From Business Development to Modeling: My Night at the IIDA Fashion Show
Bart Tocci: I’m about to step out from the safety of 40-foot curtains and walk onto a fully lit fashion runway. I am wearing a carpet. I have dark solar film sun glasses covering my eyes. I have plastic welding rod wrapped around my left arm and both ankles. My face is painted with pink, blue, gold, and silver eye shadow. My hair is pink. The lights make it difficult to see the 1,700 people about to see me.
This was not a recurring nightmare. This was the 19th annual International Interior Design Association (IIDA) Fashion Show. The theme this year: Ritual. Twenty-one architecture firms (and four college groups) compete in this massive event for the chance to win best in show. It’s an opportunity to flex creative muscles, as outfits are designed and built using construction materials. These materials must be pulled from partner sponsors. (If you partner with a paint company, you can paint your stuff. You can use their paint swatches, or buckets, as one team did. You cannot, however, paint anyone on stage. Believe me, I asked.)
Like the materials, the teams’ models must be from partner sponsors as well. When SAAM Architects, one of our design partners, asked us to join their fashion team, we were expected to provide physical specimens. That’s where I come in.
Did someone say…5’10”? 165lbs? Pale white? Ginger beard? Yes. Yes, someone did say that.
I was told by our own Frances Hughes, who has participated in this event in the past, that if I was good at dancing, I would be good at the runway. Spoiler alert: I’m a phenomenal dancer. So I said sure, and we went to a rehearsal, and no one was dancing. Probably because this was fashion, not dance, but for some reason this rattled me. Because I came to dance. (Dance, dance, dance.) I’m wearing all my favorite brands, brands, brands, brands. “Brands”, as it is used here, means materials: solar film from 127 Energy, fence screen from…FenceScreen, carpet backing, carpet fiber, VLT, welding rod, and more from Mannington Commercial.
I learned very quickly that this was serious. There’s no smiling in fashion – I don’t know if anyone has told you that. I’m telling you that now. Everyone at the rehearsal was walking down a carpet runway, headphones in, turning around, looking severe, turning again with severity, and severe-walking, stopping with severity, checking their time severely, and walking again. They knew what they had to do. And so did I. Actually I didn’t know but I was going to figure it out once I was on stage. Maybe.
Backstage, it was almost time. We completed last-minute additions, tied ties, strapped straps, and watched the other groups climb into their ornate outfits (sometimes it took three or four people to put these things on). I felt like a diva: I needed help on two separate occasions tying my shoes and picking up a plastic cup. “Can you…pick up that cup?” Bending over in carpet-backing pants: not easy.
Taylor, Katie and I went through the bullet points while in line to step on stage: we had two and a half minutes on the runway, T and K would walk out, they would spray their air-cans with carpet fiber flying, I would step on stage, I would walk to the left branch of the Y-shaped runway, then I would walk back to the center, then the right.
The important thing was to show off the coat I was wearing. It was a Dracula-esque piece, made from white fence screen, with a popped collar that went almost above my head. It was long – the bottom of the coat hovered about two inches from the floor. There were graffiti designs laser-cut throughout, and behind the cuts there was hand-woven carpet fiber from our team. There were the words Justice, Unity, and Truth, all emboldened with the orange, red, and yellow woven carpet fiber. This thing looked cool.
The group in front of us walked off stage, and Portugal, The Man’s “Feel it Still” came on, which was our cue.