Wearable Art Has A Home

Aaron Barlow, dressed up in a costume, uses a bowling pin to chase his model off the runway. (Photo by Paulette Wilson. April 3, 2010).

An old market building on North Avenue becomes a venue dressed up like a fashion week tent in New York.

The light blubs hanging from the ceilings went pitch black as a typewriter was projected on white paper covered wall.

A paper with a logo comes out from the typewriter.

Within two hours, you see models in lace bodysuits with ruffled neck wraps celebrating survival of the apocalypse to models literally battling on the runway with sparkly war jackets and glittery armor mouthpieces.

This was Panoptic: An Experimental Fashion Event. The Maryland Institute College of Art showcased fifteen young designers from their experimental fashion concentration to expose Charm City to avant-garde fashions.

“ I love experimental design because it’s a spectacle,” Barlow said. “It’s completely unlike looking through a JCPenney’s catalogs. Could you imagine led lights, costumes, and smart textiles in a JCPenney’s catalog? With experimental design, it makes the person feel so much more special wearing something that no one has ever experienced before. It puts you into a character-based state of mind.”

The instructor behind MICA’s experimental fashion concentration,Valeska Populoh, wants to give fibers majors a new way to look at the world of fashion.

“The experimental fashion concentration is relatively young at 3-years old, “Populoh said.  “A lot of students gravitate to this concentration because we look at fashion as the certain way people dress to express their sense of identity and how the history of fashion has to do with craft and excess to wealth.”

Like in any other fashion schools, students get trained in sewing, pattern making, and construction. At MICA, students in experimental fashion are able to work on an avant-garde collection for two semesters as a part of their Multimedia Event class.

Amy Mann is a veteran in the fiber concentration participating in Brouhaha and Panoptic for the multimedia event class events. At this year’s Panoptic, Mann revealed The Marker: Part Deux with an Americana storyline.

Models in Amy Mann's designs lay down cloth in to form a flag. (Photo by Paulette Wilson. April 3, 2010.)

“I like incorporating performance with my work because my designs are very much costume inspired,” Mann said. “I enjoy telling stories through my garments.  It was amazing. All the models were very cooperative, even the 4-year old and 6-year old. It was a lot of fun, but hectic at the same time.”

The art of telling a story with garments was a constant theme at Panoptic. Barlow, who was a former video major, combined his knowledge of film to present his lace filled gowns in mini movies.

“I spent a good semester in the Fibers department last year taking classes like Introduction to Fibers, Costume Design, and Screen Printing,” Barlow said. “I forgot for a while that I was a Video major and it was a really sweet escape. I’ve learned so much to help with the construction of the costumes I created for my short videos.”

Like Barlow, students find different ways to present their garments at the multimedia event. Unlike most  fashion schools  that focus on the individual, MICA focuses on teamwork to make a finished product.


“I am so intrigued by the process of seeing students working with each other,” Populoh said. “It’s great to see students go from being a little hesitant about collaborating to working in teams and realizing it’s not a negative thing at all.”

Katie Coble, who presented a nine-minute living gallery performance piece for her Roost collection, enjoyed having extra hands to help her display her vision.

“Panoptic has taught me how to work with a team to produce a show,” Coble said. ‘It was a positive experience to work with other students who are all interested and invested in making the show as great as it can be while also being open and flexible to different ideas. I was very happy to be involved in it.”

The experimental fashion events are not like fashion shows because students collaborate with other students to create collections and students use performance art to give their garments character. At these events, clothing is considered wearable art and is not considered ready to wear clothing.

Vincent Tiley, who presented his Osaka Loop Line collection at Panoptic, likes that experimental fashion concentration allows his designs to fit into a category of it’s own.

“I think it much liberating to make something that won’t be sold as a commodity,” Tiley said. “I can make artistic references and expose certain parts of the body. There’s a creative freedom in this form of fashion.”

Read more from Ms. Charm’s Chic