Attack on high fashion

“There’s something very fashionista, very dry and cold, about the fashion world,” muses R. Brooke Priddy.

And no matter what Calvin Klein, Vera Wang — or even “friendlier” designers like Betsey Johnson — would have you believe (and buy), that’s not a good thing.

“Paul [Olszewski], Kelledy [Francis] and I are repelled by that,” Priddy announces.

In fact, the three Asheville-based designers aim to soon turn the fashion world on its pretentiously sculpted head.

Their Post-Apocalyptic Fashion Performance will feature models of all body types slinking along in curve-hugging fabrics, carrying brimming vessels of water that will drench the wearers as they move.

The music, in true Asheville fashion, will be live; the catwalk, dominated by motorcycles and fire dancers.

So much for the old guard, then — the dour-faced mannequins with the bodies of fasting greyhounds. Think, instead, stuntwomen storming the runway while skateboarders ollie and breakdancers head-spin.

Priddy, leather designer Paul Olszewski and seamstress Kelledy Francis are all newly established in Asheville, and decided they wanted to exhibit their new works — their fall collections, if you will — without a lot of dispassionate, mechanical strutting.

“That’s just boring,” Priddy sniffs.

And she doesn’t abide boring. Priddy’s works revolve around the ultra-sensual: ocean and bird motifs on stretchy, silky, satiny fabrics. Lingerie. Clingy dresses.

Her new pieces — all one-of-a-kind — are even imbued with their own, distinct smells, using essential oils.

Olszewski’s pieces, meanwhile, are primal works of leather and metal. He fashions hats from aluminum (Julia Roberts sported one of his leather sombreros in Vanity Fair). He’s outfitted rapper Eve and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett. His studio — located in Asheville’s river district — is, according to Priddy, a barren, industrial landscape.

But the two designers found that their pieces made a surprisingly intimate match.

“It’s about that middle ground between femininity and the hard edge of leather,” Priddy explains.

And Francis’ designs bring the drama.

Adept at costuming drag queens and theater groups, the artistic seamstress puts good fun into fashion — literally: Her puppet-show corset features hand-cast dolls tucked in the breast pockets, the better to entertain the cad who tries to steal a peek of cleavage. Her empty-love-affair corset is made of cotton envelopes.

“Everything is very comfortable and easy to wear,” says Francis.

Inspired by the contrasts between their individual work, the three designers — who successfully produced a fashion show at the New French Bar back in June — embarked on a plan to take their designs to the next level.

“We wanted to create this epic battle that would signify a post-apocalyptic feeling,” explains Francis. “Post-apocalyptic in a really crazy, scientific way, but also in reality.”

That maleficent inspiration found its roots in memories of 9/11, as witnessed directly by Priddy and Olszewski, both living in New York City at the time of the terrorist attacks. Though the two didn’t know each other back then, they share a sense of ravaged landscape.

Which made Asheville’s gritty warehouse district the perfect backdrop for the upcoming Sept. 11 performance.

But with tragedy comes, sometimes, joy: Olszewski’s son Oscar was born the day the Twin Towers fell, and will play an important role in the fashion show, his third birthday.

So post-apocalyptic doesn’t just mean Dark Angel and Mad Max. “It’s going to be swirling and whirling and active, like a war, but not necessarily violent,” Priddy says.

High-concept theatrics aside, don’t expect snooty, exclusive pret-a-porte. This isn’t about Asheville’s next top model — unless Tyra Banks wants to wear a tin hat.


The Post-Apocalyptic Fashion Performance will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 11, at 339 Old Lyman St., in the River District. The event is free. For more information, call 258-0230.

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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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