Our Laguna: Artists show off fashion flare

It has been said that a stylish woman can make a garbage bag look like haute couture. So can artists.

The Festival of Arts Runway Fashion Show featured designs created by festival exhibitors from recycled, reclaimed or re-used materials, including trash bags, competing for four $1,000 prizes and the People's Choice Award.

"There was nothing trashy about this," said Pat Kollenda, a festival board member and fashionista.

Ten entries were paraded down the runway to be judged by a panel of three judges and an audience of more than 1,500.

"You are in for a treat," said Susan Davis, festival director of special events, who gets credit for the innovative show.

Painter W. Bradley Elsberry pulled off a hat trick — capping wins in 2010, 2011 and as this year's "People Choice Award" winner and the judges' choice for the "Most Creative Concept." His entry was titled "Wrapping it Up."

Elsberry used packaging and wrapping material for his layered entry that began with a gun-toting robot, which shed its exterior and weapons on its runway-long train to reveal the delicious Erika Baldwin in a white cut-paper dress molded to her body and carrying a staff hooked to an equally long white train pulled up from under the runway.

It was as much performance art as fashion.

The judges awarded the "Most Exciting Ensemble" to artists Brittany Ryan and Elizabeth McGhee for "Miss Communication," an elaborate Victorian outfit that included a dress, hat, purse and parasol created primarily from newspapers, telephone pieces and cassette tape.

McGhee modeled the dress, which included elements that had been used in the two previous shows. Cork disks on the bodice were adapted from a flapper skirt in the 2009 show. The collar came from an outfit in the 2011 show.

It didn't take an art expert to figure out what had inspired jeweler Adam Neeley's entry, which won the "Most Innovative Use of Materials Award." His homage to Frida Kahlo was composed of more than 1,000 corn husks, dipped in gold and sparkles. The bodice was formed from fuschia-colored cardboard left over from a child's school project. The flowers for the iconic headdress were borrowed from a dilapidated plastic bouquet.

Painter Annette Wimmer created and modeled a tailored, two-piece suit and hat, woven from packaging supplies and aluminum foil. She carried a handbag made out of shopping bags, with a chain strap of pull tabs and garden string.

Wimmer spent more than 50 hours on the entry, which won the award for the "Most Wearable to Next Year's FOA Exhibit Opening Night Party."

"They trashed it, bashed it, smashed it and cashed in on it," said Lisa M. Berman, owner of the Sculpture to Wear Gallery in Santa Monica,

Berman had been scheduled to be one of the judges but stepped in as mistress of ceremonies when Jerry Penacoli of "Extra" unexpectedly was unable to host the event.

"I'm a Lagunatic," Berman said. "I grew up here and I am so proud to be here to host the show. "You may ask how I can be proud wearing this outfit."

She dressed for the event, wearing an outfit created from a Dutch lamp shade.

Jeannie Mai, host of the Style Channel's popular fashion makeover show "How Do I Look?," Kaye Spiler, curator of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's costumes and textiles, and Sheri Holley from Macy's South Coast Plaza served as judges for the 2012 show.

"Festival Runway Fashion is becoming a signature Festival of Arts event," Davis said. "Every year seems to up the ante."

The 2012 show had the most entries ever and the artists pulled out all the stops.

Jeweler Luciano Bortone created a dress that many women in the audience said could be worn to the most sophisticated event.

The dress was a tribute to Fritz Pfleumer, inventor of the first magnetic tape — also known as cassette tape — in 1928. Bortone knitted the tape and embellished it with tiny, hand-cut pieces of compact discs, individually glued to the tape to create a sheath with a short train floating from the neck. The dress was accessorized with jewelry made from internal cassette parts.

Dagmar Chaplin used white trash bags to make a bouffant skirt scalloped with fluted paper plates for entry. The bodice was a thermal bag fished from a local dumpster, which also provided the corrugated cardboard used for the painted moth carried by model Sophie Higuchi, daughter of festival publicist Sharbie Higuchi.

Thirteen-year-old Camryn Graves danced into the hearts of the audience, costumed by photographer Rick Graves and painter Bruce Burr.

The young ballerina modeled "Farewell" en pointe, wearing an outfit made of a window screen, a lazy susan, the bellows of an enlarger and large format camera, strobe light reflector and videotape, which was a tribute to film, which is being replaced by ones and zeros of the digital age, the artists said.

Michelle Lance's ethereal contemporary dress was composed of recycled plastic bags, reused cotton cord, vintage lace and bread ties.

Lance cut up the bags and then sewed them together to focus attention on the wearer's body.

Sculptor Jon Seeman's niece, Shannon, modeled her uncle's "Hard Wear" outfit of 100% biodegradable muslin, patterned by spraying diluted vinegar onto scrap metal and gears that left rusty imprints on the fabric.

Accessories included a purse made of aluminum scraps, decorated with metal parts recycled from Seeman's sculptures. Jewelry was made from recycled pulleys and metal chains.

Jeweler John Tolle used white shopping bags to recreate Marilyn Monroe's white halter dress.

This year's show had the most entries ever and an appreciative audience that included Friends of the Library President Martha Lydick and board members Sandy Hovanesian and Diane Connell, Barbara Rostolder and Kate Reigler, a former festival exhibitor.

"The show was wonderful," Reigler said.

"Amazing," Connell said.

As an added bonus, fashions by Brit Boy and Marisa Kenson were shown in the intermission between festival shows.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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