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Cleveland Frocks 

Put on your glad rags and party with the divas who design the duds.

Donald Shingler boasts that the Cleveland Fashion Show 2004 will be the biggest couture congregation anywhere between New York and Los Angeles. But after assembling the runway rundown for the past three years, he's noticed that Cleveland's "generally more conservative than other cities." So his goal is to shake things up, Cleveland-style.

On Saturday, homegrown models will strut their stuff in attire from Northeast Ohio-based boutiques and designers. And with three fashion schools in the area training loads of talent, there's no shortage of chic around here, Shingler says. "Most people don't know that Vera Wang dresses are made in Akron," he adds.

This year's show features five designs by Stephanie Thornton, a promising Virginia Marti School of Fashion Design grad. Among her items are a leather skirt and top, decorated with red faux-fur. "I call it my little warrior-lady piece," Thornton says. She's also contributing a Chinese-punk combo, in which denim mixes it up with a Mandarin collar and buckle closures, and an 18th-century bridal gown adorned with burnt-orange ruffles.

Thornton hopes the annual event will serve as a springboard to a more vibrant local scene. "Like a fashion week," she says. "Like [they have] in New York."

Designers aren't the only ones banking on a bigger score. Some stores that have participated in past shows have done pretty well for themselves. Nabici, a downtown designer-duds trove, opened a second location in Beachwood, and Lush Boutique recently relocated from Shaker Square to Legacy Village.

Shingler views Saturday's gala as an excuse for Clevelanders to play dress-up, just as the famous folks do at the Grammys and Oscars. "Fashion-forward black-tie is the theme," he says. And just as with those awards ceremonies, the fashion show will be followed by the requisite after-party, which comes complete with a DJ and a cash bar. And, adds Shingler, "People can hang with the models." Now you're talking!

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