SANTA CRUZ (May 2010) - Hand-sewn platform shoes, a man’s “blazer” alight with appliquéd flames, a taco-shaped hat and a handbag crafted from vinyl record albums.
These arresting fashion statements were among 128 student-made garments and accessories created this year at Project Runway for Teens, a school-wide wearable art show organized by Mission Hill Middle School art teacher Kathleen Crocetti.
Almost as unusual as the finished clothing was the source of the artists’ materials. As part of an ongoing partnership between the school and Goodwill Industries, more than 100 Mission Hill students were invited into Goodwill’s Union Street store for a special shopping day and allowed to take home any garment they wanted – for free.
“The only restriction we put on them was that they could only choose one item per person,” said store manager Evelyn Mathew. “It was so funny, some girls picked out these expensive gowns and Ms. Crocetti’s eyes would go really big. But it all balanced out because some kids would pick out a cap, or a really small item, and all in all it was a very individual thing.
“It was a really great community event, and I couldn’t put a price tag on any of that,” Mathew said. “It really was priceless.”
The students’ thrift-store finds, ranging from boots to a lampshade, were taken back to Crocetti’s Project Runway workshop at Mission Hill. There, with volunteer assistance from local artists and a posse of moms with sewing machines, the clothes were stitched, painted, embroidered, appliquéd and otherwise transformed into one-of-a-kind personal statements.
“We had this amazing costume shop in class for the two weeks before Spring Break,” Crocetti said. “For inspiration I projected maybe 200 images of wild and outlandish clothes. My artist friend J Rosella, who has been making odd and interesting wearable art for years, came with five giant trash bags full of Mylar and ribbons and beads and fabric, all kinds of stuff, and two mannequins.
“J would take a mannequin and pin and fold and wrap and keep adding things, and show them how to make outfits with just this stuff,” Crocetti said. “Then we gave them their freedom, and away they went.”
The students, some working in groups and others solo, had to draw a design and have it approved before the sewing began. Most of the students had never used a sewing machine before, or even threaded a needle. But they learned fast.
“Oh, it was noisy, as groups consulted and machines whirred, but everyone was productive,” said Lisa Hoesing, one of the moms who brought her sewing machine to the workshop. “They sewed fur to a t-shirt, lace to a tailored jacket, zippers both as decoration and as zippers … It was fascinating. I was thrilled to be part of Ms. Crocetti’s grand scheme.”
The first-of-its-kind show, which Crocetti hopes to continue next year, drew submissions from approximately 20 percent of Mission Hill’s student body. While most of the participants were enrolled in Crocetti’s Multi-Media arts classes, other students got swept up by the excitement and asked to be included.
“We opened it up to the whole school, and got 20 independents, some of them from Mrs. Uristoste’s after-school Fashion Design class, and others from the school community,” Crocetti said. “We ended up with 84 models walking the runway, and 128 student-made or altered garments.”
The runway show, staged in mid-April, drew hundreds of spectators to the Mission Hill cafeteria, where the models strutted down a spotlighted catwalk to pounding music, whistles and cheers. Student model Bruin Pollard, who wore a customized blazer, said his anxiety and nervousness vanished as soon as he stepped onto the runway.
“I just didn’t really think about what I was doing and it happened,” Pollard said. “Then when I took my final look and stepped off I thought 'Wow, I really just did that! It happened so fast!' “
The four judges assigned to choose a slate of winners quickly rebelled at the chore, because too many outstanding garments didn’t seem to fit in any of the pre-determined categories. A quick negotiation resulted in new categories, and ten winning outfits were eventually chosen, along with eight honorable mention awards for individual jackets, skirts and tops, and fifteen honorable mentions for accessories such as shoes, hats and handbags.
A selection of the winning designs will be on display in Goodwill’s Union Street store windows through May, then returned to their creators. Charlotte Smith, a marketing specialist for Goodwill, said the window display is both an inspiration to artists and a tribute to Lenne Bennett, a Goodwill vice-president who died in December.
“Lenne was the person here at Goodwill who had connections in the arts community, was an artist herself, and was also really committed to making Goodwill more of a green business,” Smith said. “I think her philosophy was that this kind of partnership creates energy for the arts, and inspires other artists to reuse, re-purpose and up-cycle clothing.
“Artists and creative people are an important niche of our clientele,” Smith said, “Especially around here – it’s very much part of the character of our community.”
For Mission Hill 6th grader Emma O’Regan, the design project was also a taste of what she hopes to do for a living some day.
“I modeled and designed shorts made into a skirt,” O’Regan said. “Plus I designed a bottle-cap dress with my friends. This was a great experience because when I am older I want to be a fashion designer. Now I have a little taste of what a fashion show would be like!”