FashionART’s 10th anniversary show introduces a new generation of designers on the edge
Tucked neatly next to the Public Storage facilities across the street from the Tannery Arts Center, the sidewalk in front of the rust-colored MichaelAngelo Gallery is not particularly wide, nor unusually high. The adjoining parking lot doesn’t look nearly large enough to hold a renegade fashion show with 450 attendees either, but 10 years ago, gallery owner Angelo Grova made it happen—and with it created the most extravagant art-meets-fashion event in Santa Cruz: FashionART.
Each year since its debut outside MichaelAngelo Gallery, FashionART has filled the Civic Auditorium’s 1,900 seats, and Grova is proud of what the show has become.
“We started [planning this year’s show] a week after we wrapped the show last year,” Grova says, laughing. As he speaks, he jabs the air theatrically and smacks the table every so often.
“I love the work, everybody loves the work, otherwise they wouldn’t be in it.”
This year alone, the event requires 100 volunteers, says Grova, and that doesn’t even begin to account for the countless hours that the 15 artists and 10 designers need to conceive of their creations, scrounge for materials, clip, chop, sew, stab, pleat, dye—and then put their work on a body. Then there are the models, hair and makeup artists, the collaboration between the FashionART committee and the Civic, ticket sales, advertising—the list goes on.
It’s a carousel that just keeps going, says Grova—a very crazy, very expensive carousel.
“You have to be in love with what you’re doing. Musicians don’t get paid diddly squat, ever!” he says, “It’s the same thing. To make a grandiose thing, it’s hard.”
It’s why other large events, like the Santa Cruz Fringe Festival, haven’t been able to sustain themselves year after year. There’s plenty of talent, but only so much room for growth.
“I wanted to take the place of what the Miss California pageant was about, in a different way, because every year it was such a big event,” says Grova. “[FashionART] filled that void in a lot of ways. Economically—people pour out of the Civic, they go to restaurants, coffee shops, go shopping. It makes for a community affair; everybody comes to see it, and it’s building up every year.”
For this year’s 10th anniversary show, which benefits the Santa Cruz Education Foundation, the wearable art and design extravaganza will showcase an entire new generation of designers and artists, sprinkled in with members of the old guard and topped off with the trunk show. Divulging only that there will be the requisite “outrageous” and “dynamic” designs—and maybe, maybe, a well-known guest performer—he’s keeping the surprises, well, a surprise.
GT spoke with three artists and three designers from this year’s event to get some insight into the method behind the madness that is FashionART:
In 1980, Brooke Davis-Stier stood on the pool deck at Santa Cruz High School, looked down at her team swimsuit and thought to herself, “No. Just, no.” They hardly had elastic in them, were mainly polyester, and cut into all the wrong places. So she went home, took our her Singer, and arrived the next day with her own take on the sport look: leopard-printed and fabulous.
So began Davis-Stier’s career as a swimwear designer, making handmade custom suits from start to finish. She’s sold at local surf shops, made all the suits for Cottontails when they still existed, and had her own “brick and mortar” shop. After raising two children who are now grown, she wants back in the game. For the show, Davis-Stier will showcase 12 suits in narrations of orchids, peacocks, clouds, daisies, and more, complete with trains, feathers, and mermaid tails. FashionART is uncharted territory for her, as she normally sews for the customer, not an audience. In her runway lineup, as in her business, Brooke’s Beach, she caters to all bodies and all beauties: “The swimsuits that are mass produced, they’re just that—mass produced. Every woman is unique in body, style and energy,” she says. “[For FashionART], I have a sample of all shapes and sizes—it’s a relatable runway.”
“Unless we’re going to turn into a nudist colony, we’re always wearing clothing,” says Lisa Bibbee, “I want to make it less destructive.” That’s why Bibbee’s line for this year’s show is all about “revamping”—with an emphasis on the “vamping.” She’s taking things that once had other lives and giving them breath anew. Most of Bibbee’s work thus far has been in canvas; she has a business called Samurai Seamstress which specializes in interior and exterior marine canvas. But her line for her first FashionART is focused mainly on land and although she wouldn’t divulge any details about the pieces themselves, she did say that the 12 models will be strutting in designs inspired by nature and the outside world: “I work with hard and soft, I try to make a very feminine look,” she says. Through her work in canvas and fashion, Bibbee wants to push the industry, she says. “You just need to figure out how to do it sustainably and create a living wage.”
In the 10 years that FashionART has shocked, awed and inspired the Santa Cruz art scene, Tobin Keller has missed only one show—he’s been with it since its sidewalk beginnings and appreciates what the city makes possible: “a liberally minded place allows for experimentation and risk-taking.”
