Sunday, April 25, 2010

MNfashion Week in review: Laura Fulk's 'To the Ends of the Universe'

by Beth Hammarlund
photos by Lauren Gantner

Laura Fulk has made a name for herself in the Twin Cities and beyond by taking traditionally feminine sartorial elements and subverting them, creating modern looks that are both aesthetically pleasing and intellectually challenging. She toys with images of 1950s housewives, suffragettes, and pioneer women, while remaining effortlessly true to her contemporary design sensibility.

In "To the Ends of the Universe," her second solo runway show since last spring's "Suffocate," Fulk presented her Autumn/Winter 2010 collection amidst the modern architecture of the McNamara Alumni Center. As was to be expected, the presentation was one of the most polished and professional of MNFashion Week, thanks to Fulk's business partner and the show's producer Ray Shan.

The collection itself contained a healthy balance of dresses and separates that ranged from office appropriate to cocktail ready. Plenty of the dresses featured conservative cuts with high collars and knee-length skirts, though many included daring slits that allowed peeks of the contrast lining within. Very little skin was shown, but the strong shoulders and chain details gave the collection a hard edge.

One of Fulk's unique abilities is to create pieces that are conservative in cut, but tweak the design in such a way that something about the overall look feels slightly wrong and unsettling. The coats and dresses were surprisingly conservative, but by incorporating a moody palette, consistent asymmetry, and deconstructed details, Fulk conceptualized a collection that was half Park Avenue princess and half American Psycho.

During a model's first pass, a simple black number appeared to be a slightly updated version of a basic kimono dress. But as the model marched back down the aisle that served as the runway, a beautifully constructed row of pleats was revealed across the back. The delicate pleating was seen throughout the collection, a hallmark of how far Fulk has come with her tailoring.

Fulk also played with separates and knits in this collection far more than her previous show. Sweaters with bulbous over-sized sleeves were unconventional, but wearable. Blouses and trousers were true to the designer's vision, while being perfectly appropriate for both the office and happy hour. Though Fulk's major strength still lies in her dresses and coats, it will be exciting for consumers to have more Fulk pieces that they can mix and match into their own wardrobes this fall.

Considering that she has such a singular vision, Fulk is a designer who regularly reaches out to others artists to collaborate. This collection featured prints created by MCAD alumnae Melissa Breitenfelt and Laura Weber. The prints referenced delicate nebulas as well as colors that reached dark oceanic depths., The greens and blues were a pleasing compliment to the science fiction-inspired elements that Fulk often touches upon in her work.

The closing looks echoed a theatrical element used at Fulk's last show at The Lab Theater. Two models walked the runway dressed as mirror images of one another, a rare point of symmetry in a show overflowing with imbalance. Though one model's look echoed the cool shades of the previous looks, the other model wore a dress accented with fiery touches of yellow and red, keeping the collection connected to the designer's outer space inspiration. Both dresses featured scattered LED lights, a favorite of technologically-savvy designers such as Hussein Chalayan. The blue pricks of light also adorned the train of the finale gown, along with a thread painting of hand-dyed raw wools and organic silks. According to the designer, the thread painting was a technique she experimented with in her earlier work. Its use in this collection was a glorious re-birth.

Many of Fulk's signature design elements such as funnel collars, contrast lining, asymmetry, and elegant deconstruction punctuated the collection. Though the designer has developed one of the most recognizable design aesthetics in the Twin Cities, it would be compelling to see her operate further outside of her comfort zone. When establishing one's voice as a designer, it's dangerously easy for signatures to become crutches. But if there's one local designer who constantly pushes herself forward, it's Laura Fulk.

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