May 15, 2007

Moda and the Wrens give fashion an atomic flair

Moda and the Renaissance Society joined artistic forces last Thursday to deliver Atomic Fashion, a punk-rock fashion showcase of student designs that stomped and strutted its way to couture glory.

Atomic Fashion transformed the Renaissance Society’s home on the fourth floor of Cobb into a runway space designed around the featured art exhibit, Katharina Grosse’s Atoms Inside Balloons. As student models wove their way around the enormous aluminum, canvas, and paper balloons, I forgot that the exhibit and the fashion show were not originally designed to complement each other. Elaborate lighting was not needed because Grosse’s installation—site-specific spray-paint work applied directly onto existing architecture—was luminous, glamorous, and pretty punk-rock indeed. The Wrens, students who coordinate Renaissance Society events, said that the fashion show was a way to gain publicity for the society and the current exhibit, and I thought that the exhibit and the show were a match made in fashion heaven.

Granted, I’ve never been to NYC Fashion Week, but I thought that the Moda show was quite impressive. The music was good, the exhibit was beautiful and interesting, and the free food was a plus (of course!). Still, the best part of the event was the opportunity to see the fruits of my peers’ hard labor. We all know that U of C students are academically capable, but it was nice to see that when you take a group of U of C students and give them sewing machines, the result can be fabulous clothes fashioned by some truly talented young designers.

Many of the one-of-a-kind ensembles marked the students’ first forays into clothing design. Enoch Kim, a first-year in the College, has a distinctive personal style that combines Lite Brite–colored sneakers with blazers and little-boy T-shirts, but he had never before designed a collection. Kim had not even considered designing for the show until one of his friends in Moda told him that they needed more designers. Even with relatively no experience with design, Kim was able to translate his own style and his love for music into a creative collection that is actually wearable. First-year Andy Chen was one of the men who modeled Kim’s designs—sleeveless hoodies, cuffed jeans, guitar-strap belts, screen-printed T-shirts, and guitar-pick jewelry. Chen stormed the runway with aviator sunglasses, a playfully tough attitude, and a mega-watt smile as he walked to music by Justin Timberlake. Emblazoned music motifs unified Kim’s collection and made the everyday staples—T-shirts, baseball caps, jeans—reflect the personalities of the men who modeled them: edgy, fashionable, and unique.

The breakout fashion star was Ariya Sasaki, another College first-year, whose Harajuku girl–meets–Wall Street shirtdresses opened the show. Accessorized with dramatic fishnet tights and sky-high heels with cutely seductive bows on the heel, Sasaki’s shirtdresses were a combination of gender-bending menswear and the pop-culture phenomenon of imported Japanese style (think Gwen Stefani). Accented with flirty bows and rainbow trim, Sasaki’s dresses are probably too funky for an interview but perfect for an artsy night on the town.

I planned to go to the show to support my lovely, lanky model friends but ended up being floored by the genuine talent and creative vision of some student designers. Just like in the couture shows, not all of the clothes were ready-to-wear—some are better left on the runway. I’m not sure that I’d encourage my male peers to walk around in a blazer with nothing underneath it, but the outfit looked pretty fabulous on the runway. I thought that all of the clothes were beautifully conceived, skillfully modeled, and, as Tyra Banks would say, totally “fierce.”