All photos by Kelly O
Who are Seattle's great designers? And what are they creating that makes them so great? The Stranger's first-ever fashion show, Worn Out, stars the handpicked roster of local designers profiled here, along with their gigantic bubbles of tulle, swaths of gold polyester, wads of fur, and strands of lace. The show—on Friday, April 8, at ACT Theatre—is a collaboration with the makeup and hair artists at VAIN and the audiovisual magicians of Dumb Eyes. Doors open at 7 p.m. and showtime is 8 p.m.
For more information and tickets, go to thestranger.com/wornout.
What it looks like: A smorgasbord of bright patterns, shimmering fabrics, iridescent dress shirts, skinny flat-front pants, and slim-fit jackets. The inspiration is the Peacock Revolution of late-1960s London, when everyone was jacked on quaaludes and psychedelics, and for the first time, men stopped dressing like their fathers and chose a delightfully slutty look instead—copied from rock stars, who copied from working-class kids.
Worth noting: Jones has limited technical experience in sewing and pattern-making. But he's bolstered by a brilliant tailor who understands his vision so vividly that, often, sketches or photos aren't even necessary (Jones prefers to keep his tailor's name private). When directing the style of, say, a jacket collar, Jones needs only to request that it look "more Mick Jagger 1972, less Brian Jones 1969."
What it looks like: It looks like what you're already wearing, because it's entirely transparent vinyl rain gear—clear raincoats for now, but upcoming projects include hats and footwear accessories, such as rain guards for high heels. The see-through-ness brings charming design effects: The contents of pockets are revealed, and snap closures take on a look of what Reynolds calls "floating Skittles." (And imagine the efficiency for flashers.)
Worth noting: Reynolds prefers shower curtains to bolt vinyl, because they wrinkle less and feel softer. The fabric yields absolutely no stretch, which presents an obstacle in getting in and out of garments—solved by the careful use of zippers and hems with adjustable taper. Seams are sparing because they hinder waterproofing—rain seeps into the tiny holes left by the sewing needle.
What it looks like: Elegant women's separates with hiphop influences and traces of sportswear: The tank tops have racer backs, a pant's waistband is hand-gathered to suggest elastic, armholes are scooped deep and dropped to basketball-court waist level. But details stay subtle and fabrics are ritzy: The effect is more luxury than street. Gold turns up everywhere, in exposed zippers, snaps, and grommets, and in tiny gold chains in place of shoelaces.
Worth noting: St. Onge once enrolled in some courses at the Evergreen State College, hoping to learn how to make stage costumes. Somehow, the instructors never quite got to that. Instead, she found herself wearing a flesh-colored leotard and tumbling from a giant vagina made of tulle during an art-performance reenactment of a birth—following the instructor's claim that "in order to design for the stage, you have to know what it feels like to be on the stage."
House of Mess
What it looks like: A sugary blend of mod elements and suggestions of antique doll clothes, such as Peter Pan collars and drooping silk bows. But the fabric is black, which changes the meaning: The looks become spooky and distantly enchanted, something you'd wear while wandering through a haunted mansion. The most technically challenging piece is a fitted jumpsuit of black stretch satin. Patterning pants is hard enough—a tiny waver in the crotch seam will cause them to ride up the ass. But jumpsuits must also accommodate the torso's lengthwise measurement, or hell becomes real—excess fabric pools at the crotch.
Worth noting: Barnes coordinates a shared studio on Capitol Hill—a cheerful space stocked with good equipment and ready for company. At her station, there's just one picture: a nature photograph of a lion, its face sopped with blood. The first time she saw it, she laughed and laughed, although she can't explain why.
What it looks like: Sportswear separates for men and women made from lots of different fabrics—a free-floating mix of colors, patterns, prints, and textures. Leather with silk, knits with fur, chiffon with mesh—everything clashes, but it's the right kind of clash, and the looks stay structured, not costumey.
Worth noting: Every piece of fabric in the line hails from the Jo-Ann megastore in Tacoma—it's the greatest, Whitmore says. His preference aside, Stitches and the Sodo Pacific Fabrics are good bets. Nancy's has great stock, but if you can afford to shop there, you might be an asshole. In desperation, some designers turn to thrift-store sheets—but old bedding is marred by intimacy. Of course they launder it, but we're told it helps mentally to work quickly and breathe through your mouth.
What it looks like: A moody women’s wear collection drawing on themes of torment and decay, with much tattering and blackness and clumps of hide—a perfect look for someone recently mauled and lying in a field, quietly waiting to die. There are lively art-school details: long, curving shapes resembling a rib cage, center back closures that tie into knotty segments like a spine. Hancock uses real fur, which intensifies the labor: Hairs get absolutely everywhere and sewing needles lodge in the tough hide. (Once they are really stuck, Hancock has to pull them free with his teeth.)
Worth noting: Past projects include a dress made of Saran Wrap. He started with a naked model, then wrapped her in loads of the stuff, carefully shaping the dense wads. (Did she sweat a lot? “Not as much as you would think,” he says, mysteriously.) Next up: garments made from crocheted panels. He’s got a staff of grandmothers working on them now.
