Students of Fashion Clothes: Energy, ideas abound at the third annual Maryland Institute fashion show, which has the air, if not the polish or big bucks, of runways in Milan and Paris.


Fashion is an endless cycle of embrace and rejection. Fake is in, natural is out. Plain is in, fancy is out. Casual is in, glamour is out. And vice versa.

Big-name designers, who must anticipate these seasonal fluctuations, have to suppress their wild side to keep their business commercially sound.

A fashion show by artists, students and dressers may not have the polish of runways in Milan or Paris, but it has energy and enough ideas to keep designer Karl Lagerfeld awake at night.

Such was the fashion scene recently at the Mount Royal Station auditorium of the Maryland Institute, College of Art. Some 20 artist/designers, students, alumni, and friends presented their work for "Dynamic Artists: Spiritwells of Fashion and Feeling," the college's third annual fashion show.

The air was not unlike that of big-budget designer productions -- frayed nerves, frayed seams, attitude, groupies, siblings, boyfriends, parents and scouts.

The fashion direction was all over the place -- from wearable crafts to the wearing of plastic dry-cleaner bags, to wearing very little, to a rubber body suit made for two.

There's the joy. With no one to appease or please but their creative selves, these young artists came out with some clothes for occasions that haven't even been invented yet.

In the dressing room, graduating senior Rachel Katz tugged and adjusted the draperies on her models. Her theme was A Middle Eastern Fantasy, and she showed some exotic draperies evocative of Hollywood Bible-epic extravagances. She herself was wearing a sci-fi, spider-woman ensemble with prominent wire-sculpted bustier.

"Nice gazongas," said her dad, Howard Katz, who was there to wish her luck.

"Thanks, dad."

Parents of art students do seem to have a hipness level that's way above the national average.

"Next year I'm going for a master's in art teaching," says the daughter, "but my personal dream is to pursue the costume and performance direction with other people which may lead to entertaining children, the elderly. That's how I will probably approach teaching -- creating environments with kids that involve costumes somehow."

She started school with painting and drawing but moved into fiber courses.

"I made my first headdress, and I was hooked," she says. On occasion she ventures out in costume "to give people a jerk in what they see normally in the course of a day."

'A variety of style'

In the course of her own day, she tones the theatrics down.

"I'm obsessed with pattern, so I collect ethnic clothing. A lot of my inspiration derives from African, Asian and Middle Eastern design."

Her generation, she says, is keen on fashion as a personal statement. "We like to twist fashion, treat clothes in unexpected ways."

She credits the originality of art-school dressing to the diversity of the student body.

"Here, I've met people from all over the United States and foreign countries, so you see a variety of style.

"I'm really excited that this fashion show is an annual event because it's always a struggle to find an opportunity to show my work. Last year, my friend and I dressed for downtown. People reacted very strongly even though it was Halloween. They thought we were from some kind of cult or something."

There is that desire to have originality noticed.

Melissa Lillie, who is a graduating general-sculpture major, hopes for a costume or design internship in theater. She has applied at Center Stage, and has a summer-job offer from a new D.C. company that makes countertops out of concrete.

Concrete's gain would be a loss to divas. Melissa's show clothes were nothing if not high drama, or grand opera -- overblown headdresses, floating trains, rich pattern and broad sweep.

"I worked as a costumer at A. T. Jones on Howard Street," she says. "They're constantly busy, and I did odds and ends repairing, hand sewing everything from buttons to bodices and washing and pressing shirts." She learned.

She thinks the young are aware of mainstream fashion, but that the inventive ones look elsewhere.

"The thrift shop look that's now so trendy came from students who bought cheap eccentric clothes and made them more interesting," she says.

Next comes 'camp glamour'

Thrift shop today, however, is moving from grunge to camp glamour.

"There's a market out there for curls and corsets and girlie clothes even though we're so casual nowadays. Today, young people need a venue, an opportunity to get really dressed up. Even though nobody ever expects them to, everybody wants to flash a little bit."

The one place where the young can shine and show off is the club, the rave, the warehouse party. Two to four party nights a week -- that's where Jamal Tendajii does his art.

As an alumnus of Institute art classes, he participated in the show wearing a futuristic, helicopter-size, winged body suit. He tones clothes down for other events, but not by much.

"I try never to wear the same thing twice and make outfits as things happen. I can usually finish one costume a day but will take as long as a week for something complicated. It depends on how big the party is and how much of an entrance I want to make," he says.

That's a lot of party dressing and a lot of time foraging thrift shops for costume material.

"I never pass anything by. You have to look at everything because you never know what you're going to find stashed away," Tendajii advises potential dress-up shoppers. The toy bins are his favorite sources for fashion laser guns and trimmings.

He works the club scene, dressing up, acting up, distributing flyers, being paid to be a celebrity. It is his outfits that make him one, a modern-day dandy who lives to dress.

"That gives me kind of a sense of freedom to be anything," he says.

Getting started

Giving young clothing artists a runway was an idea Beverly Kingwood presented three years ago after she realized that fashion surfaces outside traditional training programs.

"I realized how much fashion talent there was in our school community and got to work getting a show started," she says. As an administrative assistant to the director of academic advising, she was in touch with students. As a trained Fashion Institute of Technology student, she had professional experience.

The fashion show continues to gain audience and attention, with growing ticket sales helping the college's Mentoring Network.

"The kids have inspired me to try again to start my own fashion line," Kingwood says.

Ah, the young, always a source of good ideas.

Pub Date: 5/09/96

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