Last Wednesday, April 23, WAM Collective hosted Elements, the third annual design competition and runway show featuring University of Minnesota student designers at the Weisman Art Museum. This year, 16 student designers were asked to take inspiration from the museum’s spring exhibition. “Siberia: Imagined and Reimagined.” Siberia is as much a mythic construct—associated with vastness, remoteness, and coldness—as it is a physical place that occupies more than 12 percent of the land on earth. Its rich natural resources have sustained indigenous populations for hundreds of thousands of years, but have come under threat over the course of imperial colonization, Soviet industrialization, and post-Soviet development. In response to this, students designing for the competition used non-traditional materials and sustainable best practices while creating their garments. Elements reimagined Siberia as both a place and a concept, drawing on traditional aspects of Siberian culture, such as chai tea from Verdant Tea House, and more conceptual design choices including vast, white, airy spaces juxtaposed against intense colors and rich textures. It was a rainy afternoon, but the mix of colorful lighting design by the University of Minnesota Theatre Arts and Dance department, the sharp white runway, and the textured tea lounge designed by Bungalow 6 turned the museum gallery into a high-fashion hang-out.
The event gathered about 250 guests who were lucky enough to snag tickets before they sold out. Local stylist, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sarah Edwards, emceed the evening’s show. Hand-selected judges, Laura Joseph, Martha McQuade, Christopher Straub, Jahna Peloquin, and Lisa Hackwith drew on their personal experience and knowledge to pick out the best designs of the bunch. Models walked the runway to a playlist curated by the designers themselves, including tracks by Passion Pit and Bastille. Designs took inspiration from all aspects of Siberia. A popular topic was the vast Siberian forests, which translated into a full length fur coat, a dress made completely of newspaper, and headpiece made from deconstructed branches. Other designs took inspiration from the traditional textures and tribes of Siberia, using vegetable steamers as “beaded” decoration and blackberries to naturally dye different fabrics.
Prizes were generously provided by Treadle Yard Goods and Juut Salonspa – who also donated the time of their artists to style all of the models’ hair and makeup that night. Mill City Summer Opera singer, Allison Schardin, performed during the intermission.
Honorable mentions that evening were awarded to U of M sophomores Tabitha Andelin, who designed a two piece, highly versatile outfit based on the lives of nomadic people in Siberia; and Elizabeth Bischoff, who created a full-length fur coat inspired by the Taiga forest.
Third Place was awarded to Holly Welwood, who created a modern bib overall look incorporating some decorative beading and black leather, inspired by the documentary Happy People and the fur trappers of Siberia.
Second Place winner, Thanh Nguyen, created a full-length, mermaid-style dress completely from newspaper clippings that was inspired by the enormous amount of trees in Siberia and the dusty color of snowy tree tops during the winter months.
First Place was awarded to U of M Apparel Design senior, Paul Erling, who put together a four piece outfit inspired by the idea of survival in Siberia. His look was created entirely from deconstructed materials that were then woven on a self-invented loom. The final product’s details were inspiring and unique. Paul’s model even wore a fully constructed backpack which included a small pocket holding an original mixtape – because what else do you need to survive in our modern Siberia?
Check out the photos from the event, all courtesy of local photographer Erin Pederson.