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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Grin and wear it

NSCAD’s Wearable Art Show is always a celebration of conceptual spectacles and killer fashions. Its 20th year is no exception.

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Paulina Szczesny's knee-length dress smells slightly salty and crackles when touched. It's stiff like parchment with texture similar to skin. A closer look reveals veins: pig intestine.

Inspired by Mary-Anne Wensley's intestine house at the Saint Mary's University Art Gallery last year, Szczesny decided to break the rules. She bought sausage casing from a butcher shop on Agricola. The guts were small and shrivelled at first, but once dried with an air compressor, they took on the appearance of spiral-shaped condoms. The textile student stretched, ironed and sewed them into the sinister gown trimmed with a bustier made of recycled leather.

"You can make a wearable garment that's couture-y and fashionable, but I like doing one-of-a-kind things that you wouldn't really wear, but you can wear," she says.

Szczesny is one of about 30 students participating in NSCAD's 20th annual Wearable Art Show on April 21---the longest-running event to benefit people living with AIDS in Nova Scotia. Her wearable---edible?---art is an ode to her history; it protests the cultural transformation her family had to endure when they moved to Canada from their farm in Poland. In London, Ontario, they started their own smoke house. Szczesny has cased her own sausages, so using fur, leather and guts in her work feels natural.

Intestine may be one of the creepier choices for fabric, but it's not the only strange concept at the show. As a finishing touch to his honours project, Derrick Dixon purposely set "The Phoenix Dress" on fire. "I had the image of a dress transformed through fire," he says. "I thought that if I did everything correctly, I could recreate that, even if I went down the road of special effects. I thought it was a beautiful image---very poetic."

Dixon sewed the 40-pound dress from thrifted wool coats and scrap silk donated by "unbelievably supportive" NSCAD students and teachers. He sewed thin strips of paper to the wool exterior: fuel. A close friend volunteered to model the dress while it burned.

In a clear-cut forest near Lawrencetown Beach, he decorated his model with a necklace made of lichen and earrings trimmed with pine needles, then lit the paper panels one at a time. He flips through photos from the shoot on his charcoal-covered laptop; a small orange flame licks the side of the dress. The model seems unfazed. "Everything was very smooth and quite magical, actually," Dixon says.

Alongside conceptual clothing, students will show plenty of street-ready designs.

Kathy Marsh and Chloé Gordon work together in a sunny loft, but their designs couldn't be more different. Marsh created a retro lingerie-inspired collection made of traditionally feminine fabrics such as cashmere and chiffon, while Gordon plans to show a series of "savage explorer" gender-bending jackets, pants and shorts made of canvas.

Both collections are about female empowerment, and both use chiffon in different ways. Marsh's sheer dresses celebrate curvy shapes; Gordon's boxy cuts and drop-crotches exude independence.

"My whole inspiration for my collection this year is nudity and the female form," Marsh says of her revealing collection, which will be modelled by curvy women.

"My dad always says hard work wins the day," Gordon says. "I basically haven't left the studio since the term started."

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