Last week was Fashion Week in New York, the biggest fashion event in the country, where buyers go to see what’s hot for the next season. But next Monday through Saturday, October 3 through 8, Princeton will be a haven for its own "fashionistas" when Palmer Square hosts its first Palmer Square Fashion Week. Stores will hold trunk shows and special promotions and the week will culminate with no-holds-barred New York-style fashion shows – under a full-sized tent on the Nassau Inn Green, with runways (or catwalks in fashionista lingo) for strutting models wearing fall clothing and accessories from Palmer Square retailers, high-tech lighting, and live music.

"There’s a perception that you have to go to New York City to get cutting edge-fashion," says event organizer Chantal Palmer (a Princeton resident and clothing designer profiled in a cover story in U.S.1 on October 6, 2004). "This is a good way to tell the public that what they’re getting in Palmer Square is as good as New York and they don’t have to travel nearly as far. Based on what I’m seeing at certain stores in New York, I’m very proud of our retailers. They offer the same mix of fashions, but often have newer and better designs."

The fashion shows, which take place Friday and Saturday, October 7 and 8, feature both professional and amateur models – men, women, and children. There is seating for 150, plus additional standing room. The Friday evening show, October 7, features fashions from Honey West, Lace Silhouettes Lingerie, and Zoe. The Saturday afternoon show features fashions and accessories from Talbots Kids, ICI Fashion for Children, ICI Monde, Dandelion, Au Courant Opticians, Aerosoles, and Cotton Company. Both shows are free.

David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management, says: "Last summer, we allowed Chantal to hold a fashion show in the Writers’ Block space. There was such an overwhelming response, we began discussions about creating a fashion event for Palmer Square on a much larger scale."

Princeton BMW, Princeton

Mini, and Princeton Porsche have also joined in on the partnership to promote independent merchants and to align themselves with Palmer Square as a premium destination for high-end shopping. Porsche and Mini will have their own clothing on the catwalk, and all three automobile sponsors will have cars on display on the square so that those who are tapped out from shopping for fashions can shop for or at least dream about cars.

"It’s a great partnership," says Palmer. "After all, New York has a Mercedes-Benz fashion week. Why couldn’t we do the same?" Palmer says one of her biggest goals is to encourage new merchants to set up shop in Princeton and to encourage people to buy locally. "It’s so important for the longevity of merchants in town to have that support from the local community. This fashion show is all about merchants getting together and working for a common good. They want to get their wares out there, and they understand that an event like this is a great way to promote their brands and to promote the square as a destination. Retail can be very competitive, but if you look around town, everyone has a unique identity."

Palmer speaks highly of the fall offerings at participating stores, starting with Zoe, owned by Lisa Brock. "Her prices are very good and her pieces are cutting edge," says Palmer. Zoe carries such labels as Prada, Mui Mui, Pucci, Seven for All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity denim, Juicy Couture, Burberry, Rebecca Taylor, Roberto Cavalli, and Diane von Furstenburg. Honey West, owned by sisters Annie and Marisa Perini, has "fast captured the attention of the younger, high fashion market" with labels such as Antik Denim, Oliver Twist, Notify, Killah by Miss Sixty, Soshanna, California Vintage, Grail, Primp, Velvet and L.A.M.B.

Palmer says ICI Fashion for Children, ICI Monde, and ICI Bebe, owned by Lisa Mazzone, features clothes for children from infants through early teens. "Lisa has put a new spin on children’s fashion" by carrying labels such as Diesel, Juicy Couture, Lilly Pulitzer, E.land, Petit Bateau, and Monkey Wear. Talbots Kids is the only chain that is involved in the fashion show.

Au Courant Opticians, says Palmer, "with Gary Iavarone at the helm, offers exquisite designer eyewear and sunglasses such as Chanel, Burberry, Cartier, Oliver Peoples, and Paul Smith. Dandelion carries fashionable jewelry and accessories by Nomination, Dillon Rogers, and Chan Luu. Lace Silhouettes features designer sleepwear and lingerie by Claire Pettibone, Flora Nikrooz, Karen Neuburger, and Eileen West. Cotton Company boasts upscale woman’s apparel such as Lilly Pulitzer and Brighton."

