Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MNfashion Week in review: The Secret Garden

Text and photos by Tara Sloane, l'etoile contributor

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to talk of many things.”

Of shoes – and lace – and bold silhouettes – and all sorts of whimsical things – was the fantastical fruits of The Secret Garden fashion show, put on Saturday night at The Women’s Club of Minneapolis by Secrets Fashion Agency. The theme of the show, a playful mixture of haute couture, menswear, and ready-to-wear, followed Alice’s journey from Wonderland to the Secret Garden, a fashion allegory tracing her growth from a slight child into an assured young woman.

Starting the evening was Khamphian Vang, whose sunny ready-to-wear collection was inspired by the paintings of Frida Kahlo. Her funky mix of high-waisted shorts, sheers, and bright colors, splashed with stripes, patterened cut-outs, and floral prints was at once sophisticated and girly, exactly the type of playful mash-ups we want to create from our spring wardrobes.

Next up was a mini-showing by Sina Yi (the rest of her collection appearing later in the show), who is currently pursuing a fashion degree at the Art Institute. Perhaps simply in accordance to the show’s thematic timeline, Yi’s line seemed caught between two aesthetics. Multi-green and white plaid dresses, adorably detailed with ruffles, puffed shoulders, and flowers (we were reminded of grade school jumpers) mingled with dramatic, elegantly-cut pieces fit for a night on the town. We especially loved the uniqueness of a silver chain-mail like tunic and a shiny, black-and-silvery-gold patterned dress that frayed on the edges, even though we would have loved to see the entire collection more strongly united.

Next up on Alice’s journey was menswear that would put the Mad Hatter to shame. No shabby top hats, just sleek, gorgeously tailored jackets that bring together the best aesthetics of all the world’s fashion capitols: the formal simplicity of London, the chic of Paris, the sexiness of Milan, and Tokyo’s street-fresh. Designed by New Yorker Ninh Nguyen, this versatile, cosmopolitan collection is exactly what we hope our Minneapolis boys will be sporting already – and exactly the kind of ware we’d expect Alice’s Renaissance man to wear when he sweeps her off her feet (hey, it happened in every other fairytale).

The final ready-to-wear collection, designed by sister designers Nonmala & Gaochen, was by far the most darling. In fact, with, sassy bows, soft florals, and delightful pea-greens, amethysts, and peachy-oranges, we’d call it the epitome of girlhood. We especially loved the final look, a flowered (in print and in sewn detail) jumper over puffed sleeved day-dress, which was absolutely adorable even before we saw the huge bow in the back. If only Alice didn’t have to grow up...

True to fairytale form – just when things are getting really good, the chapter ends and it’s time for bed. Only bed was a 30-minute intermission with Pool of Tears - big drink lines. The music from the first set, a meandering, billowy series of instrumental pieces that would fit perfectly in something from Masterpiece Theater, faded to DJ music, leaving one to hope that the White Rabbit wouldn’t appear to mark a delayed start to the second set.

Part two began with thumping, feel-it-in-your-chest beats. The sun had completely set, and the lack of light streaming through the club’s huge windows made for a more dark and twisty setting, the perfect compliment to Autumn Kirchman’s surreal, high-volume spring line. Ruffles, feathers, leathers, studs, and Queen-of-Hearts worthy high collars converged to make this form-fitting, utterly badass collection shine. Talk about growing up too fast – and loving every minute of it.

Even more ostentatious – and we mean that in the best way possible – was Tony Eliason’s collection, the grittiest and most striking of the evening. Eliason’s dolls strutted the runway decked out in complex layers of lace, mesh, tulle and sparkles, with shiny blacks, reds, and deep purples heightening the drama. Inspired by the strange creatures Alice meets on her adventures, the unusual shapes, textures, and steampunk/glam rock elements of this line could very well be the reason the Cheshire Cat smiles so largely (we know, couldn’t resist).

The show finished with more spectacular menswear from Ninh. The slick, hooded jacket was on of our favorites of the evening, and we loved the splashes of red, white, and grey peeking out from shoulders and pockets. The perfect ending to a trip down the rabbit hole – and we didn’t even have to fear the offing of our heads.

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