What the Fash?

coverwebA look inside fashionART Santa Cruz 2012

It doesn’t take much to convince Santa Cruz residents to dress up—at least in the costumed sense. Any week here could look like Monday, Tuesday, Burning Man, Renaissance Faire, Halloween, Saturday, Sunday (rest, repeat). We will gladly don rabbit ears, a feathered mask or a tablespoon of glitter at the drop of a hat, and fly our freak flag at the most public of venues. However, translate that same practice to a night on the town, or, heaven forbid, daily workaday expression, and many among us tend to be guilty of choosing between “dressy” or “casual” flip-flops. (There’s also the classic barometer, that is thankfully becoming passé, but still bears repeating, if for no other reason than as a cautionary tale: a trip to Shadowbrook Restaurant = wear long pants. Most other destinations = anything goes.)

Where does the world of fashion fit into our world of comfort and hydration? (Note: the omnipresent water bottle was named the worst fashion accessory trend—by me, admittedly—plaguing our local denizens, beating Vibram FiveFingers shoes and fanny packs.) If Angelo Grova and company have their say, it will become part of our collective comfort zone, and the adjective “fit” will be applied to clothing as well as to musculature. Grova, a gallery owner and arts supporter, wants to “change the thought of what clothing is about.” Acknowledging our local flair for both the fun and the functional, he is taking the bull by the horns with fashionART Santa Cruz, his mash-up of design and art, knowing full well that “in Santa Cruz we have to make fashion funky to make it OK.” He’s right. Even our sports mascots have to be quirky—enter Sammy Slug.

cover runwayFashionART Santa Cruz is Grova’s brainchild, and his Michaelangelo Gallery and adjoining parking lot were home to the first edition of the event in 2006. The overwhelming response shifted the whole shindig to the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, complete with a 16-foot runway. That first year, more than 400 people stood in a parking lot, necks craning for a glimpse of works by local fashion designers. Last year 1,600 people sold out the Civic. This Saturday, Sept. 22, promises to be standing room only as well. (Be sure to ask the fire marshall who he’s wearing.)

The Michaelangelo Gallery is currently showing art and design pieces from past years’ shows, and will host a Shop the Show night on Saturday, Sept. 29, where runway pieces will be offered for sale, and custom orders can be placed directly with the designers. You can also see highlights from past events in the windows of the Rittenhouse Building on Pacific Avenue. The high level of detail and craftsmanship are astounding, evidenced by the groups of people constantly stopping, pointing, commenting and eventually moving along, no doubt inspired by the ingenious use of pearls, M&M packages, barbed wire or baby doll heads.

As the 2012 installment approaches, with its whirlwind of runway designs, wearable art, vendor trunk sales and the Shop the Show event, planners are rightly anticipating a heightened level of enthusiasm from the public. The level of excitement surrounding the preparations is certainly palpable: Of all the organizers GT spoke with, only one appeared to have slept more than three hours at a stretch in the last month. The energy and passion from the organizers and artists is unflappable—and contagious. It takes a village, and the village is stoked.

Event Coordinator Lisa Litten, for example, begins living fashionART full time at the beginning of July in between her other jobs, and even at her other jobs. “I multi-task everything,” she explains. “I am the spreadsheet queen. I call my office and leave myself messages telling me what a good job I am doing.”

This is her second year in the position, although she has worn different hats, so to speak, with the show in the past.

cover Christina Cree“With the hair, make-up, models, stage help, hospitality people and everyone who makes it happen, there are at least 200 volunteers,” Litten says. “And most of them come back year after year. Some don’t even get to see the show because they are working behind the scenes. But they sign up every year.”

Along with Grova and Litten, two other key players in the mix are Tina Brown, designer coordinator, and Rose Sellery, artist coordinator. After the group works committee-style to wade through the participation applications, Brown and Sellery wrangle and herd their respective wards until the last foot steps off the runway. Seven designers will present collections of nine to 15 pieces each, and 17 artists will present one wearable work of art.

Setting the tone for the night will be a wearable art piece by local teen Kim Adam, who won GT’s online Fashion Artwear contest earlier this summer. “There are quite a few wonderful pieces this year, but we’re especially excited to have had Good Times sponsor a fashionART competition, and we adore the piece that won,” says Sellery, via email. “The winner is one of three young teenagers who will be participating in the show this year.” The two other young women presenting wearable art pieces are Aspen Schwind, a former student of art teacher and fellow presenter Kathleen Crocetti, and Morgen Cree, daughter of artist/designer Christina Morgan Cree.

More than two dozen creative forces will present their fashion and art on the runway this Saturday. Read on to learn about two participants, in particular, whose stories provide a glimpse into the process, the inspiration and the expectations for the big night.

