Wearable Arts Fashion Show (Part 2)

Welcome back! This is the second installment of a series on Somniatis, describing my experience modelling and designing for Orillia’s Wearable Art Fashion Show. When we last left our heroes, we’d finished modelling for the inaugural year of the show. If you haven't seen the first installment, check it out here

Somniatis was a huge hit, thanks to its models appearing at the Starry Night Studio and Gallery Tour in late August. We all swished around in our amazing costumes, feeling the way princesses feel at Disneyland. I wore another gown from the show, and enlisted my sister in modelling with me. She was hooked on modelling and wanted to participate this year, but I had my eyes set on loftier goals. Modelling wasn’t enough for me anymore. I needed the creative control.

Photo from Dailydream360.com, 2015

The next year I tried my hand at designing, and produced a Steampunk-themed line of six models. I’d started working with the Coldwater Steampunk Festival, and tried my hand at designing a Steampunk Nurse’s costume for that year, which led to a whole other obsession… But that’s another story! Morphine Mistress was the first design created, followed by my sister dressed as a mad scientist, a clockwork ballerina, an astronomer, a navigator, an engineer, a rigger, and a seamstress only half-dressed. I enlisted my friends and cousins as models, and why any of them still talk to me, I have no idea! The work was long and hot, and most of them were squeezed into corsets, heels, or fake facial hair.

The design process was more than simply sewing and thrifting for the clothing. I had to meet with makeup artists to develop makeup looks that were artistic and realistic. I had to meet with my hairstylists to design wigs and hair-dos that would showcase  their skills. And I had to meet with our photographer, Ron Hill, who quickly became one of my favourite people involved with the show.

Ron is a hairstylist by trade, but photography is an area he truly shines in. We met in June when he showed up to scout the location I had picked for our photoshoot: the Coldwater Canadiana Heritage Museum (where I was working at the time). He was knowledgeable about what lighting we’d need, had plenty of ideas for shooting locations  around the property, and was just as excited as I was to get started. Because making eight models’ schedules line up is impossible, we’d have to shoot our crew over three separate days. That’s three separate days Ron had to take off from his actual job, where he makes money, and haul all his equipment out for a long day in the hot June sun. But Ron was a champ, and each of our models got plenty of time to shine! We shot our Seamstress first, dressed in a set of Victorian underwear, an open petticoat, and an enormous hoopskirt that hung in my parents’ hallway for three months while I constructed it.

Photo by Ron Hill, 2016

Two weeks later, everyone came out again to shoot my sister, Emily, as our mad scientist, my cousin as a clockwork ballerina, my friend as our rigger, and me as our sketchy nurse! The museum was still open while we were shooting (and I was technically on the clock, oops!) and our crew of makeup and hair stylists had to deal with curious patrons poking their heads in, trying to figure out how the heck any of this connected with local history! We arrived at nine am and didn’t start shooting till noon, and didn’t wrap up till past five. While the photos were beautiful, they didn’t capture the hours of setting up lighting, dragging steamer-trunks around the property, and posing in back-breaking positions that everyone was forced to endure. Thankfully, my mother is endlessly supportive of whatever crazy things her daughters want to do, and was on-site all day to run around.

Photos by Ron Hill, 2016

The next day, we shot my brother as our navigator (in a fake beard that took hours to put on), my cousin as our astronomer, and my friend as our engineer. The day was just as hot and long, and we had a whole new crew of makeup artists to work with. Once again, Ron was an excellent photographer, and he even allowed me to add a ninth model at the last minute when I was struck by sudden inspiration! Finally, we wrapped up the shoot, and there was nothing left for me to do until October. Poor Ron, however, still had to edit all those photos, and edit them he did!

Photos by Ron Hill, 2016

In 2016 The Honourable Assault walked the runway at Casino Rama. Unfortunately, there was a problem no one had foreseen: because many of the hair stylists and makeup artists had worked with multiple groups, there weren’t enough to go around to get all the models done up before they went onstage! It was backstage chaos as the models (plenty of whom were young women in high school or university) ran around to offer their own makeup skills. Everyone scoured for someone who could help them with their foundation, then someone else to help with their eyeliner, then their lipstick, their hair, their headdresses! The professionals were still swamped as many of the groups had used very elaborate makeup or headpieces that could only be achieved by professionals, and priority went to those in the first act.

My group opened the second act, and we managed to get ourselves together before we went onstage. We waited nervously in the green room (one of the casino’s ballrooms) for them to call us. When they did, they walked us around in back-hallways so no one would see us before we got onstage. Our biggest challenge was navigating that enormous hoopskirt through all those hallways! When we made it to backstage, I did my final checks to make sure everyone’s outfits were the way I wanted them to be. Then the lights dimmed, our music started, and we were out!

Somniatis modelling is different than typical runway modelling. Because the outfits are pieces of wearable art, there’s no restriction on keeping a straight face and having a runway walk. Many of the outfits came with character, and the models each worked to invoke a persona that was fun and fitting. My clockwork ballerina, worn by my eleven year old cousin, walked down the catwalk in stiff, robotic movements and posed as if she had copper joints. Other models from the show danced en pointe, some crawled on all fours, and plenty of them spun around in their beautiful gowns. I don’t remember much of being on stage - you sort of black out while you’re up there, too nervous about tripping to enjoy being the complete center of attention.

When it was all done, we had inspired the desire to create in one of my models: my younger sister, Emily. Next time it was her turn to design, and we had just the idea for 2018...