For most people, fashion in 2020 means flannel PJ bottoms (with or without booties), that one Cornership tour T-shirt you’ve had since 1998, and the one collared top used exclusively for Zoom meetings. And, of course, masks. Lots and lots of face coverings—designer masks, branded masks, disposable masks, homemade masks, statement masks.
The fashion industry, too, has adapted to the pandemic era. Take, for example, the work of fashion designer and wearable-art maven Tatiana Elliston, one of several artists featured in Pivot in the Pandemic, the film version of the annual art show presented by the Santa Cruz-based fashion presenter Pivot: The Art of Fashion.
Elliston is presenting a new line of apparel in which the face covering is part of the garment.
“It’s a design element,” says the Peninsula-based artist. “I was thinking of the comfort of the wearer. Every time we go for a walk these days, we carry these masks with us. But in my jackets—warmer for cold weather, or lightweight for times like now when it’s really hot—the mask is always near the face. It has a zipper. You just unzip it and, if you need it, it takes a fraction of a second to put it on. You zip it up and it covers your face. I wanted it for myself, and that’s why I made it.”
Elliston, like many independent designers, has been stuck at home in her sewing room for the past several months as she and her family have been in self-imposed quarantine. That has enhanced her already strong commitment to use “upcycled” materials—that is, reusing fabric and other material designed for other purposes.
“I literally didn’t leave the house for months,” she says. “We were just going through all our existing fabrics, trying to use whatever materials we could find in my garage or my friends’ garages.”
The result are bespoke pieces that address not only the necessity to wear masks, but also reflect the prevailing mood of 2020.
“I do black, brown, and gray,” she says of the selection of colors of her masked jackets. “That’s my mood right now.”
Pivot in the Pandemic, the film in which Elliston’s new designs are featured, is itself an adaptation to the pandemic. Led by designer/artists Tina Brown and Rose Sellery, Pivot has for years built a Santa Cruz-based fashion industry on the basis of a live runway show. As veterans of the long-time FashionART show held at the Civic Auditorium every year, both Brown and Sellery knew about building buzz and creating inspirations for designers through the medium of a runway show, either at the Civic, the Rio Theatre, or the hallways of the Wrigley Building.
The Covid-19 shutdown obviously changed all that. Suddenly, the Pivot fashion show, a beloved touchstone for Santa Cruz’s creative class, was no longer possible under pandemic protocols. The solution? A movie.
Tina Brown says the idea came from something similar that Pivot was forced into with the FashionTEEN show that was scheduled for April, just a few weeks after the original shelter-in-place order.
“These kids had been working on these pieces,” says Brown of the spring teen fashion show, “and many of them were already finished. And we kept thinking, ‘How can we make this happen?’ So, we had them video themselves with their designs, and we made a virtual show.”
It was only later, when they were discussing the larger Pivot show scheduled for the fall with staffers at Arts Council Santa Cruz County, that the idea was first floated to make a Pivot movie.
“Well,” says Brown, “we originally said, ‘No, Pivot is a much bigger production. It would be much harder and more expensive to do that.’ But two weeks later, we went back and said, ‘You know what, I think we can do it.’ It was either do that or do nothing.”
Of course, as a live event, a movie can be just as problematic as a runway show—unless it adopts the drive-in model. Pivot at the Pandemic will be screened twice, on Nov. 7 and 8, at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk’s makeshift drive-in at the Boardwalk’s River Street parking lot. After that, the film will be offered as a pay-per-view event online on Pivot’s website, pivot-artfashion.com.
The film, says Brown, is something more than a pre-recorded version of the regular runway show. It was shot at two Santa Cruz County locations: the closed Rispin Mansion in Capitola, and in the store Curated By the Sea on Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz.
“There’s no real runway,” says Brown. “It’s more that we have set up scenarios for each designer. It’s going to be a kind of fashion/art exploration, but it’s not necessarily models walking down a catwalk.”
The film format allows viewers to get a closer look at some of the designs than they would normally be allowed at a runway show.
“There is a little bit of a narrative,” says Brown. “We interviewed the artists and designers and when we shot their segments, we got to talk to them about their inspirations, or how they came up with their designs, or something else about their work. And that’s exciting, too, because you don’t normally get to hear the artists talk unless you hang around after the show and talk to them in person.”
Pivot, like FashionART before it, has cultivated a stable of familiar names of fashion artists and wearable-art designers widely known in Santa Cruz and throughout the Bay Area. Many of them will be part of the Pandemic film, including the vivacious and playful Charlotte Kruk, famous for her dazzling candy-wrapper dresses, and I.B. Bayo, the African-born designer known for his unique blend of traditional African motifs and contemporary styles.
Other familiar names include Lily Marotto, Ellen Brook, Ruby Roxanne, and Rose Sellery, who—besides acting as one of the show’s co-directors—is also one of its most high profile wearable-art visionaries. Missing from this year’s show, alas, is Santa Cruz’s finest avatar of out-there fashion: the Great Morgani.
On top of the known names, there are a handful of first-timers as well, including artist Peter Esparza, showcasing his designs inspired by Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Sudnya Shroff, an artist aiming to spark a dialogue about racism through her use of color. Others showcasing their work are Teri Pelio, Lisa Agliano, Carol Lee Shanks, Rachel Conable and Rigel Hunter, Stephanie Metz, Matthew Molcillo, and Carrie Eheler.
And, yes, most of the designs feature some kind of take on the Covid-style face covering.
“Some did it tongue-in-cheek,” says Brown. “Others were really beautiful, where the mask matches the gown. Bayo did a beaded mask. The designers would all match them up with the best outfits, which is really kind of cool, because (masks) are really going to be a new fashion accessory. Somebody told me, ‘I can’t believe we’re doing this.’ And I was like, ‘Hey, it’s just another accessory, just another way to have fun with your fashion.”
Tatiana Elliston’s design turns a sweatshirt into a mask-ready garment, with a zip-up neck piece that reaches the nose. “It’s up to people what they will buy,” she says, “but we’re looking for a way to (cover the face) with the most comfort and convenience.”
Pivot in the Pandemic will be released just days after a traumatic national election and toward the end of a year of pain and uncertainty for people throughout Santa Cruz County and the entire country. Brown says that Pivot is trying to make what they do a part of how people cope with and transcend a difficult time.
“We’re really trying to push the importance of art right now,” she says. “We all need art in this moment, in trying to deal with all the things going on, between Covid-19, natural disasters, the division in the country. All of that stuff is affecting everybody, and we felt we needed to do this. These wearable art pieces are really exploring how people feel during the time, how we’re figuring our way out of it, and how things are going to be in the future. All of that expression is good for people to see. People need something fun to watch.”
Pivot in the Pandemic will take place Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7-8. Gates open at 6pm. Showtime is 7pm. Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Drive-In, 400 Beach St., River Street parking lot, Santa Cruz. $40 per car (with up to five people in one car). Learn more at: pivot-artfashion.com.