Tiffany is tall; her chunky red heels — dark red, bordering on purple — make her taller. Red seams run up the back of her black stockings to the hem of her black dress, patterned with white polka dots. Her hair is up, and the whole effect is that of a sultrified ’40s getup, except maybe not so many girls in the ’40s had “OCEANSIDE” tattooed in elaborate script along the back of their neckline.
Tiffany is standing in the gallery of Escondido’s California Center for the Arts, outside the great exhibit hall that will house Escondido’s Fashion Week 2009 (brought to you by Angelo Damante at Mercedes-Benz of Escondido). She is chatting with Rita, who is working the table advertising Palomar College’s Fashion Merchandising & Design Department. Tiffany designs handbags and is considering paying the $50 to exhibit her wares at MODA, the college’s annual fashion show. “MODA started almost 20 years ago,” says Rita. “We had 200 people in the audience. Now we have 500 — industry people, designers…Our students are doing the dressing for the models tonight, and some of them have actually created costumes for the show.”
Tiffany is not exhibiting her wares tonight, but plenty of other people are. Tables run the length of the gallery, their occupants pitching Better Home Design Services, Soulful Slings, hair salons, jewelry companies — and NuSkin. “Instead of your old skin,” offers the pitchwoman. “This device actually reads your face and stops your skin from aging — a miracle machine, I call it.” Outside, in the smooth concrete courtyard, attendees sample sushi rolls and drink Stone beers from the bottle. For every artfully slinky silver sheath dress drizzling down to ankle length, there is something short and spangled and a little bit snug around belly and thigh; either way, folks are dressed, including and perhaps especially the trio of young ladies standing at the gallery entrance and sporting kicky, summery maps.
Tonight is Recycled Fashion Night, and the trio are walking examples of what you can do with the contents of your glove box now that Google Maps and GPS have made paper maps obsolete: you can make them into dresses. Strappy dresses, dresses with cinched waists and pleats, dresses with scoop necks and frilly bits around the shoulder. You can set the land above and the sea below or let highway lines lend a patchwork Harlequin feel.
Nearby, someone has signed a Fashion Week banner: “I love my Escondido like I love my fashion — innovative and exciting!”
Julianne Jones, owner of Studio 158 Hair Salon on the east side of Escondido’s Grand Avenue, had an idea: something very much along the lines of “Hey, everybody, let’s put on a show!”
“In the ’80s, we did what were called ‘Hair Wars,’ ” she recalls. “It was staged at a bar, and every salon had to do a vignette — something theatrical to show off their work.” In that spirit, “I had an idea to do a hair competition between salons; we were going to call it ‘Showcase Salons: Grand Avenue.’ ” The competition would most definitely have included Shawna Cruise’s Loft Hair Design, just across Broadway on Grand Avenue’s west side.
“But in the middle of that conversation,” continues Jones, “Deborah calls and says, ‘Can you come down here? We’re having a discussion about fashion shows, and maybe doing a fashion week.’ ” (That would be Deborah Rosen, CEO of the Escondido Downtown Business Association.) “I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s exactly what we’re doing here!’ I flew into that meeting, and it was, like, ‘Wham, here we go!’ ” Suddenly, the Loft’s Cruise was not a competitor but a partner, “in charge of the professional models and communicating with the designers, getting people trained for the different looks that each designer wanted. You’re talking 40, 50, 60 models a day. I think there were seven or eight salons that wrapped their brains around every element of makeup and hair.”
The result was Downtown Fashion Week 2009, “a great collaboration between artists and designers and creative people from all over San Diego and Orange County and Los Angeles.” And also, from just a block away: behind the low-slung Art Deco façade of the Escondido Arts Partnership Municipal Gallery. Once inside, you can buy (among other artworks) an “Echo Tote,” locally designed and stitched together from 90 percent recycled materials by Renée Richetts. And if you’d come here after last year’s Fashion Week San Diego, you could have bought the recycled dress she constructed out of oversized Comic-Con goodie bags.
“We’ve been doing recycled fashion shows for the general public for the past five years,” says gallery director Wendy Wilson (who left a gig writing for television to come home to Escondido and regroup). “A lot of our artists were already working with those materials. Artists don’t have much money, and there’s been a resurgence of that whole idea of taking an object and giving it a new purpose. Sometimes, you look at the outfits, and you don’t even realize that it’s made from recycled materials — they reinvent it. It’s really cool. We’d bring in somebody from EDCO who handled recycled materials as a judge, and then also an artist.” When Jones, Rosen & Co. started looking around for ways to fill six nights’ worth of events, Wilson and her recycled fashions were close at hand (and oodles of fun!).
Hanging grids studded with glowing glass cones serve as chandeliers to light the pale gray exhibit hall that will house the show. Rows of chairs form a U around the shiny white catwalk; a projector screen shields the entrance to backstage. While attendees mill about, looking for their names among the reserved VIP seats nearest the action, a fit young man — possibly a model but definitely not modeling — slips out from behind the screen and struts down the catwalk. He is grinning, arms outstretched. He is King of the World. When he reaches the end of the walk, he hops down and heads out the hall door — breaking the fourth wall. “No!” cries DBA events manager Danielle Aeling, skipping down from her perch in the DJ booth and following the man out the door. The goal here is professionalism, and dude just went strictly amateur.