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Laura Fulk: “Suffocate”

24 Apr

Rock Dreams for High Fashion or Sewing on the Edge

When I catch Laura Fulk on the phone about 24 hours before her first solo show “Suffocate” debuts, she doesn’t seem all that stressed. She probably is, but she is more gracious and excited than anything. She had just been up to the Lab Theatre for load in, and seemed thrilled that there were lights, “I mean, lights!” she bursts. She has left producers Emma Berg and Kristoffer Knutson of MPLSart in charge in charge of tech set-up before run-through. Right now, all she has to worry about are the five dresses that still need to be finished. I would be panicking, but she is unfazed.

Mind you, that is five dresses of 32. Large-scale production is nothing new for Fulk, but the full line is a leap forward. With her degrees from the Minneapolis Community & Technical College in Apparel Design and Services a BFA in Studio Arts from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design, Fulk has been working non-stop since 2003. She has done benefits, theatre, commissions and more group shows she can shake a stick at, including three appearances in Voltage Fashion Amplified. “Suffocate” is giving her a new level of control, from choosing collaborators to having fabrics specially printed, and she is using that control to push her higher-minded designs to a new limit. In a fashion scene that has a lot of ready-to-wear dresses and design, Fulk’s fractured sculptures stand out, a dash of Galliano to leaven our Target tastes.

That intransigent position lead her to explore suffocation as a theme. She acknowledges that it is not the most upbeat or marketable, but it was the thought she kept returning to as she struggled with her creative process. Rather than articulate a particular narrative of struggle, in suffocation Fulk saw something more universal, “the fight to catch your breath. Everyone can relate to losing their breath, and how scary that is.” It is an explicit manifestation of the twin struggles of humanity, against nature on one side and against superstructures on the other. Her collaborators on “Suffocate” exemplify the push and pull of those forces and Fulk’s attempts at resolution. Melissa Breitenfeldt, a fellow MCAD graduate, is an abstract painter whose work Fulk describes as “architectural” and who introduced Fulk to Pictura, a printing company who printed the fabrics for “Suffocate”. Tattoo artist Jay Langer has had a longstanding exchange with Fulk, swapping clothes for tattoos. When Fulk wanted organic designs inked, she turned to Langer.

On the night of the show, the crowd was well heeled, and well turned out. Robyne Robinson ran around snapping pictures on her phone. There was anticipatory chatter as designers, impresarios and artists mingled while DJ Mike the 2600 King spun funk and bossa nova mixes that boomed through the space. The Lab (formerly the Guthrie Lab, before they moved to their lavish new digs) is a brick-lined underground cavern, a mix of industrial and grandiose, whose dark heights felt aptly oppressive for the theme of the evening. With seating on two sides of a long promenade and large white scrim emblazoned with “FULK” in silver at one end, the stage was set for the debut.

3466372282_4726ecb87b1The first dresses were surprising, in that they were shockingly demure. High-necked sheathes in cream with a dramatic swath of Langer’s Japanese cherry blossom tattoo fabric through the body and angled hems, they are advanced cocktail dresses, but not radical fare. This simplicity carried on until the first evocations of the suffocation theme came out- high shields jutting out in front of the lips coming out of longer dresses and black clouds rising up in front of the face from a form fitting shirt tops. The literalness of this gesture seemed more technical than inspired and there was a palpable tension mounting in the crowd who weren’t getting the fix they wanted yet.

3466373386_1c8dcde638The flourishes of the first set bearing Langer’s tattoo fabric transitioned into a second set incorporating fabric printed with Breitenfeldt’s paintings. The palette changed from more muted natural tones into bolder coppers, greens and silvers. The most striking ensemble of the set came in the form of a silver ensemble- skin-tight shorts to the knee, belly and chest baring jacket topped with a high half shell like a cross-section of the Sydney Opera house. With bright bold lines on mottled backgrounds, Breitenfeldt’s paintings recalled pulp novel covers of 50s space stories, a futuristic counterpoint to the relaxed nature of the first pieces. Still, the crowd seemed anxious for a more cohesive, identifiably avant-garde gesture. A lot of promise had been built into this night.

3466374602_c047b33a5cAnd then there was a change. The sound got louder, the lights; brighter, whiter. At the top of the runway was a model in a constructed slip dress, severe white and tight with white puffy constructions sitting at her shoulders, the only hint of color bright flashes of faux feathers in red, green and yellow in the model’s hair. The languor of the previous models abandoned, she strode down the promenade with a fierceness that the show had been building to, and as she walked, she pulled a hidden string and the constructions exploded into a multi colored shoulder cape. The applause the audience had been waiting to give started to ripple and build, a cathartic release from all the baited breathes earlier in the show.

3465560875_f4c826e05dThe final pieces were that couture climax that we had been waiting for. A Siamese dress perfectly balanced and mirrored that split apart like a seed pod, a simple white top and bottom that hooked onto the FULK scrim to turn it flowing train, a white hooded cocoon from which the model burst out to turn the cocoon into a Technicolor skirt. There was a confident experimentation, an emphasis on the balance between pure light and joyful color and the transformational nature of clothing that solidified Fulk’s coming out. The models did their final promenade and Fulk demurred to walk, leaving the audience, if not breathless, at least with the feeling of some fresh air.

With flair for higher concept couture and severe construction, Fulk realizes that her work may not be for everyone. She does not have an outside vendor retail plan in place but that does not seem to be a hindrance to her plans. “What I really love to do,” she says, “is work with individuals to make unique pieces for them, either new pieces or based off the collection.” Pieces from “Suffocate” will be for sale on her website and she expects the show to open up some new clients for her. As for future projects, she has turned down some offers from theatre productions in favor of working with bands, which she says are “more fearless” when it comes to fashion. “What I really want,” she adds laughing, “is the cover of the Rolling Stone.” Spoken like a rock star.

For Staciaann’s full photo set, click here.

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