The wearable lightness of being: roadkill and electric lights at Art to Wear

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Veronica Tibbitts prepares for tonights Art to Wear show.
Wire, fiber optic lights and skinned roadkill are three things not often grouped together, but the designers of N.C. State’s annual fashion show, Art to Wear, don’t see it that way.

This year—tonight, in fact—marks the 10th anniversary of the collaborative show between the College of Design and the College of Textiles, and the designers are pulling out all the stops. They’re exhausted, but more than anything, they’re inspired.

I spoke with several of these designers, mostly late at night because that was the only time they could pull away from their work long enough for a conversation. Even so, I had to strain to hear them over the commotion in the background of many fervent students racing against the deadline.

Of all the students, though, it is a safe bet that none of them are going quite as extreme as Veronica Tibbitts, who scoured Raleigh’s back roads with a plastic bag, searching for mostly intact roadkill. in order to find her materials.

Tibbitts started with an idea about how much we consume every day, and she ended up picking up road kill on the side of the road. Although I was bracing for a kind of gonzo reality television star gleefully skinning animals, Tibbitts is, in fact, a strikingly collected and poised personality. And thoughtful, too as the concept behind her clothing line is memorable.

“I was inspired by unconventional or throwaway materials, and how they make you think about consumption. My first inspiration was seeing a fox killed on the road, and I thought about how if it had been killed on purpose it could’ve been a purse or a wrap, but on the road it has a much different reaction.

“When you see the face, you see another living animal and you identify with it, and you don’t want to use it as a product,” said Tibbitts, who is a senior Anni Albers scholar, a designation that means she will receive a dual degree from the colleges of both Design and Textiles.

A pair of shoes Tibbitts created from a pair of salvaged opossum skins.
Tibbitts’ impulse, then, was to claim the tossed-aside, or carelessly used, remnants of our lives, such as electricity, discarded price tags, air conditioning filters and, well, roadkill, and then throw it right back at us.

“I wanted to put them on the body to make people aware that they don’t just disappear,” she said.

After watching what she calls “countless redneck YouTube videos” on skinning animals, Tibbitts worked to skin the animals she found, and in stilettos nonetheless. She kept the faces intact in hopes of getting empathy for the creatures, and to make the audience—or customers—reconsider our wasteful practices.

“So many people see fur as fabric and it’s definitely not the same thing. These animals were killed by the lifestyle that we have. Doing this [show] will make a lot of people uncomfortable and will make them think, and that’s what I want,” she said.

If Tibbitts stretches our comfort zone the furthest, then Bryan Bullard spent the most money. , Bullard, a senior in fashion and textile management and the only male in the show, effectively emptied his bank account for the sake of art, dropping more than $1,000 on wire and LED lights. He says his line, however, was well worth it.

Bullard’s collection explores the relationship between humans and technology, ranging from mutualism to commensalism, from harmony to bondage. Each of the pieces light up from LED lights that he rewired to run on batteries, some even designed to beep in time with the music as his models walk down the runway.

As a first-time Art to Wear designer, Bullard says he has been open to advice, but none more so than when Alva Page stopped by the studio. Page, a well-known industry professional and runway coach, spent time coaching Bullard and two other designers’ models on their runway struts.

Bullard isn’t the only designer who got to dip into other aspects of the show, either. Danica Dewell, a junior and Anni Albers scholar, helped organize the budget for the show as well as design her own line of fiber optic-lights dance costumes, the last of which consists of lights alone.

“We’re a $35,000 fashion show, so it’s been amazing seeing everything behind the scenes as well as the planning of the show,” she said, noting that although the show is run as a not-for-profit, ticket sales cover expenses such as renting the Reynolds Coliseum venue.

As both a behind-the-scenes budgeter and designer, Dewell has found herself stretched a little thinly, though she says she is enjoying the whole experience.

“You’d think your job [as a designer] is to just make the garments, but since mine is about dance, I had to choreograph everything. It was so much more than I’d ever expected,” she added when talking about her duties for Art to Wear.

Whether sculpting a wearable Sydney Opera House out of mirrors or imagining a post-apocalyptic world with human-animal hybrids, these student designers are clearly ambitious. In honor of the show’s 10th anniversary, a design showcase also will be held just outside of Reynolds Coliseum where students and alumni of N.C. State can showcase their work for show-goers.

The Design Showcase opens at 6 p.m., and the show starts at 7 p.m. at Reynolds Coliseum on the N.C. State campus. Visit the Art to Wear site for more information.

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