Feeling pretty, rockers and fashionistas do good

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May 24, 2004 // UPDATED 1:39 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Holly Day
Holly Day

'Voltage: Fashion Amplified' raises school music funds with homespun yarn, 'trashy' couture and top local rockers

While it may seem odd for a jeans-and-flannel rock venue (OK, toss some leather in there) to host a "fashion" anything, on Tuesday, May 25, First Avenue will be transformed into a haute couture fashion show, complete with a runway, catwalk models and dressed-up rockers.

"We looked at other possible places, like raw warehouse spaces, and just realized that First Avenue was the only place that'd work," explained "Voltage: Fashion Amplified" co-organizer Kristen A. Hasler, "they have a stage, they have a presence, they have a history in town."

First Avenue, 701 1st Ave. N., often hosts benefits, including recent fund-raisers for a cat shelter and another on voter education. Yet this one is especially close to many local artists' hearts: show proceeds will go towards Youth in Music, a nonprofit formed in the wake of state budget cuts in 2003 to help fund music programs in Twin Cities public schools.

"They're a great organization," says Hasler. "They're starting some new initiatives this year especially [including sponsoring more public performances], so we thought this would be a good time to raise some money for them."

High voltage

Forget hiding in the background while the models strut their stuff, local bands will also be in the spotlight; models and musicians alike will be clad in the latest fashions by the Twin Cities' up-and-coming young designers.

It's a gutsy idea. Getting local musicians to work with local fashion designers for a runway show sounds about as incongruous as trying to get cats and canaries to line dance together.

The majority of bands on First Avenue's stage wear either a) flannel shirts and blue jeans or b) ironically conservative suits and ties. And they either sport the same beautifully innocent-looking floppy haircut of my 8-year-old and/or mutton chop sideburns. There isn't much variation, although you can often count on "the chick" in the band to wear a pretty dress and do something interesting to her hair. (What would fashion-master Prince have to say about this? After all, "Purple Rain" inspired millions to don fingerless gloves and glittery sports coats.)

Undeterred, Hasler and her friend/co-conspirator Anna Lee thought they could get Minneapolis' monochromatic songbirds to dress up for such a good cause.

Hasler, a long-time contributor to online scenester report Howwastheshow.com, was already well connected to the Twin Cities local music community. Lee is a fashion designer in her own right, designing hats and dresses for sale through her Web site, ruby3.com.

One night while hanging out, Hasler and Lee they'd like to help bridge the gap between local rock and fashion circles. "These are two communities that haven't traditionally come together," explained Hasler. Rather than convening get-to-know-one-another gatherings, they decided to bring the artists together around a good cause.

After selecting Youth in Music as the lucky nonprofit, the organizers found that the event began to take on a life of its own. Now, with 18 local designers and eight musical guests, Hasler said, "It's gotten much bigger than we thought it ever would be -- which is a good thing."

Voltage couture

For many of the participating designers, "Voltage" is their first big step towards getting their work in the public eye. While some fairly sedate skirts and dresses will be included in the show, so will plenty of unconventional articles of clothing and accessories, such as ornate armbands, crazy knit hats and costumes made of recycled materials.

One local designer, Elaine Evans, even spins the yarn for her crocheted creations, mixing found materials such as glitter and pieces of Saran Wrap with mohair and wool. Her Web site, fuzzybumbleebee.com, is full of pictures of her handmade crocheted dresses and hats, as well as skeins of her unique homespun yarn.

"I'm going to have my dresses at the show," says Evans, "But I'm doing more experimentation, too. I have one shirt that is made up of a bunch of zippers tied together and crocheted. And I used a lot of vintage sewing trim, like rickrack and ribbons."

Designer dj gramann II is another standout participant. A professional tailor and dressmaker by trade (dj is his intentionally lower-cased name, not a wax-spinning moniker) gramann's work has been displayed in fashion shows all over the world. His ornate costumes utilize feathers, leather and, on a less permanent scale, newspapers, garbage bags and masking tape.

"The exciting part about the medium of newspapers and garbage bags is the sort of instant gratification quality of it," gramann said. "I can do things in that medium in hours that would take me days if I was sewing them and patterning them and cutting them, like in proper dressmaking."

Gramann will costume local pop darlings Faux Jean. "At this point, it looks like Faux Jean's costumes will be mostly garbage bags, masking tape and tissue paper," he said. "It really just needs to be a one-time-wear thing . . . I can use recycled stuff or inexpensive materials, and it still does the job and creates a really dramatic and impactful effect. [sic]"

Upping the ampage

The "Voltage" lineup includes of some of the region's finest bands, besides Faux Jean, there's The Melismatics, Coach Said Not To, Revolver Modele, Shadow Box, Luke's Angels and Friends Like These.

All will play a short set for the models prancing down the runway clad in a designer's concept/prototype. DJ Danny Sigelman will spin between sets.

Some musicians have taken an active role in their choice of clothing. "One of the songs that we're doing we haven't played out in public as a band yet, and it sort of influenced the theme of the design," said Faux Jean's Matthew Schindler. "So now we've got a country motif at the show to go along with our new music, both of which is sort of a change of style for us."

Country-inspired outfits made out of recycled materials? Designer gramman's lips are sealed as to what exactly the band was going to be wearing, saying only, "There'll sort of be a dual look to Faux Jean. There's going to be a look that they're going to come out in, which is sort of specific for their opening number, and then they'll change onstage into a more traditional Faux Jean look, kind of an urban hipster-wear look." . . . Out of garbage bags and tissue paper, of course.

Thus, for one night, First Avenue's dark and gloomy confines will be transformed into a "Cosmo" photo-shoot, while a traditionally somber-looking group of Minnesota musicians will be turned into bright, sparkly peacocks. Still one question remains: can they play nice together? There's only one way to find out.