- May 9, 2018
In the far back corner of the art room at The Out-of-Door Academy, there’s a mannequin wearing a white hoop skirt and an early 2000s-era scrunch top with a deck of cards jutting out of its head. Next to it are other mannequins — one adorned in Post-It notes, another in blue and green-colored garbage bags — dressed by artists who aren’t old enough to drive themselves to the craft store.
These designs are more than a fifth-grade art project. They’re fashion pieces that are part of the upcoming event iconcept jr., which is a spinoff of iconcept, the art couture runway show put on by Art Center Sarasota for the past eight years.
The new event will feature 26 child designers who have been challenged with the task of creating a garment consisting of 90% unconventional materials. From playing cards and poker chips to plastic butterflies and feathers, the kids involved in this inaugural event are forced to think creatively — and go beyond what they might have learned from watching “Project Runway.”
Lisa Berger, executive director of Art Center Sarasota, came up with the idea after multiple kids expressed interest in being part of the adult show. Because the adult designers’ creations are somewhat unpredictable, Berger says the show wasn’t always the best fit for young audiences.
So iconcept jr. was created as a kid-friendly, kid-exclusive event. However, Berger was nervous that because of the event’s novelty, she might have a hard time finding enough designers to participate. That’s where The Out-of-Doors Academy students and Girls Inc. participants come in.
Berger met Jessica Dunda, art teacher at The Out-of-Door Academy, a few years ago through an Art Center exhibit called “Unconventional Inventions” that got some of her students involved in a Rube Goldberg-esque project. After working with Dunda and hearing her speak about her own repurposed designs, Berger decided she would be able to help her find students with an eye for the unconventional.
Jessica Beychok-Boyer has 10 years of professional experience in the fashion world. This summer, she started a fashion club at Girls Inc. to teach the girls in the after-school program the basics of sewing and design, and that fashion is an attainable career path for young women.
Both organizations have goals that match well with Berger’s: ensure the kids have fun and do something that helps boost their self esteem. This summer, Berger held two sessions of a three-day iconcept jr. bootcamp for kids who were interested in unconventional design, and she was impressed by the end result.
“What was amazing was the way they blossomed,” she says. “Some of them were shy and didn’t want to go on the runway, but then they were just proud that they made this outfit.”
Gabrielle Kozel is a 10-year-old in Dunda’s fifth-grade art class who attended the bootcamp, and her passion for fashion started at a young age. Her grandmother taught her to sew at age 4, bought her a sewing machine for her next birthday and has continued to support her enthusiasm for designing clothes ever since.
Kozel’s iconcept jr. design was inspired by her favorite movie, “Alice in Wonderland.” It consists of two pieces, which will be covered in plastic butterflies with feather wings, featuring a red and orange color scheme reminiscent of fall.
Kozel hopes to carry her love of fashion into a future career, and this event helped her decide what direction to take.
“I would like to do more unconventional,” she says. “This has opened up my world to a different side of fashion that I’ve never seen before.”
This taste for the avant-garde carries over into her description of her personal style.
“Funky and out there,” she says. “If I walk into a room, all eyes turn to me, basically.”
Girls Inc. participant Cambelle Anders, 9, calls her personal style more athletic, but the gowns she created for the fashion show are not made for everyday comfort. Made entirely of brightly colored loofahs strung together with hair ties, the dresses embody the show’s quirky, eccentric nature. She says she’s most excited to join her sister, Holland, in modeling the unique creation at the show.
“I wanted to make something that I don’t think anyone’s made before,” she says.
ODA student Sophia Cusumano, 10, had a similar idea, citing one of her dad’s favorite leisure activities, playing card games, as the inspiration behind her poker-themed outfit. Her general fashion inspiration, however, comes from her mom, whose self-titled veil company, Toni Federici, has been featured on “Say Yes to the Dress.”
Other creative garments that will hit the runway Sept. 25 include a back-to-school themed woven paper dress, complete with dangling pencils; a nautical-themed gown, made from colorful garbage bags; and a pleated skirt, crafted with newspaper accompanied by a cotton ball top.
The 26 participants are learning about more than just fashion. In addition to showing off their creativity, the young designers gained valuable experience that applies on and off the runway.
“I learned to express yourself,” says Girls Inc. participant Amanda Rivero, 10. “And not be afraid to show that you’re confident.”