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Downtown Geneva gets glamorous for Fashion Week


Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

GENEVA — The red carpet lay spread on the runway under gleaming lights. The models moved in a flurry backstage, putting finishing touches on their hair and makeup. The spectators sipped shiraz and chardonnay as they waited for the Fashion Week 2010 show to start.

Though emcee Kristen Sommerfeld wore bright “New York” earrings, Wednesday night’s fashion show took place on Third Street in downtown Geneva. The runway was a stretch of sidewalk, spectators perched on stone steps and public benches and “backstage” was the sales floor of Strut … your stuff boutique, located in the basement of the historic Wright house at 217 S. Third. But the applause that greeted Strut’s first fashion show would have thrilled any Big Apple haute couture designer’s heart.

“I’m so happy this worked out so well,” said Sommerfeld, the manager of Strut and organizer of the show. “We felt that Geneva deserved its own Fashion Week event because we have so many stylish and fashion-conscious people in this area.”

Hinsdale resident Sue Niccolai agreed. “When my friend invited me to come here with her, I said yes right away,” she said. “The outdoor fashion show was unique and fun, and we got to go in the store and try on the clothes that had been in the show.”

Models Sara Schmitt, Christi Rantis and Gina Rantis strutted their stuff with confidence despite having little or, in Schmitt’s case, no experience modeling. Gina Rantis has directed and modeled in fashion shows in the Chicago area, while her sister, Christi, appeared last spring on VH1’s reality dating show, “Frank the Entertainer in a Basement Affair.” The Rantis sisters, both of St. Charles, and Geneva native Schmitt all shop at Strut.

“I just came into the store to browse one day and Kristen asked me to be in the show,” Schmitt said. “I’ve never modeled before, but I’m not really nervous because I’m comfortable in these clothes. It’s not like I’m trying to walk in something I wouldn’t wear normally.”

Sharon Liberman, whose art store Verve on Third also occupies part of the Wright building, noted that the fashion show encouraged her to try on styles she normally wouldn’t consider wearing. “I stepped outside my box tonight,” she admitted. “It was fun and a little … almost … scary, but the top I tried on really did look cute, which I didn’t expect. They’re holding it for me because I’m still thinking about buying it.”

Though she originally attended to help support a fellow Third Street merchant, Liberman said she was happy to see some of the new fall fashions spotlighted at the show. “I thought they would all be too young for me, but I really liked some of the outfits, especially the black jacket with the V-shaped hem at the back. It definitely got me thinking about what’s in my closet,” she added.

That’s exactly the response Strut owner Niala Conte said she hoped the show would inspire. “I want everyone who comes in here to feel comfortable in these clothes,” she asserted. “My customers range from 20 to 70 years old. We carry sizes from small to 3X. I love it when mothers bring their daughters here and they both find something they love.”

Conte said she’s considering hosting another special event for the store’s first anniversary in November. “The turnout and positive response for this (the fashion show) is certainly encouraging us to do something like this again,” she said.

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