Halifax: NSCAD’s Wearable Art block party

A piece by Kaleigh Dunlop at NSCAD's Wearable Art show. Photography by Anna Gilkerson.
A piece by Bree Mackin at NSCAD's Wearable Art show. Photography by Anna Gilkerson.

I’ve got five words to say about NSCAD University’s 19th annual Wearable Art Show: thank god it was good. Taking a turn from the bar venues WAS has occupied as of late, organizers Sarah Roy and Bree Mackin brought the AIDS Coalition of NS fundraiser to the streets, piling the event’s hundreds of guests under a tented portion of the city’s Granville Mall.

A novel idea, really, except that it was raining, gusty and bloody cold. Within minutes, my coifed bob was flattened, my notebook pages were rippling and the jots of ink on my program were running. The evening’s hosts—Brian MacQuarrie and Bill Wood of Halifax-based sketch comedy group, Picnicface—even distributed shammies to audience members on either side of the runway’s potentially troublesome wet spot.

But all those grisly details got swept away with the frigid wind when the 2009 WAS unveiled some truly spectacular pièces d’arts.
The concept is simple: the often outrageous spectacle features student work from all disciplines at the art college, so long as the pieces can be worn on the body. The product is an incredible line-up of designs that range from complex sculptures to straight-up fashion, and a runway performance plump with theatrics, creativity and more than the occasional sliver of skin. Last Wednesday night’s show was no exception on all counts, despite the goose-bump inducing chill, and nearly 40 artists came together to present a delightful and magnetic show.

Kaleigh Dunlop's woodland creations. Photography by Nadine LaRoche

Among glamoursly glitzy dresses made of bottle caps and tin cans, flapper shifts of seaweed and feathers, fitted frocks of piles (and piles) of thread, and plastic mini-dresses trimmed with stunning neckpieces of shredded money and glue, Mackin’s collection of wearable sculptures managed to excite me just that little bit more. A sneak peak of her work earlier in the week had teased my attention, but the static mannequins didn’t prepare me for the lure of these pieces in motion. Like the realized fragments of bedtime fairytales, the models brought oversized dresses of cinched and stiffened organza down the runway, along with a gold tutu made up of nature’s finest bits and a scoop-back dress put together with scraps of drop cloth and lace. Mackin’s otherworldly creations were only matched by artist Kaleigh Dunlop’s enchantingly eerie contribution, which sucked the audience into a midspring night’s dream of mossy dresses and violins made of sticks.

Louanna Murphy's collection of bird dresses. Photography by Anna Gilkerson

Blending a rich, artistic motivation with an obvious talent for design, Louanna Murphy presented a collection of four simply stunning dresses–each with its own birdlike character. From the edgy crimson rosella to the dramatic sulphur-crested cockatoo, her pieces were as fascinating as they were flattering. The graduating student’s after-college plans include creating one-off pieces to be sold in boutiques and I dare say I’ll be holding her to it.

Chloé Gordon, whose feather earrings won me over in March, showcased one of the few truly wearable lines at WAS, with even more dresses in earthy tones equipped with funky cut-outs and secret zips and snaps. Sarah Roy, who teamed up with Mackin for a successful sartorial spin on The Witches of Eastwick (miniature pillbox-esque witch hats and all!), brought romance to the table by deconstructing ’80s prom disasters to create elegantly detailed pieces. Roy’s own Paper Dolls collection of coats and bloomers, constructed from corsets and curtains, fused power with fragility.

The night’s somewhat unintentional recycling theme was obvious, but the artists’ and designers’ eco-conscious mindset is more than a passing phase.

“At NSCAD, we push that it’s not just a trend,” says Roy. “It has to be something that we adopt and really incorporate into our work.”

“And it’s a fun excuse not to follow the rules,” adds Mackin.

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