Heather Wakefield's designs emphasized themes of change and rebirth. (Photos by Bonnie Chan)
Barrel-chested, long-haired and deep-voiced Steven Young looks like someone who would feel right at home wearing a mantle of pelts as an extra in "The Game of Thrones."
Instead, he serves fittingly enough as executive director of the Crucible, that cavernous 56,000-square-foot West Oakland warehouse filled with fire, sparks, light and molten substances all year round.
The Crucible is a much-loved nonprofit institution that teaches more than 5,000 people each year in industrial arts, arming youth and adults alike with blowtorches and safety goggles in their quest to empower the community through blacksmithing, welding, glassblowing, woodworking and more. It offers tours and open houses, run a youth industrial arts education program and rent studio spaces to local artists. It also puts on a spectacular, one-of-a-kind production once each year.
To celebrate its 14th anniversary this year, the Crucible brought back a fashion show concept that they did years ago for this past weekend's "Hot Couture: A Fusion of Fashion and Fire."
I attended the first night of the two-night run, on Friday. "Hot Couture" was as epic of a show as you can get for $25; for the price of a concert ticket, the Crucible delivered an entirely unique two-hour production with nearly 50 couture outfits designed specifically for the occasion. The show was expertly produced, well-choreographed, entertainingly emceed (by Steven Young), visually breathtaking and polished as a marble.
The show was a bona fide fashion show in the sense that an elevated runway dominated the space, with two wings on either side of a central runway platform. Eleven local art and design teams created couture fashion out of unconventional industrial arts materials. Imagine, if you've seen it, the ceremony in "The Hunger Games" film where the costumed tributes are first introduced to the Capitol. Now add the ambient electronica-dub you'd find at Burning Man, and you get an idea of the production quality. The outfits were paraded onto the runway one at a time, to flash bulbs and raucous reactions from a standing-room-only audience.
Where "Hot Couture" diverged from a conventional fashion show was in the pyrotechnics department. Part of what makes a show at the Crucible so dynamic is fire. Given the nature of the organization's industrial arts work, fire is a key ingredient in the warehouse space and the Crucible has a long history of incorporating fire into its annual productions in manners big and small.
In fact, fire at the Crucible comes in all-caps. FIRE greeted me from the moment I walked up to the entrance, where the Crucible's arched entryway featured lapping tongues of FIRE. The warehouse's interior mood lighting came courtesy of FIRE. Key moments of the fashion show – models' entrances and exits, jokes, intermissions, introductions, appreciations, awkward silences – were emphasized with FIERY EXPLOSIONS. Even violinist Heather Katz, who performed during the intermission and finale, played a violin that was specifically designed to spurt fire – albeit relatively anti-climactically, since Katz performed up on the balcony, where there was no possibility of her violin-fire melting our faces.
Where "Hot Couture" made its most indelible mark, though, was in the fashion creations and the models who modeled them. Before the show, much anticipation was stirred around a stained glass gown and a movement-sensitive LED costume. But I thought the show-stealer of the night came during the first intermission, when the Latex Fashionistas paraded out five models wearing outfits made entirely of latex. A tiny red latex dress attached by latex garter belts to latex thigh-high stockings. Full Scottish regalia made of shiny latex. The outfits – so skin-tight and plasticized that getting into them seemed about as plausible as stretching a condom onto one's entire body – had the audience fumbling for reactions ranging from awestruck disbelief to unbridled delight. And the models, who covered a brilliant range of shapes, ages and sizes, rocked their couture with sass that was hotter than flames.
UPCOMING AT THE CRUCIBLE:
Want to learn more about the Crucible? The Crucible is hosting a three-part Fireside Lounge panel discussion for fine and industrial artists on Feb. 15, May 10 and Oct. 11, $10 at the door. Classes, youth programs, corporate team building, and tours are available on an ongoing basis. Visit thecrucible.org for more info.
Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact email@example.com.