eves-garden

The Art of Fashion

Eve’s Garden showcases gowns created from repurposed objects, stitched together to tell women's stories.

Julie Pendray Fashion Week El Paseo

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Julie Frankel works on "Frida's Dress: Life in Full Bloom" for display at Fashion Week El Paseo starting March 17.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY JULIE FRANKEL

Seed pods, copper, packing tape, feathers, and Victorian linen and lace are among the items that stitch together the story of Eve’s Garden, a show of both wearable and art installation gowns that will be on display at Fashion Week El Paseo, which runs March 17–21 in Palm Desert.

The display, designed to inspire re-use and upcycling, is the collaborative work of four women hailing from the San Luis Obispo area. Together, their installation will honor courageous, compassionate, and colorful women such as environmentalist Rachel Carson, feminist Gertrude Stein, wartime nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale and artist Frida Kahlo.

“We feel very honored,” says Julie Frankel, a mixed-media painter, and digital artist. “We are excited. It’s an amazing opportunity to take our game up another notch.”

Gigi Eckert, another of the show’s creators, says, “Fashion Week is high fashion, and we are kind of the antithesis of that, but people find it very exciting. I’d like people to see the pieces as art that can be placed on the wall. It’s fun. What we do is not very common.” 

The “emotional vibe” of the show is the creative, feminine life force, Frankel adds. “We like to think that by using humbler or offbeat materials, it gives the message that if you have a creative impulse, it’s perfectly ok to say, ‘I can do that.’

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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY JULIE FRANKEL

Full length of “Frida’s Dress: Life in Full Bloom” by Julie Frankel.

The four full-time fabric artists, all in their 60s, have known each other for decades. They bring a feminist viewpoint to Fashion Week El Paseo, but it’s not about politics, Frankel says.

“We’re keeping the emphasis on women’s experiences. It’s not about pointing fingers.” Some of the gowns she’ll display, such as “Gertrude’s Dress,” honoring Stein, are made from packing tape, so they can’t be worn but “look fabulous hanging in a garden,” she says. “More and more, clothing is showing up on the walls of galleries as a sort of soft sculpture. If you go on Pinterest and type in ‘art dress’ or ‘paper dress,’ you’ll be amazed at how many people are gravitating toward making clothing.”

This is not the first time they have exhibited their work, but Fashion Week El Paseo is one of the bigger platforms. Last year more than 13,000 people took in the eight nights of runway shows.

“It’s not what we’re particularly used to doing. It’s a big step,” says artist Melinda Forbes. Last year, the women created an exhibit called “Earth’s Gowns” for Steynberg Gallery in San Luis Obispo. A focus of that show was how Mother Earth or “Gaia” has awakened and wants to set things straight. “We’re concerned about how the Earth is affected by people’s desire to buy new clothes,” Forbes explains. “We like to educate and bring awareness.”

Meg Johnson, who says her Cherokee heritage imbues her work, will bring her “Us Dress,” a piece about immigration, in which faces of different colors are stitched into a skirt and bodice. Johnson is a potter who didn’t start sewing until she turned 60. She says she makes her narrative garments look like clay.

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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MELINDA FORBES

Melinda Forbes has drawn on Greek mythology for “Persephone’s Gown” (left). The stories of vulnerable children forced to marry inspired her to create “Child Bride” (right).

Each of the show’s 25 to 30 garments will come with a notecard, giving viewers an idea of the meaning or history, Frankel says. The garments will be for sale.

Among jewelry artist Eckert’s offerings will be two ethereal pieces: “Luna Boton” and “Blossom Dearie,” which illustrate the beauty that can be attained using Italian and French silk lace, cheesecloth, ribbon roses, antique buttons, a pine cone, a brass chain, a handmade glass ring, and more.

Eve’s Garden is open to the public at no charge: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 18, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 19, 20, and 21. The show is for ticketed Fashion Week guests only on March 17, 19, 20, and 21 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and March 18 from 5–6 p.m.

For more information visit fashionweekelpaseo.com.

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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY MEG JOHNSON

Meg Johnson used faces of people from different races to convey an immigration theme in her “Us Dress: Find the Common Thread”.

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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY GIGI ECKERT
Luna Boton by Gigi Eckert. Two antique slips stitched together, Italian & French silk lace, cotton string, cheesecloth, ribbon roses and a cascade of white buttons.
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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY JULIE FRANKEL

Julie Frankel uses digital images and packing tape to produce art installations such as “Summer in the Sea of Japan”  (left) and “Gertrude’s Dress”.