Last Thursday afternoon at five o’clock sharp I shooed everyone out of the office. I wanted to close up, dash home and get dolled up to attend my first ever fashion show: Object Runway, Season 4. The eclectic event organized by and benefiting the International Gallery of Contemporary Art had humble beginnings just four years ago in the Avenue Bar, but has since blossomed into a must-see for any Alaskan interested in art or fashion.
In this context I use the term “fashion” loosely; Object Runway is more performance art show than a couture-driven catwalk. You’ll not find any Fifth Avenue haute here. Anchorage is still Alaska – despite what SoNo hipsters wish, we’re no far north Manhattan of fashion. This is reflected in our art as well as our outfits. Every day is casual Friday!
It was this hallmark Alaskan train of thought that had me opt for simple jeans, jersey blouse, and tattered grey Vans. I’d rather feel comfortable in my own skin, than feel wanting to crawl out of it all night. I paused for my own last look in the mirror to make sure my lips were on straight and hair parted just so, then out the door, BFF in tow.
Par for the course for any visit to the Bear Tooth Theatrepub, all parking lots within a million square miles were full…with the exception of those marked “You Going to Bear Tooth? We Will Tow Your Ass.” After a few u-turns I scored a sweet spot curbside across Spenard.
Luck was my lady that night. Just as Amber and I walked into the lot we were delighted to spot celebrity guest judge, Joshua McKinley, standing outside. I’m a longtime fan of Project Runway, the reality show from which Object Runway is presumably inspired. Joshua, a clothing designer, was a contestant on both Project Runway: Season 9 and Project Runway: All Stars.
Of course, instead of casually walking up, flashing my Alaska Commons staff badge and asking some intelligent questions while I had a quiet moment relatively alone with the visiting fashion dignitary, I turned into a grinning middle school girl and forgot my mission entirely. So yeah, perhaps I shouldn’t quit my day job and become a journalist just yet. Sorry guys! My friend and I did get our picture taken with him, so that was pretty cool.
Inside, the crowd for the sold out show was mostly already seated in the theatre. Looking around, I was content with my wardrobe choice because, while there were a few folks dressed up for the occasion, jeans prevailed as the standard of the night.
The clean voice of singer Blaze Bell ushered us to our (really great) seats right at the end of the runway. Blaze and her band, dressed in all white, were jazzing up the joint singing recognizable, but not too sticky, songs of days gone by. Once seated, the band played one or two more covers before their side of the stage darkened and a bespectacled blond gentleman, also in all white, came out with a broom sweeping the stage. With a touch of vaudevillian flair, he bandied about. Then sitting down and giving a thumbs up, he produced from stage left a pair of blue & white cowboy boots followed by and a blue & white sport coat. Thus we were introduced to this year’s Master of Ceremonies, Van Horn Ely III, who took the microphone and began the show by first introducing the judges: Radio host Shyanne Beatty, UAA Art professor Steve Godfrey and of course, Project Runway star Joshua McKinley. For those in the crowd who might not be familiar with his work, we were treated to snippets of the television show on the silver screen behind the stage.
Then the whiplash-inducing show began.
Each model paraded out to the same fast-paced electronic music. I tried my best to live tweet what I was seeing. Each model strutted their stuff for about 30 seconds. A bit faster than my iPhone camera and Twitter thumbs could move. Much faster than my brain could register the amalgam of things I was seeing.
The first dress, a cute little number that could have joined Audrey Hepburn for breakfast, had some 2,000 roses painstakingly applied – as much a treat for the nose as the eyes. The pungent aroma lingering at the end of the runway as she ventured out and back followed immediately a twiggy tutu, a PBR dress, some flappy skirt of 3D glasses lenses… And then the room was spinning in a whirlwind of drink umbrellas, horns, lampshades, ceiling fans, leather, lace and a whole lot of ‘wtf was that?’.
Amber and I tried to decipher what we were seeing as the items flew by. The man in the combat fatigues, what was that? Papier mache? (Dude – it was bubble gum). A cacophony of found objects was used to create a mad array of color, textures and personality. A delicate driftwood dappled ballerina twirled and toed and pirouetted down the runway into my top five of the night. Sarah Davies’ shrouded woman left the audience gasping when her faceless, deathly vision floated out and back, skeletal tail dragging behind – for that moment the music seemed to disappear from my ears; returning when a proud and sassy tiny-tyvek dress pounced down the catwalk.
