With a body that the contestants on America's Next Top Model would kill for and a personality that rivals that of Project Runway den father Tim Gunn, Shantrice McDaniel just might revolutionize Memphis' fashion scene.
The Memphis native, a graduate of Melrose High School, has mile-high legs and a smile as wide as the Mississippi River. No wonder, then, that she's done print modeling in Washington, D.C. (she split for the Capitol City right after graduation, then returned to Memphis in September 2005 to work with local filmmaker Rod Pitts), appeared as an extra in Craig Brewer's upcoming flick Black Snake Moan, and posed for fine-art portfolios of glamour photographers such as New York-based artist Roy Cox.
But there are brains behind that beauty: McDaniel, an accomplished photographer in her own right, is the driving force behind Fashion Avenue Memphis, a bimonthly magazine scheduled to launch in January 2007, and the Memphis Fashion Weekend, slated for the Gibson Guitar Factory this weekend.
"I'm a jack of all trades," McDaniel confirms. "I've worked in photography, events production, graphic design, and fashion merchandising. I'm self-taught, but I'm the type of person who reads everything she can get her hands on."
Today, she's conspiring with local designers Missy Valentine, Kymma James, and Patrick Henry, boutiques Miguela's, Lux Style, and Sweet Vidalia's, makeup artists, musicians, and more than a dozen models to get the show, a benefit for the Memphis Food Bank and St. Jude, off the ground.
A gaggle of Memphis' most beautiful -- lithe creatures from Colors Talent Agency as well as "undiscovered" runway walkers who come in every shape and size -- mingle while McDaniel runs through a list of the weekend's activities, which include a Friday night pre-party with FHM magazine and the main event, a runway show featuring winter and spring fashions for men and women which will take place Saturday night.
The fashion show will clock in at just 40 minutes, yet McDaniel estimates that she, Henry, James, and Valentine have each devoted thousands of hours to the project.
"Most people have a nine-to-five job," she notes, laughing, "but I work all the time."
She lists Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates as her heroes, but gets truly passionate when mentioning Memphian FedEx founder Fred Smith. "We're from two different worlds, but I admire his strength," she says. "Anyone who can lose millions their first year and move on has gotta be an inspiration!"
But in a town where fashionistas are a rare breed and people commit clothing faux pas on a regular basis, can McDaniel actually make a difference?
"I think we have a little catching up to do, but the trends are here," she insists. "What we need to do more is promote and assist all the local designers. If we can keep creative people in Memphis, it will have a domino effect."
"Look at Project Runway, which presents a much broader spectrum than just New York and L.A. You can come from a small town and still be an excellent, creative designer," she says, pointing to the Bravo TV show's first season winner, Jay McCarroll, who ran a vintage clothing shop in Lehman, Pennsylvania, before the program catapulted him from virtual obscurity to the runways in New York City's Bryant Park.
Grab a seat on the front row Saturday night and you'll see skinny jeans worn with stilettos, vests with fur accents, and soft, neutral colors that are combined into what McDaniel describes as "fun, flirty wear that's cool and hip no matter what age you are." Peruse the pages of Vogue magazine or fashion industry insider pub Women's Wear Daily and you'll see similar styles, so Memphis must not be too far behind.
"My ultimate goal with this event," proclaims McDaniel, "is to bring everybody in Memphis together in the name of art and design.
"After all," she says, "we all like to look good."