coverwebArt + Fashion. You do the math. Why FashionArt Santa Cruz has become a wearable art extravaganza unlike any other.

Somebody smart and savvy once quipped, “Drive into the sea of thought, and find there pearls beyond the price.” That’s something Rose Sellery would appreciate at the moment. The local artist and artist coordinator for the upcoming, bold and lush FashionArt Santa Cruz, has been delving deep into the nether regions of her mind to come up with enterprising ideas that will make the area’s quintessential fashion showcase even more spectacular than last year.

Fittingly, she’s doing her part by designing her own piece—with pearls of course. A lot of pearls. We’re talking thousands and thousands of pearls, all of which will collect themselves on a wearable art piece that, like the others in the show, is bound to capture interest.

Why? Two words: Wearable art.

What is it? It refers to individually designed pieces of—in most cases—handmade clothing created as “fine or expressive art.” The creation of such pieces typically involves aesthetic considerations but the term wearable art implies that the work is “intended to be accepted as a serious and unique artistic creation or statement.”

cover_SkinBones“I think people relate to fashion as an art form,” Sellery notes of FashionArt Santa Cruz’s attention-grabbing evolution. “It’s something that we follow and long for, and imagine ourselves in. It’s something we can all relate to. We can’t all relate to Picasso’s ‘Cupid,’ but we can all relate to some kind of fashion, whether it’s conservative or flamboyant.”

No doubt, FashionArt Santa Cruz (FASC) has become one of the boldest cultural events that comes into full bloom every year. The grand event is part fashion show, part moving art exhibit. Moving, because the fashion models are covered in striking exotic wearable art. Oh, this is too groovy to pass up. Think about it: art pollinating fashion and vice versa. The result is something of an artistic orgy and by the looks of it, Santa Cruzans continue to climb under the creative covers for the visual romp.

The show comes into full bloom at the Santa Cruz Civic on Saturday, Sept. 24. On the bill: more than a gaggle of clothing designers and many more artists with enterprising ideas and a strong itch to bring them to life.

“The artists are creating one-of-a-kind pieces,” Sellery says. “Sometimes, it’s off the wall, not something you would wear on the street, and meant to be actually art pieces. All one-of-a-kind wearable pieces have some kind of level of artistic skill that goes into them.  When we think of wearable art, we’re thinking of more serious artwork, even though some of them might be whimsical, they are serious art pieces.

“Last year, I asked myself, what am I in the mood for?” she adds, reflecting back. “I had been looking at models online and in fashion design magazines. They looked emaciated so I thought of ‘skin and bones’ and then my  daughter and her friends dragged animal carcasses up from a canyon [for me] which I then cleaned. They were from a ranch—dead deer or cattle—so they went down and brought me a truckload of bones. I sliced some on a chop saw and stitched them all together and used the cow pelvis around the hip bones [of the costumes].”

Yes—anything and everything is fair game. This is familiar territory for Sellery, though, who’s known for her whimsical and mind-bending three-dimensional visual narratives. A fifth-generation Californian who grew up in Venice, Calif., Sellery’s ties to the art world run deep. More than 30 years ago, she worked as a top manager in a reputable ceramics haven in Los Angeles, before she and her husband made Santa Cruz their home. “Just in time for the ’89 Earthquake,” she laughs. Much of the artistic work tends to center around family dynamics, gender roles and social issues. There’s a strong slant toward the feminine, too, and the material she utilizes is significant to each piece whether it’s a sculpture or wearable art. Take note of the materials she utilizes: steel, bone, nails, cigarette butts, bedsprings, LED lights, photographs, rose petals and sugar. (You know—things often found on your garden variety avant-garde art list.) Over the years, Sellery has been shown as far away as New Zealand where she’s had pieces in the internationally acclaimed World of Wearable Art show, as well as exhibiting in their museum. This year she received the über-noteworthy Gail Rich Award for her wearable art.

cover_BiologicalClockThe wearable art concept remains the biggest draw for Sellery and those who find her concepts inviting. In fact, things seemed to really come to life after she entered the fold at Cabrillo Gallery as the program coordinator working alongside artist Tobin Keller, the gallery’s director and curator. (He is also an artist/designer whose works have created buzz over the years—see sidebar.) She and Keller would often play “dress up,” incorporating art into their fashion creations. And off they’d go—out on the town, attending special events and balls, locally, and in the city.

“It’s the play and the change of character I like,” she muses. “It’s like when people put on a mask, they have the freedom to become something or someone else. So when you dress up on Halloween, it opens a door and there is freedom to be someone else and to play in a different way and let a secret persona come forward. So initially when Tobin and I were creating costumes, we were creating persona to go with these costumes. And as the years went on and we became involved in FashionArt Santa Cruz, we took it more seriously. Rather than the costume side, we turned more toward the art side.”


