It’s Key West Fashion Week!


THIS JUST IN: MAYHEM IS ON A course to hit Key West, and you want to brace yourself because the impact will be staggering. Philanthropically, that is.

Coming off the epic success of last year’s Blue Tarp Fashion Show, which raised more than $40,000 for the Sister Season Fund and Wesley House to aid victims of Hurricane Irma, the Mystick Krewe of Key West returns this year with MAYDAY! A Mayhem Fashion Event to Rescue the Earth.

For one night only, 29 models will stroll the catwalk wearing exotic fashions made from recycled, reused or repurposed materials by local designers (professional and not-so-professional alike).

Although life in Key West is largely back to normal (or as close to normal as we tutu-loving, shoe-forsaking folk get down here at the end of the road) and our streets are once again full of happy visitors bar- or museum-hopping without a speck of storm debris in sight, many of our residents are still feeling the effects of Hurricane Irma. And local aid organizations are always in desperate need of funds.

Models strutting last year’s Blue Tarp runway included Christopher Peterson, above left, Cheryl Cates, above right, and and Laura Richardson, below. TODD ANDREW FEIT / COURTESY PHOTOS

Models strutting last year’s Blue Tarp runway included Christopher Peterson, above left, Cheryl Cates, above right, and and Laura Richardson, below. TODD ANDREW FEIT / COURTESY PHOTOS

But the staid charity-ball-cum-silent auction routine gets a little old after a season full of beige hotel banquet rooms stuffed with attendees in stiff black tie. In a town full of creative personalities, why not fashion a charity event that both capitalizes on local talent and repurposes the overabundant discarded materials languishing in garages and storage sheds all over town?

That was the question asked by Val Marmillion and Juan Pisani, owners of The Peace Store and the brains behind the local Mardi Gras krewe-inspired Mystick Krewe of Key West, a 200-plus member organization that aims to enrich the community while having fun doing it.

Pisani and Marmillion, über creative types themselves (and Pisani being a former model), devised the brilliant concept of hosting a one-of-a-kind fashion show, first to benefit victims of Hurricane Irma and now to draw attention to the deleterious impact that waste is having on our global environment.


“Key West remains a community feeling the impact of Hurricane Irma, which stretched the limits of our nonprofit service organizations,” says Marmillion. “We want to ensure that storm fatigue a number of years later doesn’t prevent these great charities from supporting community needs.

“Additionally, nowhere is the need for protecting natural resources more pronounced than in Key West, where we rely on nature’s abundance and a healthy reef for our livelihoods, recreation and survival. This now annual fashion extravaganza is about helping the place we call home and her people.”

For this year’s Mayhem Fashion Event, the call to artists, designers and creatives is simple: Create a sartorial ensemble worthy of being paraded down a Key West runway. The catch: The outfit must be constructed primarily out of reused, recycled and/or repurposed materials.

“As the world changes and climate issues challenge low-lying communities in Florida and globally, each city has an opportunity to reduce the impact of trash and plastics, which both litter and cause environmental damage and blight in communities,” explains Marmillion.


“In Key West, the move to eliminate plastics as serving and bagging items is an appropriate response to the damage our environment is suffering because of human carelessness. It is a goal of our annual fashion program to demonstrate how recycling, repurposing and reusing materials makes sense and can be fun, while providing economic and environmental benefits.”

Recycling, reusing and repurposing as symbolism for creativity is in keeping with the unique spirit of Key West, says Kris Pabian, event model and Krewe officer. “Our show is a spotlight on need during the high tourist season, creating a runway with a cause.”

The idea behind turning a fashion extravaganza into a charity event comes from a similar event held in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Not a city to let Mother Nature get her down, New Orleans responded to Katrina the best way she knew how: with humor, creativity and a whole lot of tarp-based style. For the original Blue Tarp Celebration, the hurricane and her detritus served as a muse for dozens of designers dying to do their part to raise money for Katrina victims. And raise money they did. An auction of the outfits after the show raised $6,000 for local charities giving back to those who needed it most (which seems positively picayune compared to the Key West iteration).

