Photo: Tom Sapiano

Exodus of the traditional

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By Caroline Pelletier

Rhiannon Ryder has drag queens for clients. Kristy Woo studied sewer grates, bike wheels and skyscrapers. The French Revolution is Jeremy Laing’s favourite period in history.

What do the three have in common? Though they may get their inspiration from different places, they’re all fourth-year fashion design students at Ryerson. On April 7 and 8, along with their 50 classmates, they will have their work featured in the fashion show, Mass Exodus. The annual fashion communication students, and showcases the accomplishments of the entire fourth-year class of design students who started work on the project last September.

Fifty-four collections are features in this year’s show, most of them created by solo designers who constructed five garments each. The collections range from formal wear, to costumes, to lingerie, to daywear, according to the interests of the designers.

“There’s a bit of everything,” says the show’s co-director, Leigh Netupsky.

Ryder, whose collection falls into the category of “dragwear,” was inspired by actresses from the ‘40s and ‘50s, like Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren, because a lot of drag queens are going for a similar voluptuous look.

“I wanted to be really over the top and fun but in a more classy way, as opposed to the reconstructed Value Village outfits that a lot of these [drag queens] end up having to do.”

All the pieces in Ryder’s collection are meant to be worn by men. Her favourite outfit is a one-strap, orange and red taffeta mini-dress, which was decorated with two handcrafted fabric flowers. The larger flower, placed at the hip, is a foot and a half in diameter, and a smaller one rests on the shoulder. Worn over top of the mini-dress is a floor length taffeta ball skirt.

“It comes out looking like a big ball gown,” says Ryder, “and then you rip [the skirt] off and it’s a mini-dress.”

She also constructed a six foot long coat with a two-and-a-half foot stand-up collar. Figuring out how to construct the collar took Ryder a week.

“I’ve got a good friend, an aerospace engineer, and my big joke with him was ‘Oh my God, I’ve done more engineering this week than you have,’” says Ryder.

Woo, on the other hand, was inspired by “urban forms” like sewer grates and bike wheels — things that have shapes that no one really considers.

“I took those forms and turned them into a different form that’s appreciated,” she says. The top of skyscrapers sometimes have a step-like shape, which was incorporated into the bottom of Woo’s skirts. The fishbone patterns on sewer grates became the fronts of shirts. She also took the contour and lines of a bike wheel and incorporated them into the clothing. Gold mesh, turquoise fishnet, dark blue ribbed knit, silver-finish denim, gold buckles and little red hearts strung on yellow cords are all featured repeatedly in her unnamed, five-outfit collection, what she calls high end streetwear.

Laing says his menswear collection, called Les Libertins, is inspired by the 19th century French Revolution ethos of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Many of the garments are printed with slogans in stencilled letters like “Where is the revolution anyway? I feel like being radical today” and “Let them eat their own cake.”

One vest is constructed from 19th century upholstery Laing bought at a flea market in Paris — the uncut pieces came off an actual chair. The headrest became the collar of the vest, and the sides of the chair became its front and back. Antique lace was added as trim.

The designs are only part of Mass Exodus. The theme to this year’s show is “Gallery:” to reflect the fact that the designers are also artists.

“It’s going to be very theatrical,” says Netupsky, “Maybe what you’d see in a play, or like a moving art gallery.”

Lighting and music were carefully tailored to each collection. The models will emerge from one of three sets, one of them consisting of stairs leading up to a revolving platform.

The sold-out gala show is the only presentation open to the public — it will be held at the Ryerson Theatre on Tuesday April 9 at 8 p.m. the following evening, the presentation is invite-only, for the press and industry representatives. For the designers, it is an opportunity to invite potential employers to see their work.

Ryder, for one, has already made contacts in the dragwear industry, which she calls an untapped market. She’s already set to design for Shawn Laven, a famous Toronto drag queen.

Eventually, Laing wants to live and work overseas, in London or Paris, where he says his designs have more appeal. Woo says she’ll test the waters of the fashion industry for a while, but isn’t sure it’s for her.

“I’m not really big on the mass-production side, and if you’re going to work for a big company, you may not be able to be as creative,” says woo. “I can’t say for sure, because I’m still a student. But that’s the idea I have of it.”

It’ll be a myriad different directions. But for now, what they have in common is the four years they spent at Ryerson, and a Mass Exodus at the end of it all.

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