I suspected, going into Friday night’s Voltage: Fashion Amplified show at First Avenue, that I was wearing the wrong shoes. I’m the Mistress of Flats, not the Mistress of Peek-Toe Patent Leather Heels. But flats didn’t cut it with a short black skirt and a vintage wool tank top covered in beads and sequins. Besides, the heels elevated me above the crowd, allowing me to see the runway from the floor, not as easy thing to do when the place is packed.
My friend Ellen, always my Comrade in Arms when it comes to 1) shopping 2) fashion and 3) making fun of things, looked very pretty indeed in similarly high heels (not patent leather though) and a black, sleeveless dress. She also had on thigh-high nylons, which she announced she wasn’t pleased with as soon as she got in the car and proceeded to strip off.
Of course, by the time we were in line at First Ave, it was blustery and cold. April 24th! Blustery and cold! Why? Why? There was a draft going right up my skirt. But once we were inside, it was quite festive. We bought enormous beers (better to last us, as it was tough getting to the bar) and, clutching our “look books” made our way into the crowd.
We ended up wedged between a woman who looked like she was attending either a conference or her niece’s wedding (beige pants suit), a woman and man who were dazed and confused about how the hell they got there and where they might locate some more meth and at least one Cougar wearing a halter top that revealed decolletage that looked as if it could use a rest from exposure to the elements.
Mercurial Rage played and the fashions of 2709 and Emily Weich walked down the runway. Mercurial Rage had some solid material. Yes, they kind of want to be Duran Duran. Maybe INXS. One song was called “I Sold My Soul for Sex.” Well, OK. You and half the planet. And their lead singer is really tiny. I mean, really tiny. I shouldn’t hold that against him; he has a good voice and a lot of energy. But I just kept thinking about how his thigh looked like it was the size of my upper arm. And then I got nervous, thinking that.
I did enjoy the designs of Emily Weich, which were playful, fun and didn’t look like everything you see in boutiques. Why the models had to have strange nets wrapped around their heads and over their ears was beyond me. I think there is an unwritten Fashion Show Rule that if you dress models in something pretty, you have to give an equal shout-out to ugly. Have you ever seen Sunset Boulevard? When Norma Desmond puts that weird bandage/net-type thing on her head/face to pull her skin back to keep it tight while she sleeps? That’s what I kept thinking about. And then I got nervous, thinking that.
Next up was First Communion Afterparty, which I kept wanting to call First Communion Afterbirth. It was… a lot of noise. They play “modern psychedelic rock.” As opposed to the “old-timey psychedelic rock” from the 1960s. It seems as if F.C.A takes themselves a bit seriously. Where’s the joie de vivre, guys? Apparently they were each dressed as a different Clue (the board game) character. I found that out afterward, from reading the look book. Hmmm… it was completely lost on me. I think if that was the gambit, it should have been played up more. I certainly didn’t see any Colonel Mustard.
In fact, let me take a break to mention that the crowd at the show did not take many fashion risks. I include myself in this. I mean, yes, vintage wool tank top covered in beads and sequins, but not a risk. There were a lot of jeans, t-shirts, etc. Also a lot of pretty dresses. One woman with a pixie cut wore a shirt that made her look like Peter Pan, although unintentionally. But no big dresses or outlandish outfits and that was, in the end, kind of disappointing. Oh, there were some shiny red tights and leather skirts and I know the focus was to be on the runway. This was the designers’ night to shine. But I think it speaks volumes about how Minnesotans feel about fashion. We like it, we’re infatuated with it, but we’re also kind of afraid of it. And don’t know how to make it work for us individually. We can do better. But the pull towards jeans, like the Dark Side, is strong…
By now we had moved down onto the main floor and found ourselves in back of a young couple.
She = nondescript gray shirt, blue jeans and… running shoes. Yes! Running shoes! Some of you are probably thinking, “Ha! She was smart! She could have stood there all night. She could have stood there until 4 in the morning while meanwhile your feet and legs were slowly swelling and expanding due to your ridiculous shoes!” But others are thinking, “Running shoes? To Voltage? WTF?” I’m firmly in the second camp. If she couldn’t handle dressing up, how about at least adding some cute flats to that ensemble?
He = oxford shirt and jeans. He could have been anywhere. The dentist, Econ 101 lecture, at work, cleaning out the garage, selling things from a kiosk.
But you know what was strange? They were way into it and kept taking pictures with their cell phones of the models on the runway. Were they in the market for some clothing? Were they going to go home and study up? I can only hope.
