[Originally posted at Vita.mn with photos by Patrick Kelley]
Last night at the newly-opened Amsterdam Bar & Hall in downtown St. Paul, the humble little black dress got a makeover. A dozen of the Twin Cities' brightest fashion designers sent two new looks each - one, a little black dress; the other, a design of their choosing - down the runway, offering fresh, varied, and for the most part, well-executed takes on the classic LBD on perfectly poised Vision models chic-ly styled by HAUS Salon.
Conceived of by designers Emma Berg and Maritza Ramirez with the assistance of MNfashion's Emily Blanche and Sarah Colvin, the show was intended to challenge local designers to create wearable, retail-ready looks, and what better inspiration point is there than the LBD? As it would have certainly made for a good Project Runway challenge, I'll run down the looks one at a time and do my best Michael Kors/Nina Garcia/Heidi Klum impression.
As the looks came out, I had to do a bit of a guessing game to figure out which look was done by which designer. Apparently, looks went down the runway as listed on the program (in alphabetical order), but a screen listing the designer name as each look went out would have made things clearer. Another missed opportunity: a "where to shop" guide in the program to direct potential shoppers on where the one-of-a-kind dresses were available for purchase.
The two looks by Jenn Bratvold, a 2011 St. Kate's apparel grad, couldn't have been any more basic. A basic pink top, basic high-waisted short-shorts, a patterned jacket with ugly lavender satin lining, and a plain-as-plain-could-be LBD left little impact.
Jenny Carle turned out two vintage-inspired looks. Her first look was rendered in a striking color and pattern, and the longer length took the look out of Carle's more typical girly-little-vintage-dress stable. While I have a couple of minor quibbles with the sleeve length (shorter would have given this dress a more modern update) and the fit on the bust (a little loose), it was really a nice little dress. Carle's LBD, though, was as basic and done as it gets. You could find that dress at any department store circa 2009.
Amanda Christine is a master at what I'd call basics-with-a-twist, so this show was a no-brainer for her. She has always managed to infuse classic looks with just enough detail to make the looks appear designed. She nailed it with her slightly asymmetrical silk skirt and sequin bodice dress, which fit the model beautifully and went down the runway like a dream. Her first look was a bit forgetful on the runway amongst other more statement-making looks, but the printed wrap dress is a perfect little work-to-cocktail-party dress.
Danielle Everine served up a couple of fresh looks that showed the former Project Runway contestant pushing her signature aesthetic forward to an increasingly sophisticated place. The designer typically plays with a muted, pastel color palette, so it was nice to see her pushed out of her apparent comfort zone with a couple of darker looks. The top look mimicked the look she recently created for l'etoile's "Bright Society" MNfashion Week event on Sunday, particularly the skirt (though appearing basic in the above photo), which featured a row of covered buttons at the back and had an interesting cut. Her LBD offering was the standout piece of the night: a silk chiffon overdress with a beaded high collar (reminiscent of her look for the stilt challenge on Project Runway), embedded with lace applique, paired with an underdress in a printed lace motif.
Laura Fulk made a bold return to the runway with a couple of looks that were signature Fulk - sci-fi-inspired design elements, asymmetrical lines, and strong silhouettes. The two looks were like the yin and yang of one collection - one that I'd really love to see from the obscure-as-of-late designer. They seem to show the designer making a move toward increasingly sophisticated, wearable garments that still showcase her trademark look.
Sarah M. Holm left me a little confused when she showed not one, but two LBDs. The first was a wool sheath dress that, from the front, had a gorgeous '40s sophistication to it, while the back featured some leather criss-crossing detailing on the back of the leg and neckline. It's pure Sarah Holm - vintage meets goth. Her second look had more asymmetrical details, this time a zippered jacket and a pencil skirt with a zipper winding around to the back. Again, Holm plays to her strengths - edgy yet chic and tailored.
I was surprised to find out both of the above looks were by Ivan Idland. The designer has always had a vintage-updated aesthetic, but these looks contained none of Idland's trademark details - sailor-style, asymmetrical collars; intricate piping and pleating; graphic, interweaving fabrics; and drop waists. These are the reasons I love Idland's work. Taken as designs out of the context of the designer, both looks were shocking for their incorporation of the very pot leaf emblem that Emma Berg featured (via hand-embroidered sequins) in her Spring/Summer 2011 line shown last spring at MNfashion Week. The ivory skirt was pretty, as was the shape of the LBD, but I can't help but be distracted by such an obvious similarity, particularly in the world of local fashion.
Typically one of the more over-the-top designers to hit the runway, Max Lohrbach showed two surprisingly sedate looks. The first featured a hand-embroidered tank top and a swingy skirt - a lovely spring basic. His LBD incorporated the heart bra design element from his Voltage 2011 line shown this past spring and sheer, asymmetrical bits of fabric. It was sexy without being vulgar - and if that's not the point of an LBD, what is? With these two looks, Lohrbach is making the statement that he's out to make more wearable, retail-friendly pieces than he has in the past - though ones that don't skimp on his vintage-infused, quirky and sometimes provocative stylings.
George Moskal's runway looks added a heady dose of glamour and sophistication, particularly the violet halter linen gown's addition of a welcome shot of color to the fairly muted runway. His black lace dress was oh-so-Audrey Hepburn in 2011, with a deeply jutting neckline and backline rendered in lacquered soutache lace layered over sheer lace.
Another designer opting for black-on-black was Raul Osorio, who's been MIA on the local design front since he moved back to Honduras over the summer. (He's returning this November.) His two looks were easy to identify as Osorio pieces - classic and feminine with a dose of femme fatale sexiness. But on their own, each piece was relatively safe and been-there-done-that. Osorio has a knack for creating dresses girls want to wear, but it'd be nice to see him push his designs forward a bit more.
Newcomer Nicole Larson offered two of the more eye-popping looks of the evening with her billowy red tiered red gown with lace-up back and black faux-fur mini-dress. She needs to get the construction down, and source out better-quality fabrics. That "leather" bustier looks awfully shiny, and the structure of the red dress made her model look ridiculously hippy and pear-shaped. But it's great to see a new face on the local design front who has a clear point of view, and she really lucked out with that model's red hair (obviously a holdover from last weekend's Aveda Congress hair workshop).
Maritza Ramirez is another designer struggling with fit. Her black gown was so tight on the rear that it forced her model to waddle uncomfortably down the runway. Her pant look was, quite frankly, just plain odd. The proportions were off, the sheer jacket looked unfinished, and the pants fit oddly around the abdomen. But it must be said that Ramirez isn't short on taste for gorgeous, luxurious fabrics and sophisticated silhouettes with an eye for detail.
[All photos: Patrick Kelley]