Like spring in the Pacific Northwest, the growth of Couve Couture could be measured by the colorful Vancouver crowd of 575 filling the unfinished ground floor of Gravitate Design's building at 1012 Washington St.
The former Koplan's building space had been transformed by a team of caterers, volunteers and technicians. Behind a black curtain, more than 100 models, hairstylists and makeup artists were putting the finishing impact on the eight designers' collections for the runway.
Headlined by Seth Aaron Henderson of "Project Runway" fame, Most Everything Vintage's Alisa Ann Tetreault and Cathy Rae Kudla and Stephanie Lynn of Sweet Spot Skirts returned from October's fashion show. Joining their spring collections were three up-and-coming Vancouver designers -- Dawn Elise Waldal, Lydia Wagner and Kelsey Lovelle Jennrich -- with special guest designer Bryce Black of Portland, a contestant on "Project Runway's" season nine.
Some in the buzzing crowd traveled from Portland and Seattle for the April 13 event, drawn by the chance to see Seth Aaron's work. Others were there to support friends and family, curious and excited to see what fashion in Vancouver could be.
"Every show that we've done, things have changed a bit, we're trying to find the right niche," said Brett Allred, one of the two driving personalities behind Couve Couture. If the fall fashion show was an experiment, the spring showcase was Couve Couture's own fashion statement.
Guest designer Bryce Black knew how to send sparks through the crowd as his collection of neon lace and leather vinyl opened the show.
His seven designs both concealed and tantalized, with small tears and rips in the leather, while the lace acted more like a veil. Black had been working on the collection off and on since November. "I had a lot of fun with it," he said. The designer even wore a head-to-toe black lace dress and mask, completed by a stylized priest hat.
Stephanie Lynn's designs embodied a fun and active outlook. The runway documented Sweet Spot Skirts' evolution in apparel beyond skirts. Models dressed as golfers and bicyclists kept the functionality aspect of the designs to the forefront.
It was the prototype athletic jackets that drew a strong reaction from the crowd. Contoured and colorful, they transformed their matching skirts into outfits that could go beyond active wear to everyday.
"It's not just me that's in this, I couldn't do it without them," said Lynn of her design and sewing team, who walk down the runway to applause.
Inspired by her artwork, new designer Dawn Waldal used her original paintings to create textiles for each piece in her collection. Waldal emphasized her sculptural background through a variety of unusually cut clothing.
"I take that same creativity and put that into what you wear or what other people wear, it's a way to express myself in a commercial way without comprising myself," she said. A model seemed more like the Muse of Art in a dramatic green gown with wild hair full of paint brushes.
A delicate purple dress opened Lydia Wagner's collection, with purple braids gracefully cascading down the model's bare back. A graduate of the Art Institute of Portland, Wagner repurposed her senior collection show by adding two new looks.
"I want to get away from designing bridal," she said, aiming to create special clothing that embodies a feminine romanticism. Wagner's skills in draping and sewing could be seen in a Greek statuesque gown, with a high ribbon neckline and woven bodice. Paired with natural makeup and French braids, Wagner's collection seemed effortlessly graceful and soft.
When she's not the other force behind Couve Couture, Alisa Ann Tetreault was bringing dresses back to life with her reclaimed collection. She sought out dresses that were headed to the trash due to stains and outdated elements. She covered the imperfections through hand-crafted ingenuity. Modernized lengths gave energy to the retro dresses and the audience seemed to enjoy the nostalgic reminders.
Recovered lace, pearls and tulle became dramatic Queen Elizabeth-style collars and lady's gloves of various lengths. The styling lent a fierceness to the runway. Tetreault said she wanted to turn the models into bird-inspired creatures.
Designer Kelsey Lovelle Jennrich, recent graduate from the Art Institute of Portland, brought high fantasy to the runway. "My main thing is color, I love using bright colors and different combinations of rich colors," said Jennrich, an aspiring felt and knit artist. She used felted wool in a rich purple and flower-bud green to keep the collection cohesive.
"A lot of pieces are very wearable," she said, citing the how the felt capes fit the weather in the Northwest. Incorporating her love of layers, the felt skirts were accompanied by light turtlenecks in a stormy gray.
Designer Cathy Rae Kudla impressed the audience with her modern take on classic 1950s and '60s silhouettes. Her collection had an ageless quality, giving each piece a very marketable appeal. Her opening look of a blue-green tweed jacket balanced its structure with flirty pops of an A-line skirt. A sleeveless peplum blouse done in a riotous textile of wildflowers was paired with a tailored black pencil skirt.
"Pencil skirts never go out of style," Kudla said. "Fashion has gotten a lot more casual" but people still want those simple, signature pieces that can be worn over and over again.
The spring collection from Seth Aaron embodied all of the Vancouver designer's strengths, with quirky touches that highlighted the personalities of each piece. Set in a palette of black and white, the collection popped with architectural head pieces.
"Seth wanted a shield-like futurist hat for his collection. He wanted things that looked like lamp shades or futuristic masks," said Allred, who created the headpieces from a product called modeling mesh that he could shape and cut on bust forms.
A gown of sheer houndstooth textile floated down the runway while an asymmetrical dress of black and white gradient textile spoke to his talent at pattern manipulation.
Seth Aaron's attention to details abounded with zippers lining the seams of skirts; leather hems and collars gave a hard edge to the collection that capped off the night.
"It seemed like a lot of work," said Allred after the show, "all the volunteers and everyone involved made it flow so naturally, I couldn't imagine doing it without them."
"I had several people tell me afterwards tell me that they were blown away," Kudla said, with many surprised by the caliber of talent and the overall impression of the show.
And Allred is already looking toward the fall, promising Couve Couture will be a biannual event.
"I saw a lot of smiling faces and mesmerized looks," Allred said. "Everyone was laughing and having a good time. It was a really happy event."