“The glass of fashion and the mould of form”

Total immersion: Fashion photographer Yve Adams collaborated with apparel designer Kristina Benshoff to capture the spirit of Benchoff’s "Ophelia's Soliloquy" collection. Photo by Yve Adams

There are a number of reasons why local fashion designer Stina Andersen wanted to hold her fashion exhibition at The Artery: Andersen's professional relationship with Arts Council Program Director Graham Hackett is one (the two worked together previously on one of Hackett's Catalyst Productions projects). Then there's the proximity of the new Asheville Area Arts Council exhibit space (the Artery) to Andersen's studio in the Wedge building. And, even better, there are the Artery's indoor/outdoor possibilities for a runway show.

"Because it's a small space, we didn't want to leave anyone out," explains Andersen, who introduces Immersion: A Fashionable Experience this Saturday. The exhibit, a collaboration with Andersen's studio-mate Kristina Benshoff, photographers Yve Adams and Bevin Coffee and writer Melinda Tennison, remains on display through the month of August. But what takes place during the Saturday opening reception is unlikely to be contained within the four walls of the Artery.

Anyone who's been attending Asheville-based fashion shows for the last several years knows that runways can entail anything from a catwalk at The Orange Peel to the wide central hallway of The Grove Arcade. What’s important is that the maximum number of viewers can eye the apparel. At the Artery show, viewers will be able to be inside or outside the gallery space — models will make their way into the Artery from a staging area in a neighboring building.

But the great outdoors plays a larger roll in Immersion than simply extra runway space. Both Andersen and Benshoff incorporate nature imagery and inspiration into their clothing designs. "We have different styles, but we're creating a mood or a story line between our two collections," says Anderson.

For Benshoff’s part of the evening, her "Ophelia's Soliloquy" re-imagines Shakespeare's tragic heroine in a contemporary setting. Benshoff's daughter plays Ophelia in this dramatic runway show. "I got inspired by watching Hamlet," says Benshoff. "I'm intrigued by the character of Ophelia — she actually dies off-stage." (Ophelia, who uttered “The glass of fashion and the mould of form” and “I was the more deceived” supposedly drowns in a brook.) Benshoff’s collection will go through what she calls "the three stages of Ophelia": love, deception and madness. The concept is light in the beginning, darker toward the end, and features motifs of water or flowers.

Botanicals and water also make their way into Andersen's designs. "I was going into the woods and taking a lot of nature photography," she says. "That experience was informing me so much that I wanted to create my new fabric around that."

Andersen also found herself musing about Ophelia, the central character in Benshoff's "Soliloquy." "I was thinking, what happens afterwards?" Andersen envisioned Ophelia going deeper into the woods and having a reincarnation of sorts — what she calls "the untold story of Ophelia." From that came Andersen's runway show: "ARTeriographic," described as "Ophelia's rebirth through nature's power and the transformation of death into new life."

Andersen says she loves creating stories where people can be invited into a different place than they've been before. To create that ambiance at the Artery, musician Chris Stack and vocalist Sage Sansome will perform and Michael Folliett will do projections, which will include images that Andersen and Benshoff used to create their fabrics.

These designers not only fashion garments — they design textiles, too. Andersen uses photos or scans in a program such as Photoshop where she can manipulate the image or create repeat patters. The completed images of the patterns are then sent to a company that prints yardage. For the "ARTeriographic" collection, fabrics include a gray and green image of rock strata on cotton knit, a blue and green print taken from a photograph of a waterfall, and — for Andersen's main character, primordial earth-goddess Gaia — a vivid red, yellow and green print from a photograph of moss.

In 2008, Andersen took a class at Penland on how to print fabric. She's a self-trained designer, though she did go to school for sculpture and fibers. Benshoff studied fashion design at S.C.A.D. The two designers have known each other for four years (both work as art therapists for their day jobs), and last August they moved into the Wedge studio together. Previously, Andersen and her ARTeries line had occupied a cheerful but cramped space in the Phil Mechanic building; Benshott’s Provocation line was based out of her home. "I get to work more now," says Benshoff. "It's always evolving."

Immersion celebrates not just the two individual designers, but also their venture together in the shared studio space, as well as their work with other artists and the creative process itself. Benshoff's fashion illustrations will be on display, as well as a collaboration with Adams, while Andersen is collaborating with Tennison and Coffee on a photographic documentary with some written prose, documenting the fashion experience from the customer's point of view.

"People are seeing the end product the night of the exhibition," says Andersen. "We want to take them all the way from the inception of an idea."

— Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

who: Immersion: A Fashionable Experience
what: Two runway shows, exhibiting photographers Yve Adams and Bevin Coffee, video projection by Michael Folliett, documentary story by Melinda Tennison, music from Chris Stack, Sage Sansome and DJ Cosmo Q, dance by Belle Afrique and Cindy Bowen presents children's book Playing with Gaia.
where: The Artery
when: Saturday, Aug. 6 (6-9 p.m. ashevillearts.com/artery)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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