Other Palmer Square retailers will contribute to Fashion Week in different ways. Design Within Reach will offer an artful display of furniture. Makeup for the models will be provided by Blue Mercury and Origins, while hair will be styled by Salon Vis a Vis. Mediterra and Teresa Caffe will serve snacks and "mocktails" while the Bent Spoon will its all-natural gelato and sorbets.

Palmer was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her father, an entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical industry, owns a company called Omnimed, the largest privately-owned pharmaceutical company in South Africa. Her mother was an artist who died when Palmer was 13 years old. She has three older sisters, all of whom live in South Africa. She attended the Johannesburg School of Art, Ballet, Music and Drama. Since she had witnessed her mother going through chemotherapy, she tried nursing very briefly before going to the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg to study industrial psychology. She then earned an MBA in England before coming to the United States in 1998.

Married 12 years to Gary Palmer, also a South African who is in the pharmaceutical industry, the couple has two children, eight-year-old Grayson-Claire, and five-year-old McKenna, both students at Johnson Park in Princeton.

Given such a varied background that didn’t involve fashion at all, how was it that she landed smack in the middle of it? "When I first came to the United States I wasn’t allowed to work and I was frustrated. I asked myself what can I be passionate about. And when I analyzed myself I realized that fashion interested me." So she went to Fashion Institute of Technology, earned a one-year associates degree in merchandising, and came out with a Dean’s Award. "I got fantastic job offers in the city that I had to decline because of my husband’s career and I didn’t want to commute. I decided to turn a negative into a positive and said how do I make this work in Princeton."

She went to work for Hedy Shepard on Nassau Street to get retailing experience. She was also offered a rack to merchandise her own brand, and created a line of vintage-inspired clothing. She and her sisters brainstormed to come up the name "Victoria Kitkat." "It’s based on a character who is a woman of the world. She’s both Audrey Hepburn and Lara Croft. She’s a mother, a fashionista, and a real person, somebody you can relate to. She’s got kids but she has this persona where she’s lived the high life."

In fact, Palmer will be developing that persona even further by working on a fiction book about Victoria KitKat. "In some ways she’s loosely based on me, but not quite so I have to live vicariously through her," says Palmer. "I know women who have lived the high life in New York and all over the world and I also know women who have lived the day-to-day drudgery of living with two or three or four kids. It’s about mixing the dream of the glitzy glam and the realness of life."

As for Palmer Square Fashion Week, Palmer says sure, we may have New York and Paris but there’s no reason not to recreate that fashion scene by bringing international fashion to Princeton. "The whole show is about putting Princeton on the fashion map."

Palmer Square Fashion Week, Palmer Square. A week of in-store events, trunk shows and special promotions Monday through Sunday, October 3 through 9. High-fashion runway shows on Palmer Square Green: Friday, October 7, 6:30 p.m., clothing by Honey West, Lace Silhouettes Lingerie, and Zoe; and Saturday, October 8, 1 p.m., clothing and accessories by Talbots Kids, ICI Fashion for Children, ICI Monde, Dandelion, Au Courant Opticians, Aerosoles, and the Cotton Company. Free. For specific show information visit www.palmersquare.com. 609-921-2853.

In-store events during the week include:

Aerosoles: Boot Sale Week

Au Courant Opticians: Kate Spade Eyewear Trunk Show, Friday, October 7

Cotton Company: "Love that Lilly" event featuring designs from Lilly Pulitzer, Friday through Sunday, October 7 through 9

Cranbury Art Gallery: "Art of Fashion," a collection of framed vintage fashion illustrations

Honey West: Showcasing the latest designs from Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B collection, as well as Rachel Pally and 2 B Free

ICI Fashion for Children, ICI Monde, ICI Bebe: Diesel Day, Wednesday, October 5; and Lilly Pulitzer Day, Friday, October 7

Lace Silhouettes Lingerie: "The Perfect Fit" bra fitting event, Friday through Sunday, October 7 through 9

Origins: Launch of "Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins," a totally integrative approach to skincare

Ralph Lauren: Unveiling of the new fall collection

The Papery of Princeton: Free personalization on select stationery

Yankee Doodle Tap Room: Cocktail specials.

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