“There’s also not that kind of pressure of New York or Los Angeles, and there’s a supportive community,” he says. It’s bittersweet to see the successes start in Santa Cruz, only to eventually leave town, he says. “I’m taking a great risk, and mostly I end up with a rack of samples,” he says. “We don’t have the infrastructure to support designers.”
As a trained studio artist and now Cabrillo art professor, Keller is putting together a collection for this year’s show that works in tandem with the campus’s gallery space. Hand-printed, hand-dyed and hand-sewn, the collection is made up of six pieces—some sportswear, leather shorts, some gowns, tunics, some menswear ensembles—and they all tell a story. They tell Keller’s story.
Using pictorial prints, Keller screen printed old photos he found from his family history, dating back as far as the 19th century. “DNA,” as he’s calling it, incorporates images of the genetic blueprint itself with Keller’s thumbprint layered with color prints of his family.
Kruk collects trash—lots of trash. “I have a collection of just about everything, from everything I’ve ever eaten,” she says. But the difference between her and your run-of-the-mill collector/hoarder (“I think I’m not crazy, but I may seem crazy”) is that she’s saving it all for art. “We’re all at fault, we all share the planet, but some of us are better at conserving,” she says. “If anyone actually stopped and looked at what they consumed in a year, they’d be surprised.” Kruk’s candy-wrapper creations have amassed a sort of cult following after she received a “cease and desist” letter from M&M/Mars in 2001 in response to pieces she had made with M&M wrappers. Her response was doubly defiant, putting all her energy into an M&M matador suit so detailed that the stitching around every “M” on each standard sized candy bag took two and a half hours.
“I put ridiculous amounts of labor into things,” she admits.
M&M/Mars’ letter further motivated her to make art that begs the question: “Don’t we have ownership of our trash?” That’s what this year’s FashionART pieces are about, she says. A veteran artist for the event, Kruk is creating two ballerina-esque, vintage circus acrobat-inspired dresses made from Mother’s Circus Animal cookie bags. On one side of the coin, the pieces critique consumerism. On the other, it’s about us: “I’m also looking at how we package ourselves for each other, and more often than not we are more concerned with what’s happening outside than inside.”
In the traditional arashi shibori method dating back to the eighth century, two men wrap silk around a giant log, tie ropes around the log and then lift the ropes—the bark would be removed, and some of the cloth would bubble. Michelle Murray uses that same method, on a smaller scale, with smaller logs (more like poles) and thread.
For her first ever FashionART entry, Murray used the arashi shibori inspirations as a springboard, creating a network of pleats on organza that she dyed by hand. Murray has been making a living as a textile artist for almost 40 years, and her work has evolved and expanded—just like the piece she has planned for the show: “If you stop worrying about the end point and just let yourself go, it’s a very delightful process,” says Murray. “The piece has been making itself and I’ve been stumbling along.”
It’s a ballgown of sorts, she says, but it’s more about the themes than the physical: a play of opposites, mixing plant-like, skin-like materials with furs and organza. “It’s got a wickedness to it, a feral tweak,” she jokes, gently redirecting questions on what the gown will look like, with a laugh. “I want people to be moved to curiosity or creeped out, torn between beauty and a little revulsion—there’s a darkness in this sort of reality,” she says.
A lot of people are pessimistic about the future, especially when that future will be on the shoulders of modern teens. Not Kathleen Crocetti. As a teacher at Mission Hill Middle School, Crocetti is inspired by how eco-minded her students are.
“The next generation, they’re more aware and cognizant, trying to be better stewards of the planet,” she says. “That’s why I chose teen models, because they’re better role models in some ways.”
Four teen models represent two vignettes, with each set telling a unique story. For one dress, Crocetti refashioned an antique paisley fabric that her grandmother brought over from Italy, along with feathers from abandoned Mission Hill marching band uniforms. Reclaiming the feathers has many layers of meaning for Crocetti: “Fashion is all about how we present ourselves, and pruning is one of the things that we do—it works with birds and people. We being a consumer culture have more trash than lots of people have good stuff,” she says.
The second vignette, three separate dresses made of sheer organza and threaded with hundreds of feet of fiber optics, are now a year in the making, says Crocetti. Each one represents a different layer of the body: one with muscles, the other with neurological synapses, the last with tissue cluster. With lights on, the audience sees one thing, when they’re off, the scene will be entirely different.
“They’re about the undercurrents that people carry around with them: like when someone approaches someone else and says ‘Hi,’ you don’t know that their dad is dying in hospice, or that their kid was in a car crash,” she says. “[We need to] treat everyone with kindness, because you just have no idea. It’s important to be kind to one another.”
Info: FashionART 7 p.m., Sept. 26, Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. 420-5260. Trunk Show immediately following runway event. PHOTOS: Emmanuel Leroy from 2014 FashionART.