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It's What All the Best-Dressed Morlocks Are Wearing This Year: Fashion show, or student production of 'The Time Machine'? You be the judge.

Seventh Heaven

Turn to the left! Turn to the right! Local artists fashion a unique take on the runway show.

By Mike Connor

And when the dancers up
In flight,
Looked sadly down toward ragged clothes,
They found to their midnight
Their naked chests! And legs! And toes!

--18th-century Russian/Polish nudist Mikhail Ockenbalz

ALTHOUGH, AS A NUDIST, I believe that the unclothed body is the temple of the spirit, I fully appreciate the finery created to adorn it. But while jewelry and fabric--the old standbys--certainly do the trick for day-to-day life, they don't express the range of the human experience in quite the same way that, say, steel, fiber-optic lights, candy, macramé and accordions do. Because sometimes, nothing says "We're smothering ourselves in high-tech cellular silicon cancer-causing profanity!" like a dress made entirely from CDs, their cold, iridescent sheen reflecting the spotlight in precise prismatic rainbows.

Welcome to the fantasy world of the sixth annual Seventh Sense Fashion Show, coming up Oct. 12-13 and 19-20 at the 418 Project. It's a fashion show inasmuch as it adheres to the standard formula of models walking up and down a runway with no speaking parts, each segment running as long as it takes to get up and down the runway. But within this framework, the artists may do as they please.

This year's show features the original designs of 11 local artists, most of whom are working outside their usual medium. Sometimes whimsical, sometimes magical, sensual, political or just plain weird, the spirit of experimentation here leads to some surprising expressions of fashion.

"It's basically a roach clip in overdrive," laughs Carrie Eheler, explaining the origin of her hand-woven, beaded, macraméd, tasseled, fringed and crocheted costume. "That's how it started--just a couple of beads and pins--and then it just evolved into this. ... It has a medieval flavor, but the sleeves are from The Jetsons, the collar from Thunderdome. ... The tubes are inspired by that [woman] who could sing in 12 octaves in The Fifth Element--all this stuff from all these movies."

With more than 1,500 bells and rattles sewn into the full-body suit, the costume sounds like a dream when she moves and gives me the distinct impression that I am speaking with a peyote-induced hallucination, and the sound of a human voice coming from the haunting mask covering her face makes my brain squirm.

Fashion Senses Working Overtime

Which figures, given that the event is produced by chocolatier David Jackman and was the brainchild of Randy Caruso and the infamous evil genius Ch!p, whose ever-present case of bed-head is nothing less than a fashion miracle. But if disheveled hair somehow symbolizes the countless hours of hard work spent preparing for an event, all of the artists ought to be sporting Sid Vicious 'dos right about now.

"I'm doing four vignettes with 14 costumes, and I'm making the set, so I'm a little ... busy," says Kathleen Crocetti, a confoundingly prolific artist who is rumored to have a secret twin sister assisting her, or a cellar full of art trolls,
or both.

"No, just good friends, a supportive family and a father who was a workaholic and passed along this terrific work ethic," lies Crocetti over the phone as she tries to shush the grumblings of the trolls in the background. "Once, my dad came to my house for two weeks, and we completely relandscaped my yard; we dug up all the grass and built four arbors and three trellises."

Also an art teacher at Mainstream Elementary School, Crocetti is participating in the show for the fourth year in a row, and it's gradually swallowing her whole.

"I've always been big into costumes--Halloween is my favorite holiday. I'm normally a sculptor, but the show has superseded things to where I spend six or seven months getting ready for it. I've gotten several costume commissions from having done the show, and I'm leaning toward costuming full time and having sculpturing on the side. So the show has really shaped the way I work."

"This is just another day at the office for me," quips the Great Morgani, accordionist extraordinaire, who will perform two new pieces in brand-new costumes, one of which will serve as his Halloween getup. "This show is right up my alley. I like the idea that it's not your run-of-the-mill fashion show, since I am not exactly mainstream. It's a fun event full of great people to work with. I love seeing all this creativity other than mine that's just as wacky."

Psycho Sideshow

Dressed in a jet-black skirt and corset, a woman staggers down the runway wearing an ornate steel hoop skirt with bluebirds inside. It's shaped like a bird cage and swings from her waist like a bell. She's confused; her wrists are bound, and she cries out an ethereal wail in stilted, staccato bursts. Behind her, a vaudevillian shyster adjusts his coattails and glides onto the runway.

"You don't want to show your insides yet," advises Bridget Henry, the director and designer of the vignette. "That's not until later."

Henry's piece is based on symbols culled from a series of her own original woodcut prints--three beautifully rendered alchemical allegories of transformation and unification. Her piece, titled Psycho Sideshow, explores these themes theatrically, bringing them to life on the stage--or runway, as it were--for the first time.

Says Henry, "I like to look at the dark and creepy sides of things, to find the beauty in something considered scary and ugly, which is usually what sideshows are all about. I think it's that darker aspect of life that is often the catalyst for change."

"Bridget is the crux of what excites me about this show," says Jackman at a recent dress rehearsal. "She's a printmaker, and she's working outside of her medium ... like two years ago, we had a physician, Dawn Moteca (a.k.a. Doctor Dawn on KUSP), involved in the show. She's not an artist, but it was wonderful to have her bringing the imagery and symbolism from her career into the show."

Sitting at the rehearsal, I watch as Eheler transforms before my eyes from a walking work of art back into a flesh-and-blood woman. I find it much easier to converse with her when she's out of costume, so I'm no longer feeling as if I'm talking with a being from another dimension. Her piece, One Mistake, is the story of a woman who makes "one gorgeous mistake" with an ephemeral lover and winds up bearing the consequence alone.

When combined with music, lighting effects and a luscious satin set, the vignettes at the fashion show aspire to a mythic level where fashion and identity intersect.

This show is a black tie and champagne affair, so put on your Santa Cruz Sunday best and prepare yourself for a magical evening of outlandish and fascinating fashion. But don't expect to catch even a glimpse of the trolls. They stay in the cellar.

The Seventh Sense Fashion Show takes place at the 418 Project at 418 Front St., Santa Cruz, on Oct. 12-13 and 19- 20. Tickets are $15 at Madame Sidecar and Chocolate. Call 831.454.9547 for more information.

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From the October 9-16, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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