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Young and the Fabulous

The VMFA fashion program helps create tomorrow's designers

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Model Heidi Ulrich, who wore the best in show design by Annie-Ward Love of Henrico High School, from the inspiring painting "Construction #5" by Ralston Crawford. - BRIGET GANSKE
  • Briget Ganske
  • Model Heidi Ulrich, who wore the best in show design by Annie-Ward Love of Henrico High School, from the inspiring painting "Construction #5" by Ralston Crawford.

Nervous buzz grows as teenagers apply eye shadow, paint their nails and braid each other's hair between bites of turkey sandwiches and potato chips. It could be the backstage of any dance recital or beauty pageant except, upon a closer look, the dresses are not made of silk or taffeta. Instead the fabric consists of painted plastic spoons, rolled brown paper bags, broken CDs, duct tape, tissue paper, tree bark, cardboard, seashells, leaves, maps, feathers and a lot of hot glue.

More than 50 middle school and high school students participate in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' Teen Stylin' program. Each young designer draws inspiration from a piece of art in the museum along with elements from a Dale Chihuly glass exhibit to create a wearable piece of art during the "Fire and Ice" exhibition and competition on Dec. 9.

"Many of these students are interested in exploring fashion programs, however, we have also had students do this program because they are interested in sculpture, installation, and performing arts," says Jessica Bauserman, youth and family events coordinator at the museum. "We try to expose the students to as many possible professions in the field of fashion and art as possible."

Rachel Morrissey, modeling a painted dress with hanging watches and brooches created by Rose Rea, comments on the model's role. "I feel a little bit uncomfortable but it's cool because you sort of create this character in your head and then you get to channel that even if it's absolutely nothing like who you are."

The judges make their selections for categories including best use of alternative materials, most wearable, best use of creative construction, best interpretation of a work of art, most green, and best in show. Prizes include museum fashion institute certificates and a free trip to New York.

Henrico High School student Annie-Ward Love wins for her piece, dimensional transition, which is designed with plastic forks, metal spatulas and a geometric headdress that transitions into a skirt.

Back in the dressing room Annie-Ward Love and her model Heidi Ulrichs cannot contain their excitement. "I worked really hard," Love said. "There was awesome competition. I have always kind of wanted to be a fashion designer. When I was little, I did all these little fashion sketches and used to make dresses out of tissue paper. ... The most challenging part was making it stay together. It's huge and I couldn't even get it in the car. ... I'm speechless right now." S

Garments of winners and runners-up will be displayed at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts through Jan. 30.

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