The FashionArt Backstory

Back in 2005, “fashion” shows may have been the furthest thing from Angelo Grova’s mind. The well-known artist and cultural advocate launched the successful MichaelAngelo Gallery on River Street across from The Tannery nearly a decade ago and had been hosting popular art openings. But then he became inspired by a local designer who was renting space at the studio enclave. Her name was Amanda Lafebre Cattivera.

“I had said, ‘Oh, you’re an artist,’ and she said, ‘no I am an fashion designer,’” Grova recalls. “And I said, ‘OK, that’s an art form, and then we got to collaborating.”

A fashion show was soon in the works. They kept it simple. The show ran out of the gallery and into the parking lot. A fine handful of fashion designers were slated to show off their works, but the MichaelAngelo fashion gang didn’t have a clue how many people would actually show up. To their surprise, 600 attended, happily standing in the parking lot as the showcase unraveled.

cover_SpringBride“After that, we figured it was a good idea to continue doing it because it stimulated artists as well as designers,” Grova notes. “It just took off like wildfire. It was amazing.”

A bigger venue beckoned and the following year, off to the Civic they went—but with a twist. In the years that followed, FASC began incorporating “fashion art” and wearable art as part of its offerings.

A wedding dress with a frantically spinning digital clock centered over the uterus depicted running out of time; a wearable, multi-colored/patchwork box; a dress made out of M&M wrappers; were but a few of the creations that turned heads in the years that followed. There were countless other items, too, perhaps more “traditional” in appearance but equally intoxicating to the eyes.

Of the local response, Grova puts it this way: “I think Santa Cruz needed some sort of stimulus; a visual approach to things. We don’t have an event this big and I think that’s what brought people together. Everybody that’s been involved has been obviously enthusiastic about the idea. Now, designers and artists contact me a year ahead of time and ask how they can get involved in the show. It’s been growing steadily. Last year, we had about 1,600 people attend. This year, I’m hoping to see sell-out.”

New to the enterprise this year is a chance to purchase runway pieces with a post-show review on Friday Sept. 30 at MichaelAngelo Gallery. (Take note: the gallery is showcasing works from previous years during the month of September.) FashionArt Santa Cruz 2011 is also partnering with the Santa Cruz Education Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes “excellence in Santa Cruz City Schools by developing and enhancing programs through private funding so that all students can realize their full potential.” That group will receive partial proceeds from ticket sales. Also of prominence: A trunk show to remember immediately following the event—coordinated by Bethany Mann. Expect the creators of clothing, jewelry, or other wearable work to be on hand selling their work.


Back to the Pearls

British poet John Dryden noted: “He who would search for pearls, must dive below.”

As in … deep inside your creative reservoir. So, it makes sense, that a week before the huge gala, Sellery, having already collected thousands of pearls for her wearable art creation, is still seeking more. The end result promises to resemble a monstrous pearl creation. But she doesn’t seem to tire of this work, and that’s because she hardly considers it “work.”

cover_TrophyBrideA quick look over some of her designs from previous years and we can clearly see this is all fun for the artist.

There was “Spring Bride,” a wedding dress made from bedsprings. Another year found “The Mrs. Ties the Knot” taking center stage, a dress made with 50 pounds of vintage men’s neckties. The “Trophy Bride”—again incorporating the essence of the feminine—was a gold silk wedding gown worn on a model displayed on a pedestal, simulating a large trophy.

This year, aside from the pearls, Sellery has other surprises in store, as do many of the other artists in the show (see sidebar).  But none of them quite possible, perhaps, without the welcoming arms of Cruzans and their appreciation not only for all things art, but also for the avant garde.

“Santa Cruz is just a great place to live,” Sellery points out. “Politically, it’s relatively liberal, which artists tend to gravitate toward. And the community has always been supportive of artists, musicians, and ‘artists’ of all kinds. The Cultural Council has been good at keeping that in mind. And having two schools here—Cabrillo College and UC Santa Cruz … what artist wouldn’t want to live in this town?”

FashionArt Lowdown:
FashionArt Santa Cruz unravels at 7pm Saturday, Sept. 24 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Trunk show follows immediately after the show. Tickets: A VIP Package includes: wine and hors d’oeuvres reception from 5-7 p.m. in the VIP lounge prior to the runway show, an invitation to the pre-trunk show (in the VIP lounge), a VIP gift bag loaded with gifts from local artisans, reserved runway seating, invitation to the FashionART After Party. General admission tickets: Reserved seating $20; general admission $15. Stop by the Civic box office, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz, to purchase or visit fashionartsantacruz.com.

The Hit List

FashionArt Santa Cruz is ready to roll. Take note of the designers behind the scenes:

Tina Brown, Designer Coordinator FashonArt Santa Cruz A one-of-a-kind personal clothing stylist. Contact 234-0755, ilkastyle.com.

