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ManneqART making a statement of fashion and art in Savage Mill

Anyone in the market for a body-hugging skirt and top adorned with oversized sequins made of aluminum soda cans? How about a frilly, strapless gown with tiers of latex medical gloves minus the fingertips?

Shoppers looking for something unique might find a trip to Andersen-Becker Inc. in North Laurel to be just the ticket — if such outlandish fashions as "Metal Mermaid" or "Gloves" were actually for sale there.

The pair of unusual creations and 70 others from as far away as Alaska have been arriving at the fashion firm located off U.S. 1 in response to a call for entries in a wearable art challenge put on by Lee Andersen's other company, a nonprofit called ManneqART.

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.

Andersen, a native of New Zealand and one-half of a 25-year business partnership with Joan Becker, is still amassing the eye-catching ensembles for future judging as "Sculpture on the Human Form," a tag line she has trademarked.

"This is almost not related to fashion," she said of the contest, which is now in its second year.

"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 said. "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 occur from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 22 at Historic Savage Mill as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts. Audience members can wander among 12 stations to watch as hair and makeup contestants work on 25 models wearing outfits shipped from 13 states that fall into four themes: organics, robotics, time and motion.

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

The 10 design winners won't be announced until Sept. 28, at a gala at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. For two weeks before the event, starting Sept. 13, all costume entries will be displayed on mannequins at a dozen locations across the county.

Andersen, who relocated from New Zealand to Howard County 25 years ago after marrying Columbia resident Al Scolnik, started ManneqART last year 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, the former art teacher and previous owner of a knitwear design company decided to pay homage to the competition's inspirational nature by recreating it.

Coleen West, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council, said the council is excited to see an event of this caliber taking place in the county.

"It's a really unique fusion of fashion and arts, and it opens people's eyes about the possibilities and the different forms that art can take," she said.

Ensembles made of circuit boards, silk flowering vines and glossy magazine pages are the norm in a contest where innovation reigns.

This year there will be a 20-foot caterpillar that morphs into a butterfly, to be animated by dance students from Howard County Ballet and b. Funk Dance Company, both located in Ellicott City. At the Smith Theatre production in September, the caterpillar will order its cocoon online, and it will be delivered to the stage.

A dress made of timepieces and adorned with epaulets of dangling wristwatches, titled "Tick Tock, Rock the Frock," will be modeled by County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty. Sigaty, a West Columbia Democrat, also modeled in last year's inaugural competition and appears on ManneqArt's 2014 calendar, said Andersen, who called her "a big supporter."

Sherry Kirn, a retired lab technician from Elkridge, made an ensemble featuring a spray of peacock sword feathers that she dubbed "Peacock in Motion." Kirn also made an entry for the art bra contest, which will be worn by belly dancer Regina Snow of Columbia. Featuring twin dangling teacups, the whimsical design is called "Alice in Wonderbra."

"I get to play now after working for 40 years," said Kirn, 67, who lauded the event's organizers after checking Snow for fit. "I'm doing what I want to do and having so much fun."

Another bra entry is the Irish-themed "Erin Go Bra," a pun on the Irish motto. The art bras will have a second life when they go on display in October in Maple Lawn for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

While many costume entries are purely creative designs, some are statement pieces, Andersen said.

One 2013 award-winning entry from Robert Reed of Hawaii, titled "Nowhere to Hide," featured a dress of feathers, taxidermy molds and faux fur with a 7-foot train holding an entire miniature city made of toy building blocks. Its theme was the conflict between urbanization and wildlife.

Reed is also behind one of this year's more amusing entries and will dress in ultra-high heels to model "Cyborg Cher." The 8-foot-tall futuristic portrayal is based on a comedian's comment regarding the singer's longevity as an entertainer that after a nuclear attack there would be nothing left on Earth but cockroaches and Cher, Andersen said.

A lot of planning goes into the event, but Andersen has got that aspect down.

"In my day job, I have to be six months out for the 500 boutiques in all 50 states that carry my line, so I'm already working on spring 2015," Andersen said, explaining her ease with working ahead. She has already announced the themes for next year's contest, which are nature, literature, art and architecture.

Howard County fifth-graders will be invited to make costumes in 2015 as part of the library system's Battle of the Books challenge, she said. And a Hammond High School teacher has expressed interest in coordinating high school student entries next year as well.

"WOW has done such a phenomenal job in New Zealand," she said. "They've set the bar for me so I don't have to think about what this is going to be when it grows up. I'm going to let it develop for this country and see what works."

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

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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