Article and photo by Terry Duffy
Come next week, look for a different type of event to hit downtown Niagara Falls.
A Wearable Art Fashion Show to benefit the Aquarium of Niagara will take place Thursday, Oct. 17, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Wine on Third, 501 Third St. The Falls bistro will be the setting for a "night of fun, photography and fashion," according to Brook D'Angelo, Wine on Third event coordinator.
She describes the event as a showcase of wearable art pieces with appeal to both men and women - created by a number of artists and designers from the Western New York scene. Contributors to the show include artists Mary Grace Ohrum, also known as Mary Grace O, and Jeffrey Bagneschi of the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, Falls artists Lisa Crapsi and D'Angelo, plus retail participants Jamie Symmonds of Angel to Apple in Lewiston and Modebella of Niagara Falls.
The show, the second such event presented by Wine on Third will feature up to 20 models, both men and women. "Expect the unexpected," says D'Angelo.
So, just what is wearable art?
D'Angelo describes it as a design "using unexpected materials to make fashion." Materials used run the gamut from duct tape, to blueprint Mylar, to paperclips, recycled plastics, floor mats, wrapping paper, even coffee filters.
NACC artist Mary Grace O spoke of her first exposures to this art form. A painter and illustrator since she was a child, her interest in wearable art grew from an association with designer Donna Callahan, a Niagara Falls native who worked on Broadway. "She asked if I would like to create a wearable art dress for 'Mass Appeal.' " She described the show as a fashion event that featured student models from SUNY Buffalo State and promoted Elmwood Village businesses in Buffalo. Her selected business to feature was Café Aroma.
"They gave me coffee filters for my dresses," says Mary Grace. "It was interesting because I never really made any dresses out of recycled materials ... so it was challenging. I didn't know how long it was going to take me."
But wearable art was soon to become a natural to this NACC artist. She notes with pride the past influence of multimedia artist/designer Carl Schifano while she was a student at Niagara County Community College. "He just inspired my imagination, my creativity," she says.
That, plus experiences such as living on the New England shore and developing an appreciation of nature went on to further her talents. Wearable art creations would become, well, just a natural.
"I would get a picture in my head and just make it," she says. "Look, I draw dresses all the time - these are very similar to my illustrations I've done over the years. The only difference being I never made (dresses) with recycled materials."
Mary Grace notes wearable art, while somewhat new to this area, has been popular for quite some time. She points to such happenings as the World of Wearable Art in New Zealand, a decades-old show that draws 50,000 people annually, the growing interest in the U.S. of such events as Glamour and Glow, a west coast production that recently visited Buffalo, and STRUT, an upcoming wearable art show in nearby St. Catharines, Ontario, which she describes as "a huge show" fundraiser to benefit prostate cancer research in Canada.
"There's things like that around I think people don't even know of," she says. "And there's some really talented models - high school students who get interested in this, pursuing a career in fashion. There's a great network of models in Buffalo."
Mary Grace says her childhood in the Falls also spurred her to want to become part of the Wine on Third Wearable Art Fashion Show. "I grew up a few blocks away from the Aquarium, and we would walk to see the sea lions all the time."
"It feels great to do something like this, especially growing up in the Falls," she says.
She adds she became inspired by the NACC's interest in wanting to help others within the Falls community. "We (resident artists) do fundraisers for the NACC. We do these things, so we thought maybe we could also do it for someone else in the community. The Aquarium was a natural.
"I like that everyone got involved - Brook, Wine on Third are doing this. We all agreed it would be a great idea."
As to her show creations, she says they convey an organic theme of awareness for the environment. "I'm using a lot of recycled plastic (in my fashions)," says Mary Grace. "There's so much plastic polluting the oceans, I just like this idea," especially so since it will benefit the Aquarium.
"I think it's great that we have a place like Wine on Third step out of the box and host an event like a wearable art show," she adds.
This week, wearable art models will participate in a private photo shoot on Sunday at the Aquarium and the show itself at Wine on Third on Thursday. The show is sold out and open to ticketholders only. Sponsors of the Wearable Art event include Double Cross Vodka, which will feature a "Blue Wave" signature drink at the show, in addition to Wine on Third, Pizza Bistro and Erdco Development.
Those wishing to view the fashions following the show may do so at Wine on Third, which will be displaying the wearable art inside the Falls bistro until mid-November.