Dressing up The 'Couve

'Couve Couture show allows local designers, including 'Project Runway' champ, to strut their stuff

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

Published:

 

Jackets, wools and Vancouver-flavor ruled the night during the first 'Couve Couture fashion show.

The Atrium Lounge, a downtown industrial space softened by woods and old-fashioned Edison light bulbs, was alive Oct. 20 with 200 guests. The show at 606 Broadway was over-sold by 40 tickets. Many were there to celebrate the hard work of the 75 volunteers of makeup artists, hairstylists and models who made the night possible. Several said they were excited to see collections by Sweet Spot Skirts, Most Everything Vintage, Catherine Rae and the work of Vancouver's Seth Aaron Henderson, winner of Season 7 of TV's "Project Runway."

"We're trying to raise awareness for downtown and Vancouver," said Brett Allred of Beigeblond salon, one of the show's producers. The community growth in downtown has been building over the past two years, noted Allred. "It's a 'build it, they will come' sort of thing. People really want to be down here."

The idea of a fashion show stemmed from a partnership between Allred and Most Everything Vintage co-owner Alisa Tetreault. They collaborated on a few vintage looks for a street fashion show during last summer's Art in the Heart, and wanted to do a similar show that ran closer to their own tastes, along with keeping everything very local, down to the last high heel. Allred was quick to invite his longtime friend Henderson in on the act.

"Seth was really into it right away," said Allred. Planning for the October show began in July, with support quickly pouring in from surrounding business and salon clients, including Torque Coffee, Kiggins Theatre, The Source Climbing Gym, and the Atrium Lounge.

Stephanie Lynn

Sweet Spot Skirts by Stephanie Lynn kicked off the event, showcasing her athletic wear collection that highlighted a range of signature skirts. The reversible skirts, designed for the shapes of real women, are meant to be worn over shorts, tights or leggings to provide style and coverage while exercising. The collection included looks for all four seasons, the models representing familiar Northwest activities: running, biking, golf, swimming and snowboarding. Lynn mixed in accessories sourced from other women-led companies, such as felt hats and jackets.

Lynn stressed the fun, passionate nature of her brand, with the bright patterns that popped against the black tights. "I have a sports background," said Lynn, who was a college basketball coach and sports referee. "I love to look girlie in a non-girlie world." The collection even gave a nod to men with a kilt, which brought grins to audience members, as did an unexpected offering of two-piece swimwear. "All of my stuff is trying to hit the 'sweet spot,'" Lynn said.

Alisa Tetreault

Most Everything Vintage co-owner Alisa Tetreault put together a collection that captured the imagination, incorporating 14 handmade animal masks that were a riot of feathers. Each look revolved around a jacket or coat that helped inspire the animal persona. A purple, green-blue plaid coat from the 1960s reminded Tetreault of a peacock, she said. The looks were completed with the talents of the hair and makeup team from Beigeblond, and the models sold their animal personas as they stalked down the runway.

"Fall is my favorite time of year. I love plaids, wool, texture and layering that we get to do here in the Pacific Northwest," Tetreault said. "We go out and search for great, classic pieces that have lasted 50 years and will last 50 more years." The attraction to vintage, explained Tetreault, is the fact that each piece is one of a kind, making an outfit that speaks to the personality of the wearer. "It's finding the pieces that make you happy. Pieces that make you stand tall when you walk down the street."

Cathy Rae Kudla

Cathy Rae Kudla was quick to earn her own fan base as the winner of 'Couve Couture's Aspiring New Designer Contest. The organizers chose her four-piece collection, displayed under the name Catherine Rae, from five other entries. They said her designs best exemplified the intent of the overall event. "Couture is a French word that describes the ultimate sewing that you can do, the very, very best. You don't hold back, you use all the best fabrics, all the best techniques, with no worries about cutting corners," said Kudla, who had been involved in the fashion business before her switch to designer, working as a retail buyer, merchandiser and independent fashion representative. The Catherine Rae collection offered a strong silhouette, each look a visual impact of perfectly constructed simplicity. A surprise burst of color came in the form of an A-line dress that had a beautiful open back, with just a right amount of poof from the black crinoline. "It makes me really happy to see people following their dreams, people like Seth Aaron are putting Vancouver out there … they recognize that he's from here," Kudla said.

Seth Aaron Henderson

The excitement built by the first three designers set the stage for the collection by Henderson. Eleven outfits extensively incorporated Pendleton wools, which opened its doors to the designer, except for one men's leather jacket. Rich wine purples and reds mixed with sharp blacks and rain cloud grays, with pops of plaid that emphasized the strong shapes of the clothing. Zippers seemed more like jewelry as they prominently split down coats. A patterned asymmetrical coat dress worn over tights with horizontal slits projected a polished, punk look. The menswear ensembles had bold a square shape, pairing structured outerwear with slimmer jeans and pants.

The collection wasn't designed for the fall of here and now, but as a pre-look of fall 2013, when the collection could expand from eight women's and four men's outfits to 20 to 30 potential looks. The show's pieces were made in just two weeks by Henderson and his assistant. "I'm a bit of a perfectionist," he said. He described how a couple looks he made were not what he was looking for in the collection, not what he wanted, so he burned them. "Wool burns good."

More 'Couve fashion shows to come?

Henderson was energized by the enthusiasm for the show, saying that the response of the community was great. "The community's coming together for this, wake it up. I want to wake (Vancouver) up," Henderson said. The fall show seemed like a pilot test of something bigger. Next time, he predicted the show could easily attract 400 to 600 people, which would mean finding a larger space. His suggestion: taking over a warehouse downtown for a bit of "Grunge meets pretty."

Brett Allred and Alisa Tetreault were encouraged by the show's response and would like to turn 'Couve Couture into a biannual tradition, with a possible spring show. Designer Cathy Rae Kudla had this to say: "I think downtown's definitely growing, with people coming from all over the place to live here. Slowly we're seeing that Vancouver can support events like this, that they're hungry, that people are starving for it."