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Tastemakers' Choices

It’s a question for the ages: What’s hot?

Actually, it’s a question for the sages, especially when those sages are some of the most wise, worldly and influential members of the Southwest Florida community—true tastemakers in the arenas of fashion, dining, design, the arts and entertainment.

If it’s new, now or next, they’ll know it. And better yet, they’ll share it. 

With its clean lines and python pedigree, the R&Y Augousti-designed clutch Marissa Collections is showing this season is generating a lot of excitement. But Jay Hartington, co-owner of the Third Street South retailer, notes it is the clutch’s $405 price tag that’s actually causing the clamor.

In one month, Marissa Collections sold 23 of the 24 little bags it had in stock.

So you’re not familiar with the name R&Y Augousti? Hartington believes it’s only a matter of time. Originally a furniture designer, R&Y Augousti has fashioned bags that feature high-quality materials, classic styling and intelligent pricing. For a customer seeking a sophisticated handbag that can be carried again and again, it’s an ideal choice.

If bags aren’t your bag, consider breaking out the baubles, bangles and beads. The more the merrier: One bracelet or chain may have worked well last season, but now get ready to stack on several, mixing a variety of styles and materials. Fortunately, there won’t be a shortage of selection: Designers such as Oscar de la Renta and Marni are wild for organics such as horn and straw, Marc Jacobs and Yves Saint Laurent are gaga for geometrics and still others are going for the gold—rose gold, specifically. In a season where color is key, this pale pink metallic is showing up in bracelets, rings and necklaces, making it one of the year’s hottest accessory accents.

Fashionistas—punctual or otherwise—will also find the time is right for an oversized watch. Added to an armful of bracelets or worn alone, they’re at the top of every must-have list, appearing in the collection of Michael Kors and jeweler Tamara Comolli. Gulfshore Life shopping columnist Kristy Kiernan likens these mega-timepieces to a men’s Rolex in size and spirit—large, sporty and steel. Milanese jeweler and watchmaker Breil is showing the oversized watch in a variety of styles including one with a rose gold face.

Finally, it’s implicitly understood that fashion is an art, and this season it’s an art you can wear. Kiernan says that the art print dress will be tops for spring, while a bold and almost artistic piece of statement jewelry shouldn’t be shied away from, either. Some suggestions: Lanvin’s dramatic black enamel pendant choker is studded with vibrant, semi-precious stones, while Dior’s white opal ring glitters with orange sapphires, rubies, emeralds—and a diamond monkey.

It’s time to eat. Other than the grill, what sizzles in Southwest Florida? Coconut Point has caught the attention of NBC2 news anchor and Gulfshore Life columnist Kellie Burns. Combining restaurants and retail to create an entertainment district certainly isn’t a new concept, but Coconut Point has done it bigger, better and made it more interesting, she says. The Estero mall is on its way to establishing itself as the ultimate dining destination for three counties.

In total, Coconut Point offers more than 20 eateries, upscale and casual. Those include Blue Water Bistro, the latest addition to the successful Naples-based Culinary Concepts clan—the restaurateurs who also created Chop’s City Grill and Yabba Island Grill. Blue Water Bistro offers a lengthy cocktail and tequila list, plus a menu that’s rich in fish dishes, steak and sushi.

If the last in that list has tempted your taste buds, you’re not alone, says chef Shannon Yates, formerly the force behind four Fort Myers restaurants, including the celebrated Crü. Sushi has become the cuisine of choice for Southwest Floridians, Yates says, and the demand only increases.

Yates reentered the Fort Myers dining scene in February with Mad Takeout, which specializes in gourmet to-go and offers a variety of sushi. Mad Takeout creates an almost restaurant-style experience, complete with an open, 1,000-square-foot kitchen where customers can see their food being prepared.

But as popular as sushi becomes, it may never eclipse the pure pleasure of Italian food. For real Northern Italian cuisine done right, Gulfshore Life food reporter Ivan Seligman recommends one of Naples’ newest spots, Ristorante Gaja.

True food lovers are smart to seek out a seat at this ultra-authentic Third Street South eatery, Seligman says: The ingredients are fresh, sometimes even harvested from the chef’s garden outside the restaurant, while the atmosphere is warm and low-key. The desserts are decadent, and the wine list—like the wait staff—is exclusively Italian.

Another hot seat is Dwyers Prime Steakhouse in Fort Myers, Seligman says. An established restaurant with a reinvented menu, Dwyers gets its style from new executive chef Bill Wavrin, also a noted chef, author and television personality. The new Dwyers features dry-aged steaks, Maine lobster and a variety of small plates, including the Seligman-recommended, pan-seared scallops on ciabatta bruchetta and ahi tuna tartar tower.

Thinking of redecorating? Be sure to include a good amount of green. That’s green of the eco-conscious kind, of course. Sustainability is today’s buzzword—and the buzzword of tomorrow, says Dick Geary of Geary Design.

"We’re launching into an era of design responsibility that’s unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time," Geary says. "I think we’re starting to rejoice in recycled materials."

