(Above: Runaway Runway 2013 Top Twenty featuring "Christine Heiszer", my "stage name", in The Pantyhose Dress beside Felicia Finney in my design, The Leaf Dress. Click on image to enlarge.)
I've been keeping a secret ... for the last entire year! My "partners-in-crime" were my youngest sister Sonya and her two friends Karie and Stephanie.
(Above: Karie, Sonya, and Stephanie dressed to the nines for Runaway Runway 2013.)
Stephanie flew to Charlotte where Karie lives. Karie rented a car for the weekend and drove to Columbia on Thursday night. Sonya flew directly into Columbia earlier that same afternoon. They came for the Columbia Design League's annual fundraiser, Runaway Runway, a fashion show of garments made entirely from post consumer materials. It was Sonya's third year; Karie and Stephanie's second.
Runaway Runway is held at the Township Auditorium in downtown Columbia, South Carolina. This is a giant space with a raised and lit catwalk, spot lights, emcees, and a red carpet entrance. Plenty of photographers roam both the lobby and back stage. There's a celebrity air to the event.
(Above: Jerry and Elaine Finney with their niece.)
Joining my husband Steve, Sonya, Karie, and Stephanie was our neighbor Jerry Finney, his wife Elaine, and their niece. (Jerry's law firm is beside our business, The Mouse House, on Park Street.) The other lawyer at Jerry's firm and her husband also came. They were all cheering for Felicia Finney, my model.
(Above: Felicia Finney, Model # 2 in The Leaf Dress.)
The Leaf Dress was made on a water soluble stabilizer. Thus, the resulting dress is simply "greenery and thread". There is no "foundation cloth" ... just leaves and stitching! It can be washed by hand and allowed to drip-dry. The Leaf Dress won second place in a regional, juried all media event called Art to Trash; first place for recycling in the International Wearable Art Awards in Port Moody, British Columbia; first place in "wearables" at the LaConner Quilt and Textile Festival; been in two national juried fiber shows (one in Yonkers, NY and the other in DeBary, FL); and been featured in both Marieclare Magazine Italy and Greece.
(Above: Top Twenty Models being called to the front of the stage after Act One.)
Because I've designed a garment for Runaway Runway for the past three years, I was sort of expected to design one this year too ... especially since Sonya, Karie, and Stephanie decided that this was going to be their wild girl's weekend together. At first, I wasn't thrilled at all. To be perfectly honest, I've had suspicions about the judging since my first year. Like ballet/dance competitions, these sorts of things are often too "political" for my tastes. Runaway Runway isn't juried and has no monetary prizes. I can't really put it on a proper, artist's resume. There was no good reason to do it ... especially after last year's experience when the garment I slaved over for weeks got exactly 45 seconds in the public eye. Why do it a fourth time?
Sonya hatched a plan.
(Christine Heiszer ... aka ME !!!)
"What would happen if they didn't know it was you? Use a stage name!" This provided the FUN and excitement for this year. It gave me a reason to participate again ... that plus the notion that I'd get one, last opportunity to pretend I am "young and sexy" despite being a middle aged woman who will turn 54 this June. So, Christine is my middle name and my paternal grandmother's maiden name was Heiszer ... so Christine Heiszer was going to enter Runaway Runway. She got a hotmail account and a Facebook page.
Sonya and I brainstormed about this the morning after last year's Runaway Runway. She took charge of getting all the pantyhose from her friends ... and raided my mother's insanely stuffed drawer of old pantyhose. When I went to teach at the Society for Contemporary Crafts in Pittsburgh in February, I stayed with my parents. Mom came up with the idea for how a pantyhose would disguise my head ... with half my hair in one leg and the other half in the other leg. (Believe me, this was a hilarious evening ... and NO SONYA, DO NOT POST ANY OF THOSE PHOTOS ON THE INTERNET !!!)
So ... how was The Pantyhose Dress created?
First ... get Sonya to round up dozens and dozens of used pantyhose! LOL! I tried several ways to cut and stitch the legs into a really, really long "rope" before figuring out the best, smoothest way for it to be woven.
Then pound a bunch of nails into your studio table and WEAVE!
The elasticity of the pantyhose actually shaped itself!
Then ... I knotted all the knee-highs and the remaining pantyhose to the bottom edge ... a fringed "skirt". Each knot was also stitched in place with gray button-hole thread. I wasn't about to risk these pieces accidentally coming off! I'd be naked enough without a wardrobe malfunction!
