Maybe one day, every runway fashion show in New York, Paris and Milan will consist of smart, stylish collections of clothing punctuated by delightfully absurd and grotesque art pieces that happened to be draped on a human body. When that day comes, we’ll all know that the Santa Cruz style of fashion has finally achieved true cultural dominance.
If that happens, then surely 2018 will be seen as a pivotal (or, shall we say, Pivotal) year for Santa Cruz fashion.
After 12 years, Santa Cruz’s signature fashion event—the runway show FashionART that invented this mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous—has closed up shop, leaving the Civic Auditorium silent and dramatically less colorful for the first September in more than a decade.
Into that vacuum roars another outfit of artists and fashion designers known as Pivot: The Art of Fashion, once an offshoot of FashionART that this year will take on the role of Santa Cruz’s alpha cultural force in the world of fashion.
On Saturday, Sept. 22—on a weekend that FashionART once owned—Pivot will continue pushing fashion forward with its new runway show called Hall of Fashion in the old Wrigley Building on the Westside of Santa Cruz.
Pivot is the brainchild of two energetic Santa Cruz women, artist and curator Rose Sellery and designer Tina Brown. Both women had partnered with artist Angelo Grova to produce the FashionART show for years—Sellery was in fact one of the event’s founders—until in 2015, they decided to spin off with their own event.
Unlike FashionART, which presented a more-or-less traditional runway show at the Civic each year, Pivot has been more of a pop-up phenomenon, adapting its show to a variety of different venues—including the Rio Theatre, the R. Blitzer Gallery and Anne and Mark’s Art Party at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose.
This time, Pivot, in partnership with the Blitzer, is taking over the main corridor of the Wrigley, the one-time chewing-gum factory that has turned into an eccentric entrepreneurial hub of creative businesses. The unusually wide and open corridor at the Wrigley turns out to be a perfect stage for a runway show, says Brown.
“Going back to a more traditional runway, the show will be on the floor, two rows of chairs, the models are right there in front of you,” she says. “They’re really close, it’s really intimate. With the photographers at one end, it’ll feel more like a New York runway event. Then we throw some performance art in there, and that’s where you get your Santa Cruz twist.”
If the form of the Pivot show is constantly shifting and evolving, the content of it has been remarkably stable. Pivot and FashionART have for years shared many of the same artists and creators. And this year many of those names—Charlotte Kruk, Tobin W. Keller, Mariclaire McKnight, IB Bayo, the Great Morgani—are returning, along with many of the models, make-up artists, photographers and stylists that have formed the backbone of Santa Cruz’s small but fertile fashion scene.
“We still have a real love for what FashionART was,” says Sellery. “It opened so many doors for us, and now we’re doing a similar thing. But it’s kind of sad to see it go because it was a real institution. And we’ve been part of that.”
With a nod to the artistic notions that inspired FashionART, Pivot is also attempting to redesign what a runway show is, pushing beyond the familiar motif of catwalking models mastering the art of sashay. With the wide hallway at the Wrigley, Pivot is toying with ideas of other modes of ambulation—skates, bicycles, rolling platforms.
“We can really play with the idea of what’s supposed to be on the runway,” says Brown. “It doesn’t have to always be walking. We’ll have some surprises.”
Pivot will feature many of the familiar and popular styles that emerged from Santa Cruz’s rich fashion scene—Bayo’s vivid African-influenced looks, Keller’s bold prints, Kruk’s cheeky and flirty candy-wrapper dresses and whatever emerges from the constantly churning mind of Morgani. As tradition dictates, Sellery will also be contributing a new piece as an artist (this one involves bubble wrap). But the event will also feature some new names and faces.
Among those emerging names is Santa Cruz artist Chris Allen, who debuted in 2017 in what turned out to be the final FashionART event. Allen presented three pieces last year as a wearable-art artist. This year at Pivot, he is in the designer slot with nine pieces in one cohesive line he’s calling “Battle Mode.”
“Last year was my first year,” says Allen at his home near Pasatiempo. “I had seen it as a spectator many times and thought, ‘Wow, it would be so cool to have something in there. I want to design.’ Things worked out this year where I sort of had models and time and materials all converge at once.”
To the tune of a song called “Riding Into Battle With Her High Heels On,” Allen has fashioned found-object materials into proto-martial outfits—if you can imagine skirts made from CalTrans-orange plastic fencing or reel-to-reel magnetic tape or a couple of hundred hotel key cards from the Dream Inn.
FashionART started as a showcase for artists interested in creating intriguing outfits (Rose Sellery created a stir early on with a dress made from animal bones). But it soon folded in collections from designers interested in creating clothes that people actually wear in public. Tina Brown was brought in a few years later to bolster the designer side of the equation. “By the time I came along, the art side of it was so strong, I felt like I have to really bring the designers up to the artists’ level. And that was my goal,” she says.
Still, the ambitions of Sellery and Brown for Pivot go beyond runway shows. They are hoping next year to host a textile/design conference to allow some of their artists and designers to teach classes and workshops—perhaps at Cabrillo College, where Sellery worked for many years as curator at the campus art gallery.
As to where Pivot goes now that it’s the main engine driving the local fashion industry, neither Sellery or Brown is ready to predict. Maybe they’ll come up with a new venue next year—“It’s a nice challenge for us to play with going into new spaces each time,” says Sellery—or maybe they’ll realize their ambitions of making their runway show only one part of an entire year’s worth of fashion-forward activities and events.
“My vision,” says Brown, “is that we’re going into San Francisco. We’re going to Monterey. We’re really going to doing things more than just once a year.”
Hall of Fashion
Presented by Pivot: The Art of Fashion and the R. Blitzer Gallery
Saturday, Sept. 22. 7:30 p.m., with a 6 p.m. VIP reception and Pivot Designer’s Market. $20 in advance; $25 at the door; $55 VIP reception. Wrigley Building, 2801 Mission St., Santa Cruz. pivot-artfashion.com.