"Envision: Artopia" is a curious creature. With a whopping 91 looks pumped onto the runway over the course of two hours, the semi-annual fashion show really can't be reviewed to the same standards as a true runway show. It focuses on highly wearable, retail-oriented clothing, presented with minimal, girl-on-the-street styling (albeit on superhumanly tall, thin, attractive girls and boys) to a supercharged club soundtrack and dim lighting, transforming the Graves 601 Hotel ballroom the show is held in a nightclub. A look at the crowd - many of whom are greased-up Jersey Shore rejects and girls in too-tight, too-short, and too-shiny dresses - makes it clear that people are here to party, not to note the latest fall trends or make their shopping list. This was meant to be a party - not a sophisticated, serious runway show. And that's why the show has a packed house year after year. Though it's not my ideal fashion show experience, their formula is obviously a financially successful one.
The event's chief organizers, Ignite Models Inc. co-owners Allison Hamzehpour and Jessica Cunningham, certainly put on a slick show, for the most part. The lighting left much to be desired for photographers and attendees alike, but the show was more well-styled than usual, thanks no doubt to the up-and-coming styling collective Secrets Fashion Agency. The young stylists brought the off-the-rack clothing to life with thoughtfully placed accessories and enviable shoes.
In between segments, I spotted the resulting looks from the vitaminwater zero? Design Challenge. Sarah M. Holm (flavor: xxx) really outdid herself with her sculptural, avant-garde look, while Jenny Carle (flavor: drive) and Christopher Straub (flavor: drive) were pretty basic offerings for a design challenge.
The best part about Envision for me is the chance to see full collections by local designers make their runway debut. Best-in-show was no doubt Amanda Christine, who seems to be closer and closer to perfecting the classics-with-a-twist design aptitude she's been honing for the past few years. A long-sleeved faux-wrap silk mini dress had a beautiful drape, as did her silk secretary blouse - two classic pieces that Amanda managed to make fresh. Her front pin-tucked cropped cigarette pants are a wardrobe go-to, and her black sequin-and-silk cocktail dress moved beautifully. I found myself making a mental shopping list for all the pieces I wanted.
Another longtime Envision designer Arwyn Birch upped her game immensely, tailoring her '60s mod aesthetic into a collection of exceedingly wearable, sophisticated dresses seemingly inspired by the Maggie Gyllenhaal-starring movie Secretary, many of which would work just as well in the office as cocktail hour afterward.
The show's two newcomers made big impressions with their showings. Gina Marie Vintage (which is a misnomer - nothing about this line looks at all vintage) kicked off the show with a collection of chic, drapey jersey knit separates in a muted palette, and her gothy black bell bottoms mixed with a black lace tunic said it loud and clear: the '70s are still in, and they're getting a '90s twist.
Recent Minneapolis transplant Caroline Hayden went for the glam with sequin leggings, a sequin bodysuit, a sequin dresses, a sequin pencil skirt, a long Elvira-esque black velvet gown, and a chubby black fur coat. It was very...sparkly. As a whole, it erred on the side of garishness, though looked to be very well made. I'd like to see what Hayden can do without the benefit of sequins.
Kathryn Sterner's line Kathryn V. was hit or miss. While she showed some excellent pieces, including cinched-waist shirtdresses and a utilitarian-meets-feminine canvas jacket, her inclusion of a shiny copper fabric was unfortunate and eye-searing. But her printed bodysuit paired with a sheer, long navy skirt was impeccably chic.
Yqy by vivian, a promising new name last fall at Envision, missed the mark with bad fabric mixing (including an ill-advised tight pantsuit in ugly red plaid and houndtooth) and a thoroughly disjointed collection.
K.Jurek by Kimberly Jurek, usually a favorite of mine, showed a collection of holiday dresses that appeared dowdy due to their loose silhouettes and misguided use of velvet. It's the same sort of thing she showed last holiday. I hope Jurek pushes her designs further and makes a return to structure and jackets - her strong suits - soon.
Menswear had its moment via ready-to-wear and swimwear collections by recent University of Minnesota grad Kelly Ver Duin. The combination of quirky shirts styled with bowties and shorts is nothing new, but she certainly has an eye for color and pattern combinations. Her short-short, colorblocked swimwear was inventive - and also garnered some lady-screams from the audience.
Typically, the boutique segments have served as boring interludes in between designer segments, but the styling took these looks to another level. I found myself many times coveting certain pieces from OPM, Drama, Karma and Local Motion. Fall trends were cleverly highlighted among the offerings, including chunky knits, maxi coats and era-spanning retro dresses:
Cliché always has a heavy hand in their own styling, and it was apparent more than ever as their first model walked down the runway in a sheer black fringed dress with a black feather headdress and long feather earrings. The controversial styling was, according to co-owner Josh Sundberg, meant to be inspired by '80s punk and traditional Native American garb. Like it or not, Navajo-inspired prints and ponchos are undeniably fall trends this year. Leave it to Cliché to steal the show once again.