Fashion Without Fabric inspires sold out audience with ‘wearable sculptures’

After two-year hiatus, popular event returns in a reimagined setting
“Her Royal Highness Queen Beetrice” by Claire Ivens and Megan McLaughlin, 2022 FWOF Scholarship winners.
Abbey Goers | April 19, 2022

The beauty of Mother Nature, oceans in distress, the destructive force of weather systems, the surprising gentleness of natural decay and danger of societal decay, bees, birds and robotics.

During University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Family Weekend, 225 students in the 3D Design course displayed elaborate and intriguing wearable sculptures for a sold-out show of more than 850 attendees on April 9.

Fashion Without Fabric returned to the Memorial Student Center after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic. This year’s theme, “Reimagining the Matrix: Fashion Responses to Systems and Structures,” also reimagined the structure of the popular event.

Sophie Smith and Ryan Thiede's "Goddess of the Moon"
Sophie Smith and Ryan Thiede's "Goddess of the Moon" / UW-Stout

Instead of the audience seated along a single runway, FWOF was showcased throughout the upper level of MSC, including the Great Hall, the Terrace and ballrooms.

The open format allowed audience members to interact with the 110 teams of models and students, giving time to engage and enjoy each design.

Like a living, breathing wax museum, a luna moth and stag beetle spread their wings, a clock was wound, a cowgirl danced and “Lady Decay,” by Eleanor Berg and Sadie Sroga, stood stoically still among the crowd. Berg, who modeled “Lady Decay,” slowly revealed a small plastic cockroach from a hidden treasure chest and gifted the insect to Rachel, a young audience member in awe.

“The students are inspiring,” Rachel’s parent said at the end of the evening. “My daughter asked, ‘Can we come to this show every year? I'm going to go to Stout when I grow up so I can be in this show!’”

The cockroach now has a prized place on the child’s bookshelf.

Berg is a game design and development-art student from Bismarck, N.D., and Sroga is an industrial design student from St. Paul.

Fashion Without Fabric award winners

Award winners were announced at the end of the night:

  • FWOF Scholarship, $1,000 award: “Her Royal Highness Queen Beetrice” by Claire Ivens, graphic design and interactive media, La Crosse; and Megan McLaughlin, graphic design and interactive media, Green Bay
  • 1st Place, $100: “Iridescence” by Evan Pope, graphic design and interactive media, Brillion; and Aden Weisser, game design and development-art, Milwaukee
Mattie Mihalko, Niahm Sass and Lauren Thomas' "Helios Divine"
Mattie Mihalko, Niahm Sass and Lauren Thomas' "Helios Divine" / UW-Stout
  • 2nd Place, $75: “Helios Divine” by Mattie Mihalko, game design and development-art, Appleton; Niamh Sass, interior design, St. Paul; and Lauren Thomas, graphic design and interactive media, Cottage Grove, Wis.
  • 3rd Place, $50: “Gearhead” by Zach Adler, game design and development-art, Middleton; Michael McQuillen, game design and development-art, Marshfield; and Nicholas Paris, game design and development-art, Clearwater, Fla.
  • Crowd Favorite, $50: “Helios Divine” by Mihalko, Sass and Thomas
  • Artistry and Craft, $25 gift card donated by Mike’s Art and Design: “Mother Nature’s Messenger” by Destinee Schenck, graphic design and interactive media, Janesville
  • Avant Garde Fashion Prize, $25 gift card donated by Mike’s Art and Design: “Shining Opus” by Cara Hicks, graphic design and interactive media, Hugo, Minn.; and Olivia Miller, graphic design and interactive media, Iron Ridge
  • Innovative Use of Materials, $25 gift card donated by Mike’s Art and Design: “Ring of Hummers” by Rachael Dorsey, industrial design, De Pere; and Jenna Zobrak, fashion and retail, Mosinee
  • Accessories and Styling, $25 gift card donated by Mike’s Art and Design: “Rollercoaster” by Bailey Gilbertson, industrial design, Elk Mound; and Julia McIntire, interior design, Clear Lake.

