Look of the future: Upcycling turns upholstery into high fashion at fashion show

The thirteen models, representing their respective firms, walk the runway at the IIDA MERGE Fashion Show for the penultimate time in advance of hearing the judges’ decision.
The thirteen models, representing their respective firms, walk the runway at the IIDA MERGE Fashion Show for the penultimate time in advance of hearing the judges’ decision.

The future looks upcycled.

Upholstery, carpeting, linoleum and tiles came alive Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Ballroom thanks to the work of 13 design teams participating in the ninth annual MERGE Fashion Show, which tasks designers with turning interior design material into wearable art.

This year’s theme, “Fit for the Future,” saw fantastical designs that lit up, shape-shifted and fused flora with the human form. Some team statements predicted symbiosis with nature, others gender neutrality. All vied to win any of the five prizes: most wearable, best model attitude, best use of materials, crowd favorite and – the most coveted – best in show.

LPAS, won both best in show and crowd favorite with a deceptively traditional “little black dress for everyone” – think 1940’s Dior – whose A-line skirt the model unbuttoned and fanned out into a glorious circular rainbow. The crowd burst into cheers as she held the circle high, its gradated panels glistening.

Casey Wong, modeling for Lionakis, vogued his way to the best model attitude prize in a wig, sunglasses and bodice, all of which he whipped off to reveal cropped hair, a cosmic burst of eyeshadow and a paint-splattered skirt reminiscent of Alexander McQueen’s iconic spray-painted dress of spring 1999.

“We usually imagine a future that’s stark, dark, detached and dominated by technology,” Wong said. “But let’s re-imagine a future we can create: one that’s inspired by diversity, color, inclusivity, health, love and freedom and expression.”

ATI floated a nymphic vision of ecofeminism down the runway. Hand-cut flora and seaweed spiraled down her dress into an oceanic, teal-green train.

Other outfits were designed to withstand dystopia. Stantec, which won best use of materials, bent linoleum into hooded, silver-studded armature, realizing a vision of humankind augmented by artificial intelligence.

Sustainability was on everyone’s minds at an event predicated on the upcycling of textiles. “Designers are looking at how they can use products in different and interesting ways, and what happens to the product at the end of its lifetime,” said event coordinator Michelle Moretti. “The end goal with a lot of manufacturers is that those products are recycled or repurposed.”

Sponsorship from the International Interior Design Association was funneled into three design scholarships for students and upcoming professionals, awarded at the event. The largest scholarship of $2,500 went to Mindy Morettini, a Sacramento State student who also modeled for the Sacramento State design team. Her project imagined a multigenerational office space that could be a “second home for people,” she said.

“I’m excited,” she said. Morettini’s hair was slicked back in a style inspired by model Gigi Hadid, while her smooth white-and-silver ensemble took cues from famed architect Zaha Hadid. “It pays off to enter competitions,” she added as a note of advice to fellow students.

As the judges finalized their decisions, all 13 models walked the runway once more. Wong unfolded a pride flag and paraded it with congeniality. Between the visions of 13 designers, for a few hours at the Regency Ballroom, the future was here.

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Chalay Chalermkraivuth, from Yale University, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee. She reports on arts and entertainment, the LGBTQ community and social justice. She grew up in Bangkok, Thailand.