Fiery fashion and passion light up Hot Couture show at the Crucible
By Lou Fancher
Sunday's Super Bowl halftime show offered plenty of passion and pyrotechnics, but there was abundant firepower happening across the bay too, during a run-through for the Crucible's "Hot Couture: Alchemy & Ardor" show opening Friday.
And if the rehearsal for the annual show is any indication, messy, marvelous metaphorical love will arrive just in time for Valentine's Day.
Traditionally held in January, this year's Feb 12-13 Valentine's Day weekend scheduling is love made sweeter by having to wait for it. Education Director Kristy Alfieri says there's more love shared in the 11 designers whose collaborative teams produced the show's 60 new looks, on fiery runway display inside the industrial arts education center's 47,000-square-foot West Oakland warehouse.
"The theme inspired more designers to work with other artists and musicians, to explore ideas around transformation, passion and chemistry." Alfieri said.
Set against the backdrop fabricated by local youths enrolled in Crucible classes, great gusts of flame explode without warning from a metal-filled fire pit -- the crucible -- while designers scramble to tie-up loose ends and capture and convert their feelings into words.
"I just don't want her to burn up," says designer Briana Schweizer of San Francisco. Making last-minute stitches in a model's cream-colored dress, Schweizer's fear is palpable, like a girlfriend worried that her BFF will be scorched by a fiery, unpredictable lover.
"Her entire front is going to burst into flames that travel down her body," Schweizer said. "I've never worked with magician's flash string before. I've put her in double layer wool, which is natural and flame resistant, so I think she'll be safe."
During a test run, fire races top to bottom and although the model looks unnerved, success breeds a gorgeous, "I love it" grin on her face.
Universal, essential love is embodied by the work of couples team Lisa Jones and Ron Tomassini. To the deep throb of drums and chanting, ancient wisdom spoken by gods accompanies models whose jet black headgear is sharp, even glossy, but also draped in soft, matte leather.
"It's about ancient faith," says Jones. "Everybody, especially now with all the hate that's going on, needs something to believe in."
Models carry six-foot staffs fabricated by Michael Turner that send fire shooting up a copper wire to "blaze a path to enlightenment," Jones says. "The alchemy changes, but the wisdoms are the same throughout time. We need to connect and hold onto things that have always been true and that we've always needed: passion, joy, fire, air, faith, wisdom."
The admirable list leaves out one aspect of love -- its power -- that choreographer and model Erin Shredder holds in her hands. Dressed in a stunning, strapless leather bodice designed by San Ramon-based designer Mercy Daae, Shredder's crown of blood-red, vegetable-tanned leather roses, sleek textured tights, glittery Swarovski crystal studded stilettos and a Kevlar whip soaked in fuel leaves no one doubting her power.
"I'll have a team of five 'horses' dressed in glammed-out horse attire," Shredder, a former Arcadia firefighter, said. "One has a mohawk, another is a unicorn. I won't whip them directly, but whatever I do with my whip will set them in motion." Moments later, her whip aflame, Shredder swirls it in great arcs that when reversed, cause it to crack audibly. People in the room freeze, as if immobilized by her power.
"We call it 'the whoosh' when it makes the sound before it cracks," says Daae. "Leather isn't something I've worked with before, so my kitchen was like a mad lab. I learned how to dye leather and about its chemistry by experimenting and getting burned every day," she said. "Next time, I won't have to go through that. Next time, I won't get burned."