A wearable sculpture ‘fit for a queen’

When thinking about this year’s theme of systems and structures, scholarship winners Ivens and McLaughlin immediately thought of bees – the physical structure of the hive, their social structure and hierarchy and their roles within the colony, they said.

In the process of designing “Her Royal Highness Queen Beetrice,” they looked to Elizabethan-era royal dresses, finding similarities between the queenly gowns and the insect silhouette to bring their wearable sculpture to life.


Claire Ivens and Megan McLaughlin's "Her Royal Highness Queen Beetrice"
Claire Ivens and Megan McLaughlin's “Her Royal Highness Queen Beetrice” / UW-Stout

“We wanted a presence that demanded attention as a queen would,” Ivens and McLaughlin said.

“We wanted to take style inspired from the 1500s. We looked to Elizabethan clothing, known for the big drum skirt that is similar to a bee’s anatomy and decorated the skirt with flowery-looking tissue paper, depicting the bee’s habitat, which then blends into the back of the skirt covered to look like a queen bee’s stripes.

“We employed chicken wire and brown crinkled tissue paper to create a top fit for a queen. Our piece engages the space all around it through the large, volumetric skirt, wire wings that shoot out of the side of the dress and a large collar.”

Ivens and McLaughlin enjoyed being able to engage with the audience throughout the night. “It was such a cool opportunity to be able to speak to so many different people about our piece,” said Ivens, who served as the team’s model. “This was the biggest critique that we’ve ever participated in. It was so cool to hear so much positive feedback and support.”

“I also really enjoyed seeing everyone else's interpretations. It was so cool to see the projects finished after seeing them for the past couple weeks in progress,” McLaughlin added.

Their $1,000 FWOF scholarship will help Ivens and McLaughlin pay for tuition, and in turn, will help them put more money toward art supplies for their classes and labs. 

Bringing their pieces together

Architecture in the human world and in the natural world were common themes throughout the night, both in their elegance and beauty and in their destruction.


Erica Gustafson and Matt Miller's "Fossil Feuds"
Erica Gustafson and Matt Miller's "Fossil Feuds" / UW-Stout

Erica Gustafson, an interior design student from Eau Claire, and Matt Miller, an industrial design student from West Union, Iowa, created “Fossil Feuds,” modeled by Gustafson. An iridescent wash of plastic and purple represented the carnage of an oil spill over a dying coral reef, with a collar of shells and a crown of coins encircling Gustafson’s head, as a constructed nautilus fossil hung from her neck like a shield.

“For ‘Fossil Feuds,’ our inspiration was the pollution, greed and war that is caused by fossil fuels. It's a nonrenewable resource, and we need to find an alternative soon,” they said.

“FWOF gives people the chance to express themselves and think outside the box,” Gustafson added. “There are many obstacles to overcome during the construction process as well, which I think really works our critical thinking skills.”

Julia Huetteman and Megan McDowell agreed. They thought the design process and event were a wonderful experiential learning experience, offering trial and error and pushing students out of their comfort zone.


Julia Huetteman and Megan McDowell's "Tera"
Julia Huetteman and Megan McDowell's "Tera" / UW-Stout

“Being innovative and flexible are two important skills in FWOF. It resulted in such beautiful pieces of art,” said McDowell, an animation and digital media major from Albertville, Minn.

“This assignment taught me to fail and come back with even better ideas to make pieces come together. My favorite part of the design process was watching everything come together in the end. When you’re spending so much time on something, it’s really amazing to see your work pay off,” added Huetteman, an interior design major from St. Michael, Minn.

Their design, “Tera,” was inspired by Japanese temples, or teras, and was modeled by McDowell. They were intrigued by the buildings’ elegant designs and intricate details.

“This concept is shown through every aspect of our design,” they said. “The hat alone is a Japanese temple. The shoulder and waist pieces resemble the roofs of the temples. The skirt of the dress also resembles the architecture due to its triangular shape and the way it flares at the bottom.”

UW-Stout’s School of Art and Design Senior Show is from 6 to 9 p.m. on Friday, May 6, throughout the Applied Arts building and Micheels Hall. Graduating seniors will be displaying and exhibiting their art, designs and ideas. This event is open to the public.

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