Art and Design
In addition to being coach, cheerleader and motivational speaker to the six artists presenting wearable art pieces in this year’s event, Sellery is also part of the rostered team. Her contributions over the years have served as both inspiration and bar-setting challenges for her fellow artists.

Sellery defines wearable art as “individually designed pieces of (usually) hand-made clothing created as fine or expressive art. While the making of any wearable object typically involves aesthetic considerations, the term wearable art implies that the work is intended to be accepted as a serious and unique artistic creation or statement.” Thirty such artists submitted designs this year, up from eight last year.

What makes this event so exciting from both the spectators’ and artists’ point of view? “By combining design and art we create a uniquely Santa Cruz event that appeals to a broad range of spectators,” says Sellery. “Some come for the awe and surprise of the art pieces, some for the avant garde fashion design, but everyone has a fabulous time because the artistry and entertainment is of such a high caliber.”

Up-and-coming designer and artist Christina Morgan Cree is the only participant presenting in both the design and art categories at Saturday’s event. Her collection of highly styled and structured dresses are sumptuous and regal—cover JillAlexandercouture cocktail-wear with defined shapes that present a sense of strength underlying the feminine neck, waist, and hemlines. They appear as though they could stand alone in the corner waiting for Audrey Hepburn to leap effortlessly into them and saunter away.

Cree says she is heavily influenced by designers of the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. “I like structure in general, the undergarment structure,” she divulges. “I have always loved hoop skirts. I like that—to design with that structure, that look.”

The collection Cree is presenting on Saturday is her first multiple-piece collection, for which she will focus mainly on black and on shape. “This design line is not huge on color,” she explains. “I tied in similar colors, but the emphasis is really on black and a lot on shape. There are tones of gray, some red, some mustard-y curry color, some off-white. And I would say most of it is more cocktail, dress up or event wear.”

The piece she is preparing for the art category is inspired by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. This is where she will indulge in colors, and we can also expect to see flowers, ribbons, and, in true Kahlo style, a cage. (Remember her penchant for structural elements?) It fulfills all of the prerequisites noted by Sellery: “… visually interesting, exciting and unusual work that will make a statement whether the viewer is in the first row or the back row.”

The art piece Cree presented last year, “Plastic Lace,” was made of the plastic six-pack rings generally used for soda or beer. While the piece would seem to be issue based, she found her primary inspiration in the material itself. “I am really drawn to using non-fabric materials,” she says. “As an artist I like to work with recycled objects. I have pages of sketches and ideas utilizing recycled objects and materials.”

The difference between creating her designer works and her art pieces goes deeper than the sources for her yardage. “It feels different,” she says. “I think more than anything, I feel [the art pieces] are more original, more from inside me. It can be more difficult to create because there’s more ‘stuff’ getting through the process. I don’t run into that emotional process sewing a line of clothing. There is something that’s all tied up with being connected to yourself when you’re doing an art piece. The ‘artistic process.’”

Growing as a designer, an artist, and a time-manager gave Cree the wherewithal to complete her multiple entries for this year’s event. “I would not have been able to do a whole collection last year,” she admits. “Freaking out can take a lot of time and energy.”

The 2011 fashionART show was her first time stepping back into the fashion or art fray after some years spent focusing on family. Confirmation that returning was the right choice came from none other than fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier, who personally chose her “Plastic Lace” piece from among a sea of entries during a contest held at San Francisco’s de Young Museum, held in conjunction with the opening of their special exhibition featuring his work. “I had no idea he was going to be picking the winners himself,” she says. “And there it was.”

Design and Success
Once the general fashionART committee has chosen the lucky design participants, it is up to Brown to make it work. The Tim Gunn of the event, her no-nonsense demeanor clearly broadcasts why she is effective—you really don’t want to let her down. Her love of fashion and experience in the field make her a shoo-in as designer wrangler—she knows what she is talking about.

“[People in Santa Cruz] are afraid of being labeled,” says Brown. “Fashion. That word scares them. But it’s not high heels—it’s what works for you and your lifestyle, your coloring and your body shape. As people get more comfortable, they’ll get more comfortable with the word fashion here.”

cover CharlotteBrown believes that Santa Cruz is ripe and ready for fashion and fashionART. “People here express themselves a lot, and there’s more fashion here than you think,” she says. “They just don’t like to call it that. I think one thing fashionART does is to sort of combine that—self expression with the idea of it being a business.”

