Our Laguna: From found art to high fashion

Fashions created from trash sets apart the designers in the Festival of Arts Runway Fashion Show from all other couturiers.

The show features designs by festival exhibitors made of recycled, reclaimed or re-used materials. Four cash prizes of $1,000 are awarded for the Most Creative Concept, Most Exciting Ensemble, Most innovative use of materials and Most Glamorous Red Carpet Worthy designs. The winner of the People's Favorite gets applause.

Despite the muggy weather on Saturday, almost 3,000 folks gathered around the outdoor stage to admire the ingenious artists and to vote for their favorite.

"I wouldn't miss it," said Laguna artist Karen Feur-Schwager.

W. Bradley Elsberry was the people's choice for the fourth year. His entry was also picked by the judges as the Most Red Carpet Worthy.

Elsberry's 2011 entry, Phoenix Rising, made from eucalyptus bark, is considered by many to be the gold standard for the show.

This year, paint was his medium. He picked up discarded cans of water-based latex paints, mixed them with some acrylic and dripped, poured and brushed layers of paint onto a plastic sheet. Each layer was allowed to dry before the next one was applied till Elsberry achieved the look he wanted and a thickness that could be manipulated. The result was white lace and a shimmering blue "waterfall" fabric that was cut, glued and taped into a stunning evening coat and strapless dress, modeled by the equally stunning Erika Baldwin.

"When I wanted extra bling or wet sparkle, I used some water-based glossy varnish to polish it off," Elsberry said.

The Most Exciting Ensemble prize went to painter Elizabeth McGhee, who created and modeled "The Moving Story of Marie Antoinette," an elaborate French court dress created from packing paper and bubblewrap. The paper skirt belled over a hula hoop, topped by a bodice of salvaged ribbon, all held together with staples, hot glue and thread.

McGhee's elaborate wig was made of twine and old yarn.

Alicia Chavex modeled jeweler Adam Neeley's winning entry as the Most Creative Concept. Many remembered her in last year's homage to Frida Kahlo. This year, "Flora," from Botticellis' "La Primavera," was Neeley's inspiration.

Painted, recycled window and door screens were the foundation for the recycled-tissue bodice. The skirt and train were fashioned from foliage. Flowers were crafted from the Pageant of the Masters 80th Anniversary Collectors Edition.

Sculptor Jon Seeman's metal mechanical dog, "Gearbox," which accompanied his niece, Shannon, down the runway and into the hearts of the judges, won the prize for the most innovative use of materials. Shannon wore a concoction of metal compasses, keys, and copper coils, symbolic of the Industrial Revolution.

Michelle Lance's entry was titled "Intellectual OUTLAW," a recycled take on "Django Unchained." Lance repurposed black photography backdrop paper to create the duster that model Kurt Blanton wore over black bicycle shorts, draped with chaps of plastic tarp. Crushed remnants of pieces from the Sawdust Festival glass demonstration booth added sparkle.

Richard Evans used wood veneers as the medium for his entry, which he also modeled.

The entry was trimmed with strategically placed mail slots, which he said were available in different sizes according to the size of the package.

Painter and sculptor Brittany Ryan described her entry as "Art Studio Trash," an evening gown modeled by Hailey Sivadge. Ryan used a conglomeration of discarded materials from her studio.

The show was sponsored by Arbonne International, which gave all the competitors $100 gift certificates for company's products.

"This show emphasizes inventiveness and creativity in the name of the environment in the most fun way," said Senior Vice President and Chief Creative Officer Michael D'Arminio.

"At Arbonne, we are all about being green from botanically-based ingredients to forward-looking green improvements."

The company recently won the "Green Award" from the Association for Corporate Growth/Orange County.

D'Arminio opened the show in a bespoke — custom-made — suit printed with the green (naturally) Arbonne logo, designed by Arlette Madenlian, the company's creative director. The buttons were bottle caps from Arbonne Aromassentials products. A green tie and pocket kerchief, black hat and umbrella completed the outfit.

Show host Christos Garkinos is no stranger to recycling. He is the co-owner of the luxury consignment boutique Decades in Los Angeles and has been featured in "Elle," "Vanity Fair," "Glamour" and "Vogue." He currently stars on Bravo TV's "Dukes of Melrose."

For the fashion show, Garkinos chose to wear a pale blue blazer, pink American Apparel shorts, a white HTM T-shirt and red, white and blue Church oxfords.

Fashion critic and author Steven "Cojo" Cojocaru, style diva Lisa M. Berman and Arbonne CEO Kay Napier judged the show, the latter two Laguna residents

"Cojo" wore a Balmain jacket and jeans, a Dior shirt and San Laurent boots for his stint as a judge.

Berman had to be zipped into the red full-skirted dress she last wore as a Red Carpet host for the Grammies.

The dress is a single 300-yard zipper that winds round and round the skirt and the bodice.

Berman's necklace and red fascinator came from Duet on Forest Avenue, where locals shop for hats.

Napier wore a black tank top, a white mini — which will be put away until next summer she said — and Michael Kors black ankle-strap shoes. Her jewelry included a breathtaking three-inch-diameter chrysanthemum with petals of amber, bought in Estonia, and a bracelet from South Africa.

In the audience were Jan and festival President Fred Sattler, Vic Opincar and Ramona Louck, former Arts Commissioner Leah Vasquez, and festival board members Pat Kollenda and Anita Mangels.

"I really appreciated broadening the show to include men's wear," Mangels said.

Also present were Sandy and Richard Schwarzstein, Sandy Desmond, Linda Young and Diane Challis Davy, who finally had a chance to sit in the audience for the first time.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4608 or emailcoastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.

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