Back to the designers. Arwyn Birch and Ivan Idland showed while F.C.A. played. I have to be honest and say that not that much stood out for me from Arwyn Birch but not because her designs were not “good”. I was under the spell of F.C.A’s psychedelic wall of sound and without a notebook! Sadly, I do remember that Ivan Idland showed several pieces that were much too similar. It was the same patchwork dress done five ways. Do you want it short? Long? Short in front and long in back? Do you want it all neutral? Do you want it in a green that will make you look like a 1950s icebox? One dress in particular was made with a lot of tan, ribbed material that screamed “It Was On Sale.” His bio said his clothing is “vivid and exciting.” It may very well be exciting to the right people, but I have to argue with vivid. There was nothing vivid about his color palette. I tried to go to his website and look at past work, to see if this lack of vividness was a new development, but his pages were empty of images or maybe the site wasn’t working properly…
Gospel Gossip rocked the stage; Sarah Nienaber looked awesome (now that was some ratted, windblown hair!) and delivered a stand-out performance. At the same time, the best designs of the night, from Allison Quinnell, hit the runway. I’m a big fan of the brocades, oranges, yellows, tights and the origami hairpieces. Everything worked together but it didn’t feel like we were seeing the same outfit over and over again. And the clothing had an edge of glamor. Looking at her clothes, I see a personality – a sense of humor, an appreciation of beauty and also a maturity. This is a designer who loves fashion and is serious about it. I looked at her designs and thought, “Of course! Why haven’t I seen that before? Those colors and fabrics are meant for each other.” If you wear one of her dresses, you’ll make an impression.
Oh, my, this is going on a bit, isn’t it? Allow me to cut to the chase: Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles played next and were the best band of the night. They’ve only been together for a year and describe their sound as “gypsy mountain folk rock punk jazz.” Lucy has an incredible singing voice – a cross between the wail of a racoon in a corn field at midnight and Betty Boop’s voice. They performed while some very safe fashion came down the runway. Safe and dull. Too much of the same plaid from Carmichael Claith, although I loved the yellow she paired it with, and some snoozy outfits from Calpurnia Peach.
I wanted to like Calpurnia Peach; maybe I was tired. Maybe elephantiasis (also sometimes known, interestingly enough, as Barbados leg) was settling in. Ellen had to sit down on the steps between sets, although we rallied to dance to “Push It” during one DJ set. I wouldn’t have been surprised to have taken my shoes off and seen swollen, purple chunks of flesh where my feet used to be.
So we were quite drained when Maria Isa finally came out. I might have been delirious but I believe I remember her tiny dress riding up to reveal the tops of her tights and her underwear, while below her the photographers flashed away. I was happy she was wearing underwear. Then some male dancers came out, one of whom Ellen pointed out waits tables at Azia, and writhed around. They were joined by some ladies in gold dresses; one of them had trouble with her dress and her boob popped out (twice). So it was the set of Wardrobe Malfunction.
And Maria’s back-up singer… she had a great voice, although they didn’t have her mic turned up enough, but what was she wearing? Baby had back, front and sides and needed a bigger and more flattering dress. Why didn’t the designer work with her? Instead she wore something that had the same visual effect as a baked potato wrapped in tin foil.
During this set, I was most taken with the work of designer Amanda Christine, who broke away from the crowd of cotton and jersey knit to show beautifully layered pieces made of something close to chiffon. All that layering was a feat in and of itself, each level cascading down over the next to make beautiful clothing that floated on air.
Then Maria Isa did a cover of “Groove Is In the Heart,” that made me remember why I played that tape over and over again when it came out. She also told us her new album drops on June 5th and that it’s dedicated to all those who know the streets, like she does, but not just these streets (Hennepin? Lyndale? Nicollet?) but streets all over the world. Huh.
Around this time we realized that our feet no longer worked properly and might not support our bodies for more than another fifteen minutes. We had long since past “soar feet” and moved into “numb” territory. So we hobbled out of First Ave, linked arms and slowly made our way back to our car. Along the way we were accosted by some guy who wanted us to go to a club and hang out with the “models” from the show, which was funny because why would we want to go hang with the models? Unless it was the one with the very bad posture, a runway walk that would have gotten her elimnated from Top Model in the first episode and who looked as if she might cry or throw up or both. Her I would give a hug and my phone number and have over to watch TV and eat chocolate chip cookies. It aint’ all that bad!
And when we finally made it back to our car, one of Ellen’s thigh-highs was hanging out the passenger side door like a deflated snake. Somehow that encapsulated so much about fashion, our night, life, the Universe, religion, literary prizes and rising food prices.
My friend Kelly pointed out to me that I’m in this crowd scene! Play “Where’s Waldo!” Look for a yellow, sparkle top-wearing brunette who looks confused by what she’s seeing (and not seeing – where’s Ellen?). Robin Hood? (a slideshow of photos is available on the City Pages website. Click here to see more fashions from the runway)