LAST SQUALL – Skaters head to Swan Lake during a snow squall Saturday night --  the last day of skating before temperatures warmed up to above freezing. Birch Equipment Rentals donated the use of a high intensity light during the recent cold snap to aid evening skaters. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Sitka Designers Get Turn at State Fashion Show

Sentinel Staff Writer
    A group of Sitka artists and designers “made it work” – and watched their designs go down the runway at the inaugural Trend Alaska Fashion Show on Friday in Anchorage.
    Sitka Wearable Art creators Cyndy Gibson and Lois Verbaan and sportswear designers Kris and Brett Wilcox of 57 Peaks were invited to take part in the show. The runway featured works by Alaskan designers and wearable art creators.
    “It was exciting to be part of the inaugural Trend show, promoting tourism in Alaska,” said Verbaan.
    The Alaska Travel Industry Association presented the show as part of the Tourism Works for Alaska campaign, which creates awareness of the “positive impact sustainable tourism has on the economic vibrancy of Alaska Communities,” according to the Trend Alaska program.
    Verbaan’s woven dog food bag dress and cape premiered at the Greater Sitka Arts Council’s Wearable Art show earlier this year, and made another trip down the runway in Anchorage, this time adorned by a model.
    One of Gibson’s models showed off her now-famous salmon-vertebrae dress, from the 2017 Wearable Art show here, now in the Fairbanks museum. The dress, “20,000 Bones under the Sea,” features, yes, 20,000 bones. Another was a feather-adorned corset and skirt, and accessories, that included feathers made of cut-out and scored vinyl records.
    Gibson and Verbaan were encouraged by GSAC Director Amelia Mosher to apply as featured wearable art artists in the show, and Mosher was pleased to see so many Sitkans represented.
    “That makes me proud,” Mosher said.
    The Wilcoxes were invited to apply as one of the featured fashion designers, and had nine items on the runway. Their leggings and miniskirts feature such Alaskan images as slugs, sunflowers, starfish, whales, ravens, dragonflies, fireweed, coho, and matryoshka dolls. The images on the clothing are from photographs or drawings.
    At the event, the Sitkans were assigned models to work with, and were delighted to see their art and fashions on the runway at Alaska Railroad Building.
    “To see our things, and to see other people – models – to wear our clothes and breathe life into them, and personality, the way we thought they should,” Kris Wilcox said. “Everything just came together so nicely.”

From left, Cyndy Gibson, Lois Verbaan, Kris Wilcox and Brett Wilcox. (Photo provided to the Sentinel)

    The process the Wilcoxes use to transfer their digital designs onto the spandex polyester microfiber clothing is called “dye sublimation,” which they have found allows the detail of their bright designs to come through.
    After the show, the Wilcoxes were able to sell their work at a “pop-up” display downstairs at the railroad station. Kris said 57 Peaks sold a number of their items, and she and Brett were pleased to see their creations appreciated in another part of Alaska.
    “One woman said, ‘I knew I needed to have slugs!’” Kris said. “She and Brett really bonded over that.” One of the fashion models paid for the fireweed leggings she was modeling, and wore them home.
    Kris said she enjoyed the opportunity to connect with other designers and artists in Alaska, and think about other possibilities for their business and brand.
    Verbaan said she learned a lot from participating, including the importance of the relationship with the model. The words of Project Runway’s Tim Gunn came to her, when she found her design didn’t fit her model.
    “I had to make it work,” Verbaan said. “I realized flexibility is important – you can’t go in there with how it’s going to work.”
    Verbaan said she was proud to see Sitka so well represented in a statewide fashion and art show.
    “We have a lot of talent in our town that’s being showcased in Alaska,” she said. “I have a greater appreciation for how fantastic Sitka’s art scene is, the fact we were able to send three – it’s putting Sitka on the map. And the quality of our Wearable Art show is amazing, and I want to encourage other people in the community to consider getting involved in these artistic events in Sitka. It’s incredible how much we have here.”
    She also enjoyed seeing work from all over, including prints featuring Alaska wildlife, modern variations on the kuspuk, animal skin prints, and polar bear fur used as shoe coverings.
    “It was quite unique,” Verbaan said. “I think it reflects the kind of clothes Alaskans like to wear.”
    Gibson said she enjoyed meeting with other designers, and asking each other questions.
    “We all had different focuses, it wasn’t ‘whose is better,’” she said. “It was not a competition. ... Their stuff was so beautiful. I felt a kinship with the designers, and I got great ideas for other stylings.”
    She also enjoyed seeing her salmon vertebrae dress again, as if visiting a family member or old friend.
    “It’s already back with the museum, but it was really fun to see it again,” she said.
    The three who spoke to the Sentinel said participating in the show gave them incentive to keep creating, try new things, and embrace their roles as artists, designers or both.
    Gibson, who works as a financial adviser, commented, “I never thought of myself as an artist. I’m still getting used to that. ... I can be an artist as well as a numbers person.”


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