Reclaimed Fashion Showcases the Versatility of Artists

Dress designer Adam Neeley, right, explains his design technique to local Arts Commissioner and judge Suzi Chavel during the Festival of Arts' recycled materials fashion show.

Under eaves of stretched canvas, eight Festival of Arts exhibitors displayed elaborate couture of recycled materials, a runway event that pulled celebrity hosts, prominent judges, and local models together for the sake of reclaimed fashion.

At the third annual event, hordes of elegantly-clad patrons “oohed” and “aahed” at haute couture made of at least 80% recycled material ranging from caution tape to beach sand.

When designer Adam Neely searched for inspiration, he turned to his model, Alicia Chavex, who strutted her Spanish flair as a flamenco dancer in Spain. Multi-colored hues cut from the pages of Vogue, Harper, and Cosmopolitan magazine were folded into flamenco fans and glued to a muslin and tule base, which flowed voluminously as Chavex sashayed down the runway. Adding to the sexy silhouette, the top of the garment consisted of folded trash bags to form a plunging neckline secured by a halter strap, adorned with black glitter.


Who knew trash bags and paper fans could create such a sexy silouhette?

“This was a very big sewing lesson for me. I learned how to actually follow a pattern, sew it together and use a zipper,” said Neely, whose usual art form is jewelry.  “Alicia and I went through 70 to 80 fashion magazines to get the right color.” The creation, titled “Novella” took a week to complete and received second place in the competition.


Dagmar Chaplin, in her third year as a fashion show designer, was inspired by the Festival’s theme of make believe when she crafted the idea to use a Laguna Beach legend as her muse. According to local folklore, a sea nymph rescued a ship’s captain from a shipwreck and they fell in love, however he remained on land and she returned to her aquatic life, doomed to wander the bays of Laguna broken-hearted.  In an ensemble made mostly of old t-shirts and hospital garments, laundry bags, bamboo, seashells and sand, model Sophie Higuchi expressed her embodiment of the character when she said, “I feel like a mermaid.”

Rocking the runway with their Elizabethan-punk design, Janet Lewis and Elizabeth McGhee creation  infused English renaissance with modern gothic garb, spawning a dress reminiscent of a sinister Lewis Carroll character directly from Wonderland. Taking third place, the re-recycled dress was composed of materials from their previous year’s entry including oddities such as corks, bottle caps, window screens, coffee filters, and a weather-beaten flag pole.

Photo by Greg Autry

“I would wear this dress to a very fancy cocktail party in 1987. I would rock it!” model Jessica Arsenian said about designer Brittany Ryan’s glimmering and geometric party dress. Her inspiration: the logo from the festival itself, black and gold, molded into high fashion couture with a high collar, a geometric midsection and the textured gilded shopping bag as a fabric substitute.

Model Erica Baldwin emerged from the tent as a Brad Elsberry’s stunning bridal vision draped in clear plastic, her innocence protected by a sheer air-constricting veil. With a sweetheart neckline made of garment bags and a high collar of plastic clothespins, Baldwin marched the catwalk while wide eyes gleamed at the extravagant ensemble. Upon pivoting for her second walk, Baldwin removed the better portion of the train, revealing a trendy cocktail dress underneath. The elaborately contrived vision of a bride “Going to the Chapel” was constructed of discards from the drycleaner, from the bouquet of receipts to the clothes hanger lace bodice.
From under Brad Elsberry’s full-length bridal train emerged a perky cocktail dress, complete with a garter, thrown to an adoring crowd.

Elsberry said his design that took a week and a half to complete, including a 12-hour night of labor he endured before the show.  Elsberry’s design won first place and the People’s Choice Award.

Others artists trying their hands as runway designers include Lou Bortone, whose sheet and duct tape design “Festival Diva” was modeled by Leah Bortone; John Tolle, whose caution-tape design “Watch out Here I Come” was modeled by Yael Resnick; and Robert Schock, whose shower curtain design “Singing in the Rain” was modeled by Laura Lavore.

Hayley Toler is a Cal State Fullerton history and anthropology major.

Share this:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here