Gerard ter Borch, the 17th century Dutch painter whose work is currently on view at the Detroit Institute of Arts, is known for his complex psychological and social portraiture. The more fashionably superficial eye, however, is more riveted by his depictions of extravagant attire — specifically the ladies’ lavish and formal gowns, often luminous focal points of his work.
Ter Borch’s renderings of clothing are fastidious. Each article is meticulously detailed, down to the very last crease and pin-tuck — draping satin with brocade trim, falling bands made of gossamer lace, ruffled stockings, blousy sleeves and tiny bows. These details — particularly the standard “ruff” — planted the idea for Ruff and Ready to Wear, a design contest and fashion show being hosted by the DIA.
Drawing inspiration from the 17th century fashions of ter Borch’s paintings, the museum put out a call for entries to local designers, inviting students to create and submit their own works of art, with one stipulation: Each piece must include a modern-day ruffle.
The juried selection ranges from fantastically absurd art pieces to the supremely wearable. Tracey Sellers, DIA head of studio programs and fashion show coordinator, says, “I guess what we didn’t want to see were replications of garments that were in the paintings.”
College for Creative Studies fiber major Bethany Taylor is one participant in the show. Her peach silk chiffon short jacket, paired with wraparound apron pants, features a pretentious high-collared organza ruff that makes its way modestly down the front of the body. “The ruff reminds me not of ter Borch’s paintings, as it does the portraits of Queen Elizabeth and the pompous Renaissance mentality.”
A more tactile submission, fittingly entitled “Cups,” is made entirely of gold foil and white cupcake liners, sewn together with matching thread. Leeanna Laliberte, a fashion design and merchandising major at Wayne State University, focused on ter Borch’s portrayal of texture and luster of fabrics. Every detail of construction is accounted for — the high-back neckline, fitted bodice, scalloped skirt and the circular ruff around the neck. She attempts to re-create a virago sleeve, discernible in many of the artist’s paintings (such as “Portrait of a Young Woman”), with more than 80 large cups per sleeve for fullness.
Other designs in the show include corsets and microminis offset by royalty-inspired ruffs; a full-length, natural linen dress with gauze overlay and five layers of linen ruffles; and red crepe ruffles daintily bordering an iridescent denim wrap-dress.
Internationally recognized artist Cat Chow (see sidebar) is one of the three judges on the panel, joined by Sarah Lurtz, manager of Pure Detroit Design Lab, and Susan Howes, HOUR Detroit fashion editor. “I appreciate wearability, but it doesn’t have to be practical,” Chow says. “I’m looking for originality, innovation, something very unusual.”
The winner gets the opportunity to display and sell original clothing at Pure Detroit Design Lab. If 10 different interpretations of Ruff and Ready to Wear sounds difficult to judge, wait until the artists are strutting down the T-shaped runway to the sounds and samples of DJ Slo-Poke, clad in their own creative vision (or meeting their models on the catwalk), full of the energy they put into each design.
Ruff and Ready to Wear is 7 p.m., Friday, April 22, at Rivera Court in Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7900.
Check out Artistic currency Meghan McEwen writes about fashion for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org