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Posh paperboy

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  • | 4:00 a.m. March 23, 2011
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Performing Art
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Eric Cross is a pretty dapper dresser for a dumpster diver.

It’s hard to picture a 51-year-old with 30 years experience creating window displays for luxury clothing retailers rooting through trash bins dressed in a flashy blue button-down shirt, pinstripe pants and shiny black shoes — his outfit on this particular Tuesday.

But it’s where he says he unearths his best materials.

“You can repurpose so many things,” says Cross, who graduated from Ringling College of Art and Design in 1980 with a degree in graphic design and illustration. “Even as a kid I liked picking through the garbage.”

Born in Chicago to a French mother and American father, Cross spent much of his childhood in Paris and Italy, where he liked to haunt the alleys outside his mother’s favorite boutiques.

European dumpsters were filled with all sorts of treasures.

His mother, a well-groomed woman with fine tastes, wasn’t a fan of the hobby. She told him gypsies combed the allies waiting to pick people’s pockets, but Cross didn’t care. He was an artist before his time.

A participating designer in this year’s “iconcept” fashion show at Art Center Sarasota, Cross is still pulling inspiration from the garbage.

In November, when he was still working as a visual manager at Saks Fifth Avenue, in Naples, he retrieved a heap of brown packing paper from the back stockroom.

He thought it would make a good evening dress, so he slit and stretched the paper, wove raffia through the front, connected the top with macramé and added a long brown train to the back of the skirt.

“I love the way the material laid,” he says. “It reminded me of really heavy taffeta.”

He thought he had knocked out his “iconcept” project early, until he got a call from the Art Center asking if he’d be interested in creating another paper dress, this time out of newsprint –– specifically, Observer newsprint.

And you thought newspapers were only good for lining birdcages.

Drawing inspiration from the fact that the Observer’s Associate Publisher-Multimedia Emily Walsh is a former Sarasota Ballet dancer and her sister, Kate Walsh Honea, is a principal with the company, Cross decided to create a strapless tea-length dress with a pleated ballerina skirt.

To help bring out the red “O” that runs along the top of the bodice, Cross created a bolero jacket out of red pipe cleaners.

“Whoever models it should wear red shoes,” he says with the straightforward conviction of a perfectionist designer who has devoted more time to a project than he cares to admit. “High heels would look better than flats.”

Cross knows a thing or two about accessorizing. He spent 13 years dressing mannequins for Saks.

He left the store in January to work as the general manager of Home Resource, in the Rosemary District.
For more than two months he’s devoted nearly every night to pleating newspapers after work.

With only one week left until the runway show, Cross is ready to purge his Sarasota home of the foot-high stack of newspapers that has crowded his bedroom since January.

“I’ll be happy when it’s out of sight,” he says. “Even though it has been theraputic in a way. It’s like — don’t laugh — I get home and start threading and pleating, and my imagination just takes over.”

Cross isn’t the only “iconcept” artist pushing himself to create standout pieces for the popular runway show.

Now in its third year, the art-meets-fashion spectacle has blossomed into one of the edgier, must-do fundraisers of the year.

Last year’s event, which included provocative costumes by more than two-dozen local artists, including Gale Fulton Ross, Carl Abbott and Ray Peper, drew such a crowd that organizers encouraged this year’s participants to push the envelope even further.

“They were told to go all-out,” says Art Center Development and Marketing Director Lisa Berger. “Every piece that hits the runway is going to have that ‘wow factor.’”

Or shock factor.

Last year’s event was hosted by loose-lipped RuPaul-worshipper Lorenzo Hubbard, whose penchant for sexual innuendo made the show’s blue-haired attendees hoot and holler like wild bachelorettes.

Which is precisely what Berger wants.

“It’s brought to so many new people to the Art Center who’ve never been here before,” she says. “The audience is all ages, but it does appeal to younger people because it’s not a stuffy, sit-down fundraiser.
It’s fun and entertaining. People are starting to think we’re much cooler and hipper than they previously thought.”

Eric Cross styled Beverly Hills’ Saks Fifth Avenue store in the Steve Martin film “Shopgirl.”
Cross has several paintings hanging in Ringling College’s Madeby Gallery.
Cross worked as a visual merchandiser for Marshall Field’s, in Chicago, where he met Karl Lagerfeld, Valentino and Paloma Picasso, among other couture designers.
Cross graduated from Bradenton’s Bayshore High School in 1977.

The third annual “iconcept” event runs from 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, March 25, at Art Center Sarasota. Hosted by comedian/actress Christine Alexander, the outrageous fashion show includes refreshments, pre-show entertainment and local craft vendors. For tickets, call 365-2032.

Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected]