Fashion show to benefit Brattleboro Area Hospice

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BRATTLEBORO -- Lost amid the wonders of the delicate 19th century Chantilly silk lace vest and the black taffeta strapless dress belted by impossible-to-find silk velvet ribbon, with an orchid-colored square dance petticoat underneath it, is a simple fact -- the success of this design owes as much to sound engineering as it does to artistry.

"This is all about construction work. If you don't know how to build it, a strapless dress won't stay up," said designer Pamela Moore, explaining a principle of fashion that might be called, pun intended, "structure or bust."

That dress, and later a funky swallow-tail coat and tweed skirt, drew crowds, and appreciative "oohs" and "aahs," as Moore hung them on a mannequin Monday night in the Experienced Goods home furnishing store on Elliot Street.

Designers, models, fashionistas and paparazzi gathered there Monday to mark another milestone in a very big deal. On Saturday, Putney turns into Milan-on-the-Connecticut for the Wild Night on the Catwalk fashion show. Local and regional designers have created one-of-a-kind, fun fashions for a runway show to benefit Brattleboro Area Hospice. Believed to be the first event of its kind in the area, the fundraiser, which also features a cash bar, fine food and a Not So Silent Auction, starts at 6:30 p.m., at the Michael S. Currier Center on the Putney School campus.

On Monday, designers fitted their dresses on their models, selected jewels and accessories and made adjustments. Onlookers were even treated to a brief runway walk by three of the models. The excitement, building toward Saturday's main event, was palpable.

"We're hoping that everybody realizes that they don't want to miss this. A first-time event is one never to miss," said Karen Abel, a Hospice board member and part of Team Décor, a group of people with a passion and flair for design who spearheaded the planning of the event.

Team Decor helped assemble the group of 10 designers, who were then invited to come into the Experienced Goods store many months ago and select items which they would then deconstruct and repurpose into fashions.

The designers range in age and encompass a similar range in experiences; there are longtime fashion experts alongside first-time designers. The work they produce is similarly diverse.

"We have been in awe of many of the designs," said Abel.

If there is one common thread to the designs, it is that they all have a heart on their sleeves. The designers and models have thrown themselves energetically into the event, in large part because of their love of the Hospice.

"It has been really, really wonderful to be part of this," said model Toni Baldi, who has done some modeling for photo shoots but never walked a runway.

Still, she looked smashing in an intriguing dress designed by artist and longtime Hospice volunteer and supporter Kris McDermet, who combined her two interests in rug hooking and braiding into a fantasy dress of blue fairy hues.

"Toni is just lovely inside and out and looks lovely in it," said McDermet. "It's just a piece of fabric until you try it on."

The idea for the event germinated more than a year ago; the folks at Hospice thought a fashion fundraiser would be a logical move since the clothing sold at the Experienced Goods Thrift Shop is a major source of the organization's funds.

Then Tropical Storm Irene hit, wiping out half the store's inventory and forcing the Flat Street store to close for six weeks. The store has since reopened, but the lost revenue hit Hospice hard. The store provides 65 percent of Hospice's funds, and Susan Parris, executive director of Brattleboro Area Hospice, estimates the storm cost Hospice more than $60,000.

"Hospice is such an unsung hero," said designer Cindy Leszczak of West Townshend, who was lured to the event through her affiliation with Cotton Designs and Team Décor's Priscilla Cotton. She has also designed for A Candle in the Night in Brattleboro.

For this event, Leszczak designed two classically stylish and sexy dresses and a man's outfit for which she repurposed a boring polyester blue suit by adding splashes of color and sparkly, shiny touches.

"I think men should have a little glitter in their lives, too," said Leszczak.

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A new grandmother, Leszczak loves the collaborative nature of the event -- counting designers, models, hairdressers, makeup artists, event producers, hors d'oeuvres chefs and everyone else, more than 80 people are involved. She also appreciates the chance to work side by side with younger people.

"This event really ignited with the young community in Brattleboro. Young people came out and were excited to participate, and they were excited to do something for Hospice," she said.

One of those young people is Maia Bissette, who has never designed clothing before, but took the challenge because of her long history with Hospice.

