On Thursday night, Durham's Motorco Music Hall was filled with local style mavens looking to cheer on their favorite Triangle fashion designers, as the venue hosted its first reFASHIONED show.
And cheer they did as a slew of regional designers sent models out on the runway to show off their latest collections. Ten designers all showcased their stuff, starting with T-shirt designs from such folk as Nyla Elise, Runaway Clothes and Johnny Swank's House of Swank.
The show then went on to feature designers who deal with refurbished and recycled material, like Belindabilly, Rocket Betty, Gypsy Witch and handbag designer JenJen, who caused quite the "WTF?" reaction from the audience as models in lucha libre wrestling masks (also designed by JenJen) hit the catwalk carrying bags.
The entire event was organized by biologist/ vintage clotheshorse Kala Wolfe, who also organizes dtownMARKET, which happens biweekly at Motorco.
Wolfe hopes to have these designers—many of them also vendors at dtownMARKET—and others involved in future fashion shows she'd like to put on at the music hall.
Says Wolfe, "I think it's really important to bring them all together and kind of show them the respect that they deserve and give them a bigger audience."
On this night, Redress Raleigh took over the museum for its fourth annual Eco-Fashion Show, where eco-friendly designers are given the opportunity to show off the fruits of their labor. And after previously doing the show at such spots as Flanders Gallery and Edenton Street United Methodist Church, the people behind Redress thought the CAM Raleigh would be a perfect venue.
“At CAM, we feel like it fits with our aesthetic as well,” says Eco-Fashion Show co-producer Beth Stewart, “because it’s a beautiful place but it’s a renovated space. So, this used to be a different type of building and they’re re-using it.”
Eleven designers were on the bill, many of them local, culled from applications that were sent through the Redress Raleigh website. These designers also appreciated Redress’s stylishly green mission.
“I just really loved the concept of this particular show,” says Melissa Lowery, the designer behind SSD Jewelry, “because they incorporate recycled and upcycled materials, found materials, and I use a lot of that in my work.”
Started in 2008, Redress Raleigh has specialized in proving to Raleigh and other Triangle residents that eco-friendly fashion can be washable, wearable and accessible. They also put on shows to benefit other organizations. This year’s charity is ABAN (A Ban Against Neglect), which produces upcycled bags, wallets and other products using the discarded plastic bags that litter of the streets of Accra, Ghana’s capital city.
Redress has also been known to put on other events apart from the fashion show. In March, they had a benefit show at Kings Barcade, featuring such acts as Kooley High’s Charlie Smarts and hip-hop band The Balance, to raise money to put the fashion show together.
“We do like to do some networking and fun events related to the eco-fashion show,” says Stewart. “But we mainly try to do more educational events than anything else. And the eco-fashion show is our main thing.”
The show had quite an eclectic collection of designers on hand. Leopold Designs had various female models saunter down the catwalk in hand-dyed silk, while the sophisticated Kendal Leonard and the vintage Rocket Betty both had their own ideas of what should pass for bridal wear.
Perhaps the most refreshing part of the evening was the diverse selection of models that were pouting and strutting for their respective designers. JulieApple Handbags, the first designer of the evening, had women (and a few little girls) model the trendy bags. SSD Jewelry had both men and women get on the runway. JBelle Designs and Leopold Designs features many middle-aged models for their sections.
There were young models who appeared to take their modeling careers thing quite seriously. But there were others, like Raleigh-based secretary/receptionist Cortney Rice, who was doing it on a lark.
“I think to go into the professional world, you gotta start really early now,” says Rice, who has done fashion charity shows at such Raleigh nightspots as Mirage and Solas. “I think they get you at 16, 17 – start you out early. So, I’m kind of past my prime. I’m 25, so I’m doing it for fun now.”
As for 16-year-old Raleigh model Ashton Edens, ol’ girl is in it for the long haul.
“It was just for the fun at first,” says Edens. “And, now, I’m starting to get into it and auditioning for a lot of stuff.”
She finds walking down the runway at a Redress show to be a step up from previous shows she’s done. “It’s a lot cleaner, I guess. It’s more refreshing, you could say. It’s not as clumped and it’s not as dark.”
