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STRUT! Fashion Show Returns After Four-Year Hiatus

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Published May 1, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.


From left: Mary Sundermeier, Chantelle Taylor and Alanna Gibson-Rex modeling metal fashion created by Gerald "Fitz" Fitzpatrick - COURTESY OF JON TOLAND
  • Courtesy Of Jon Toland
  • From left: Mary Sundermeier, Chantelle Taylor and Alanna Gibson-Rex modeling metal fashion created by Gerald "Fitz" Fitzpatrick

For 18 years, Gerald "Fitz" Fitzpatrick traveled to war zones, building and fitting prosthetics for people maimed by land mines. His work for the International Committee of the Red Cross took him to Angola, Ethiopia, India, South Sudan, Myanmar and other countries.

Before that, he had jobs in carpentry, restaurants and plumbing. He taught metalworking in the Peace Corps in Morocco and welded in shipyards. But he didn't expect to add fashion designer to his résumé. Now that's he's retired — splitting his time between Champlain, N.Y., and his hometown of Columbus, Ohio — Fitzpatrick, 68, is making wearable art out of scrap metal, leather and plastic, materials he sources frugally.

"I dumpster dive," he said.

Employing tools typically used to restore vintage cars or aircraft, he cuts and shapes metal into corsets, hoopskirts and wide-brimmed hats that have a cosplay, kink or boudoir vibe. His fashions, he acknowledged, are not for everyday wear. Three models outfitted in his apparel and accessories will walk the runway on Saturday, May 4, at STRUT!, the South End Arts + Business Association fashion show returning to Burlington after a four-year, pandemic-induced hiatus. Fitzpatrick is one of 11 designers in the show.

Hazmat suit by Julian Barritt - COURTESY OF JULIAN BARRITT
  • Courtesy Of Julian Barritt
  • Hazmat suit by Julian Barritt

Like many of the pieces hitting the runway this year, STRUT! has been upcycled. Organizers have taken the most beloved elements of the old event, which ran from 2006 through 2019 as part of the South End Art Hop, and fashioned them into something new.

Most noticeably, they've separated it from Art Hop, their 31-year-old, wildly popular September weekend festival, to make STRUT! a stand-alone event in the spring.

Art Hop spans 100 venues and draws as many as 25,000 people. STRUT! requires its own meticulous planning. "We just felt that it needed — it deserved — its own weekend," said Christy Mitchell, executive director of SEABA, which orchestrates both events.

Rather than two shows in a tent behind the Maltex Building, the new STRUT! will be one expanded event at Hula. WCAX-TV anchor and executive producer Darren Perron will emcee. Audience members will be invited to linger after the 90-minute show and get a drink, meet the designers and shop their favorite looks.

Papier-mâché creations by Tonya Whitney - COURTESY OF TONYA WHITNEY
  • Courtesy Of Tonya Whitney
  • Papier-mâché creations by Tonya Whitney

STRUT! typically features emerging and mid-career designers. Aside from sharing a preference for reusing materials, this year's designers comprise an eclectic lineup. Self-taught Williston artist Tonya Whitney, 52, makes her STRUT! debut with wearable sculptures influenced by 1980s pop culture: three papier-mâché headpieces — including Veronica from the Archie's Girls: Betty and Veronica comics — and two life-size cardboard paper-doll outfits inspired by the movie Pretty in Pink.

Twenty-eight-year-old Burlington designer Madeline Ruby Wood makes her Clover Chapel brand of dresses from vintage handkerchiefs and antique doilies. "Inspired by all things enchanted and ethereal," as she wrote in an email, they often look like flowers or snowflakes.

A dress created by Madeline Ruby Wood - COURTESY OF MADELINE RUBY WOOD
  • Courtesy Of Madeline Ruby Wood
  • A dress created by Madeline Ruby Wood

Dakin Fuller, who started picking up shards of red taillights off the ground at age 17 "because I thought they were pretty," pieces together secondhand, donated and found materials to create "gender-diverse, post-apocalyptic thrift" clothing. Fuller's signature style features an explosion of color with a lot of pockets.

Now 38 and the owner of Fine Forager Arts, the Burlington artist also makes jewelry. (Look for car taillights and reflectors, shaped and smoothed, dangling on earrings and necklaces.)

