CALL THEM GENERATION DIY. THESE PROGENITORS OF WARHOL’S FACTORY AND PUNK’S DO-IT-YOURSELF MANDATE ARE TENDING THEIR OWN LABS. MAKING A SCENE MIGHT RANK ABOVE MAKING THE RENT. AND THE DECONSTRUCTED DRESSES AND MULTI-MEDIA WORKS CAN AT TIMES RESEMBLE HOME EC PROJECTS. BUT THERE’S PLENTY OF WORTHWHILE ART — AND COMMERCE, TOO — ALONG WITH REGULARLY HELD “HAPPENINGS” THAT ARE BEGINNING TO ATTRACT CROWDS, WHICH INCLUDE GALLERY OWNERS, OTHER RETAILERS AND STYLISTS. HERE, TWO OF MANY THROUGHOUT THE WEST COAST.
Byline: Elizabeth Dye / Lizzy Epstein
PORTLAND, Ore. — Against the growl of jet engines, a stewardess in an olive uniform appeared and coolly instructed the shoulder-to-shoulder mob to stow all baggage under their seats.
The runway splitting the assembled guests was cleared for takeoff and a parade of young women in futuristic military-style frocks followed, some distributing nuts and blue cocktails from rolling carts, others swinging hard-shelled suitcases.
Kathryn Towers’s collection for “flight attendants and frequent flyers” not only set the tone of this running showcase for a dozen local designers; it reinforced the jet-set environment that she and partner Holly Stalder present in a cockpit of a store and design lab on Belmont Street called Seaplane.
High-altitude chic, at least the kind Wallpaper magazine readers are nostalgic for, means slick white walls, spare modular seating and backlit bubble wrap for a space-age effect. The shop is stocked with reworked and untouched vintage, as well as one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories by their designer friends.
Next door is the Aalto Lounge, an emporium of midcentury furnishings that doubles as a wine bar and, at the most recent Seaplane show, accommodated the crowd spillover, which topped 300. The models included in their route Aalto and the back patio the two businesses share.
But the action isn’t limited to fashion. Electronica deejays and installation artists take center stage on other nights. Even the designers let their inner performance artist loose, lending a theatrical aspect to their sets.
In May, the cast of the apparel label Cameron emerged from a limousine pretending to be VIPs and paparazzi, posing and snapping shots before the crowd.
Anti-Domestic brandished gas masks and other guerrilla accessories — and breathed fire. The post-apocalyptic line of well-constructed jumpsuits, citrus-colored nylon halters and plenty of PVC latches is a far cry from those monolithic brands associated with this city, like Nike and Columbia Sportswear.
Stalder, a photographer and filmmaker whose short film made the national museum circuit last summer, instructed models to freeze and then suffused the wrinkled, pleated garments with projections of soft-focused colors and images.
Towers and Stalder welcome the controlled turbulence that comes from offering untested work, and they pilot their events with a loose grip. Exhibiting designers and artists are not even pressured to sell their work.
Still, a star rises among the pack. At Seaplane and other doors around town, Kwai Toa has cultivated fans for her G-Spot brand dresses, at about $120 retail, although a rubber “wetsuit” cocktail dress sells for $200. In lieu of the body-hugging knit tubes and wrap styles she’s known for, however, Toa unveiled a rubber dress at the recent event.
Towers is nonetheless thrilled over the fabric choice. “This is a place where you can find really unique pieces that are not overpriced. We like the idea of having this outlet where we can support the community and hopefully, someday, make money and be our own bosses.”
In the meantime, Towers and Stalder moonlight at a nearby coffeehouse when they’re not at Seaplane. “It’s a very social place. We’re open to whatever.”
My Little Pony
LOS ANGELES — It’s 11 p.m. on a recent Saturday night, and another opening is in full swing at Show Pony.
The tiny boutique and gallery sits on the edge of Echo Park, a neighborhood west of downtown that is home to working class Latino families and young struggling artists. The latter group’s more tragically hip members are here in spades tonight drinking cheap champagne.
Comic book artist Dame Darcy, an underground cult figure from New York, is midperformance; her paintings and a giant quilt installation hang below the makeshift loft-level stage. Nearby, guests pick through a red rack on wheels crammed with brightly printed deconstructed dresses and Eighties-style slashed knit tops.
Since last October, Show Pony has been functioning as a Warholian factory for the Echo Park set. Imitation of Christ’s Matt Damhave takes a break from his day job to spin vinyl, and stylists work out any designing frustrations with their own lines.
“It was not meant to be a store at all,” said owner Kime Buzzelli. “I wanted to incorporate weird, fun people who don’t make traditional art or traditional clothes.”
When the painter and former vintage clothing store owner set out to design her salon, she took her cue from Paraphernalia, the legendary New York boutique from the Sixties, renowned for its irreverence and wild parties.
“I thought it was really cool because it was a place where happenings happened,” she said.
Eager to replicate such a scene, she began throwing monthly parties where art and fashion took equal billing.
Artists and designers choose the theme. One memorable show entitled “Love Me, Love My Pets” featured kitty silk-screened dresses by Buzzelli and designer Kristine Karnaky of KK. Derin Thorpe exhibited portraits of animal makeovers, complete with wigs and lipstick.
For a future “science fair” party, artists are making dioramas, volcanoes and DNA mobiles and designers will offer clothing inspired by “Kraftwerk and pocket protectors.” The best science project will naturally receive first prize. Another night in the works deals with the subject of police forensics.
But the events are about more than show-and-tell. Buzzelli sold out nearly all her merchandise at a recent show.
“The dresses were $200 and people were just buying them right off the mannequin,” marveled Buzzelli.
It’s not unlike the frenzy that occurs at an art exhibit opening, she noted. “People are compelled to buy things on the first day because you want to say you bought something at the opening.”
Still, Buzzelli is disheartened when visitors suggest Show Pony can become a moneymaking machine. “It’s like they just don’t get it. It doesn’t interest me to make a ton of money. The Show Pony is a tree house of fun,” she mused straightfaced, “and as long as it can pay its phone bills and do its thing, then it has served its duty.”