Sunday, April 17, 2011

MNfashion Week in review: Voltage

Text by Beth Hammarlund, l'etoile magazine Creative Director
Photos by Stephen Stephens for Digital Crush Photography

Voltage: Fashion Amplified, the cornerstone of MNfashion Week, took over First Avenue on Friday night for the seventh year running. As the audience arrived in style, the iconic Danceteria came alive with hugs, air kisses, and thorough examinations of fellow partiers' oufits.

After opening statements by Voltage founder and producer Anna Lee, the show kicked off in fine form with a surprise performance by Hastings 3000 (backed by openers Phantom Tails). The sea of First Avenue parted as the gas masked guitar hero was carried to the stage, where he rocked out in a festive mirror ball tuxedo. In his exuberance, he lost several squares of silver confetti, but the suit had already served its purpose.

The gothy dance rock quartet then took to the stage styled by b. (a resale shop). Outfitted in standard party boy gear such as windbreakers and skinny jeans, the effect could have veered dangerously close to hipster douchebag territory. But the carefully styled outfits with clever layers (in some cases, so many that I started to worried for the musicians' well-being under those stage lights) were well-styled and self-aware. (It should be noted that store owner Allison Bross looked incredibly stylish when she took her bow, which should be great advertising for the store.)

Kathryn V opened the show with an ivory linen coat. Though the season for short-sleeved outwear is almost non-existent in Minnesota (two weeks at best), the piece was charming enough to be added to my shopping list. Linen continued to show up in tops and jackets, but it wasn't long until sundresses, cropped shells and rompers took over the runway. Mixed prints, sweetheart necklines, bows, peplums, covered buttons and flirty cut-outs peppered the collection. Each piece was anything but basic. What was remarkable is that designer Kathryn Sterner managed to show dresses with bare midriffs and daring cut-outs that seemed absolutely demure. The gold jewelry from Sweet T by TimmiLynn Johnson and citrusy bags by ACKJ Handbags (a new collaboration from clothing designers Amanda Christine and Kimberly Jurek) perfectly suited the collection.

Danielle Everine is known for her masculine-inspired suiting. But in this collection, she subverted her own aesthetic by creating a line of sheer menswear-inspired separates and shirtdresses in delicate springtime shades. Layered over vintage-inspired lingerie from Jagress Intimates and accessorized with cheeky hair bows by Freedom From Doubt, the presentation was unambiguously charming. Audience members just off the runway had the pleasure of seeing the thoughtful tailoring that went into each piece. Shirtdresses and blouses were given new life with wide collars, asymmetrical tailoring and backward construction. Function became form as seams and pockets were expertly designed for aesthetic appeal.

Fort Wilson Riot took to the stage next, outfitted by designer Carly Schoen. Jacob Mullis played in a basic shirt, which was made interesting with red details on the cuffs and down the front. Amy Hager wore an ethereal dress with floral details that seemed to match her vocals. It was impressive how well the attire suited them.

Frances Zerr debuted her new line of sustainable sportswear, ANNA by Frances Zerr. A black mesh tee and quilted mini-skirt opened the show. A tan trench coat with black contrasting sleeves and a black mesh collar detail was a new spin on a classic piece. Nautical stripes and rope ties popped up throughout the collection. Ladies who love to show off their stems will swoon over the gray high-waisted quilted shorts. Zerr makes simple understated pieces that don't scream for attention, so it's often not until the model disappears backstage that the audience realizes what they've seen. The contemporary jewelry from Jennifer Merchant gave the collection a delightful pop.

Newcomer Rachel Blomgren showed plenty of fantastic pieces in her collection. Cropped tees (one in black leather that earned audible audience approval) boasted perfect vertebra cut-outs down the models' spines. Knits ranged from Marni-inspired to Nordic. Convertible skirts with folksy details were fit for a modern Heidi. Individually, these pieces were great, but they didn't form a cogent collection. They will certainly work well on an individual level, on the rack (I will absolutely purchase one of her vertebrae tees) and in editorial. But when presented on a runway, the effect was disjointed. Blomgren's pieces were paired with fantastic jewelry by Lela Horst Baumann.

The giant collective Me and My Arrow performed in looks created by Renalie Bailey. Their set was energetic and engaging, and somehow they managed to fit everyone on stage without any injuries. Bailey's pieces were a little Mad Max meets Renaissance Fair, but they definitely worked well with the band's vibe.

Terri Martin opened her segment with a perfectly tailored white jersey dress. Certainly not for the faint of heart, but on the model it was outsanding. Leather halter vests with fluttering lapels made several appearances and have the potential to be great sellers on their own. A white blouse with heavy gathers on the front seemed to drape effortlessly in the back. But from my seat, I could make out two straps across the model's back that held it in place. It looked great on the runway, but will be a hard sell on the rack. (Dressing room assistance may also be required.) There was a great pair of jersey palazzo pants, but the knit shrugs didn't seem quite as special compared to the striking leather vests. The palette was limited, almost exclusively black, white and olive green. I would love to see what Martin could do with more color. Neon stick-on eyebrows and bright visors put some additional color to the runway. But the styling was so engaging that the comparatively quiet jewelry risked getting lost, which is a shame because Potpourri makes some excellent pieces.

