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Panoptic offers a glimpse into the fashion/performance ideas percolating in one MICA class

Alex Ebstein
Jake Dibeler sets sail as part of Erin McAleavy's "Human/Nature."

By Alex Ebstein | Posted 4/14/2010

Panoptic, this semester's manifestation of MICA's experimental fashion show, featured imaginative garments by 15 undergraduate students from the experimental fashion concentration. Each of the students in Valeska Populoh's eight-month class created a unique line of apparel to satisfy their innovative interpretations of costume and fashion, while also collaboratively producing the event itself. Staged in the empty North Avenue Market building, the designers both incorporated and broke from the traditional runway show, incorporating video, performance, song, burlesque, narratives, and LEDs into the presentation of their lines.

Some students chose to make thematically and aesthetically consistent bodies of work, while others, specifically seniors Sarah Konigsburg and Erin McAleavy, emphasized costume by creating and outfitting characters in short narratives. McAleavy's presentation, entitled "Human/Nature," was a whimsical narrative in which figures were dressed as mountains, water, a fisherman, and a bear. The garments, while stylistically and materially varied, helped to define the characters in the short pantomime. Two of the mountains were joined to form a cave that concealed the bear. The figures walked--and crawled--down the runway together and stood at the end as a living prop. Five young men in blue sequined body suits followed the mountains, an army crawling down the runway with a rowboat--complete with fisherman/passenger--in tow.

Konigsburg's narrative, "Creation," focused on mythological female figures and began with the birth of Eve, falling out of a person-sized hole in the underarm/rib area of "Adam's" cape. Konigsburg's garments appeared to be influenced by opera, with their classical theme and ornate decorations, which included sequins and feathers. The two female singers wore the elemental colors blue and red and were led by two young women dressed as horses, leaning forward onto wooden horse legs as they traversed the runway.

Also theatrical, but without a rigid narrative, were the fantastically memorable lines of Marla Parker and Beth Pakradooni. Parker, a senior fibers major, has an avid interest in burlesque costume and performs locally in her own troupe. Her "Sweet Somethings" line reinterpreted the saccharine elements of burlesque performance through costumes that resemble pastries. Meticulously crafted with rumble ruffles and lace, the costumes are gorgeous, fun, and made to last. Parker, who wore one of her own creations, and her models winked and flirted down the runway, passing out lace-wrapped candies to the front row. Pakradooni focused on 1970s upholstery and crafting fabrics, using them to re-imagine party outfits from the same era. In some outfits, elements of upholstered furniture found their way into the garments, including a slip-cover-like cape and armchair shoulder pads. Dancing down the aisle with moves from school dances past, Pakradooni's runway show, "Home," was one of the most fun and memorable of evening.

Another showstopper was Katie Coble's line of convertible garments, called "Roost," which sent more models down the runway than any other designer in the show. Coble's line of earth and flesh-tone outfits unfolded into three times as many looks, as each piece of clothing could be worn in a variety of ways. Her models stood at the end of the runway, posing in fashion-ad tableaux, as three would step forward and help one another adjust and exchange their outfits to demonstrate the garments' versatility.

Equally impressive in its playful yet professional presentation was Alex Baldwin's line "Cosmia." Baldwin takes a somewhat cartoon-y and playful interest in the occult and mainstream gothic gear. Each model wore a matching black bandit-style mask with blue lips over their faces. A couple of Baldwin's dresses had black arms printed on the fabric where the models' arms should be. The models held their arms in the same pose as the print, either on their hips or crossed with their hands on their shoulders, the dresses created to be worn in only that pose. In some looks, Baldwin juxtaposes pink gossamer fabrics with stark black bondage elements, giving the line a Marilyn Manson meets I Dream of Genie feel. While both of those references have cheesy connotations, Baldwin's combination of delicate and harsh aesthetics is mature, smart, and in most cases, sexy.

The Panoptic event provided these dedicated students, in a concentration that otherwise receives very little exposure, a venue to present their work in its appropriate setting. Produced and promoted by the students themselves, the independent spectacle showcased eight months of output from a single class, all of which was entertaining and most of which was very impressively crafted. From the playful felt costumes of Julia Stone's "Heroes and Villains" to the well-researched and elegant "Osaka Loop Line" by Vincent Tiley, which illustrates the American occupation of Japan and the resulting cultural exchange through clothing, the entire show was fun, smart, and energetic.

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