“Fusion + Fashion” Finds Inspiration in First Ave's Stars

First Avenue stars inspire the outfits in this fashion competition

Stars outside First Avenue. Photo courtesy Meet Minneapolis.
Feature photo courtesy Meet Minneapolis. All others by Lianna Matt.

Of the 400-plus stars outside of First Avenue (yes, there really are that many), the Northland chapter of IIDA (International Interior Design Association) could pick any of them except for Prince’s for this year’s Fusion + Fashion competition. If they left him in, says event co-chair Ann Olberding, Prince is just too big (too easy, this writer asks?) of an option. After all, the name of the game is innovation, not only in concept, but in materials. For Fusion + Fashion, 50 percent or more of the materials have to be from the industry world.

On Nov. 9 in First Avenue’s mainroom, more than 25 teams of designers will be showcasing their star-inspired fashion competition on the stage. Back again this year is a video before each piece to explain the thought process and creation of each garment, so instead of just seeing the final result, you can understand the choices behind it and appreciate the details that much more. As an added bonus, in typically First Ave fashion, there will be an after party immediately after the runway with a dance floor run by the DJ’ed beats of Jake Rudh’s Transmission.

Since Fusion + Fashion started in 2004, the challenges and the set up have evolved, but the theme is always tied to the venue. First Avenue was a coup for this year, at once personal and iconic. “I think there’s very few venues that evoke so many experiences and memories,” event co-chair Nick Nelson says.

Materials in MSR's M.I.A. outfit design for 2018 Fusion + Fashion. Photo by Lianna Matt.Teams don’t have a limit on people in them (member don’t all have to be interior designers, either), but there is a two-outfit limit. For design and architecture firm MSR, that meant they got to take two completely different artists and run with them. With the amount of interest they got from their entire firm, it was the best way to include everyone’s interests and good will, whether it was untangling chains, joining in on the sketching sessions, or voting on ideas.

As Veronica McCracken and Emily Gross, the leaders of the first outfit, unpacked combat-inspired boots, gold chain, laser-cut tigers, and fuchsia-hued photos, you could already sense rapper and political activist M.I.A.’s unabashed point of view.

M.I.A., whose real name is Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, grew up in the midst of the civil war Sri Lanka is still going through and moved to London as a teenager and refugee. Perhaps her most famous song is the 2008 hit “Paper Airplanes,” where you’ll hear gunshots and cashier sounds as she raps about her experience as an immigrant in places that didn’t accept her. You might have also seen her during the halftime show of Super Bowl 46 with Madonna, LMFAO, Nicki Minaj, and CeeLo Green. She got fined $16.6 million for flipping off the camera instead of saying a profanity in her song.

Adjacent to the loud colors and metallics of the M.I.A. materials were swathes of moss colors, ivory mesh, a stroke of teal, and the earthy, wistful, and three-dimensional paintings of Gregory Euclicde, who designed the second studio album for a little band called Bon Iver.

Materials in MSR's Bon Iver outfit design for 2018 Fusion + Fashion. Photo by Lianna Matt.The outfit, led by Lauren Gardner and Brian Davis, seeks to embody Bon Iver’s sound into visuals, taking cues from both Euclide and the music’s ambient and complex layers. Other outfits might hope to catch attention with flash and pizzazz, but with this look, Gardner and Davis hope to provide an introspective break from the night just like Bon Iver’s music gives to its listeners.

“What goes to the core of us as designers is a lot of times you have these conceptual ideas and not something you can physically see,” Davis says. “With this, you can abstract different ideas that are plausible to represent the artist or the work of music.”

Unlike most projects the interior design and architecture world works on, Fusion + Fashion teams can see the results in months, not years. They can use the competition as an excuse to play around with different tools, like 3D printing, or to learn new software they can use with clients, like the video editing that Gross learned to make the introduction footage.

To McCracken, participating in Fusion + Fashion is like going back to her undergraduate years at the University of Wisconsin Stout. Everyone’s in the studio, and they’re just trying to see what works and what doesn’t. Prototypes are a must, texture options are limitless, and nothing has prescribed rules. MSR’s materials include landscaping fabric that’s normally meant for keeping leaves at bay (don’t look too closely or you’ll see the words “weed blocker”), curtain fabric, chair backing, spray paint, and items donated from their manufacturers.

“Some people have done carpet before, but they took the yarn out of it and made something else out of it,” McCracken says, “You start with your secret ingredients and then transform them and make them look like they’d never recognize.”

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