There was no room to park.
I drove in circles through the Plaza District, feeling more like I’d fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole with each pass through the local art scene. A couch shaped like a frying pan displayed two oversized egg pillows, sunny-side up. Ballerinas pirouetted across 16th Street to draw visitors to their open house. There was even a group of mimes, whom I’d always believed to be urbanites, entertaining passersby.
They’re here every second Friday of the month. “LIVE! On the Plaza” brings together a cast of characters that stand out in a crowd by themselves. En masse, the neighborhood looks like a scene from Mardi Gras. Hairstyles in every shape and color wander around the art booths. Handmade clothes and accessories crafted from any number of household items, also in the most vibrant of shades, hit the senses like a peek into a kaleidoscope.
This month’s theme is a tribute to going green, but when I mention this to the event’s host, Stephanie Evans, she laughs. “R.O.A.R. [Reuse Oklahoma Arts Resource] artists have been teaching others to reuse materials for clothing long before going green became vogue,” she states firmly.
Before she rushes off to coordinate the recycle fashion show that will cap the evening, though, she does admit that the popularity of eco-consciousness has helped R.O.A.R. events grow and artists flourish. I press her for more details but am shooed away with the name of the event co-coordinator to hunt down in the sea of second-hand fashion.
Kelli Crocket surprises me. You’ll have to forgive me for stereotyping but I picture the small middle-aged woman with glasses at a blackboard, not spray-painting old shoes and handbags to give them a fresh metallic look. Out of everyone I’ve run into tonight, she is the most helpful. This probably has something to do with the fact that she isn’t partying with the other artists at the free bar across the room.
She studied fashion and graphic design in college but quickly found that she felt more at home digging through junk at estate sales and thrift stores. “It’s odd because my background is in fashion, which is all about the new, but I’m not big on fabric stores,” Crockett said. “Everything I do is recycled.”
Back outside, I take a closer look at the egg pillows and imagine the hernia I would give my ultra-conservative roommates if they were to mysteriously appear in the living room tomorrow. The thought makes me smile and attracts a flirtatious woman who offers to give me a discount for my number. I’m too surprised to tell her I have a boyfriend so I inquire after the artist instead.
Amanda Martinez reminds me of a fairy with her dark pixie cut, open face, and clear obsession with glitter. Candy skulls for the Day of the Dead, though today is no where near the holiday, are decorated, ironically, with bright cheery designs. The main draw of the table is the variety of sparkling spiritual magnets and jewelry made from old bottle caps. It comes as no surprise, then, when she hands me a shiny business card that reads “Spiritual Sparkles” in a softly glowing font.
The process seems simple enough: bottle caps, tiny pictures ranging from Buddha to Rosie the Riveter, glue, and (naturally) glitter. But there is something about these tiny treasures that makes these much more than old soda tops. Martinez says it’s all in what they mean to the customer. “I don’t limit myself to certain denominations,” she says, motioning to the magnet of Jesus next to Shiva. “Anytime you put a spiritual reminder in front of someone, I consider it a job well done.”
After making the rounds to the rest of the artists’ booths, trying to remember why I didn’t need the sunny-side up pillows, I head back to the Struble Studios storefront (say that five times fast) for the main attraction of evening: the “Re:Fashion Show.”
Despite the fact that I am in the middle of Oklahoma, the fashion show has all the expected elements of a runway event. The room is dark, further illuminating the brightly lit catwalk. People jam together so tightly if I turn my head too quickly I’ll end up smoking my neighbor’s cigarette. Champagne, in plastic flutes, is passed around like water and cameras flash in all directions. Mine runs out of battery before the show begins but this is one instance where the most active imagination can accurately picture the outfits.
A classic structured top and pencil skirt were created out of a retro shower curtain — the ultimate in spill-proof material. Refreshingly curvaceous models (often the artist) strut down the runway in altered vintage shifts that now pass for evening wear paired with spray-painted pumps.
I am a little surprised how much I like their designs. The materials are questionable, but the clothes are streamlined. But as soon as the thought forms, whistles and catcalls came from those pressed up against the stage.
There it was. The bizarre, possibly hallucinogen-inspired piece meant for shock value more than wear. The voluptuous girl gliding down the catwalk doesn’t seem to know she’s wearing a bikini fashioned from decapitated stuffed animals. Her walk says she is Uma Thurman in a Donna Karan original. She turns slowly so the audience can admire her from all angles. I goggle at the number of teddy bear heads the artist must have ripped off to make the lingerie set. The model throws us a flirtatious wink and wiggles back off stage.
The crowd is now going berserk with rambunctious praise. Apparently the artist is well known and so, instantaneously, is surrounded by fans. I’m still staring at the empty stage in horror. I am never letting this woman near my Beanie Babies.
Later, I loiter around the champagne table until she wanders over to get a refill by herself. Cate Kelly, creator of Fuglies and the controversial piece, says she likes using recycled material because it’s organic so nothing feels forced. “Everything has already been said and done,” she says. “Doing something like this is looking at it in a new light.”
That, I felt, was the understatement of the year. Still, I gained an unexpected appreciation about fashion from all the artists. These men and women try to teach resourcefulness in an industry that is known for creating waste by its transient nature.
On my way out, I find college student Karen Veronneau by the recycled packaging tote bags. She came for something to do with friends on a Friday but her experience was echoed by several other attendees. Veronneau says she’s realizing recycled clothing isn’t necessarily frumpy or unsanitary, like she’s thought in the past. “Tonight I saw a great supply of unique styles I’d love to try,” she says.