(PRWEB) May 5, 2005
In New York, it seems the Hip-Hop generation has grown into Mark EckoÂs new Cut and Sew collection, which recently debuted with crisp linen jackets and relaxed-collar suits in bright hues and creative textures like denim and gabardine. But the Caribbean undress code came of age in Key West more than a decade ago with brightly colored linens by Victoria Lesser.
In England, Bunny London outfits MadonnaÂs daughter, while on this warmer island, Dink Bruce shirts-up hot celebrity dropouts with his hard-to-find cotton TÂs. Clearly, the reverse ÂcoolÂ of Key West is looking fashionably casual without looking like everyone else.
And Monique Lhuillier, HollywoodÂs designer de jour, is oh, so stiff and formal with her body-clinging, silky red carpet fashions that, by comparison, Jasmine SkyÂs yards and yards of hand painted silk palazzo pants and tunics float like unrestricted sighs on a breath of fresh tropical air.
Even before Miami Vice set the stage for menÂs tropical wear, clothing designers in Key West were turning out loose-fitting, natural fiber apparel for those who think for themselves; who opt for comfort and casual wear; who choose a lifestyle, then dress accordingly.
As far back as the 1970s and early Â80s, a handful of local fashion designers recognized a distinct freedom of lifestyle in the Keys that went hand-in-hand with a sense of dressing down to accommodate it. Susan Rafferty designed swimwear at her store on Duval Street to express this style, which until then had little definition. Anga at Winter Sun set trends with her simple, cotton line of clothing. Jim Cox, the ÂWhistle Pants Man,Â Americanized a version of the Caribbean tie-style pants popular in Jamaica.
These days, cool, casual and comfortable garb still goes. Yet, with millions of visitors to Key West, Jasmine Sky thinks the Caribbean undress code is ratcheting up a notch or two. She says sarongs are in, of course, but now theyÂre made of silk.
ÂWrapping and tying is an ancient way of dressing,Â said Sky, clothing designer and owner of The Dreaming Goddess Boutique (http://www.thedreaminggoddess.com) on Big Pine Key. ÂTo accommodate that kind of simplicity, I keep sewing to a minimum, incorporate large sarongs and scarves, and design all my clothes with silk in mind, which is an ancient fabric.Â
Silk is SkyÂs fabric of choice. In fact, she only works with this natural animal fiber and hand paints each item she creates.
ÂSilk captivates people. Feelings change when you wear it,Â she said, her billowing yellow silk tunic with capped sleeves accented a pair of blue-on-blue turquoise, charmeuse pants. The pants wrapped round and round what appeared to be a trim body, but beneath all the layers of silk, it was hard to tell where skin and fabric actually touched.
ÂItÂs more sensual, more luxurious,Â Sky said, understating the obvious.
When it drapes a manÂs shoulders or sways with the molasses motion of a womanÂs hips, silkÂs luster, alone, turns heads. In some of its cultivated forms, silk is the finest, sheerest of all natural fibers, with the greatest strength.
Legend crowns Lady Hsi-Ling-Shih, wife of the Emperor of China in 2600 B.C.E., as the Goddess of Silk. But evidence shows that silk was in use in China as early as 4000 B.C.E. Although the secret of silkworms was protected within ChinaÂs culture until 300 C.E., by the 6th or 7th century, silkworms had been smuggled into Southern Europe where they began chowing down on mulberry trees growing in Greece, Italy and Turkey. Though Asia dominates the cultivated silk industry today, it is produced around the world, and manufacturers estimate that it takes 2,500 to 3,000 silkworm cocoons to get one yard of silk fabric.
ÂThere are many types of silk and weights, but I concentrate on four; habotai for its lightweight billowy effect, charmeuse for its weighted, luxurious drape and buttery-soft feel, organza for its sheerness and silk gauze for its stretch, which is perfect for bandeauÂs, turbans and head wraps,Â said Sky. ÂBecause it has more elasticity than cotton or linen, silk keeps its shape better, wrinkles less, and is perfect for tropical wear.Â
Silk, which doesnÂt effectively conduct heat away from the body, might seem inappropriate for Key WestÂs steamy summers, but a strange and little known fact is that silk can absorb a great deal of moisture (30% of its own weight) and still feel relatively dry because the moisture evaporates quickly.
ÂIt will absorb perspiration and oil from your skin, then shed it easily and readily, said Sky. ÂItÂs a sanitary textile, a biodegradable fiber unlike polyester or nylon. And weighted silks, such as charmeuse, do indeed conduct heat away from your body.Â
If the number of shops along Duval Street that carry silk tank tops vs. cotton t-shirts are any indication of the fiber choice of comfort in the tropics, the sweat absorbing, inexpensive and ever-present TÂs make loud fashion statements. Moreover, many make political or social statements.
ÂMy ÂEl Braso FuerteÂ t-shirt is probably the most popular one IÂve designed,Â said Dink Bruce, who does considerably more on the island than design shirts. ÂThen thereÂs my Hemingway shirt that reads ÂHow to Survive in the KeysÂ Run, Hide or Shoot.Â
ÂI donÂt sell these or my Bubba Conch series in shops any more,Â he said. ÂI only resurrect them as needed.Â
Many hand painted or silk screened t-shirts are popular with the visiting throngs, but BruceÂs shirts, or those designed by B.J. Martin are keepsakes, prized by locals and worn to a funky, faded patina.
ÂI designed the ÂEat It RawÂ girl in 1975,Â said Martin, whoÂs been in the t-shirt business for more than 20 years and still designs some for Margaritaville and Sloppy JoeÂs. ÂI created that one as a favor for my cousin, Sydney Snell, who was then the manager of Half Shell Raw Bar. Today he owns Sloppy JoeÂs.Â
Martin says he wasnÂt paid for the clever logo that has become a Key West icon. In fact, it was pretty controversial at the time: ÂA true story — in 1976, just as Disney World was spreading out in Orlando, a guy wearing my ÂEat It RawÂ shirt was turned away from the mouseÂs front door,Â said Martin. ÂCan you even imagine that happening today?Â
The dress down lifestyle inherent in cotton t-shirts is not always chic, though; sometimes someone wants that Âdressed to killÂ look. Silks easily fit the order, and Jasmine Sky promises they do this comfortably; itÂs just a matter of how the clothes are designed. For instance, loose arm holes in silk shirts, or cuts that donÂt cover the arm pit, allow body heat to escape. Boat necks, v-necks and halter tops are typical of her airy designs.
ÂAir flow is critical,Â said Sky, who moved to the Keys in 2001 with two cats, a bolt of silk and fabric paints. ÂI use at least two yards of silk in all my designs to allow a layer of air to circulate between the material and the skin.Â
As a former New York dancer, Sky says unrestricted movement is essential to comfort, too: ÂYou can sit on the floor or dance on stage wearing my clothes. Whatever your lifestyle, whatever you choose to do in them, the yards of silk will flatter your figure,Â she said. ÂA man or womanÂs size is irrelevant to Dreaming Goddess designs because everything is custom made, a one of a kind garment that can go the distance from beach wrap to wedding gown.Â
Sky says her mission is to introduce people to the wonder and luxury of fine silk clothes, which they can experience at http://www.thedreaminggoddess.com.
Barbara Bowers http://www.bbowers.com
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