[Originally posted at l'etoile magazine]
Last Friday, subculture fashion from the worlds of anime, manga, Lolita and steampunk got its MNfashion Week moment. The eighth annual "Full Fashion Panic!", part of anime and manga workshop, Schoolgirls and Mobilesuits at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, showcased lines from the Twin Cities and beyond in a runway show produced by esteemed local neo-Victorian designer Samantha Rei, whose line Blasphemina's Closet was one of the first custom lines in the country to offer Lolita and neo-Victorian stylings.
As with any fashions delving into subculture, the looks in the show sometimes veered too far on the side of costume for me. I realize that this is the point for many within the neo-Victorian/gothic/Lolita/anime subculture, but for me, fashion isn't fashion unless it brings something new to the table - adding a twist to a classic style rather than regurgitating ideas.
Lauren Peyton's collection went full-on Lolita, so infantilizing as to deck one model in a baby bonnet. For as much she sometimes crossed over into cliche, it was conceivable that some of her looks - like one bedecked in bows - could be reimagined on the likes of Lady Gaga or Katy Perry if styled with more of an edge. It must be said, though, that he collection appeared well-made.
Theresa Winge's Hello Kitty-meets-naptime collection was unfortunate to say the least. The designer seemed to be making an attempt at avant-garde manga pop, but using Hello Kitty-printed fleece and flimsy, bedsheet-like fabric wasn't the way to go.
Irregular Pearl's line was all across the board - gothic Lolita, Victorian, and gothic looks rendered in cheap satins and dull tablecloth-y fabrics in clashing colors. Despite the bad fabric and disjointed color story, there were a few kicky, fresh little dresses in there. It was, suffice to say, a highly irregular collection.
Carousel Cafe focused on puff sleeves and ruffles in her Lolita-goes-to-workcollection. While I did think the teal and black romper and blouse showed a little bit of style, some of the looks seemed to be a tad frumpy, but it was nice to see a designer bring a new idea to the Lolita genre.
Deborah Block's collection seemed to capitalize on the vampire-inspired, gothic trends on the fall runways, particularly with a very-now velvet cape and an edgy, structured dress with a kimono-like feel. But whether due to bad fabric choices, iffy construction, atrocious styling (i.e., fake blood running comically down the models faces), and some looks that went all-out Ren Fest costume, her attempts fell short.
But for every costumey look, there were some fashion-forward moments. The mother-daughter team of KMK Designs - Sheridyn and Kaitlin McClain, a recent U of M apparel grad - showed construction and fabric can make all the difference from taking subculture fashions out of the realm of costume and into fashion. Their plaid suspendered dress evoked Victorian styles without going all-out Lolita, and even their more costumey looks were more carnival chic than Halloween cheap. Some pieces were so 1940s Vogue that they might have well been crafted from vintage patterns. (Though they indeed were not.)
Hitomi K. first caught my eye last spring with her gothy, industrial collection at St. Kate's senior apparel show. In this showing, she shied away from those more theatrical looks to focus on more wearable pieces that still showcase her gothic Lolita aesthetic - all impeccably tailored. Her cropped, zippered leather funnel-neck motorcycle jacket belongs in my closet now. Alexander Wang, hire this girl now.
The show culminated with Samantha Rei's preview of her Spring 2011 line for Blasphemina's Closet (which will be shown in full at next month's Teslacon steampunk convention). The four looks seemed to have a lost city of Atlantis feel, in both color story and ornate detailing. Despite the Rei trademarks in the mix - rich fabrics and contrasting textures, ruffles, bloomers, and perfectly executed construction - it was a clear departure for the longtime neo-Victorian designer, with silhouettes including everything from tent dress to a drop-waist babydoll dress. This wasn't just subculture style - this was forward-thinking fashion. Here's hoping that this crop of enterprising designers will take a cue from Rei and take their neo-Victorian, steampunk, Lolita and gothic stylings into the future.
I also dug the custom jewelry created by local line Bionic Unicorn for the collection, and the fun hair accessories:
Click here to view more photos from Full Fashion Panic! by Nic Abrego.