Feathery corsets and antler headwear hit Vancouver Alternative Fashion Week catwalks

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You won’t make a whole lot of money putting on fashion weeks in Vancouver, so you’ve really got to love what you’re doing. And judging by the hard work and passion that obviously went into hosting the first night of the inaugural Vancouver Alternative Fashion Week[end] (VALT), the people behind the event love what they’re doing.

Emceed by a theatrical family of actors dressed in Edwardian costumes, the three-day festival kicked off on November 23 at the Ironworks with a “decadence” theme. Things got underway with a performance by House of La Douche. Draped in champagne-lace finery, the dance trio made good use of the narrow, makeshift runway with a lot of risky bumping and grinding.

The first label to rock the catwalk was Shiverz Designs, with its stunning, opulent-but-edgy hair accessories. Standouts included a gorgeous Hydrangea Mini Tophat made with deep-purple velvet hydrangeas, Swarovski crystals, and curled feathers. Another eye-catcher in this series was the Garden Grove Fascinator, which featured three large burnt-orange roses—a little bit derby, a little bit rock ’n’ roll.

Up next was Eternally Waisted by Samantha Stroman. Here we had one-of-a-kind, hand-stitched corsets that are too beautiful to wear just as underwear. Stroman sees them more as decorative overlay pieces, which you can wear almost like a belt with vintage slip dresses or even Ts. And I can’t say I blame her: it would, after all, be a shame to cover up such lovely creations as her bleached-out orange-and-red floral corset or her black sequinned and Venetian-lace number with the feather-trimmed bust.

In between every couple of designers, spectators were treated to “art interludes”, including a humorous set by Ciseaux—an insanely talented singing cellist (Katie Schaan) with no shortage of witty banter. Another act who left a lasting impression was Vikki V, a raunchy rapper from Ohio doing some sort of hot-mess shtick on stage. (Still not sure how much of that was acting.)

The second set of fashion shows launched with Dropping Form Designs by Sheila Munro, who may very well have invented a new subgenre of style: Tribal–New Age–Apocalyptic Victorian Punk. She makes one-of-a-kind vests, jewellery, and headpieces with an eclectic mix of snakeskin inlays, embedded stones, dangling chains, feathers, porcupine quills, upcycled leathers, and even some acrylic-encased butterfly wings. But you know what? It works. The pieces are definite showstoppers.

After that was Arafel Designs, which featured elaborate, rococo-inspired gowns, and for every one of these historically extravagant works of art, there was a modern, somewhat more wearable “Lolita” version made from the same or similar fabrics. It was a concept tailor-made for the night’s theme.

The final two fashion shows of the night included Skye Davies, a recent Vancouver Community College fashion arts grad. Inspired by fall leaf colours, her luxury garments were absolutely captivating. But the indisputable centrepiece in this collection had to be the red virgin-wool coat with a hand-dyed black-lace pattern and oversized hood. Suffice it to say, Davies is definitely a local designer to watch.

Closing the style portion of the evening was April Peters, owner and designer for the iconic House Gallery Boutique in Kits. Known for her medieval velvet and lace goth gowns, Peters ramped up her usual fare with some amazing black-leather steampunk headpieces that included a lot of gold hardware and some rather unexpected full-size antlers. Not only was the Peters show a spectacle, but it was also the perfect way to end a cohesive, well-executed, first-time fashion festival. Bravo VALT!

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