Designing for the elements

University of Minnesota students show off sustainable designs at “Elements,” a fashion show and student design competition.

Melanie Richtman

A vegetable steamer resting in a kitchen is a common sight, but a vegetable steamer worn as attire is far from usual.

At “Elements,” a University of Minnesota student fashion show hosted by the WAM Collective, one designer does just that.

The event, now in its third year, features student designs inspired by another artistic work. This year, designers used the University Weisman Art Museum’s exhibit “Siberia: Imagined and Reimagined” as their muse.

“This is an opportunity to not only see original, student-made garments in a full-scale runway show, but it’s also a very different way to see the museum,” WAM Collective officer Emily Macy said.

In 2012, WAM Collective — of the Weisman Art Museum — partnered with Northrop Concerts and Lectures to host a fashion show called “No White,” featuring student designs — all avoiding the color white — inspired by costumes from Ballet Preljocaj’s interpretation of “Snow White.”  

After the success of the first event, WAM Collective realized that fashion shows were a great opportunity to showcase student work and bring people into the museum.

“We were really inspired by the idea that students could take inspiration from one art and translate it into another,” Macy said. “Last year we decided to make the competition revolve around the exhibitions from the museum.”

The 2013 theme, “Threads,” challenged students to create looks without using traditional materials like zippers or buttons.  

Of the 16 designers in this year’s show, 14 are sophomores who were challenged to create a look inspired by the exhibition as a class project. After having three weeks to complete the garment, from concept to construction, the students were encouraged to apply to show their work in “Elements.”

One of the requirements for entering “Elements” is creating a look made using sustainable practices, including reusing materials, incorporating an item of emotional significance, making a multifunctional design and no-waste patterning.

“I focused on upcycling for this project. My garment is made from vegetable steamers, pillow cases, a table cloth and an old shirt. I didn’t buy any new fabric,” apparel design sophomore Catherine Menzel said.

Menzel created a short red mini dress with deconstructed vegetable steamers running down the middle of the garment.

Students said that due to strict time constraints, upcycling — the process of repurposing old materials — was the most feasible sustainability practice. Other designers used thrifted leather jackets, faux fur and old comforters as materials.

In addition to focusing on sustainability, students’ work had to represent Siberia — or at least how they interpreted Siberia based on the WAM exhibition and research.

“I watched this documentary called ‘Happy People.’ It talked about hunters and trappers during the Revolution who were placed out in the wilderness by the government,” apparel design sophomore Holly Welwood said. “That idea became the main inspiration for my garment.”

Welwood, who described her garment as “hardy, functional and textured,” designed a pair of bib-style leather snow pants with a decorative chest piece.

The designers decide how they want their garment displayed. They get full control over hair and makeup as well as the music played as their model walks down the runway.

“The song I originally thought about using was ‘Let it Go’ from ‘Frozen,’ but then I thought it might be a little too cheesy — although the crowd might’ve loved it,” apparel design sophomore Lee Tran said. “So then I found this song by Tydi called ‘Is it Cold?’ that just says ‘Is it cold where you are?’ on repeat — which is especially relevant to Siberia.”

Tran said he thought a lot about how to stay warm in Siberia. Ultimately, he created a floor-length coat made from an old comforter, 20 matching pillow shams he found at a thrift store and old faux fur coats.

Designers have a chance to win prizes from Juut Salonspa and Treadle Yard Goods, but competition is far from fierce. The designers worked together in class, critiquing each other’s work and giving advice.

In addition to the show, “Elements” will include tea sampling from Verdant Tea and performances from Mill City Summer Opera.

“We have a lot of really talented designers in our class,” Tran said. “And there’s tea.”

What: “Elements”
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Weisman Art Museum, 333 E. River Road, Minneapolis
Cost: $5 general admission, free for WAM members and students