South Burlington teacher Julian Barritt credits his mother, a longtime art teacher, for showing him how to use materials in an unconventional way. "Every time I begin a project, I have my heyday with sequins, beads, and flashy fabrics," Barritt, 25, writes in his artist statement. The STRUT! audience will likely be thanking Barritt's mother, too, when his bedazzled Freak Flag Productions line hits the runway. It includes a graduation gown he calls "Show Your Inner Sparkle" and a hazmat suit with a face shield titled "Slip Into Something More Comfortable: Authenticity."

Heather Fromkin's 2Cdesignz marry art with botany. The 50-year-old Barton sculptor started sewing during the pandemic and is working to incorporate live plants into swim- and sun-wear. "It's kind of a science project," she said. Expect moss.

Kaltuma Bulle's Street Fairy Upcycle fashions - COURTESY OF CHARLIE MCCONNELL
  • Courtesy Of Charlie Mcconnell
  • Kaltuma Bulle's Street Fairy Upcycle fashions

Kaltuma Bulle's 4-month-old Street Fairy Upcycle fashions meld streetwear, grunge and punk with a little "fairy-core," which she defines as "boho-styled, cool clothing that is very feminine and just cute and short and flowy."

Stars appear on many of the 21-year-old Burlington designer's garments. Distressed strands of fabric dangling from short skirts add postapocalyptic/mummy energy. Bulle hand-sews stuffed denim spikes onto the outer seams of her "dino pants," and she reincarnates old crocheted afghans as pants and balaclavas.

When Bellcate School arts and culture teacher Alex Sanchez got word in late February that her students were accepted to the show, the school added STRUT! to its curriculum for the fourth quarter. She and her students scrambled to turn a gym closet "into what is now, like, the tiniest fashion design studio probably in America," Sanchez said.

Eight students, ages 14 to 21, at the Essex middle and high school have collaborated to design, sew and model five outfits for an athleisure line they've named Nuro Essentials.

Necklace by Dakin Fuller of Fine Forager Arts - COURTESY OF DAKIN FULLER
  • Courtesy Of Dakin Fuller
  • Necklace by Dakin Fuller of Fine Forager Arts

SEABA director Mitchell aims to build a mentorship component into STRUT! next year to help new designers learn about the fashion industry, such as how to source materials sustainably and take a line into production. She wants to help designers "succeed after the event," she said.

The owners of two STRUT! sponsors — Robin Blodgett of Stash garment fabric store in Burlington and Sophie Hood of Little Bird Sewing Studio in Williston — attended a recent meeting to offer their expertise to this year's designers. But the meeting may have proven most useful to Mitchell, who ran STRUT! only once before COVID-19 shut it down. She brought her own slate of last-minute planning details to the gathering.

For example, she told the group, which also included SEABA board members, she'd been asked a question she wasn't sure how to answer: Are models allowed to have their kids with them backstage?

For board member Morgan Bailey, the answer was clear. The former Los Angeles-based costumer and stylist, who has worked on many TV and movie sets, immediately saw the hazards: curling irons, safety pins, needles, metal objects. She listed them like they were swings and merry-go-rounds on a death-trap playground, then answered, "No, no, 100 percent not."

Jacket from Katarina Lisaius' Zimi Collections - COURTESY OF JOSH COFFEE
  • Courtesy Of Josh Coffee
  • Jacket from Katarina Lisaius' Zimi Collections

Details continued to pop up: procuring steamers, ensuring that models have shoes and can actually walk while wearing their garments, getting waivers for underage models, establishing a check-in time early enough for everyone to get ready, designating a showrunner to tell each model when to walk — "I can say 'go,'" board member Thea Heck offered — and keeping the whole thing to 90 minutes.

The runway is 48 feet long, so Mitchell measured a 48-foot loop through her kitchen, dining room and living room. "I've just been walking it, timing it," she told the group.

Metal designer Fitzgerald, who has participated in several fashion shows, said, "You plan for this stuff, but something always happens."

Sewing instructor Hood, a costume maker, showed the group the emergency kit she'll bring: scissors, a tape measure, a Tide stain-remover pen, pre-threaded needles and safety pins, opened and stuck in a cushion, ready to be deployed.

Others at the meeting suggested supplements: baby wipes, a hair dryer (to remove any wet spots after the baby wipes and Tide pen remove other spots), and, finally, that go-to fix for amateurs and professionals alike: duct tape, in multiple colors.

STRUT!, Saturday, May 4, 4-7 p.m., at Hula in Burlington. $30-50. seaba.com

The original print version of this article was headlined "Back in Style | STRUT! fashion show returns after a four-year hiatus"

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