(Above: The Pantyhose Dress in progress in front of my Wall of Keys in my studio.)
Finally, I made a front closing lace from old yarn. Several strands of old yarn were shoved through the large eye of my "cording foot" and were machine zigzagged. This is the same way I make all the cording for my keys. The photo above shows how the garment looked last December ... when I ran out of pantyhose.
Sonya sent another email out to friends with another request for used pantyhose so that I could finish the garment.
In the meantime, I took all the leggings and tights and donations that just wouldn't work for the garment and started a 15 foot boa. Most of the boa is made from the same recycled, black acrylic felt used in my "Stained Glass Series", my "In Box Series", and inside most of my Grave Rubbing Art Quilts. This felt was once the protective covering for a kayak or canoe being shipped from a manufacturer to River Runner, the local outdoor shop. The felt is like a really, really big bag or pillowcase. It is the shape of a vessel ... a gigantic piece of folded felt with a single seam. I cut the seam off ... into a fifteen foot length ... almost like a cord.. I opened up the felt into one, big flat piece and cut it into 22" wide sections. Then I used a rotary cutter to make 22" x 3/4" wide strips. The strips and the leggings and tights were then knotted onto the " seamed cord". The boa is heavy ... but, oh, so totally awesome!
(Above: Christine Heiszer aka ME ... back stage at Runaway Runway. Click on image to enlarge.)
Using two recycled Mardi Gras masks and a pair of my own used pantyhose, I constructed the headpiece. I padded the inside of the white theater mask with felt ... against my forehead and chin. This allowed enough space in front of my face for me to wear my eyeglasses. I really needed my bi-focals because I couldn't see that well through the pantyhose. I didn't need what I could see to be blurry!
Like I mentioned earlier, my hair was divided into the two legs of the pantyhose over my head. These "legs" were then tied into two "buns". Around the buns I tied a piece of elastic (recycled from the waistband of one of the donated tights). To this elastic I'd knotted more pantyhose and felt strips. This became the "pantyhose/felt hair". I stitched snaps to the elastic waist of the pantyhose that went over my head and face... they snapped behind my neck. Finally, the small black mask was tied with two knee highs over my already masked face. This black mask was covered with vintage buttons. I also wore a pair of mismatched, vintage white gloves ... from my "stash".
In order to pull this secret off ... Karie and Stephanie came to the rescue. They both collected Facebook friends for "Christine Heiszer's" facebook page. For all intends and purposes, Christine Heiszer appeared "real" for the organization. She had her own email, sent in her paperwork, and "liked" all the organization's Facebook posts. Karie used her credit card for the entry fee and walked the mandatory rehearsal last Friday night.
(Above: Karie on the catwalk during the Runaway Runway rehearsal.)
(Above: Bonnie Boiter-Jolley during the same rehearsal.)
As a group, we were also cheering for Bonnie Boiter-Jolley ... likely the only person who figured out Christine's identity before the end of the show. Bonnie's a professional ballet dancer. She knows legs. She knows mine ... since I did wear my Emilio Pucci tights last fall for the Jasper Magazine Artist of the Year awards! She's the editors daughter, a writer for the magazine, and her boyfriend won for Best Dramatic Artist. She knows my legs! Bonnie's parents were out of the country this weekend and had to miss Runaway Runway. Thus, my group was also part of Bonnie's cheering section!
(Above: The Pantyhose Dress approaching the steps off the stage an onto the raised runway.)
Yesterday was the BIG DAY. There were plenty of dressing rooms but I came to the auditorium already dressed. This meant I was under that pantyhose headpiece from 3:45 until just after 10 PM. There was plenty of bottled water ... but I didn't think to bring a straw! I did manage, however, to shove provided peanut M&Ms up under the masks and into my mouth. They were dinner.
The first act started with a parade of all the models walking the runway as a group. My wonderful husband Steve took all the videos. The first parade is HERE.
Then each model walked alone. Felicia was model # 2 and that video is HERE.
Christine Heiszer was model # 35 and that video is HERE.
Finally, all the models walked as group again and the TOP TWENTY were announced. (The second "group walk" video is HERE.)
(Above: Felicia Finney in The Leaf Dress ... after being named one of the elite TOP TWENTY designs!)