“I was surprised because, a lot of times, it’s hit-or-miss in terms of kind of the skill level of designers,” says D.C.-bred stylist Stephanie Ford, who relocated to Raleigh from Paris. “But I was really surprised and impressed with a lot of the different designers.
The only minus she had was the ticket price.
“I think $50 is kind of high, on the high end, for a ticket price. I mean, up to $35 is kind of reasonable.”
In the end, the environmentally conscious fashionistas of Redress Raleigh did what they sought out to do. To paraphrase Project Runway’s dapper-ass Tim Gunn, they made it work.
Says Stewart: “Really, the main three things [for us] are to help raise money for charities, to help expose local artists who like to incorporate recycling and up-cycling materials and to help eco-conscious practices with their businesses. So, that’s really cool.”
This year—tonight, in fact—marks the 10th anniversary of the collaborative show between the College of Design and the College of Textiles, and the designers are pulling out all the stops. They’re exhausted, but more than anything, they’re inspired.
I spoke with several of these designers, mostly late at night because that was the only time they could pull away from their work long enough for a conversation. Even so, I had to strain to hear them over the commotion in the background of many fervent students racing against the deadline.
Of all the students, though, it is a safe bet that none of them are going quite as extreme as Veronica Tibbitts, who scoured Raleigh’s back roads with a plastic bag, searching for mostly intact roadkill. in order to find her materials.
Tibbitts started with an idea about how much we consume every day, and she ended up picking up road kill on the side of the road. Although I was bracing for a kind of gonzo reality television star gleefully skinning animals, Tibbitts is, in fact, a strikingly collected and poised personality. And thoughtful, too as the concept behind her clothing line is memorable.
“I was inspired by unconventional or throwaway materials, and how they make you think about consumption. My first inspiration was seeing a fox killed on the road, and I thought about how if it had been killed on purpose it could’ve been a purse or a wrap, but on the road it has a much different reaction.
“When you see the face, you see another living animal and you identify with it, and you don’t want to use it as a product,” said Tibbitts, who is a senior Anni Albers scholar, a designation that means she will receive a dual degree from the colleges of both Design and Textiles.
“I wanted to put them on the body to make people aware that they don’t just disappear,” she said.
After watching what she calls “countless redneck YouTube videos” on skinning animals, Tibbitts worked to skin the animals she found, and in stilettos nonetheless. She kept the faces intact in hopes of getting empathy for the creatures, and to make the audience—or customers—reconsider our wasteful practices.
“So many people see fur as fabric and it’s definitely not the same thing. These animals were killed by the lifestyle that we have. Doing this [show] will make a lot of people uncomfortable and will make them think, and that’s what I want,” she said.
If Tibbitts stretches our comfort zone the furthest, then Bryan Bullard spent the most money. , Bullard, a senior in fashion and textile management and the only male in the show, effectively emptied his bank account for the sake of art, dropping more than $1,000 on wire and LED lights. He says his line, however, was well worth it.
The only thing taller than the models were downtown’s towering buildings this past Friday at the fashionSPARK Fashion Show. Twenty local designers and five jewelry designers sent their creations down a brightly lit runway in the middle of an enthusiastic, standing-room crowd at the open-air City Plaza.
The designs ranged from comfortable hippie-wear reminiscent of a winter in Asheville (LLLavender) to post-apocalyptic war-zone knitwear (Gabrielle Duggan). Many of the designers opted for earth-friendly materials, including Payton-Alexis, who showed partially sustainable wedding dresses with striking silhouettes and muted colors and finished with a dress made entirely from used coffee filters.
Coffee filters weren’t the only unusual material. Another designer, Zac Schell, showed bikinis and chainmail, perhaps for your next S&M pool party.
One of the absolute crowd favorites, however, was the jaw-dropping work of Jess Pati. The pair of artists behind the line created elegant, unique cocktail dresses that beautifully straddled the line between haute couture and ready-to-wear. Their outfits ranged from high-necked embroidered frocks to ruffled skirts paired with tops embellished with sophisticated black knitting.
