In Cayman, “gala season” is all year round and includes events from the small and intimate, to the very grand, all of which raise money for various charities on island.
Weekender talked to retailers at fashion stores on island, gala attendees and popular emcee Vicki Wheaton about the latest trends in gala fashion and their favorite designers.
“Despite being so small, Cayman is a place with the biggest heart, and the largest desire to give back,” says Nicola de Lima, owner of Cayman Fashion Group who attends as many galas as she can with her husband Patrick.
“Thanks to Caymanian sensations such as actress Grace Gealey and models Selita Ebanks and Treveen Stewart,” she says, “Cayman is quickly becoming a fashion capital gaining global attention and that of big designers who want a presence on island in my stores.
“Because of Cayman’s size, I purchase only one piece of any gown or special cocktail dress to ensure that no two people will ever attend an event, dressed by us, in the same dress.
“I buy our pieces only after personally seeing the best of the best from each collection. I am often seated with other buyers from major U.S. department stores. We take great care in ensuring that everyone has their own ‘look’ at every event, and that there is no cross-over.”
The most popular designers at her stores are Halston Heritage, Diane von Furstenberg, Nicole Miller, BCBG, Alexis, Rachel Zoe, Herve Leger and Notte by Marchesa. Current trends for events include plunging necklines, bare shoulders, flowing gowns, and shades of yellow, crisp white and gingham.
“Fashion is a self-expression,” says Ava Gianne, the buying and merchandising director at Cayman Couture at The Strand. “In terms of what is trending right now, I would say definitely bright colors and floral prints.”
The sourcing and purchasing of any brand is done at trade shows, which take place in New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
Ed Solomon, owner of Arabus (and, incidentally, Grace Gealey’s uncle), also buys only one of each evening dress to ensure non-duplication. He stocks designs by Nicole Miller, DKNY, Calvin Klein, Ted Baker and Michael Kors. Solomon, who established Arabus 40 years ago, makes buying trips to New York and Las Vegas up to four times a year. Arabus has been in its current location on Fort Street in George Town for six years.
Wheaton emcees about 10 to 15 fundraising events a year. At some of them, she also runs the live auction. She recalls one of the first events she hosted as being the Cayman Islands Humane Society fashion lunch in the old Hyatt hotel at least 15-20 years ago.
“I think that there are many people who really enjoy dressing up in finery,” says Wheaton. “As the general dress code in the islands is very relaxed and casual, it makes it that much more special when guests can don their glad rags, go to the salon, and really come out sparkling.”
She adds, “It’s understandable that with a population of this size, the shops can’t possibly cater to everyone. If I can’t find what I’m looking for, I either get it made by a seamstress, or look in Macy’s overseas. I also love Saks Off 5th – Saks outlet store.”
Wheaton chooses shoes by Diane von Furstenberg and Kate Spade, bags by Louis Vuitton and Cartier, and big statement jewelry by Rebecca, Swarovski and Spanish designer “Uno de 50.”
Vicki Legge, owner and publisher at Pinnacle Media, attends at least eight galas per year, including the recent RCIPS Outstanding Service Awards which she organizes each year, Hatitude, Red Cross and the Hospice Big Bash at Pappagallo’s which are coming up soon.
“Some are black tie, semi-formal, cocktail dresses or even themed like Country Western and Bollywood,” says Legge. “My favorite designer is Saint Laurent, but there are many other less expensive like Tony Bowles. I have several of his evening gowns.”
On island, Legge buys cocktail dresses or semi-formal at NKY and off island at Neiman Marcus, Saks, at a small boutique in Fort Lauderdale named Zola Keller, and other boutiques in New York and Houston.
“There are so many great causes in Cayman – you could literally have an event every day,” says Ingrid Pierce, global managing partner at Walkers. “There are many ways to give, including by donating time or undertaking an extreme physical challenge to raise funds. For instance, we do long walks to raise money for breast cancer. A gala is just a fun way of getting to the same result while also dressing up.”
Isy Obi, designer of the Isy B brand, attends at least six to eight galas per year, Popular trends, she says, are embellishment, fringes tassels, all white and ‘70s silhouettes in vibrant prints.
“My friends often tease me for having arrived in Cayman with five evening gowns in my suitcase,” she says. “I would always rather be beautifully dressed than be on the blade edge of fashion and indulge my fondness for any new trends in my accessories.”
Obi’s favorite designers are Marchesa, Ralph & Russo, Stella Jean, Badgley Mischka, ALS, Valentino, Diane Von Furstenberg, Nicole Miller and Matthew Williamson. Her go-to shops on island are NKY, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cyaman, and, of course, her own Isy B designs. Off island, Obi shops at Gilt, Net a Porter, Chic Parisienne in Coral Gables and designer outlet malls in the U.K. and U.S.
She also writes a shoe blog, www.isybshoes.com, and her current favorite designers are Tabitha Simmons, Charlotte Olympia, Luis Onofre, Marc Jacobs, Tamara Mellon and Sophia Webster. Her bags of choice are by Chloe and Stella McCartney, and contemporary jewelry by Alexis Bittar and Ippolita.
Marguerett Isabel, another regular at galas, was the personal assistant to the personal shopping spokesperson working with celebrities at Canada’s Holt Renfrew before relocating to Cayman three years ago. She attends four or five galas per year.
Her favorite designers are Stella McCartney, Chloe, The Row and Alice and Olivia, which she splurges on while traveling. On island, she shops at Carey’s Karma Closet and at Camana Bay.
“I am very particular about good quality shoes and gorgeous clutch bags” she says. “I like simple gold and handmade beaded jewelry, layered properly.”
Jeri Bovell attends three to four events per year. She loves Carolina Herrera for her fabrics, the sophistication and elegance of Dior, Dries van Noten for textures, Jason Wu and Jill Sander for architectural lines and Diane von Furstenberg’s classic wrap dresses. On island, Norma Ebanks of Creative Fashion designs unique gowns for her.
Superstitch, established in 1994, is another popular dressmaker on island. It employs six tailors and seamstresses.
“A formal gown generally takes a maximum of two weeks to be made with one fitting,” says Lois Senior of Superstitch. “The express service takes three to five days. We have designed and manufactured so many fabulous and outstanding dresses that it is very difficult to pinpoint just one.”