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Southern High students make fashion statement with wearable art

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When Amanda Hagerman first heard about a wearable art competition, she knew she wanted her Drawing for Fashion students at Southern High School to get involved.

Her class' 2013 entry, "Twister," not only won first place, but the contest's founder bought the tornado costume made of tulle and broken branches to put on permanent display in her Laurel design studio.

Since then, Hagerman's 15 students, in grades 10 to 12, have been plotting their second act in the annual competition sponsored by ManneqART, a nonprofit organization run by designer Lee Andersen, a native of New Zealand.

ManneqART's name is a play on "mannequin" and "manic" energy, the founder said, both of which factor into the competition for hair, makeup and costume design. This year's themes are organics, robotics, time and motion.

"This contest is such a great opportunity for students to do something hands-on since they are mostly working two-dimensionally," said Hagerman, an art teacher who just completed her sixth year at the Harwood school. "This is perfect because it's wearable art, but you don't need a sewing machine to make it."

This year's class spent three weeks creating a costume they call "Her," an allusion to the 2013 movie featuring Scarlett Johansson as the voice of an operating system that lonely Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with.

The costume is made for a cyborg — a human-robot hybrid — and has a skirt of shiny blue metallic tulle with circuit boards and rubber skeletal fingers adorning a corset. A choker, light-up futuristic sunglasses and black leggings decorated with hand-painted silver circuitry complete the look.

"It was a collaborative effort, with everyone stepping in where they're most comfortable to make the piece come to life," Hagerman said.

Andersen said Hagerman has done a great job integrating the competition into the school curriculum.

"She's taken skill sets that are needed for real life — like how to come to an agreement and how to split up tasks — and incorporated them into the project," she said.

Andersen is still amassing the eye-catching ensembles from as far away as Hawaii for judging in September as "Sculpture on the Human Form," a tag line she has trademarked. "This is almost not related to fashion," she said of the contest.

"We say [costume entries] have to go on a body because having a problem to solve is necessary to move forward in the creative process," she explained. "It's our mission to inspire creativity and reward excellence."

The first opportunity to get a glimpse of the wearable art entries that have arrived thus far will be from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 22 at Historic Savage Mill. Visitors can wander among 12 stations to watch as hair and makeup contestants work on 25 models wearing outfits shipped from 13 states.

The models will also be photographed throughout the day in a 100-seat studio that is also open to public viewing. A digital competition using online photos shot for the 2015 ManneqART calendar will start June 30.

The 10 design winners will be announced Sept. 28 at a gala at Howard Community College in Columbia.

Andersen started ManneqART last year in order to bring an immensely popular competition in her homeland to the United States.

"The country has 4 million people and 70 million sheep," Andersen said of New Zealand, to which she returns every three years to visit family and friends. "People are isolated, so they come up with ways to entertain themselves.

"I kept waiting for what World of WearableArt started in New Zealand to come to America, and I really expected it would happen here," said Andersen, who designs art clothing focused on color and texture for her Lee Andersen line.

When it didn't happen, she decided to pay homage to the competition's inspirational nature by re-creating it.

Ensembles made of aluminum soda cans, latex medical gloves and glossy magazine pages are the norm in a contest where innovation reigns. There is also an art bra contest, which has drawn such entries as "Alice in Wonderbra," with its twin dangling teacups, and "Erin Go Bra," a play on the Irish phrase.

Andersen, who is used to planning ahead in her day job, has already announced the themes for next year, which will be nature, literature, art and architecture.

Hagerman said the competition is fun and exciting, but it has also created a problem of sorts.

"Now I don't have a choice but to have my class participate because students are anticipating it," she said. "This contest has opened up a whole new world."

For more information on the ManneqART hair, makeup and costume challenges, go to manneqart.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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