I knew little of Sarah M. Holm before this year, but her Voltage collection has stolen my heart. Her science fiction and rockabilly-inspired collection drew plenty of excited whispering in the front row. Cocktail dresses made the required appearance, but the designer also included several bathing suits with avant garde cover-ups. Retro bikini bottoms were modernized with sheer panels and simple triangle tops were secured with an intricate maze of straps. The hand-painted silk dresses were hardened with leather and fabric made from recycled soda bottles. A multi-colored cocktail dress with a complicated bodice of black swoops and straps earned so much applause that many assumed it was her final look. However, the designer had two more to go. The final dress, an orange and black spiky number, resembled some sort of carniverous plant or poisonous fruit. (Photographs cannot do this piece justice.) The science fiction influence and blue and green silks in her collection will certainly draw comparisons to Laura Fulk's collection "To the Ends of the Universe." Perhaps Holm did find inspiration in Fulk's work, but her work is truly her own.

Blacklist Vintage outfitted Communist Daughter in vintage looks that came close to being overly styled, but hit the perfect note for a stage performance. (Owners Vanessa Messersmith and Jennifer Sapiro appeared effortlessly put-together when they came out for their bow.) Lead singer John Solomon was the only musician who actively engaged the audience. "Nothing says classy like a 300 pound model covered in hair...Today I woke up and I ate two models for breakfast."

Voltage rookies Tim and Thom primarily showed menswear, which has finally started to take off in the local fashion community. The brothers presented several pairs of well-cut skinny trousers, but the majority of the shirts had fit or construction issues. The pair showed a great western-inspired shirt with a thin back buckle and a stylish zippered jacket, so they clearly know how to create good menswear. Unfortunately, several shirts were so awkwardly designed that they detracted from beautifully executed trousers. Several women's looks were included, but the designs were confusing and seemed out of place.

Ivan Idland's whimsical collection created a fantastical landscape on the runway. Capes and dresses were edged with scallops and ruffles. Terry sailor shirts paired perfectly with a great selection of nautical accessories from Lefthand Originals. A tan pleated skirt set itself apart from other schoolgirl skirts with small embroidered horses framed in plaid skirts around the hem. Lace fabric turned an ordinary hoodie into something magical. The attention to detail made each piece feel like something truly special. There was something very Little Red Riding Hood about the collection, so the ethereal milkmaid hair and makeup felt like a natural match. A lovely model jaunted down the runway carrying a basket of mini-champagnes, perhaps off to grandmother's house.

Finale band Pink Mink took the stage outfitted for a glam rock prom. Styling collective Invisible Outfit dressed the punk rock darlings in buckets of sequins and even gold lame. Bassist Jacques Wait was full-out David Bowie dressed in drag, and Christy Hunt's pink romper punctuated with hand-painted silver and gold lapels knocked it playfully out of the park.

Raul Osorio has made his name in menswear, but over the past year he has started to present more womenswear. This collection involved plenty of his signature lace. What appeared to be a black cocktail dress with lace sleeves and leggings was actually a dressed layered over a gorgeous full lace bodysuit. Osorio showed several rompers, and though each was charming in its own right, the abundance of rompers eventually felt a bit one note. An adorable ivory lace sunsuit was completely impractical, but I lusted for it nonetheless. Several men's looks were shown, but they played second fiddle to womenswear in this collection. A demure white lace dress closed the show. The piece was perfectly detailed and provided more of a wow factor than one would expect from a conservative white dress.

Finale designer Max Lohrbach took his closing role seriously. His collection of dresses, skirts, corsets and coats featured hearts, kittens, hand-painted Chinese cityscapes, harlequin diamonds, American flags and eagles. It was an exercise in excess. The Marie Antoinette-tinted whimsy extended to patriotic sashes, heart-shaped kitty purses and kitty eyepatches. Model after model bounced down the runway in cupcake skirts covered in tiny roses and ruffles. Accessories from Bionic Unicorn were a match made in heaven. It will not be an easy collection to sell, but it was certainly a joy to watch.

But despite the exciting show, there was an air of sadness. This year will be founder Anna Lee's final time producing Voltage. She is passing the torch onto MNfashion to concentrate on her own design work and a new position with Target. Lee founded MNfashion and Voltage from scratch, eventually turning Voltage into a landmark event and MNfashion into a great organization that supports the burgeoning local fashion industry. Her efforts have nurtured the careers of innumerable designers and creatives. We owe her a great debt. Thank you for everything, Anna!

No comments: