Halifax: Young designers duke it out at Off the Cuff

Creations by (from left) Alison Seary, Louanna Murphy and Askay Tyagi. Photography by Shaun Simpson
Creations by (from left) Alison Seary, Louanna Murphy and Akshay Tyagi. Photography by Shaun Simpson

Down the open back of one dress, a waterfall of hard drive platters and spindles spill along the model’s spine. On another, vinyl records make up a dramatic, bell-shaped skirt. Anti-slip fabric folded into box pleats puffs out below a bodice of cassette tape on a third cocktail dress, and a fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh pull together even more shiny bits, from silver-sprayed Christmas tree light bulbs to strips of film and strings of CDs. These are the ingenious creations hatched from week one of Off the Cuff, a fashion competition and runway show that has taken its inspiration from Project Runway and found its home in Halifax’s Argyle Fine Art gallery (1869 Upper Water St., 902-425-9456).

During the competition’s July 5 launch, which peaked with a surprise mini-challenge that had the contestants quickly turning black T-shirts into downtown-worthy LBDs, the designers were assigned a little bit of homework: to create a cocktail dress from discarded technology. VHS tape, Mylar blankets and computer hardware took the place of conventional materials and the contestants—largely made up of current NSCAD students and recent graduates—revealed creative brilliance with the unveiling of their designs on July 12.

The event had a winner (Louanna Murphy with her non-slip pleats) and an elimination, a pattern that repeated itself on July 19 when Murphy nabbed the top spot again with a jumpsuit of sea-soaked turquoises and purples. After two more weeks of eliminations, the three remaining finalists will then have a month to create a body of work to present at a final runway show in September. Along with judges Gary Markle of NSCAD’s fashion department, Biscuit General Store (1661 Argyle St., 902-425-5436, biscuitgeneralstore.com) owner Wendy Friedman, and Turbine’s (turbine.ca) Lisa Drader-Murphy, the audience will step in to determine the Off the Cuff champion, who will be offered the opportunity to open Turbine’s annual showcase, as well as studio time and instruction, a mentoring session with Friedman, and a gift certificate to her store.

Brandt Eisner, Argyle Fine Art’s assistant director and the man behind the elimination-style competition, launched Off the Cuff with the help of his gallery colleagues in hopes to spur public awareness of the magnitude of fashion-related talent and activity in Halifax. As such, the competition not only spotlights designers: seven photographers have been paired up with the contestants and their work will be featured in a final exhibition. Textile designers, too, were included in the competition’s second challenge, which required that the contestants work with yardage provided by six talented artists–Murphy’s winning jumpsuit was made with fabric created by textile designer Stephanie Fortin. What these young Haligonians will get out of Off the Cuff, says Eisner, is the opportunity to champion their work, garner publicity and start making connections.

“You can walk away with new clients and collaborators,” he says. “You never know who might see your work and say, ‘Wow, I want to work with you down the road.’”

Akshay Tyagi (akshaytyagi.com), whose draped silver cocktail dress embellished with hard drive parts had impressed audience members leaning in for a closer look at the techy trinkets, has taken a bit of a break from design since Atlantic Fashion Week in the fall. With its weekly challenges, the competition has propelled the recent NSCAD grad back into a creative space and Tyagi has embarked on his first ready-to-wear collection to debut later this fall. He congratulates the Off the Cuff organizers for pulling together an event with great energy that’s brewing much-deserved hype, and is certain any rusty areas will be polished into a perfected competition in 2010.

“Next year will be bigger and better and more of a challenge,” he says. “I can’t wait.”

The remaining Off the Cuff competitions will be held at Argyle Fine Art at 1:00 p.m. on July 26 and August 2, with the grand finale taking place outside in Historic Properties on September 13. Get more info and photos on the event’s Facebook page.

READ MORE: Off the Cuff Week Three and Week Four

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