Of the jewelry designers, Good Girls Studio, Inc. stood out for the simple fact that the models were dressed simply enough to let the jewelry display itself. Each model wandered down the runway, martini glass full of pearls in hand, looking very much the demented socialite in long bauble necklaces and 1930s-esque swagger.
Whether the models were strutting to remixes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ upbeat “Heads Will Roll” or taking it down a notch to The Rat People’s “Shane Domino,” the crowd had enthusiasm for all of their favorite designs, showing support for the most beautiful and the most outrageous clothing alike.
Raleigh’s elite rubbed elbows with suburbanites, all bedecked in the latest fashions themselves, and the designers reciprocated: Each took a bow on the runway after his or her collection was exhibited. The fifth annual fashionSPARK was a rousing success, and no doubt many people left the show ready to come back for the city’s next showcase of local couture.
“You do not ‘like that one,'” a sign in North Carolina State University’s Leazar studio sternly admonishes inquisitive visitors who might want to express appreciation for a design piece. Across campus at the College of Textiles, the same sentiment prevails during class critiques of the Senior Fashion Collection Studio.
“You can’t use the word ‘like’,” Cynthia Istook, associate professor of textile and apparel management and senior studio teacher, said. Instead, class members can make suggestions about changing a piece, and the designer can choose whether or not to implement them. “It’s interesting to see how it impacts the designers.”
The College of Textiles senior studio class began in spring 2007. It’s been offered each spring, and also last fall for the first time. Its first iteration saw a collaboration with the College of Design, but that hasn’t happened since due traveling between the campuses and a disconnect between each college’s respective goals.
“The Textiles students weren’t used to the critique process,” Istook said. “Textiles students focus on the end consumer. Design students focus on the concept.”
The class structure sees designers develop six-piece collections over the course of 15 weeks. Approximately every five weeks, two garments must be completed and presented to the class. (This year, the middle two critiques were a mere three weeks apart due to class negotiations, according to Istook.) The show doubles as the third checkpoint.
Kristen DePalmo’s collection revolves around resort wear and uses braids and knots as embellishments. She began gathering inspiration and sketching over Christmas break.
“I wanted to make a line that would simplify packing,” DePalmo says, citing her personal inability to pack light. “It’s elegant and mix-and-match. You can slip on a long dress that would also double as a cover-up.”
DePalmo enjoyed getting suggestions on how to improve her work from her peers.
“For many of us, it’s our first time making a collection of garments, so we really appreciate the feedback we get,” DePalmo said. In previous classes, students only made one garment per semester.
Mor Aframian initially founded MorLove, a nonprofit with proceeds going to aid orphans at the Amani Baby Cottage in Jinga, Uganda. She met Jamie Powell, who had participated in a MorLove fashion show in 2008. Aframian, Powell and Beth Stewart of Emerging Green Builders joined forces in organizing an eco-friendly fashion show for the Triangle. The first Redress Raleigh (RR) show was held last year.
“We learned a lot from last year. We’ve tried to tweak it and refine it a little more,” Aframian says. Only 15 designers will show Saturday night, as opposed to last year’s 20, and a jurying process was added for potential participants. Planning for the show has lasted for nine months—Aframian likens the process to gestating a child.
The event has attracted high-school, college and professional designers from all over the state. Naturally, the range of talent begets a propensity for diversity.
“There’s a good variety of ready-to-wear [garments], couture and adding different techniques and objects,” Aframian says.
Designer Rima L’Amir first volunteered for MorLove at its inception in 2006. Though this is her first year designing for the event, she had heard of it before.
“I’ve definitely been interested in RR, because sustainable fashion in what I want to do,” L’Amir says.
L’Amir’s collection mixes organic cotton with fabric she’s found in various places, such as her apartment and her work with MorLove.
“It’s a ready-to-wear line for young men and women, ages 20 to 30,” L’Amir says. She notes that this is her first time creating menswear, and it’s been a challenge.
Audience members cheered and roared for N.C. State’s student designers and models Wednesday night in Reynolds Coliseum. But what the audience never sees is how much hairspray, cookies and ironing go into putting that line out on the runway.
I shadowed designer Gennie Catastrophe and her models in the hours before as they prepared for their moment in the spotlight.
