2024 Paper Fashion Show Channels Cabaret in Denver This Week | Westword

2024 Paper Fashion Show Designers Will Channel Cabaret on Thursday

The long-running fashion show inspires students and professionals to turn paper into wearable designs.
A look from the 2019 Paper Fashion Show, which supports Downtown Aurora Visual Arts.
A look from the 2019 Paper Fashion Show, which supports Downtown Aurora Visual Arts. Photo Credit: Jason DeWitt
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The Sports Castle is about to transform into an outpost for cabaret fashion...but instead of fabric, the models will be wearing paper.

This year's iteration of the iconic Paper Fashion Show has a "Papier Cabaret" theme, and guests can expect feathers, beads and even clowns to appear on the runway on Thursday, April 18.

For the past two decades (with some exceptions for COVID), designers have competed for prizes at the annual event by crafting clothing from paper donated by high-end mills. The only rule? The outfits must be made of at least 90 percent paper.

“Over the years, it has grown tremendously,” says Lisa Effress, president of ONE Club for Creativity Denver, the global creative nonprofit that hosts the event. “It started with just a few people and a few designs, and now we get hundreds of people and dozens of designs every year.”

Any funds raised at the Paper Fashion Show are donated to Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA), which provides after-school arts and job training for students ages seven to seventeen. In its history, the Paper Fashion Show has donated $66,000 to DAVA.

This year, DAVA students will have two entries in the show, mentored by Viviane Le Courtois, the center’s program manager. Le Courtois has led 34 teams of DAVA students over the years.
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These DAVA students are participating in the Paper Fashion Show this year.
Catie Cheshire
“Each year offers different creative challenges, and every design is unique,” Le Courtois says. “Students first learn about the theme, draw ideas and create the design. They always come up with different ways of working with paper.”

The two student designs include a melancholy clown inspired by historical images of Bauhaus-style cabaret, as well as a feathery creation based on French Impressionism and late-nineteenth-century cabarets in Paris such as the Moulin Rouge.

Marley Vinson-Brower is the head designer of the melancholy-clown look, which she says was inspired by the emotion cabaret performers convey. “Clowns are very easy to use with emotions,” Vinson-Brower explains. “They can be happy; they can be sad and scared.”

Each student team has five to six members who bring their ideas to the final design. According to Vinson-Brower, incorporating everyone’s ideas into a cohesive piece was both a challenge and a fun way to see how her fellow team members think and use their creativity.
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Students at DAVA are working on final details of their looks now.
Catie Cheshire
 “They kind of flowed together,” Vinson-Brower says.

That team's model, Charlotte Jones, dances at the Arvada Center and will incorporate her ballerina training when she walks the runway in the tutu-esque clown look. Meanwhile, Maria Niño is the lead designer of the feathery look, which is topped off by a giant hat made of braided paper. “It was inspired by historical photos,” she notes.

The students have been putting together their designs for about a month now, having begun brainstorming back in January. Throughout the process, Le Courtois has guided them through the challenges paper can pose. “It can tear easily, and it's stiff and sharp,” she says. “We need to reinforce certain parts, create structures, work with assembling strips and small elements, or sometimes use braiding, origami, layering or papier-mâché.”

The young designers also have to consider leg and arm mobility for their models. Le Courtois says they have folded numerous intricate origami bows, needled beads and cut hundreds of feathers out of paper. The key is to make the final works three-dimensional, a foil to the flatness of the paper from which they're created.

“The PFS inspires DAVA students every year,” says DAVA executive director Krista Robinson. "Our young artists are working alongside professional designers and creators, and they get to see their fashions walk the runway.”

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One of Arielle Parker Bergmann's previous Paper Fashion Show entries.
Arielle Parker Bergmann
Students from the Overland High School fashion club are also looking forward to the experience of seeing their designs on the runway. Their mentor, Arielle Parker Bergmann, is entering a design of her own and helping the club create a peacock-inspired look.

Parker Bergmann has participated in the Paper Fashion Show for eight years, helping her students participate for six. “I'm a fashion designer by trade,” she says. “I enjoy going to the Paper Fashion Show because it gives me the opportunity to create something weird and different and out there. But also it challenges me, because I'm constantly trying to learn different ways to manipulate the paper so that it can come across as fashion on the runway and not just paper on a person.”

Parker Bergmann says she mainly helps her students with time management and pushes them to think out of the box so that their work is authentic, rather than being what they think people would want to see. This year’s student design team lead is Annabel Jones, an Overland freshman whose initial peacock idea was the favorite of the rest of the club.

“She's only sewn one thing, and so we're working on the bodice, and she's draping with paper on the bodice, but she's like, ‘I don't know how to do that,’” Parker Bergmann says. “I'm like, ‘Well, you just try to figure it out.’ … It's all about getting their feet wet and really experimenting with different techniques.”

Parker Bergmann expects forty to sixty hours of work will have gone into the design by the time the show starts. “They're excited about going to Denver and seeing the fashion show,” Parker Bergmann says. “It really opens their minds to all the possibilities of things that they can do. ... What I'm looking forward to is seeing their wonder once they get there and see all the designs, but also, I'm excited to see their design walk down the runway so they can be proud of the finished hard work.”

This year’s show will have a dance troupe performance during intermission and a food truck on site. Effress encourages families to attend. “We are fortunate to live in an area where there is so much creativity and inspiration," she concludes. "And the fact that we're able to take paper — something that's so flat and thin and rigid and breaks easily — and we can turn it into something with movement and design is incredible."

The 2024 Paper Fashion Show, 6 p.m. Thursday, April 18, Sports Castle, 1000 Broadway. Purchase tickets on Eventbrite.
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