.Let Them Eat Fashion

GTW092513Fashion and art merge together in one of the most festive artistic events of the season.

Behold: FashionArt Santa Cruz 2013.

The definition of strut: “To display in order to impress others.”

You often find models doing just that on the catwalk. People seem to dig it—so much so that the fashion industry shoves billions of dollars annually into a bevy of magazines, advertisements, television programs and fashion shows. (Some $400 billion according to the latest tally.) Santa Cruz may not be on the receiving end of those billions, but where it may be lacking financially, it makes up in creativity, which, when you ponder it, can’t really be measured in dollars. It is, after all, an immeasurable wealth all its own.

One of the reasons FashionART Santa Cruz continues to prosper is because it is innovative. The annual showcase, which unites designers and artists on the runway, has, since its birth in 2006 in the parking lot of MichaelAngelo Gallery, blossomed to such winning ends that it is now one of the premier events of the year, often selling out, and almost always turning heads.

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The 2013 FashionART outing comes to life Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Civic.

Local art titan Angelo Grova of MichaelAngelo Gallery is the brainchild behind the creative madness. It all started because he wanted to lend a hand to a friend studying fashion design. Here it is seven years later, upscaled to a bona fide media runway show, refreshed annually and still touting a singular mission: to showcase the creations of emerging designers and wearable art pieces from local artists.

“It’s always different every year,” Grova says of FashionART’s success. “Artists have always produced art pieces. The designers have been obsessive in changing their styles every year. Some artists change their mode of cover 1 Ron Zak of Buttercream Bakerythinking—from art pieces to designer pieces, and becoming designers. So every year it’s different. And it increases visually.”

About 100 volunteers fuel the event alongside five core FashionART officials, including artists’ coordinator Rose Sellery and designers’ coordinator Tina Brown.

Like last year, FashionART will give partial proceeds from ticket sales to the Santa Cruz Education Foundation, a local nonprofit organization that promotes excellence in Santa Cruz City Schools by creating and enhancing programs through private funding—all in an effort to assist students in realizing their full potential.

But stepping into that potential isn’t often a smooth (or quick) ride, especially for creative souls who so deeply crave to bring to life what is in the nether regions of their imagination.

Take Bayo Agbelekale. The Nigerian-born designer, who lives in Santa Cruz, returns to FashionART Santa Cruz after making a splash last year. Born in Osogbo, Osun State, Nigeria, Bayo [pronounced Bio]  is the ninth generation of a traditional weaving family, and if there’s one thing anybody can learn from him, it’s the art of patience.

“I was showing a piece recently and somebody asked how long it took to create and I said, four years,” muses Bayo. “And they were like, ‘Wow.’ But it’s not something I work on every day. I work on it. I put it away. If I want to work on something for about eight hours a day, some pieces would take me a month, others a week. Some three days. So it depends on what it is going to be.”

cover 2Bayo’s process is interesting to note, and, clearly, one of the reasons FashionART Santa Cruz was enraptured by his work. (As an aside, he has also been showing in Open Studios for five years now.) He combines hand-woven, hand-dyed, and embroidered fabrics created by his family back in Nigeria with other fabrics to produce the clothing in his I.B.Bayo line. He incorporates several techniques, including, but not limited to, Nigerian Reverse Appliqué (two layers of fabric sewn together to create a design), Indigo (a natural dye extracted from the leaves of a native Nigerian plant called elu), Piecing Fashion (like quilting, the garments are made up of hundreds of smaller pieces and are cut and sewn together), and Mudcloth (mud-dyed hand-woven cloth that originates from Bali’s Bamana tribe).

“It is time-consuming,”

he admits of the work, “but I want to make sure I have enough fabric to make it through. Because once you start using hand-dyed fabric, you have to have the exact color when you come back to it again. It’s a long process—dyeing the fabric, creating the pattern and then sewing.”

The end result is dynamic, but the road getting there is, as the saying goes, “a journey.”

