A fashion event that features origami, unicorns and figure skaters gliding across the Pfister Hotel ballroom sounds like a typical Timothy Westbrook event. The Project Runway alum and former Pfister artist-in-residence has made a name both for his commitment to sustainable practices, including his reuse of discarded materials, and also for his out-of-the-box fashion show ideas. For example, Paleontology of a Woman, his dinosaur-themed fashion show at the Milwaukee Public Museum last fall, featured elaborate triceratops headpieces and garments made of plastic bags.
But his March 19 show Legacy is more personal than that.
“This particular show came out of me conceiving what would be my senior thesis — it starts with telling my personal story, and I wanted it to be on ice, ” Westbrook explains.
The skating part of the show requires explanation: Growing up in northern New York State, Westbrook was a budding figure skater with the potential to achieve greatness, he says. But while he made a synchronized figure skating team in high school that could have been a starting point, the costs and his inability to drive put that opportunity out of his reach.
“It’s disappointing to feel that potential in yourself and then not realize it. There I was, basically 14, making a decision that I wouldn’t skate competitively.”
Legacy takes that moment as a starting point for a tale about life’s journey and the decisions we make as we go — though don’t expect the story to get any more concrete than that. Westbrook says the storyline is abstract. It includes religious imagery, folded outfits inspired by paper origami cranes, art scraps from local abstract artists Pamela Anderson and Bass Collective, and homages to family members who’ve guided him along the way.
“There’s a million things going on visually and conceptually,” he says. “I just put concepts in a blender and hit high speed.”
In addition to featuring three figure skaters (who’ll glide across a special type of rubber that audience members will be able to walk on), the show includes 12 models — four over age 30, four under 30, four males and four drag queens.
Westbrook identifies as a fiber artist first and foremost, a fact he says is often ignored in coverage of his work. His shows are designed to prompt conversations about what should be considered beautiful.
His shows also comment occasionally on the fashion industry — in a searching rather than authoritative way.
The first line of his “artist statement” contends, “I do not pretend to have all of the answers, but I will admit to trying to find them.”
“I’m not saying that ‘This is the only way you can do a show; it has to be a spectacle,’” Westbrook says. “By all means, catwalk is out. I’m just asking questions and also having a really good time.”
Working on Legacy has been an opportunity for Westbrook to reflect on what he learned as a contestant on Bravo’s Project Runway, where he was eliminated from the competition in the third week. He says that his desire to use only what he was given to work with on the show clashed with his goal of creating fashion out of raw, virgin materials.
“The way that I work is that I need a reason to make something, and a story gives me the reason. ‘Make a dress so that we can talk about it and maybe not like it’ is not a good reason,” Westbrook says.
But he walked away from the show with a renewed understanding of his personal aesthetic — especially, he says, after a conversation with Nina Garcia. She asked him why he never used menswear concepts on the show, knowing that he has a penchant for playing with gender in his creations. That’s a question he looks forward to answering in Legacy and in the future. He’s got a great deal to look forward to, including another original show at the Charles Allis Art Museum in August, tentatively titled Unis: The Origin of the Unicorn. He’s also hopes to work some of the pieces from Paleontology into a Danceworks event in 2014 or 2015, and he might collaborate with the Pettit Center’s annual Red, White and Blades show to incorporate elements from Legacy. But it’s Legacy that he considers his moment to reflect and take a leap forward into the future. Triple axels optional but encouraged.
Legacy, a visual fashion event produced by Timothy Westbrook Studio, is at the Pfister Hotel’s Victorian Ballroom on Wed., March 19. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the show begins at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through Westbrook’s Facebook page at facebook.com/TimothyWestbrook. For $25, audience members also receive admission to the Silversärk fashion show Sanctuary at Hot Water Wherehouse at 8 p.m. on Fri., March 21.