Deep in the winding hills of the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), the third installment of "Summer Sizzle" begins. For the past two years, the show has called the British Virgin Islands (BVI) home, but for the first time it's expanding the USVI of St. Thomas.
The venue is a lavishly appointed tent on the grounds of the Antilles School. Beneath said tent sit rows of white chairs, flanking a runway which easily rivals those of New York Fashion Week.
Behind the catwalk, racks upon racks of clothes from leading American designers including Tracy Reese, Andrew Buckler and Cesare Galindo. In homage to the island setting, famed Caribbean designers like Roger Gary and Dominique Pearl will also be gracing the catwalk.
While Galindo is the only U.S. designer present to take a bow, a bevy of noted New York City fashion figures are busily working backstage. The group includes leading model Sessilee Lopez, former Vibe Magazine Fashion Director, Memsor Kamarake, Jennifer Hudson's make up artist Ashunta Sheriff, and Design Star host Tanika Ray, who is hosting the show. These, and many more, are all key characters behind one of the best fashion shows the island of St. Thomas has likely ever seen.
And yet, there's barely an audience.
As the music starts and Sessilee struts out, it's clear many of the three hundred or so seats that were heavily promoted will remain empty. It's a fact that hardly deflates the steely determination of "Summer Sizzle" creator and planner, Terry Donovan.
"It was not as much as I'd like it to be, but it's a new event on this island so I am looking forward to building it," he says backstage at the close of the show.
Building an event is something seems Donovan is used to. The British Virgin Island native's bio touts years of experience producing fashion shows and events on the island many of which enjoy a solid following from island hoppers.
So why the lack of support for this event? Donovan faults conflicting schedules.
"There were three other events going on tonight which was unexpected," he explains, citing a scholarship gala, an American Idol-style competition and a beauty pageant. "'Summer Sizzle' isn't about just picking a random date on a calendar. We do it at a time when the fashion industry goes on vacation so many of the top models are available."
Memsor Kamarake points to yet another issue: an audience that may not yet be sold on a high-end fashion show.
"Do they have to be coaxed and cajoled to come? Yes they do," he explains. "But is there a potential for a hugely responsive audience? Yes there is!"
For Martini Meyer, a local salon owner who is helping the beauty team backstage, this means adding more local flavor to a show which banks on it's "global glamour."
"If he brings a reggae artists to lead the show, more people will have a reason to be here and be introduced to the concept of this idea."
Yet for stalwart supporters of the show like Sessilee Lopez, who is now in her third straight year of participation, success is just a question of time.
"The first year I came, I saw all the potential and I knew the world needed to know about it."
To that end, she's been calling friends, designers and artists to lend support for the show each year. And this was no different. Backstage is friend and fellow model Grace, boyfriend Wendell Lissimore and stylist Atiba Newson, all of whom are lending their notable talents and names to the show.
The next morning this crew, including organizers, and locals alike embark on a much anticipated "Summer Sizzle" custom: a catamaran ride to a secluded island. As the boat embarks one thing is clear: no one is upset over the low turnout.
In fact, the overwhelming consensus? They'll all be there next year.
Hopefully, so too will an an audience.
Learn more about "Summer Sizzle" and Terry Donovan here.