It was back in the 1990s when Bayo leapt into the Niké Center for Art and Culture in Osogbo. He delved into a number of modalities there—from quilt making to reverse appliqué. He cover 3also became part of a group of artists from the center known as The Children of Osun. They all embarked on a U.S. tour, performing ancestral dance dramas, but they did more than that. They also exhibited some of their artwork. Suddenly, Bayo arrived in California only to later join forces with revered folk artist Rachel Clark, whose lectures on wearable art are often heralded. Clark’s influence on Bayo fueled his next transformation and she became a significant inspiration for his work—the combining of hand-woven, hand-dyed, and hand-embroidered fabrics made by his family in Nigeria.

Bottom line: the original ancestral thread of Bayo’s work cannot be underestimated.

He learned his trade at a very early age, the ninth generation designer from a traditional weaving family in Nigeria.

“My mother was a weaver and my father was a tailor, and he was well known, making clothing for kings, queens and chiefs,” he says. “When people ask me, ‘How long have you been doing this?’ I say that my memory is of being a baby and my dad putting me on his lap while he was sewing. And then my mom, cover 4 Agbelekale.Bayo.ccputting me on her lap when she was weaving. When I came back from school, my mom would always ask, ‘Who would you like to work with? Your dad? Your mom? You have a choice.’ Weaving with my mom, sewing with my dad. Two choices. You don’t say no. You’re just given a choice. All of my brothers and sisters, and my family, we were all known for doing this work.”

Fortunately, Bayo comes from “a big extended family” and has about 24 brothers and sisters.

So, in this case, it really does “take a village.”

“I cannot do the work without them, because my sister does some of the dyeing and my brother does some of the weaving,” he notes. “They send me some fabric from Nigeria and that is how I do the designing. That’s how it has been passed down from generation to generation. I can’t do it all. Each of my pieces has a piece of my family in them. That’s how it works.”

What can attendees expect from him this year?

“A lot of blues—indigo blue from my family,” he says. “It’s a very unique style of design of the garment, the textile, and it’s all woven together.”


Not surprisingly,  Charlotte Kruk received a great deal of inspiration from her family as well. But more on that in a second. First, let’s savor this: The Campbell-born artist, who has been teaching sculpture art in high school for 16 years, entered the FashionART fold during its second year and has since cover 6been one of the event’s finest showstoppers. No doubt her work will enliven the evening this year as well.

A self-proclaimed tomboy in her youth, Kruk seemed to nix all things “feminine”—pink frou-frou and all that—and instead, morphed into an artist who wanted to make a statement on fashion—on her own terms.

One look at her creations and you can spot the inventive verve. As playful as it is powerful, this unique artist stands out for producing some of the most captivating work to hit any runway. Dresses made of Good & Plenty candy boxes or Pure Cane Sugar bags? Delish! A Bit-O-Honey bikini, a Starburst Fruit Chews and a Bubblicious wearable piece of art? Why not?

But let’s trace the genesis of all this, shall we?

“I grew up between two sets of grandparents,” Kruk admits, adding that as a result of her father passing away when she was very young, her mother—whom she credits as being a strong family role model—often would seek assistance from her own parents with the Kruk children during the week. On the weekends, it was off to see the other set of grandparents.

“I was influenced by both grandparents and trying to understand the world between through those two sets of eyes,” she says.  “On my mom’s side, there were often homemade gifts or things we could eat. There was this conservatism philosophy of life—a Depression-era conservation.

cover 5 Eleganza“And on the other side of the family, my grandmother would take me and my sister to the store and we’d get to pick up our own bag of candy and gobble it all up. We’d stay up late and be naughty. My grandmother on that side would lavishly package everything at Christmas, so that idea of bows packaging was interesting. And then that wrapping paper would be recycled to other side of the family. It would show up over there and be recycled. On one side they are saving everything; on the other, they are spending everything. I think I wanted to bridge those two.”

Which may have been why she eventually took to candy wrappings.

“Bringing them together was like bringing those two sets of families together,” she says.