2:15 p.m.: I arrive at eco-friendly Bottega-A Hair Studio on Glenwood Avenue, where Catastrophe has scheduled her models for their hair and make-up. The salon is especially full because Laura Mazzurella’s models are there at the same time. Catastrophe greets me wearing jeans and a white hoodie with a button proclaiming her to be a “B.F.D.,” and introduces me to her models.
Katie Stewart’s curly hair gets teased and volumized, and a stylist clips in thick braids of similar thickness and twists tiny braids of her hair. Debbi La Rue’s hair starts out straight, progresses to an updo and ultimately ends up as a side-swept ponytail. Catastrophe speaks with another stylist and points to her inspiration board for guidance, with its photos of soft waves, braids and light makeup.
Lauren Ramsey sits in another room, getting made up by an Afterglow Cosmetics technician. Ramsey closes her eyes as the technician brushes shadow onto her eyelid, creating a smoky-eye effect.
2:30 p.m.: Ramsey’s clipped-in thick braid is shedding long blond hairs.
When showing a collection, a designer’s job is to take the audience into his or her own created world. Two designers in this year’s Art to Wear (A2W) are pulling from different locales to put their looks in proper context.
Designer Eleanor Hoffman’s collection stems from images of mirrors, moonlight and circles. Two poems, Lorenzo Smerillo’s Maze and Maria Taylor’s Birmingham 1982, serve as initial inspiration points, tacked on the wall above her work space’s sewing machine for easy reference, along with pieces of fabric cut in leaf-like shapes. The moon reference will even make it into her selected runway music, a Grizzly Bear remix of Feist’s "My Moon My Man."
“[I wanted it to be] an enchanted forest, and to have a magical feel,” Hoffman says of her line. Nowhere is this more evident than her plan for a model sporting antlers, taken from her favorite childhood book Imogen’s Antlers. Hoffman’s motifs include natural forms and use fluid lines. She’s using embellishments and laser-cut appliqués made from stencils, so she’s logged some significant time using the College of Design’s laser-cutting machine.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience,” Hoffman says of creating her line, citing examples of bleach and screen-printing mishaps. But she says they’ve turned out to be happy accidents, with the added bonus of making her work look more graphic.
Hoffman had previously designed in the 2009 A2W show, so she knew the ropes pretty well. That experience helped for this year, now that she’s pulling double duty, participating as both a designer and the event’s director. She agreed to fill the capacity before the 2009-10 school year began. There is currently no rule against a director designing a line.
She’s designing one short dress, three long dresses and two jacket and pant sets. Mannequin forms next to her Leazar workspace sport works in progress. A floor-length, one-shoulder dress with a leaf cutout and a pair of pants with beads and a racing stripe silver paint speak to Hoffman’s affinity for detail.
Designer Chase Kennedy is A2W’s youngest participant, being a junior in fashion and textile management. He should be used to this: He was the youngest designer last year as he was the only 19-year-old chosen to show.
Some designers in this year’s Art to Wear show are taking inspiration from the elements. Two designers in particular are working with water.
Natalie Bunch, a landscape architecture major in the College of Design, was specifically drawn to water’s various properties when she studied in Ghana last summer. Her studio was focused on observations dealing with solutions on improving the environmental systems. She cites drainage canals along every street and trash dumps lining the beach, and how the Ghanaian population connected water systems with sewage systems. Bunch aims to change the prevailing mindset by visually showing how water should be celebrated.
“There’s a way to change [the perspective], and respect water,” Bunch says. She’ll focus on water’s various attributes, such as adaptive, cyclical and aesthetic properties.
“I wanted to give a fresh outsider perspective [on water], and change the perspective on the Ghanaian people,” Bunch says, adding that she didn’t encounter much interest in water systems among the Ghanaians she met.
Bunch began sketching out ideas while still in Ghana, and then began constructing them this spring. She’s preparing five looks, with two of them being menswear. She is using both bought and found materials, including non-wovens, pre-dyed fabrics and fabrics she’s dyed herself. With her range of techniques and fabrics, Bunch is clearly ambitious and plans to showcase that fact loud and clear, especially with her final piece.