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson

Proceeds from last year’s Blue Tarp Fashion Show provided housing assistance to struggling hospitality workers and youth services to many displaced children whose families were impacted by Hurricane Irma. The spoils of this year’s event will once again be split between two charities — the Sister Season Fund, which provides vital support to service industry professionals experiencing unforeseen hardships in the wake of catastrophic events, and WomanKind, which provides high-quality health services to Key West residents of all ages (and that is in desperate need of a technological facelift).

Erin McKenna

Erin McKenna

“Recovery from Hurricane Irma continues to impact individuals who struggle to find affordable housing with reduced housing stock,” says Marmillion. “Sister Season Fund is continuing to fill the recovery gap, particularly with service employees who are struggling to make ends meet.

“Our fashion show is continuing a tradition began by Sister Season, where annual fashion shows helped them meet their yearly budget. WomanKind is in the process of purchasing updated equipment for screenings, and funds from the show will go to help complete payment on an important technological item.”

Always on the forefront of charitable hosting, Phil and Patsy Amsterdam have donated the use of Amsterdam’s Curry Mansion Inn (511 Caroline St.) as the venue for the Mayhem Fashion Event on Wednesday, April 17. With one of Key West’s most iconic historic inns flooded in blue lights, the open-air setting will make for a night of memories.

“For two generations, we have hosted splendid events, but being able to be a part of helping those from the hospitality and service industry and bringing technology to the women’s clinic fulfills our community stewardship,” says Phil Amsterdam, owner of the Curry Mansion Inn.

From the outlandish to the practical, each outfit in the Mayhem Fashion Event has a specific narrative and title. Among them: “Fashion Sucks,” a Dear John letter to plastic straws; “2020 A Noodle Odyssey,” where foam noodles take over the Earth; and “Naughty and Nice,” where reused denim meets a corset.

Local designers include organizers Pisani and Marmillion, drag queen Sushi (of New Year’s Eve shoe-dropping fame) and former Queen of Fantasy Fest Mary- Lynne Price. Models run the gamut from high schooler (and designing dynamo) Bela Barr to former First Lady of Key West Cheryl Cates.

Charming cabaret crooner Christopher Peterson will kick off the evening with a number that’s sure to bring the mansion down. Then the models will hit the runway, studding the catwalk with all manner of repurposed material.

After all of the models strut down the Curry Mansion runway, the esteemed panel of judges (female impersonator Christopher Peterson, restaurteur Melanie Wilson, firecracker philanthropist Rosi Ware, spitfire personal trainer Liz Love, tireless talent scout Lynda Frechette and badass attorney Ashley Sybesma) will rank the top five looks. Those five looks will then be auctioned off by emcee Marmillion, with all of the proceeds to be split between Sister Season Fund and WomanKind. The remaining outfits will also be available for purchase.

Giving back to the community and nurturing the unique culture of Key West are the chief objectives of the Mystick Krewe of Key West, so this event is a perfect fit for the organization to contribute to the landscape of charitable events in town.

“The inspiration for the event is to promote the creativity of our island while lending a helping hand to the charities that keep our community compassionate and strong,” explains Marmillion.

“Our fashion world is known as one that gives back to the community,” Pisani adds. “We have a knockout show planned, where couture fashions will grace our models wearing local designer creations to light up the runway.

“Our goal is to tap into the creativity for which our community is known and to turn trash into gold for support of community needs.”

The event begins at 6:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. for a VIP reception with open bar and hors d’oeuvres). In addition to the reception, VIP tickets for $250 also guarantee a front-row seat to the recycled runway.

General general admission tickets are $75. All tickets include open bar, refreshments and ice cream. Tickets can be purchased either online at or by calling the Curry Mansion at 305-294-5349.

Sponsors for the MAYDAY! A Mayhem Fashion Event include Curry Mansion Inn, Jack and Terry Spottswood, Winn-Dixie, Rooster Tail, Pilar Rum, Margaritaville Resort and Marina, Antonia’s, Thirsty Mermaid, Little Pearl, Bagatelle, 915, One with Life Organic Tequila, Breakthru Beverages, Susie Isherwood, Waste Management, Ben & Jerry’s, Key West Butterfly Conservatory and ECI Construction. ¦

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