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Curious Couture: These collectors showcase their creativity through fashion

'You can't look at them without smiling,' says Leesa Bringas of her Betsey Johnson clothing collection 

For Nadine Olivier, clothes aren't just practical items. She's a collector of a type of Japanese street fashion called Lolita.

Clothing collectors “take clothing a step further,” she said. “We want to also showcase our creativity and who we are as a person with it.”

Some of Olivier's clothing is on display until March 3 at Cambrian College's Open Studio in an exhibit called Curious Couture: Fab Fashions & Personal Collections.

“I think it's an interesting way to showcase how clothing and personal collections can be used in an artistic way,” Olivier said.

Lolita fashion developed in the late 90s, and is influenced by Victorian and Edwardian and children's clothing and clothes from the Rococo period (France of the late 17th and early 18th century).

Olivier, who said she got interested in the clothing partly because of her love of Japanese anime, said the look is very modest, and often involves bell-shaped skirts with crinolines.

There's several different subcategories associated with Lolita fashion, including sweet (with “cute” motifs such as bunnies), classic (which has more Victorian influence) and gothic (featuring darker motifs such as bats or graveyards).

Olivier, who owns about 30 of these Japanese-made dresses, said she was drawn to Lolita “because it was very modest, beautiful and elegant.”

She said she does actually wear clothing from her collection, but not usually to work, where she's trying to cultivate a more professional look.

Open Studio technician Leesa Bringas' collection of clothing by veteran American fashion designer Betsey Johnson is also featured in the exhibit.

The clothing she has on display, some of it from as early as the 70s, is brightly coloured, featuring splashy motifs including butterflies and pterodactyls. 

“You can't look at them without smiling, because they're so funky and silly,” said Bringas, who is often seen wearing Betsey pieces, along with her favourite shoes by Canadian shoe designer John Fluevog.

“Personally, I just love her whimsy, her eclecticism,” she said.

Bringas said she hopes to sell her collection of Betsey Johnson pieces to a museum some day. 

Also featured in the Curious Couture exhibit are Bob Basset handmade masks belonging to Richard Neufeld, the co-ordinator of Cambrian’s design and visual arts program.  

The masks, made by Ukrainian crafters from pieces of gas masks and molded leather, fit into the steampunk genre. “They're quite intricate and exquisitely made,” Bringas said.

While the exhibit's opening reception was Feb. 8, there's still a few opportunities to meet the collectors.

On Feb. 18 from 12-1 p.m., Neufeld will discuss his mask collection. 

He'll touch “on his experience of collecting his masks and the ongoing development in the craftsmanship and characters development,” said the description on the Facebook event page.

“Art, design and fashion movements (such as Steampunk and Goth) will also be discussed, in which Basset is influenced by as well as inspires.”

Then on Feb. 24, Olivier will discuss her collection of Lolita fashion, giving “background on the evolution of Lolita fashion from the Harajuku fashion district in Tokyo, Japan in the 70s, as well as intersecting design movements influenced by Lolita fashion.”

Admission to the exhibit is free, but donations are welcome.

Exhibit hours are Wednesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday 12 to 4 p.m. or by appointment. Open Studio is closed Feb. 15. On Feb. 16, it's open 2-5 p.m.

Please note that items are not to be touched, unless invited by the owners of the collections. Many items are old (some from the 60s) and fragile.

Learn more about the exhibit here.


Heidi Ulrichsen

About the Author: Heidi Ulrichsen

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