Interior designers and their clients are becoming increasingly aware of what a project’s effect can have on the planet, and taking clear steps to offset or minimize that effect. That includes using a variety of ecologically sensitive design products and alternative materials, Geary says; a few of his examples include smart plastics and recycled bamboo.

But using recycled products doesn’t mean you must sacrifice style. Geary is currently designing an 8,000-square-foot residence in style-saturated South Beach; when completed, it will be lit entirely in LED (light emitting diode) lights. He describes LED lighting as one of the green movement’s most promising design trends because of its flexibility and energy benefits.
"I can tell you right now," he says, "LED is going to be the light source of the future."

Being recycled doesn’t mean forsaking comfort and luxury either, says interior designer Kira Krümm. Instead, as more clients go green, they are also looking for ways to pamper themselves intelligently and responsibly, while simultaneously choosing high-quality fabrics and patterns that better suit the Southwest Florida environment. The result is a home that is sleek and light, Krümm says, where less is more.

"Everyone’s gravitating toward a much cleaner look," she says.

Nowhere is the move towards simple luxury more evident than in master bedrooms and baths, which Krümm says are acquiring a distinctly spa-like quality. Heavy tapestry-style fabrics and ornate furniture pieces are going or gone; the new must-have master suite bears a bed with super-soft, luxury bamboo linens, a few pillows and a light, natural color scheme throughout.

If a home that could double as an environmentally friendly, five-star spa sounds like the ultimate everyday hideaway, that’s partially the point, Krümm explains.

Escapism is in, she says, with high-end candles and hand-blown wineglasses providing some of the most popular ways for homeowners to create residential romance. These details add sparkle to a home, while also revealing the homeowner’s sense of individualism and creativity.

Will this be the year of family-friendly entertainment? For Steffanie Pearce, founding director of Opera Naples, the finger-painting is on the wall.

Southwest Florida has long been hailed as a winter haven for retirees. But it has been recognized recently that the area’s demographics are shifting in favor of families. With that shift is coming a dramatic change in the area’s entertainment offerings, Pearce believes, as parents seek more activities that can be enjoyed with their young children and teens.

"We need to recognize there’s a much more diverse community," she says.

For its 2008 season, Opera Naples is performing three operas, one of which Pearce calls a "family opera"—Donizetti’s Elixir of Love, a light-romantic comedy. Pearce says Opera Naples will perform Elixir of Love in English to further court family audiences. The company will also begin an educational opera outreach program in local schools this year.

Outreach and education are part of a major child-oriented project set to break ground in 2008—the Children’s Museum of Naples. The 25,000-square-foot, two-story building located in North Collier Regional Park will aim to serve Southwest Florida’s youngest residents and their families. (Trend alert: The Children’s Museum of Naples is being designed as a green building.)

Although many Southwest Florida residents have the resources to go elsewhere for family-oriented entertainment, museum executive director Joe Cox says he often hears families wonder why it should be necessary to leave the area to seek interesting and appropriate activities. This year may begin to mark a tipping point in their favor.

"To just focus on the retirement community is a narrow focus," Pearce explains. "We want to embrace the entire community."

The Arts
Southwest Florida’s art scene is vast and varied, and it’s definitely never dull. It’s going to grow increasingly ultra-local, too, say members of the community’s art cognoscenti, as regional talent and influences begin to play an even bigger role.

Those influences include the Latin American and Caribbean communities, which are producing local artists as well as an interest in their art. Each year, the demand for Latino artwork at the Naples Museum of Art increases, says Myra Janco Daniels, founder of the Philharmonic Center for the Arts. The museum recently added 1,100 additional pieces of Latin American art to its collection, much of it from Mexico.

"We’re becoming one world with South America and Mexico," Daniels says.

Artist Jonathan Green agrees there is a nascent Latin American and Caribbean art community in Southwest Florida, and he believes now is the time to nurture it. Many of these artists are working in a style he is familiar with—his own style, Regionalism—by painting or sculpting what they know from their own experiences. It’s also a style that he contends is attracting more attention from art enthusiasts.

Green says he’ll especially be watching two parts of Naples for up-and-coming artists: the bayfront area, which is home to several artists’ galleries, including his own; and the J&C Boulevard area, an industrial district-turned-artist hotspot.

For aficionados of all the arts, there’s no better time to be in Southwest Florida, promises Robert Cacioppo, producing artist director for Fort Myers’ Florida Repertory Theatre. New art centers are opening, such as the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in Fort Myers, and acclaimed national works are hitting the stage—the Rep’s 2008 season includes the award-winning play Doubt.

Nationally and locally produced original theatrical works are finding a home in Southwest Florida, too. Cacioppo says the Rep is accepting original submissions for theatrical works, and the 2008 season of Naples’ theatre company TheatreZone again includes Miracle in Rwanda, an original play written by Neapolitan Leslie Lewis Sword. Miracle in Rwanda premiered at TheatreZone in 2007, and Sword later performed the play in New York City.

"The art scene is growing," Cacioppo says. "Think about how little was in Southwest Florida 10 years ago."

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