Beaux Arts Ball's iconcept fashion show offers new designers a unique opportunity.
When Brianna Rivers’ cat popped her air mattress, she didn’t see it as a stroke of bad luck. She saw a creative opportunity.
“Shoutout to Sissy (her cat) for always pushing me to be my best,” she says with a laugh.
Like many of her fellow iconcept fashion show participants, Rivers thrives on a good challenge, and that’s exactly what constructing a dress out of an air mattress is — challenging. Art Center Sarasota’s 11th annual inconcept fashion show will yet again bring garments made of unconventional materials to the runway April 12, and for the second year in a row, the event takes on the name Beaux Arts Ball.
In the ’40s and ’50s, the Beaux Arts Ball was perhaps the biggest event of the Sarasota social season. It was originally a Ringling College of Art and Design event invented by Guy Saunders, the chairman of the school’s fashion design department, and guests were told to arrive in elaborate costumes — which they’re encouraged to do yet again.
Executive Director Lisa Berger says several of the participating artists (and hopefully guests) are using this year’s “Kaleidoscope” theme as inspiration.
Richard Gerald Monteleone is one such artist, but creating his iconcept outfit has been much more than an artistic endeavor. It’s helped him find a sense of community.
Monteleone moved to Sarasota from Woodbury, N.J., about a year ago with his husband. He was seeking a new beginning and wanted to be closer to family, but the artist was having a hard time finding his place.
“I was slumping into a little bit of a depression,” Monteleone says. “I wasn’t connected to the arts community … so that morning I met Lisa is a hallmark for me.”
That hallmark day started after Monteleone dropped his mother off at a doctor’s appointment. He was sitting in the parking lot and decided to look up what art gallery was near. Art Center Sarasota was only seven minutes away, and after “a bit of a cry,” he pulled himself together and decided to fight through his low because galleries always make him feel better.
“He looked like an interesting guy, so I went up and talked to him,” Berger says. “He looked lost … after he left and I looked him up, and I thought he was perfect for the event,” Berger says.
So she invited him to design an outfit for iconcept and, as Monteleone says, the rest is history.
Ringling College of Art and Design student (and mother to cat Sissy) Rivers stumbled upon the event posting on the center’s website while looking for an art class. One of her professors works at the center, so he connected her with Berger and got her on the roster.
It’s a perfect fit for Rivers, who studies fine arts — specifically painting and performance art, and has done several costume designs.
She started making her popped air mattress dress in the fall before she even knew she would be in the show. She didn’t want to throw the material away, so she started playing with it, but set it aside because it didn’t have anywhere to “live.”
“This came up and I was like ‘this is it!’” Rivers says. “You (material) were meant to be living on the runway.”
The air mattress skirt was one of her biggest challenges because it’s a heavy material that doesn’t flare out easily, so she’s had to experiment with several types of wire to get it in the shape she wants (a full Renaissance-style skirt) so it falls on her body (she’s modeling the dress herself) the right way.
Other materials include tape, thread, painting plastic, egg cartons and hot glue.
“The materials inform you,” she says. “That makes it fun because at the end it’s a surprise, and it feels like a collaboration.”
The final product, “Black Posey,” is inspired by her macabre style. When she looked up the word “posey” she found that it’s a gathering of plants people used to carry to ward off the Black Plague, which translates well into the bunched sections of the dress.
Monteleone’s dress is an industrial-style piece made with a material he’s used in his public sculptures since 2016: roofing metal.
Since starting the piece in mid February he’s used the metal as the bodice and made a skirt of aluminum porch screen with spray painted panels of purple and two shades of blue to go with the “Kaleidoscope” them. It’ll be finished off with gemstones to make it more translucent.
Softening the metal was one of the biggest challenges, he says, as well as learning to work with a model and showing her how to carry herself in the dress.
Monteleone says making his piece, “Tin Woman,” has taught him how to incorporate unconventional materials into his work — and renewed his creative spirit.
“Meeting Lisa that day saved my creative life,” he says. “It brought me out of my artistic block.”