This was the third year I participated in iConcept, and the second time I walked the runway. For those who don’t already know, Art Center Sarasota becomes “Project Runway” for a night when local artists use their abundant creativity to design catwalk creations for auction. An unsung local gem, iConcept raises funds for the Art Center, where I have the pleasure of conducting regular community programming. (Kudos to outgoing director Fayanne Hayes for transforming this community center into a vibrant and progressive player on the local arts scene).
Two years ago, I modeled a David Amos shirt and a Barbara Gerdeman dress, which I subsequently purchased. In a moment of whimsy, my husband and I also bought a Jukanoo mask at auction as well. What I didn’t know that night, was I would become pregnant a week later. It was a fitting swan song to my footloose and fancy free days to have my own Carrie Bradshaw moment before ushering in a new era of motherhood. I will always remember that night as the last night my husband and I were purely focused on ourselves—what a glorious night it was!
Fast forward two years (I took last year off from iConcept, as it was quite close to baby Daphne’s birth). We have been in a pregnancy whirlwind, panicking about products at Babies R Us, caring for a newborn through sleepless nights and even adjusting to the difficulty of leaving our beloved baby in the care of others. My wonderful friend Stephanie Peters, whose amazing artistry is crucial to the success of iConcept, made an inspired suggestion to me for this year’s event: to ask if artist Barbara Gerdeman would design something for Daphne (now 15 months old). The lovely Barb, a mother and a grandmother, immediately took to the concept and ran with it. I admit I was a bit worried about the idea at first—I’d be wearing a dress made of Publix bags and pushing a shopping cart?—but she designed what turned into a beautiful dress with an empire waist and a mermaid-style design (mermaid style hugs curves and then flares out at the bottom). I had a fabulous matching headpiece and ice cream container purse as well. But the pièce de résistance was the most beautiful accessory of all: Barbara designed a mini-version of my dress for Daphne!
Barbara borrowed a grocery cart from Publix and put paper shopping bags in the cart with groceries, including a baguette (which Daphne surprisingly chose to snack on while she waited for our turn on the runway) and some celery sticks, along with framed Monet still lifes of fruit (genius!). During rehearsal, I had to practice turning the cart on the stage and ensuring the audience saw the dress, both while entertaining Daphne. My mom and I were sweating it in the back: Would Daphne make it? Would the baby have a melt-down and go into what I call “Occupy” mode when she makes her body limp and resists whatever I’m asking her to do? But Barb was cool as a cucumber—caring for Daphne, fluffing my dress and never missing a beat!
It turned out Daphne was the life of the party! All the models were cooing over her as we waited in line to go onstage. It was as if she had 20 beautiful babysitters entertaining her. I was nervous she would be afraid when she saw the crowd and heard the loud music —but no! She was dancing from the minute the music started all the way down the runway. Now, all of I have to do is say the word “dancing” and Daphne kicks into high gear. What seemed like a madcap idea turned into a moment of sheer joy for Daphne and me that I will always remember! Whatever her future holds, she can always tell all her friends that she was on a catwalk with her mother as a toddler.
Now, I want to note I will never put Daphne on Toddlers and Tiaras, as my mother kept half-joking throughout the night. At iConcept she was surrounded with love at a fundraiser for a wonderful organization. But I do want to expose her to and make her a part of all things I love to do: concerts at the Selby, trips to the Ringling Museum and yes, even walking the runway at iConcept. The opportunity to bring the newest addition to our family to all the amazing things Sarasota has to offer has truly been a gift.
Bonnie Greenball Silvestri
Bonnie Silvestri is Senior Fellow for Arts, Culture and Civic Engagement and an instructor teaching law classes in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. Prior to moving to Sarasota, she lived in New York City from 1996 to 2006. She received her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in English with a minor in Art History from Vanderbilt University and her Juris Doctor from The Michael E. Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Most importantly, she is mom to the beautiful Daphne and wife of Michael Silvestri.