Bissette worked for a long time at Experienced Goods as a clothing donation receiver, where she learned a lot about clothing, fabric, quality and designers. It was there she came to know Nika Feldman, a textile and performance artist whom she calls her "creative inspiration." Bissette and Feldman designed a mural at Experienced Goods together.

Bissette has studied fine art, graphic design and cartooning, which she said also lend themselves to thinking about fashion design. When the organizers of the event approached her, she took the plunge.

"It's been really exciting for me to unify my interests and tackle this new art form," she said. "It's quite a challenge. I'm extremely impressed with the other designers. It's really pushed me to take it to the next level."

For Wild Night on the Catwalk, Bissette has designed three pieces, all entirely made of fabric which came directly from Experienced Goods. One of her dresses, she said "looks like something a Greek goddess would wear." The second one is a dress and vest in a style she describes as "tribal country." The third one she describes as a classic kind of flapper dress.

"I am very influenced by the youth culture in the area, and the idea that is you have the confidence to make it so, almost any scrap of fabric can be turned into something beautiful."

The local and regional designers participating include Truly Alvarenga, Maria Pugnetti, Alice Fogel, Rene Gerrior, Pamela Moore, Cindy Lesczak, Maia Bissette, Kris McDermet and Cynthia Nims.

And the event has caught the eye of the wider world. Conrad Lamour, a Boston-born event producer and fashion designer known for his luxurious, fashionable, but wearable men's and women's clothing, has joined Wild Night on the Catwalk as consultant, stage manager and designer. NBC News featured him in a story on upcoming designers, while the Boston Herald and the Miami Herald have described him as a "designing devo" and a "rising star." His designs were featured in both the New York and Boston fashion weeks, and he has served as a costume designer and stylist for Ford Models and the Vibe awards. He boasts an impressive list of celebrity clients including Sean "P Diddy" Combs, Donna Summer and New Edition. He also has an ongoing relationship with Women's Wear Daily. As a fashion event planner he's produced shows in some of the great fashion cities such as New York, Boston, New Orleans, Paris and Milan.

And now Putney.

"The allure of doing this is basically to have the experience of being in the middle of it and turn to someone and say ‘Who would have thought we could do this in Brattleboro or Putney?'" said Team Décor's Priscilla Cotton. "There are a lot of people here who are interested in fashion."

Even if you don't think you fall into that category, Saturday's Wild Night on the Catwalk offers the aura, fun, glitz and experience of a high-style New York Fashion Week show.

Other highlights include a well-known host (WRSI's Monte Belmonte); a red carpet scene with Desha Peacock, a self-described lover of fashion and design (thedeshashow.blogspot.com), who will interview guests as they arrive; and, on loan from the Shelburne Museum's "In Fashion: High Style, 1690-2011," is the winning Curators Choice design created by Kyle Edmund Pearson, a student from the Fashion Institute of Technology.

The Not So Silent Auction will feature vignettes to dramatize the auction items. Major items include stays in apartments or homes in Florida, Italy, New York and Boston. The Boston auction vignette includes tickets to the Patriots game on New Year's Day and tickets to a Red Sox game.

Hors d'oeuvres, desserts and drinks are being provided by some of the area's leading purveyors, including Terri Ziter, Sharon Myers & Kris McDermet, Tristan Toleno, Our Lady of Fatima Guild and Twin Valley Junior Iron Chefs. A full cash bar is being set out by Avigliano Catering (a division of Honora Winery & Vineyard). There is also an after-party with a DJ.

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Ticket prices are $50 for Runway seating; $35 for Standing Room. Tickets are available at Brattleboro Area Hospice office, 191 Canal St., and Experienced Goods Home Furnishings store at 51 Elliot St., by calling 802-257-0775, or by using the "Buy Tickets Now" button (purchasing via PayPal at experiencedgoodshome.blogspot.com or compassionforfashion.org.

Sponsors of Wild Night on the Catwalk include Trust Company of Vermont, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, The Richards Group, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, The Windham Foundation, Brattleboro Savings & Loan, Edward Jones, Philip George and Anna Saavedra, Pine Heights at Brattleboro, Members First Credit Union and Entergy Vermont Yankee.


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