Not to belittle the gravity of a global economic collapse, but when you tire of crying into your empty coffers, it's time to bust out the glad rags. It is rather apt that the Portland designer Emily Sunnell has chosen a Marie Antoinette theme for her upcoming fashion show, an affair that aspires to over-the-top levels of frill, drama, and up-done hair. Let them eat lace, I suppose.
Sunnell's line, Emilia Kaye, takes inspiration from a post-Betsey Johnson approach to the Victorian era, a look that dovetails with Sunnell's job as a hairstylist, where she favors the upswept looks that complement her decadently embellished designs. For the show, she is collaborating with Fada Salon's (where Sunnell also works) French art director, Monic Mateau, to create follicular homes for Sunnell's hairpieces, and the models' make-up will be powdery pale and red lipped. Set to a melodramatic violin-and-accordion soundtrack of Miss Murgatroid and Petra Haden recordings, the goal of creating a mood of melancholic excess stands a promising chance of being reached.
It must be noted, though, that the other side of Sunnell's coin is one of sheer resourcefulness and distaste for waste. All of the clothing in the Emilia Kaye line is reconstructed from old pieces, a process that Sunnell approaches with artistic gusto, making frothy special occasion-wear out of refuse. In fact, an entire arm of her operation deals in custom orders for people who want to breathe new life into items they already have—for instance, a sentimental dress that belonged to a grandmother, but which may be ill fitting and dated, can be rectified to a purposeful place in today's wardrobe.
A designer for only a few years, Sunnell began making items for sale in earnest about a year and a half ago and her work can be found at Seaplane (827 NW 23rd) and Frock (1439 NE Alberta). The former, historically known for girlier designs, is where to seek the more intricate, higher end of Sunnell's spectrum, and the designer says she tends to sell more of her less dramatic pieces at Frock—pieces that can be worn every day, but are by no means casual, like a delicate antique lace top with puffed sleeves that she recently styled with jeans and boots for a photo shoot.
As gluttonous as her artistic eye may be (funny enough, she says she herself doesn't wear frilly clothing, instead living vicariously through her patrons and exhibitions), there's no question that Emilia Kaye is rooted in production values that approach something downright... sensible.
"Madame Deficit" must be rolling in her grave. (Fada Salon, 615 SW Broadway, Ste. 4, Thurs Dec 11, 7 pm, free, but canned food donations to the Oregon Food Bank are encouraged)