The idea to “make clothing” first came into fruition when Kruk was in college. She was attempting to fabricate a dress of metal. She had an idea to master bezel setting— a way to set a kind of stone—and create a dress that would take words out of context from candy packaging.

“And playing with the idea with how we talk about women,” she explains, “how those words coalesce, like creamy or tasty. I was also intrigued with how culture produces so much waste and those first pieces were from candy that I was eating. So I love the transformation. I love the idea of repurposing and trying to get a second use out of things. I love to see people’s reactions when they say, holy smokes … that can be done.”

At her core, though, she stresses that she loves being an artist.

“For it to be shown in the fashion realm is a little bit tricky,” she says. “For some people, it can be a bit confusing. I’m on the edge of what can go either way. Because I come from a sculpture-art background, that carries a lot of weight for me. If anything, I’ve always felt I was poking fun at fashion; sort of mocking the idea of keeping up with trends and having to wear the next greatest whatever it is.”

cover 7This year, those attending the show can expect more surprises from Kruk in that she will be unveiling a tribute to Celia Cruz, one of the most popular—if not the most popular—salsa artists of the 20th century; a woman who garnered 23 gold albums and was internationally revered as the “Queen of Salsa.” All of this after spending a great portion of her career in New Jersey and New York City.

“What we know today of salsa is kind of like New York Street meets Sounds of Cuba—these influences overlap,” Kruk says. “I started building the piece in this show in preparation for a possible Cuba trip several years ago. Cruz’s trademark shout is azúcar, means sugar cover 9 by-JANA-MARCUSin English. And so I take liberties with how one of her dresses used to look—ruffles and such—and use recycled Levi’s jeans painted as the Cuban flag with packs of sugar and lots of sugar labels.

“It’s like the piece of Cuba we can’t get our hands on,” she adds. “Just the idea with Levi’s—about labor and teamwork—so wrapped in the 1950s. I just think it’s interesting that the U.S. and Cuba used to have this really great relationship …”

Memorable, to say the least. In the meantime, when asked why she thinks FashionART Santa Cruz, which boasts 14 artists and about eight designers this year, has blossomed so well over the years, Kruk points out that it’s “a great opportunity for the designers to showcase their line and also for artists to mingle and talk about the non-wearability of the wearables and how we are all performers in some way.”

“On a daily basis, we make these decisions of what we wear—and how there can be a narrative in that,” she goes on. “Show after show after show, it’s been fabulous. It feels like a fresh and different thing for Santa Cruz. I like that FashionART has delineated that ‘Hey, these are designers. And hey, these are artists. And here’s what makes them different and here’s how it can appeal to you as a consumer.’”

cover 8 cree.by-J.marcusFashionArt Santa Cruz comes to life at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St, Santa Cruz. Trunk show: 7-10 p.m. Show 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $19.50-$35. For more information, visit fashionartsantacruz.wordpress.com. Learn more about the Santa Cruz Education Foundation at sceducation.org.

Charlotte Kruk
Caitlin Slay, Sarah Lesher and Laurel Pochucha
Catarina Hosler
Sara Rankin
The Great Morgani
Mariclare McKnight
Bethany Mann
Caroline Klemp
Christina Cree
Kathleen Crocetti
Ruby Roxanne Agresta
Hannah O’Neal
Rose Sellery
Angelo Grova

Bayo Agbelekale, (I.B. Bayo)
Tobin Keller and Barbara Bartels (Street)
Kiki Barrett (Kiki Barrett Clothing)
Miguel Marte (Michel Ange)
Ellen Brook (Ellen Brook Clothing Works)
Rachel Riot (Manic Designs)
Tera Birhan (Love Baggage)
Christina Morgan Cree

And the winner is…

cover 10Eco-RoseGT and FashionART Santa Cruz combined forces in a contest for local designers/artists. Izzy Readdie (above) designed, made and modeled “Eco Rose” at a fashion teen event in April. Then in seventh grade at Mission Hill Middle School, she worked independently and all the materials were made of recycled materials. Congratulations.


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