What it looks like: An assortment, ranging from bridal to cocktail to theater, with a focus on burlesque costumes in Von Stratton's aesthetic: high-glam fantasy sci-fi, with vintage throwbacks and a nod to Judy Jetson. This includes, for instance, a backless, body-clinging, reveal-ready gown that represents Venus, all aswirl with purple organza and satin and sculptural gold-tone bust cups suggesting a midcentury sexy-alien look. (For upcoming projects, Von Stratton has collected metallic place mats, mirrored paper, and solar-cell panels because she loves their futuristic sheen.)
Worth noting: The rules of garmentry become twisted in the realm of the stage world: Interior linings, ordinarily kept private, are exposed during the disrobe—so they must be especially dazzling. And the costumes appear delicate, but they can't be: They get thrashed when they're so joyfully whipped off and flung around.
What it looks like: A sampling of many talents, including a wispy bridal gown made of hammered silk, men's custom-print denim jeans, and a satin party dress gleaming with strips of reflective bicycle tape. Embodying a glitzy wonderland, the costuming segment features showgirl burlesque and drag wear: Mitchell hand-applied a sprinkling of rhinestones to a sequined-paisley print, and his tulle jackets—gigantic, frothy mountains, really—bubble out from performer's backs, like giant blurry carnations. You can't imagine someone actually made these masses—they had to be forcibly wedged into the sewing machine during construction.
Worth noting: Mitchell created a tremendous red dress, so large and ferociously puffy that a special doorway had to be made to accommodate its entrance for the April 8 Worn Out show. Its finished bell measures about seven feet across, and its skirting contains 200 yards of tulle and diamond netting. (For reference: It takes less than four yards of fabric to make a suit for an average-sized man.)
What it looks like: A surreal collection of headwear, meshing vintage glamour and punk detailing. Each hat is quite different: heart-shaped, perched, floppy, some with giant bows and veils and faux flowers, and some without any of that. Saint Clair is a pleasant girl, filled with peculiar dreams, and she created this line to right wrongs she sees in the world: For example, there should be more turbans in it. Leather ones. Adorned with a jutting cascade of studs and spikes on one side.
Worth noting: In traditional millinery, the head blocks on which hats are built are made of wood—but they're expensive, so Saint Clair just carved one based on her own measurements from a chunk of Styrofoam, using a kitchen knife, sandpaper, and Elmer's glue. Now she knows what her head would look like if she were made out of Styrofoam.
What it looks like: Vintage work wear. There's a special concentration on men's and women's button-front dress shirts, which Noren modernizes cleverly. His men's shirts are less boxy than the standard cut, shorter, and with longer, slimmer sleeves. For women, classic button-front ready-mades are always upsetting, billowing out at the body while gaping at the bustline—unless you're aspiring to a dirty-librarian-offset-with-wilting-grandmother look, you gave up on them long ago. Noren removed the bust dart altogether, and he added curvier side seams and a box pleat at center back. There's no front buckling, even if you pinwheel your arms.
Worth noting: It sounds odd, but whether a top's silhouette is narrow or roomy depends largely on the shape of the armhole. If you're a dude and you want to look sleek, look for suit sizes that end in odd numbers, indicating they're European. They cut their holes higher, so the fit is trimmer.
What it looks like: Highish-end wash-and-wear casuals for women in a good mix of structured fit and fluid shapes. Hourglass dresses, denim jodhpurs, and intricate jackets are topped with their signature—a puffy hood, cloaklike, dense with ruche. The garments are made using locally sourced material, which helps the designers survive economically on their small scale—they buy all their fabric in far cheaper greige form, meaning it arrives untreated and undyed. Only after a garment has been requested will they build it and apply its desired color.
Worth noting: Over the years, Eckersley has designed everything from couture to lingerie to leather fetish corsetry. Leather is especially tricky to work with, she says. Each piece must be cut individually to account for mottles and scarring, while some areas are stretchier than others, depending on which part of the animal's body it once enrobed.
What it looks like: Distant eras, appropriated from Patterson's beloved collection of antique dresses. The silhouettes are familiar, ranging from cinched waists paired with full skirts to washy dust-bowl looks. There are far more solids than prints, lots of pleating, and not much lace—this daintiness is the trimmed-up kind.
Worth noting: When adapting a vintage pattern, Patterson has to fiddle with the bust darts, because today's undergarments shape breasts differently than the ones our grandmothers wore. (Their look was hoisted and pointy.)
What it looks like: Tasteful cocktail dresses and separates designed to make girls feel pretty. Some pieces are spare and modern—loose cuts with airy fabrics—while a few classic silhouettes feel nostalgic but youthful, like a strapless bodice with poufy skirt. Levin details her gowns artfully. She uses flamboyant bits like feathers and strips of raw fabric, but she keeps the looks delicate.
Worth noting: Levin calls the line Chelsea because it not only refers to the art-industrial Manhattan neighborhood but also doubles as a girl's forename, all feminine and sweet. It also distantly suggests the famous hotel and the wonderfully strange women who stayed there long ago, like Edie Sedgwick and the gorgeous Nico, her legendary skin "like milk and glass."