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VIDEO: Stephens College circus fashion exhibit

The circus inspires Stephens College's new fashion exhibit

September 8, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST

See the fashion styles of circus and listen to interviews with the event's organizers. Many of the items on display come from all over the world. Video produced by Sarah Redohl

French fashion designer Jacqueline De Ribes’ red and black jacket, circa 1985, sits on a mannequin’s shoulders over a sequined bodysuit. It also wears fishnets, donated by a student, and long black boots from Stephens College’s collection. A feathered top hat from the ’40s completes the hybrid ensemble donned by the riding crop-wielding model.

The mannequin is the ringmaster of The Greatest Show on Earth: Fashion Circus, a fashion exhibit presented by the Stephens College Costume Museum and Research Library. The exhibit will open on Saturday and run until Dec. 15. It aims to bend the rules of fashion.

“Some people get upset when you combine pieces that wouldn’t normally go together in a museum,” exhibit director Monica McMurry says. “We’re sort of breaking the ceiling on that.”

Inspired by the flair and eccentricity of the circus, the exhibit includes clothing from different eras mixed into eccentric ensembles that revolve around a theme of wild freedom. “I really wanted to utilize shapes and textures to mimic characters or elements of the circus,” guest curator Bradley Meinke says.

The exhibit is separated into five sections: The Grandstand, The Calliope, Side Show, Caged Animals and Le Cirque. Each part has its own individual theme, which is represented by a mannequin designated as the section’s ringmaster. The Calliope and Side Show are the most interpretive of the sections, piecing together the oddest clothing options; one racey mannequin sports a century-old coat paired only with student-made underwear.

The Grandstand showcases the oldest and most unusual garments in the exhibit. One outfit in the Side Show section of the exhibit has orange knickers that are made of lace and designed by Arnold Scaasi. “It’s real, and somebody wore it and must have loved it,” says Jennifer Cole, the museum’s curatorial assistant.

Clothing donated by Project Runway finalist Mila Hermanovski inspired the project. Meinke says each ensemble was initiated with one piece of clothing to set the mood, and from there, curators selected fresh garments — either recent donations or previously unused items in the library’s collection — to complete the exhibit.

The exhibit will feature clothing from all over the world to add to the circus atmosphere. A set of long, Indonesian gold fingertips has been placed on the mannequin. This is part of an exhibit with a fortune-teller booth and a ghost wearing a piece from the 1880s in the depths of the Side Show.

“We’re in a make-believe land down here, and that’s the way we’re going to pose it,” Cole says.

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