It’s three weeks before Art Center Sarasota’s annual Iconcept fashion show, and Executive Director Lisa Berger is hunkered down in her office.
Outside her office, Art Center staff works to hang its new exhibit. Artists come in to pick up some of their pieces. In front of Berger’s door, a staff member paints pedestals white. Visitors come in and interrupt Berger with questions.
It’s as if today is Berger’s personal obstacle course. In addition to her daily routine, she is the woman behind Iconcept, the fundraiser for the Art Center featuring local artists’ fashion designs made of nontraditional or recycled materials. The show takes place Friday, March 28, at the Sarasota Municipal Auditorium.
Instead of leather, cotton and linen, the artists create detailed appliqué from wire hangers, two-pieced suits from newspapers and bridal gowns out of bras. Berger conceptualized and founded the show, which is in its sixth year.
The funds raised benefit the Art Center’s youth arts education program. Last year’s funds of more than $30,000 allowed it to hire a full-time education director.
Sitting in her cluttered office, Berger works to finalize the details of the event. The following day, she’ll coordinate a six-hour photo shoot featuring all 23 artists, 27 designs and models at Barbara Banks’ photography studio. She has at least 10 phone calls to return, and she still has to find time to finish her own dress for the show.
This is all in addition to her normal job running an art gallery and public art center. Her desk is buried under stacks of papers. She has circles under her eyes. Her cell phone and a Tervis tumbler of coffee with an orange lid are practically glued to her hands. She admits she hasn’t slept much.
Adding to the hoops she must jump through before the final show, she’s run out of Purex laundry detergent bottles while making her mermaid-inspired, under-the-sea couture dress for Iconcept. She’s already dug through all of her neighbors’ trash.
“They all use Tide!” she says. Tide is the wrong color.
Even though it’s the last thing she has time for, she’s still excited to show a visitor the newest exhibition being hung. She takes the visitor behind the temporary wall to the gallery where “Confluence: Israel” is halfway set up. As she walks past the pieces, she narrates the half-finished exhibit with a calm, collected excitement. “Check out the detail of this embroidery,” she says as she stands in front of one piece. Pointing to a blank wall, she reveals a place where a 3D Hebrew alphabet will go. That is, after she picks up the artist, Ohad Zlotnick, from the airport Sunday.
The Arts Center is more than a job for Berger — it’s her passion.
Berger studied art prior to earning a fashion degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Berger worked a fashion designer in New York City, where she became the director of design at a high-end fashion wear company, Ellesse. In the ’80s and ’90s it was like the Gucci of activewear. Berger attended tennis tournaments in the Far East and in Europe.
Celebrities such as O.J. Simpson, President Gerald Ford, Regis Philbin and Clint Eastwood heralded her designs. She then worked as a designer for Wilson’s Tennis until 1999. The following decade, Berger focused on volunteer work. And that’s when Berger’s relationship with Art Center Sarasota started.
Around 2007, Berger was taking classes at Ringling College of Art and Design and Sarasota County Technical Institute when she heard there was a life-drawing class Saturday mornings at Art Center Sarasota.
She got to know the regulars and volunteers and decided to join the board in 2008. The Arts Center did not have an annual fundraiser back then.
Berger thought a fashion program (using non-traditional items) with wearable art from local artists would help promote the artists and attract more attention to the center. The first few years, she did not design anything. Planning and executing the program was enough work. But she missed fashion design, and eventually put together some unique designs.
She likes the process because she does not have to sew when she makes her designs. Sewing was the only C she got in fashion school.
Yet the non-traditional garments come with their own problems. One year, Berger wove together plastic bags to make a Chanel-inspired suit. It eventually looked like something CoCo Chanel herself would send down the runway. Berger spent months weaving the skirt and jacket together. Then, they completely unraveled a week before the show. She had to construct a new outfit in a week. It still wowed the audience.
That’s the goal, she says, adding that this year’s designs won’t disappoint to shock and surprise.
“(I tell the designers to) go for the wow factor,” she says.
IF YOU GO
When: 6 p.m. doors open; 6:30 p.m. dinner; 7:30 p.m. general admission; 8 p.m. fashion show Friday, March 28
Where: Sarasota Municipal Auditorium, 801 N. Tamiami Trail
Cost: Dinner seating is $125; general admission (includes dessert bar) is $45.
Info: Call 365-2032 or visit artcentersarasota.org/iconcept