Jill Alexander Designs Jill Alexander Designs focuses on creating “fashionable designs for curvy women.” Incorporating knowledge of fit and fabrics, JAD generates comfortable designs, all hand-draped to “mold to the curves of the feminine figure.” Contact 431-6092, jillalexanderdesigns.com.

Tobin W. Keller Also showing as an artist with FASC, Tobin W. Keller has expanded. He’s now hand dying and silk screening fabric for a one-of-a-kind clothing line. Contact 588-3033, [email protected]

Carmella D’Oro by Carmella Weintraub Using strong colors, Carmella Weintraub has created quite a memorable collection. Contact 423-8879, [email protected], carmelladoro.com.

Chi Pants by Laury Ostrow The original Santa Cruz designer Laury relaunches his Chi pants, which he first designed in 1984. The lowdown: he redesigned jeans with a secret, seamless panel, creating the most comfortable jeans you will ever wear. Contact (415) 388-5654, [email protected], chiwear.com.

Alison Steele All things recycled is the focus here. “A study in Burlap” includes a burlap corset made with second-life leather, recycled cashmere, vintage fabrics and 1950’s silhouettes. Contact (540) 292-6568, [email protected]

Caroline Webster It’s all about a contemporary and very wearable collection with bold prints and colors. Ideal for Santa Cruz. Contact 566-8947, [email protected]

Artists: Bucky & Micha BuckmanChristina CreeKathleen CrocettiTatiana EllistonAngelo GrovaTobin KellerCharlotte KrukSarah Lesher & Caitlain SlayNina Lutz & Paige DavisThe Great MorganiGeoffrey NelsonMichelle Reynolds and Team GolightlyRose SelleryTodd WilliamsAmber Young – For more information visit fashionartsantacruz.com..

Divine Designs

For years, artist Tobin Keller’s art has captured the interest of locals and beyond. His portrait works often moved beyond the norm, incorporating mixed media elements. Over the past few years, Keller’s art has worked its way into the fashion mix at MichaelAngelo’s FashionArt soiree. This year, the artist has ventured into new territory, artistically. Here’s the lowdown:

cover_tobinGood Times: What can you tell us about your designs this year?

Tobin Keller: “There are a lot more of them! But I’ve changed directions almost entirely, not completely, but primarily with my artistic approach. I’ve been a painter and printmaker for years, and an amateur costume maker, but now find myself transitioning to more wearable garments for women, and eventually for men.  I’ve taken the images and visual concepts, from my flat work, and now apply that to fine silks, and then into a wearable piece. It’s sort of like seeing one of my prints or paintings take on a three-dimensional form, yet it moves, it is kinetic, and approaches a new kind of aesthetics. But one of the most exciting things is the color.  I’ve never really worked with such saturated color.  The silks dye so beautifully—something I never achieved with my paintings and prints.  And the printing process is so varied and experimental that it drives me forward.  The process is just as labor intensive as developing a painting.  Each garment takes a considerable amount of time to develop.  Another important new adventure is the collaborative process. I’m working with many other wonderful and dear people to make this line of clothing possible.

The actual FashionArt Santa Cruz show has really grown in popularity. Why do you think that is?

I think that it has a lot to do with the combination of fashion and art.  OK, maybe fashion is a novel idea here, but really, we do have a very individual and unique sense of style in Santa Cruz.  And, after all, style is more lasting than fashion. But importantly, this event would not have grown without the commitment, vision and hard work of Angelo Grova. He, along with his very dedicated wife, Beverly Grova, and the FashionArt Santa Cruz committee members, have continued to promote and advance the event. It’s fun and fabulous.

What is it about fashion/wearable art that you feel people are responding to favorably?

Maybe it’s the popularity of it?  So many of us like Project Runway.  But I think it has much to do with looking good. This isn’t about the superficial, or the vapidity of beauty, it’s about respecting and responding to the physical self. Why not wear something that makes you feel?  Clothing can do that—it can make you feel one way or another. It’s not just conformity but a form of personal expression. We all know that you have to wear clothing.  Walking around naked just isn’t a choice. And most of us are restricted by what we can afford. So we are practical and sensible with how we dress. But this doesn’t mean we have to be boring.  We like being creative and we like individual self-expression.

So, what’s it like for you, as an designer/artist, to see your work come to life on-stage, on a human being?

The excitement is to see a very different translation of my concepts and visual imagery—to see them move, to watch the interaction of the prints, colors, and silks.  It’s kind of like seeing a painting come to life with a very beautiful woman inside of it!  I have never worked as hard as I am doing now.  And I’m just loving it.  | Charlie Price

Learn more about Tobin Keller’s work at tobinwkeller.com.

Photo captions:
Biological Clock by Rose Sellery
Family Jewels 
Spring Bride by Rose Sellery
Trophy Bride by Rose Sellery
FlaM&Menco by Charlotte Kruk.
Photos Emanuel Leroy
Tobin Keller at the helm of his fashion portal. Photo: Kena Parker

To Top