Helen Gerro is that rare artist who has found success in two very different fields requiring both consummate skill and a creative imagination – fashion design and painting.

The Punta Gorda resident started her career in fashion design, beginning in her native Minnesota and including a tour in Manhattan’s famous garment district. Her clothing line has sold in major department stores throughout the country and been highlighted on television shows such as Oprah Winfrey’s, as well as in shows in big city venues.

Her fashion sketches quickly turned into art after a gallery owner suggested she should turn them into paintings. “So, I did,” she said. “I did water color art on paper then took it to canvas with acrylic and oil. When I moved here, Florida gave me a burst of color and my palette exploded compared to Minnesota black and neutral colors.

It’s hard to decide whether her fashion design inspires her art or vice versa, for she seamlessly straddles both worlds. Case in point: she often paints on her fashions.

Be it art-inspired fashion or fashion-inspired art, she has developed a signature look all her own – bold, bright, colorful, glamorous, kind of art-decoish, if that’s a word. Her fashions are flowing, elegant, creative and contemporary. Her paintings, always of women in haute couture or sometimes just their faces, are in-your-face colorful and even more striking than the fashions.

Gerro has just returned to Punta Gorda, after a brief foray to more populous Sarasota to reduce her inventory, celebrating her return with a March 2 open house and fashion show outside her new gallery and design studio at 25418 E. Marion Ave. Some 50 friends and fans came to view models wearing what Gerro describes as art couture fashion, and she was pleased to be showing her work in Punta Gorda again.

“It’s good to be back,” she said. “I really learned to appreciate Punta Gorda once I left and came back…I was so happy the show went well, but I should have had it a little later because of the sun.”

The sun didn’t bother the crowd or the models, all local women of varied ages and sizes who had no problem strutting an asphalt walkway instead of a runway. The youngest was statuesque 11-year-old Faith Dickinson, who was inspired to follow in the footsteps of sister, Katarina, a model and international traveling mermaid killed in a tragic Sarasota auto accident. Though this was her first official big-girl modeling job, Faith is already competing in pageants and is in a pilot for a TV show. It’s a safe bet this show won’t be her last modeling gig.

Gerro used to make most of her clothes, a time consuming and labor intensive process. She’s now pondering a more efficient approach to getting fashion to the market.

“I’m thinking about putting wearable art on my website – fine stitchery with lots of detail — and renting it out for photographers and women looking for something to wear once or for the stage,” she said. “I also would like to venture into putting art on fabric, getting a sample line together and selling licenses to department stores that’s my dream.”

Gerro’s new studio will be officially open by the time you read this story. You can catch her there from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday or by appointment Friday and Saturday. Go to www.gerrocouture.com for contact information and to view striking photos of her work.

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