And like the town’s stalwart support for local businesses, Brown brings up another selling point for the idea of local fashion. “Customers want to know where their clothes are coming from, like produce,” she says. “Buy local, like supporting a local farmer, brings people into the fold and helps them think that way. There are stores that carry local fashion and up-and-coming designers.” She specifically mentions Wallflower, Moda Bellissima, Cameron Marks, Stripe, and Jade, which all have a history of supporting local designers.

For local designer Jill Alexander, it would seem that support is coming not only from locals, but also from all over the world. This is her fourth year participating in fashionART Santa Cruz, and her successes here and beyond are worth getting excited about.

Alexander’s high quality and classically designed plus-size clothing is carried in boutiques across the United States, and she is also now in Australia, Mexico, Canada, Scotland, and Denmark. Her clothing was recently seen in People magazine, adorning Olympic weightlifter Sarah Robles, and will be worn by Rebel Wilson (from the movie Bridesmaids) in the October issue of Lucky Magazine. She has been featured on the runway at London’s Curves in Couture show, the only designer from America, and she also strutted the walk in New York this summer at Full Figure Fashion Week. She recognizes the ongoing flurry of success around her, and meets it with passion, motivation and gratitude, “I feel so blessed in every way,” she says. “It’s been so cool.”

Her drive comes from being familiar with her customers and what they need, what they want, and how they want it. “Honest to god I set out to do this because I felt there was a lack in the marketplace, and I really knew this market, I really have a passion for it,” says Alexander. “Plus, I want to stay in Santa Cruz where my family is.” Her Sash Mill studio location allows her to do just that, and she has recently added a retail element so women can stop in, try things on in a private setting and get hands-on attention from the experts.  

Asked about the Santa Cruz comfort addiction and how it plays into fashion, she says with a laugh, “Well, I want to be comfortable! That’s one of the things I love about living here, and what I create actually does have sort of a hippy- dippy-trippy vibe. That’s sort of what Santa Cruz is about for me. It’s this artsy eclectic kind of ‘I want my own style’ community, and that’s what I believe in. I want people to use my pieces however they work for them.”

Even though Alexander had a career in fashion doing visual merchandising for Ann Taylor, she didn’t start sewing until her daughter joined Little People’s Repertory Theatre, and parent volunteers stepped up to create costumes.

“The thing I loved about costuming the most, is that all of a sudden this little boy running around crazy turns into a king, acts like a king, because he’s put his king costume on,” she says. “There’s nothing better than something that makes you feel great. It changes your whole attitude. Clothes can do that.”

cover duo2Alexander’s styles for fall include wrap dresses, made of quite possibly the most delicious fabric ever. “It’s modal, made from beech tree fibers,” she says. “It is a velvety yet sturdy fabric that hangs and moves beautifully. It feels like cashmere; it’s the softest thing you’ve ever felt, and I use 8 percent spandex for shape retention and bounce.” The natural fibers allow the fabric to breathe, which she says might contribute to her popularity in the South and in warmer climates. So in addition to being local and made in the United States, they’re made out of trees. How much more Santa Cruz can you get?

Saturday night, according to Alexander, will be “like a party on the runway” for her and her models. “fashionART is such a great venue because it’s such a cool crowd, and for them to see models who look like everyone else and they’re smiling and happy and feel great—that’s what everyone wants,” she says. “And it’s real.” 

fashionArt Santa Cruz takes place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 22 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. For tickets, call 420-5240 or visit fashionart.brownpapertickets.com. VIP tickets available through the Michaelangelo Gallery.

Success For Local Schools

For the second year, fashionART Santa Cruz is partnering with the Santa Cruz Education Foundation to support local students. One hundred percent of tickets purchased through the Foundation will benefit middle school and high school visual arts programs in Santa Cruz City Schools.

For event founder Grova, arts in local schools and education are a primary focus. “Without art we would not have history,” he says. “We would have no culture.”

By purchasing your tickets through the SCEF you can help prevent a civilization remembered only through archived budget spreadsheets and Super PAC reports. Come to think of it, that might be just the raw material needed to inspire next year’s batch of artists.

fashionART 2012 Featured Designers and Artists


Kathleen Crocetti

Christina Morgan Cree

Morgen Cree

Tatiana Elliston

Angelo Grova

Catarina Hosler

Charlotte Kruk

The Great Morgani

Mary Jane Nee

cover marieHannah O’Neal & Miranda Emanuel

Ruby Roxanne Designs

Aspen Schwind

Rose Sellery

Carmella Weintraub

Daniella Woolf, Lynn Mizono & Gayle Ortiz


Jill Alexander Designs

Bayo Agbelekale, I.B.Bayo

Christina Morgan Cree

Marilou Moschetti

Rachel Riot, Manic Designs

Caroline Webster,   D’ COX

Tobin W. Keller & Barbara Bartels

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