With quickness, the numbers on the screen ticked upward to 63… then the music shut off, the room went silent for three ladies in black leotards toting amplifiers on luggage carts positioned at the root of the runway. One by one they commanded the catwalk, their high-heeled steps amplified to a loud click-clack or wah-wah – The final piece of wearable art was wearable sound. Brilliant.
After a quick intermission and my mad dash to the beer bar – it was back to my seat with a grizzly glass of raspberry wheat beer. The MC introduces Allison Warden, self-proclaimed bitchin’ Gwich’in, smiling in a bright kuspuk and a quilled headdress. She treated us to a completely unique Alaskan… rap. Spitting badass rhymes about Alaskan fashion and creative expression, she had the audience laughing and whistling.
MC Van Horn took to the mic again. The judges had whittled the 64 entrants to 20. Each of the contenders strutted the runway one more time as the MC enlightened us a little more about each work of art that made it to this round – model, artist, materials and inspiration. It was a delight to get a little longer look at some favorites – and a little sad to see some of my own friends’ work had not make it to this round.
While final votes, and audience favorites are tallied, we were treated to yet another artistic performance. Live body painting by local artists – Duke Russell, Ruby Suzanna and Reed Leslie. Three “background” canvases were paraded out, and the almost-nude models were positioned in front of them to be painted while a rendition of Gotye’s hit song, “Someone That I Used to Know” was performed in a loop by MC Van Horn and Blaze Bell. Blaze pulled double duty as one of the models. Guest judge Joshua was also “spontaneously” chosen to be painted. The audience thrilled at watching art happen. Wrapping up, we’re informed the paintings, sans naked people, were to be auctioned off to benefit the IGCA. Not a lot of bids were hollered out, but admittedly, I didn’t hear – I was too enthralled with the tiger striped Joshua McKinley.
The room settled down and nearing the end of festivities, the final five were announced:
The lovely driftwood ballerina, which artist Enzina Marrari explained to the judges was created using natural driftwood collected from Point Woronzof over the past year. She joked she and another artist referred to themselves as bag-ladies. Evidently while gathering washed up bits of flotsam, they’d also garnered many quizzical looks at Anchorage’s Western shore.
The most wearable piece of the show, a felted wool, color-block mini dress with matching shag cowl made from up-cycled blue & grey sweaters – judge Shyanne may or may not have alluded she would be absconding this dress. Artist Beth Nordland was dressed in a very similar outfit, so I think one might be able to get their own if they call on the right person!
Judge Joshua McKinley had a special affinity for the wedding dress created by artists Erin Frolander & Lynn Dixon, out of thousands of sandwich baggies and twist ties.
The top two looks were both amazing period pieces that could have been easily fit in with frontierswoman of Alaska’s past. The Work Dress, a dijon and cream colored gown with matching hat was created from used Manila envelopes which had been worked, colored, reworked and lovingly stitched into a subtle patchwork that looked more like aged linen than paper. Modeled by the artist, Keren Lowell this piece had a quiet energy and timelessness.
The grand winner of the evening, called Boardwalk Red, was truly a masterpiece of patience, creativity and time. Artist and bead-worker Zoe L. Schriner spent countless hours turning a simple throwaway item, the red cocktail straw, into a shimmery, beaded work of art. This bawdy lady was bedecked with an under-layer of red & black tulle and fabric ensconced in a flirty red-straw beaded skirt; a black shoulder-less top trimmed and finished with handmade straw-beads. The costume was complete with matching hat, umbrella and fan. The grinning model looked like she stepped out of Red Dog Saloon circa 1909 onto the catwalk. Perhaps my favorite words of the night, were those of artist Zoe paraphrased by the model, in discussing the striped corset: The straws themselves are weak, but by weaving many of them together, they become strong.
The runners-up and winners were presented a dress-form trophy, a bag of swag and many accolades from a grateful audience. The buzz in the lobby was as thick as the parting crowd of models and artists. Seeing many of these pieces up close, there was a a lot of “Hey, can I touch that?” and “Oh my god, that must be heavy!” Despite the unconventional materials, every work was artful and amazing.
It was a joy to attend, and it filled my head with inspiration and ideas. I have begun my own bag of cast away goods, flirting with the idea of entering the art-show next year. Illustrating how an event like Object Runway, a gathering of Alaska’s talented and eclectic art-scene, generates a reverberating clarion – a call to create a masterpiece even from dregs and mundanity. A call that anyone with a little inspiration and a glue-gun can answer.
Works of Object Runway art will be featured in a February exhibition at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art.