High fashion in Juneau: Beer caps and X-rays

Arts council hosts third annual wearable art fashion show

Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2003

If you look on the back of Sonny and Cher's first album, you will find Juneau seamstress Bridget Milligan's name. She used to make bell bottoms for the pair of popular singers and TV-show hosts in the 1960s. These days Milligan is at work on a creation that revives the styles of Sonny and Cher, using the high-tech, wind-blocking fabric of the new millennium.

"Wind-block bell bottoms," Milligan said. "They are so comfortable and so practical and fun to wear. They swish when you walk."

Milligan's fabric-art piece, which features a "drunken sailor" model in the flared pants, will be one of many entries in "Wild Mind: The Third Annual Wearable Art Extravaganza." The fashion-show-meets-art-show fund-raiser for the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council starts at 7:30 Friday, Feb.14, at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.

David Walker has constructed a pointy and spiky costume out of thin hemlock veneer he calls "Galaxy 49 in Red," which he describes as "designed for maximum attraction."

"For the skirt part I steam-bent 2-inch strips of veneer," he said. "The top is quite pointy ... the breasts are cones kind of like Madonna-style with a cone on the back just to balance it out."

Veneer is a thin strip of wood, in this case stripped from a hemlock tree. Someone donated a lot of the wood to the University of Alaska Southeast a few years back and it went unused, Walker said. Looking at a big pile of the stuff sparked Walker's imagination for the art show. For last year's wearable art show, he wove some of it into a life-sized basket-like costume with a matching hat.

"This year I just experimented with different shapes," he said.

Like Walker, Cherri Bell became inspired by a pile of unused materials destined for the trash - she made a dress out of discarded neck, back, chest and pelvic X-rays.

"The place I was working at was just going to throw them out, so I decided I would use them," Bell said.

She made a "grass skirt" bottom and a top, cutting the X-ray material with a mat cutter and attaching the parts with ribbon. At first working with the X-ray material was difficult, but she soon learned from trial and error that Velcro and ribbon were the best ways to attach the X-ray films to each other.

"Needles don't work on X-ray material," she said. "I found that out."

Bell named her creation "X-ray Vision" and says it looks great with ExtraTufs or pumps.

High school student Heather Harris pieced together a costume she calls "Fishing for a Perfect Man" that combines fishing gear with dozens of beer bottle caps.

"I got the idea from a '20s flapper dress - you know, the ones with the big sequins," she said. "We knew someone who used to work at the Alaska Brewing Co. and they had a box of caps that was left open, so they weren't sterile and they couldn't use them. So we picked them up and drilled a bunch of holes in them."

Harris used hoochies, a type of fishing lure shaped like a squid, to create a fringe on the bottom of the dress. She also used other lures called spoons to add flash to a costume that she says has "formal, elegant humor."

Organizers expect "Wild Mind: the Third Annual Wearable Art Extravaganza" to sell out, and suggest buying tickets in advance at Rainy Day Books or Hearthside Books. Tickets are $20.

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