from New York. "You don’t have all of the resources in terms of production or sample making or even fabric."

Sure, Chmura once worked at the Clearwater T-shirt company David and Goliath. And he has friends who’ve interned at Vanity Fair before the business moved from Tampa to Miami. But in this market, Chmura says, "eventually, you start tapping out your resources."

Today, in New York, Chmura's a graphic designer working on boys’ sportswear for companies like Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger and Dockers. But Chmura's grateful for his time in Tampa. He's back in town to emcee Tampa Bay Fashion Week’s signature event -- the Friday night fashion show.

Fratus, the aspiring celebrity stylist, was involved in last year’s show, helping dress and style the models. She’s also worked on a handful of fashion shows at bay area malls.

'One time, I went to Miami to do a fashion show, and I told them I was from Tampa," Fratus says. "They’re like, ‘Why would you do that? There’s no fashion shows there.’ And I’m like, 'Contrary to popular belief, my resume's full.'"

That's something that never goes out of style.

For more information on Tampa Bay Fashion Week, including tickets to Friday's runway show at the Ritz Ybor, visit fashionweektampabay.com.

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