I felt like a winner when my name was called as the designer of one of the TOP TWENTY pieces ... #2, The Leaf Dress. Felicia Finney walked to the front of the stage. Our cheering section went totally wild for a moment ...
(Christine Heiszer ... aka ME !!! ... joining Felicia Finney as one of the TOP TWENTY designs!)
... when CHRISTINE HEISZER's name was called ... as designer and model. Still, no one outside our group knew that Christine was Susan Lenz in disguise! Felicia was only told that day ... right before the show started. Her parents didn't know until they arrived in the VIP theater seating section! Now ... our cheering crowd went totally out of control with screams and applause!
(Two designs in the TOP TWENTY! The Pantyhose Dress and The Leaf Dress ... Christine Heiszer aka Susan Lenz and Felicia Finney!)
Though neither design won an award for one of the top prizes (which isn't money or even some sort of trophy that I'd ever really want), we both felt like total winners! It was a WONDERFUL FEELING, a great day, and lots and lots of FUN! The honor of "Top Twenty" was worth the secret! It was a good reason to participate again.
In a very real sense, my garment was the selection of a "blind jury" (even though I was the one who was pretty much physically blind! I could only really see the lights outlining the edge of the runway!) No one on the panel or in the organization knew who I was ... other than a name. My garment was judged to be among the best without any politics, biases, or local arts scene "drama" being involved. Plus, I got to "fake it" like a fashion goddess ... full of insincere youth ... looking much younger than my age ... for what will likely be one last moment before middle age can't be escaped. It was a great night.
Now ... I tried to take some photos ... through the pantyhose ... while wearing two masks ... back stage! Somehow, I managed a few nice shots and they are below!
(Above: The youngest model ... quite cute wearing a dress made from onion bag netting! Click on any of the images below to enlarge.)
There was a lot of texting going on backstage ... and I even had Pepto, my smart phone. (Yes, it has a name ... for its bright pink case ... the only color I DIDN'T WANT but the only color available that day when I bought the device!)
Of course, I couldn't text message anyone. I couldn't see Pepto well enough to dial anyone or click any of its buttons.
Some of the models had a beer and a cigarette during the intermission. I couldn't do either of these things ... not that I've ever had a single puff of smoke ... but I would have killed for a straw!
(Above: Folgers Coffee Dress ... please note ... Christine Heiszer is in the background trying to take photos through the two masks and the pantyhose headpiece !!! )
This dress was a collage of pieces from Folger's coffee containers.
The detail was amazing ... even though I really had to wait to see my photos since this clarity wasn't possible from under my headpiece!
Even at nearly 54, I could have walked the runway. There were plenty of "older" models ... but none wearing anything quite as short and as "busty" as Christine Heiszer's outfit!
Most of the models looked more like Bonnie Boiter-Jolley ... gorgeous, tall, in their early twenties, and very long legged ... oh, wait a minute ... I've got the legs, thank goodness!
Most of the models had youthful smiles that could launch a ship!
Even the male models were generally the age of my two kids ... like Noah who went to school with my younger son!
It was really exciting to be surrounded bu so much creative talent and be cheer on by such a supportive cast of characters!
(Above: Bonnie Boiter and me at the after party!)
After the TOP TWENTY were announced, those models that weren't selected joined the audience. After the winners were announced, we all joined the crowd and went to the "after party". I went via the ladies' room ... unmasking myself to everyone's surprise! It was a great evening!
Sonya, Karie, Stephanie and I did not brainstorm for next year. Why? Well ... the brainstorming session from last year actually had a PLAN B. That is now the agenda for the next twelve months!
It's another secret ... and we aren't telling until after Runaway Runway 2014!
(I've been super busy since writing this post last Sunday. All my Lancet Windows and four more "Window" series pieces are finished. Yesterday, I installed The Canopy in Lake City for the upcoming, ten-day arts festival called Artfields ... and Steve and I have scrubbed, scoured, and tidied up both Mouse House, our business, and our home (above Mouse House) for this Saturday's Historic Elmwood Park Tour of Homes and Gardens. We leave for a whirlwind trip to DC on Sunday and Monday ... I must find time to blog again! In the meantime, since this is the only post I've written in a week, I'm linking it to Nina-Marie's "Off the Wall Fridays", a site where fiber artists share their work.
(Above: The Canopy when it was installed during my art residency with Studios Midwest in Galesburg, Illinois last August ... it is now in Lake City for Artfields!)