The moment Camerone Parker stepped out of the car, photographers rushed to snap a picture of her wearing a coat made of seatbelts.
Parker, a Tucsonan, is a model in the Classic Women’s division of FORD modeling agency and has graced the runways of Giorgio Armani and Vera Wang.
That night in 2013 where Parker wore the seatbelt coat, was at Fashion Week El Paseo’s Project Runway night in Palm Springs. The event would spark many friendships and create a lasting imprint on her influence in the Tucson fashion community.
The Woman Behind the Idea
Though she can be seen in the front row of fashion shows around town and in other fashion locales, Parker doesn’t see herself as the local fashion community’s darling. The media has deemed her a Tucson style icon, according to Parker, but she humbly said she would never call herself that.
“I don’t know where it happened and where I became a fashion guru,” she said.
Though Parker’s fashion role in the Tucson community is evident. Parker had a weekly fashion segment on 92.9 “The Mountain” for five years, where she was dubbed the “The Fabu Fashionista,” speaking about the best and worst fashion trends with a fun and light tone.
“I’m always honored that my point of view is fun and respected,” Parker said.
So what does a seatbelt coat have to do with Parker’s relationship to Project Runway, and how did it help her bring the show’s stars to Tucson? Buckle up, because the story is quite a scenic drive.
The Seatbelt Coat’s Connection
“I acquired the seatbelt coat not ever, ever thinking I was going to wear it someplace,” Parker said.
Along with the seatbelt coat, Parker may hold the largest collection of Project Runway-created garments at 19 pieces, spanning many seasons.
The 35-pound, shimmery champagne colored coat is made from the seatbelts of Saturn cars and was designed by Korto Momolu, a season five Project Runway designer, during the popular unconventional materials challenge episode.
According to Parker, the coat was deemed one of the top five most iconic pieces ever created in Project Runway history.
She bid on the garment during a Project Runway auction against world famous celebrity fashion stylist, Rachel Zoe, who was the guest judge on the episode where the seatbelt coat was created.
Parker said it was the seatbelt coat that made her known within the Project Runway family.
“The seatbelt coat, when I saw it being created, oh my god,” Parker said. “And when I saw it walk the runway, I said, ‘I have to have that coat.’”
Fashion Week El Paseo
In the past five years, Stein said more than 42 Project Runway designers have shown their collections at Fashion Week El Paseo — about 20 percent of the total designers in the show’s history.
The idea for a Project Runway night at Fashion Week El Paseo came from Michael Costello, a season eight Project Runway contestant and finalist on the show’s first All Stars season. He grew up in nearby Palm Springs and attended the show for many years.
That Project Runway night in 2013, Parker was just an attendee, but her impact would be lasting.
Parker knew that Momolu would be showing her collection that night, so she sent an email to the Project Runway producers letting them know that she would be wearing the designer’s seatbelt coat to the event.
“I was not prepared for the media blitz when I stepped out of the car,” Parker said. “It was insane, like flashbulbs and everything, and it caused quite a stir.”
Parker caused more stirs in 2015 as the closing model at Fashion Week El Paseo, walking for Project Runway season 11 and All Stars season three designer, Daniel Esquivel.
Parker will also walk at Fashion Week El Paseo again this year.
“She was a compelling force on the runway,” Stein said of Parker at El Paseo 2015, adding that Parker’s professionalism, unique look and the audience’s positive response helped Stein bring her back to fashion week this year.
Project Runway Comes to Tucson
The impact that Parker would have at El Paseo in 2013 was not only in what she wore, but in how she used the Project Runway event’s success to bring what she saw to the desert of Tucson.
She got help from Bert Keeter, a close friend and designer from season nine of Project Runway, who describes Parker as “effervescent” and “dynamic.”
After seeing the success of Fashion Week El Paseo’s Project Runway night, Parker spoke with Keeter about showing his collection at Tucson Fashion Week.
Keeter said yes, according to Parker, but on one condition: if Parker closed the show for him.
Flash forward to TFW 2013, where Paula Taylor, the co-owner and creative director for Tucson Fashion Week, had booked internationally known fashion designer, Betsey Johnson, for that year’s show.
Keeter was added to the event as a featured designer, showing a collection alongside Johnson.
Taylor also brought Parker on board the Tucson Fashion Week advisory board that year, knowing that Parker had a love for the fashion industry and was a model, where she said, “it seemed like a good fit.”
Taylor said of Keeter’s show that year, “He was a big hit, so people loved him.”
Keeter’s success at TFW 2013 would later have a big impact in bringing him back for a Project Runway night the following year, all with the spark of the idea from Parker.
“I don’t look at it as a job,” Parker said of her fashion duties. “I look at it as, yay, I get to be with my friends at a runway show.”
Parker pitched the idea to Taylor, and with Keeter’s help, brought Tucson Fashion Week its first Project Runway night, hosted by Parker, in 2014. Held at the Fox Theatre, the sold-out show featured six designers from past Project Runway cycles.
By bringing together local emerging designers and bigger fashion names, such as Johnson or the Project Runway stars, local fashion shows are able to expand their reach to the local community and fashion world at large.
“I think it exposes them to the realities of business,” Taylor said. “I think it also provides a bigger breadth of audience.”
Tucson Fashion Week’s branding model, Taylor said, is “to be a platform for emerging designers to showcase on the same runway with major talent.”
And the benefits of bringing in established designers, such as those of Project Runway, is not only for the local designers and fashion fanatics, but also to bring economic value to local cities.
Parker hopes that there will be another Project Runway night in the future for Tucson Fashion Week and that other Arizona fashion weeks will jump on board with a featured night for their shows.
Parker said that Project Runway’s involvement in local towns “humanizes” these stars because the people you see on television are in real life, so approachable.
Keeter had a similar frame of mind when speaking about Parker’s unique approachability, where he said he notices people aren’t as polite or approachable in today’s fashion industry.
“She was just very, very friendly and very open,” Keeter added.
This is something that Parker also credits her career with: being kind and approachable, much unlike the reputations of other high profile models and celebrities.
“It wasn’t in the books to ever become a model, I still giggle to this day that the industry has been very kind to me,” Parker said.
Parker certainly had familial influences of fashion growing up, as she said, “I don’t know which one carries a bigger suitcase, my Mom or Daddy.”
But for this woman, who is seen as a style maven in a desert city whose residents wear shorts and flip flops most days of the year, fashion comes natural.
“Fashion has always just been fun for me,” Parker said. “It’s artistic, it’s fun, it’s a great expression.”
Maggie Driver is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at email@example.com.
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