KMAC Couture 2020 explores the universe through wearable art
By Laura Ross
Photography: Andrea Hutchinson
Styling: Liz Bingham
Set Designer and Glitter Maestro: Tiffany Woodard Wardrobe Assistant: Mariah Kline
Makeup: SKYN Lounge: Erica McDowell, Melanie Boyer, Elizabeth Neyman and Kim Mertens
Hair: Drybar Louisville: Sara Horner and Audrey Speedy
Models: Tonya Abeln, Alicia Antonia, Lorie Davenport, Jasmine Graham, Andrea Hansen, Jim Haynes,
Alexandra Hepfinger, Mariah Larkin, Fiyin Lasisi, Lee Middendorf, Willa Pettit, Ehren Reed, Jessica Sharp,
Bethany Smiley and Dominique Joy Thompson
Location: KMAC Museum
The first week in May is Derby, but mid-April heralds another fantastically fashionable event in Louisville: KMAC Couture. Wildly creative fashion and wearable art take over Main Street as KMAC Museum celebrates its deep partnerships with emerging and established artists for a fanciful fundraiser that takes creativity out of this world.
In fact, that’s a recurring theme for the eighth annual event, which this year, explores Carl Sagan’s cosmic thought that “We are made of star stuff.”
Situated amid Museum Row on Main Street in downtown Louisville, KMAC Museum is a contemporary art museum that works to connect people to art and creative practice. KMAC opened in 1981 to build interest in Kentucky’s craft heritage and American folk art. As the museum grew, it evolved into a contemporary art museum, with three galleries on three floors covering over 27,000 square feet for large-scale exhibitions and events.
KMAC Couture was launched eight years ago when Executive Director Aldy Milliken arrived in Louisville from Stockholm, Sweden. He previously owned a contemporary art gallery and had produced several fashion shows in Europe. He wanted to bring a similar event to KMAC.
“It’s amazing what Louisville has in its arts scene,” said Milliken. “We all do whatever ‘it’ is in different ways, but we continually step it up. When we do our best, and others do their best, it creates growth, conversation and a strange enthusiasm and excitement that makes Louisville vibrant.”
KMAC Couture encourages local emerging and established artists, costume and clothing designers, milliners and others to unleash their imaginations for the major museum fundraiser, which supports education and outreach programs at KMAC through the year.
Like working with any artist, KMAC Couture recruits the designers with a curatorial statement that helps the artist formulate ideas and submit proposals. A curatorial team selects the artists and designers, who are turned loose to create fashionable art focusing on technique, design and creative use of materials. The runway show shuts down Main Street for a dazzling outdoor fashion spectacular.
“This is mission-specific fundraising and a creative intervention on Main Street,” said Milliken. “Our goal is to make people recognize that the street can be a creative focus, especially from an urban design focus. Louisville has these pods of communities, and sometimes downtown can get lost in the mix. We want to show this vibrant dynamic in the middle of downtown and fill it with artists, designers, models, producers and more. It’s all about making art, and it’s a true exhibition for us.”
KMAC Couture takes the traditional notion of a fashion show and throws it out the window. A total of 63 designs from 58 artists were chosen to be part of this year’s show, along with 19 student artists representing high schools across Kentucky. The wearable art and conceptual fashions are fantastical, but they stir something deeper in the artists and creators.
Fiyin Lasisi is a structural engineer by day and a returning KMAC Couture designer by night…and weekend…and every other waking hour. “I feel like I come alive when I do this,” she said. “It’s created a whole different world for me. I came from Nigeria and was just existing in Louisville. I’m a homebody but it’s opened me up to enjoying Louisville, my talent and my community. I’ve met so many people through KMAC and now, I get invited places and can network with national designers.”
Lasisi uses 3-D concepts in her designs, hand sews all her beading and stones and utilizes African Ankara fabric in a nod to her mother’s talent as a former seamstress. “KMAC Couture has opened doors for people like me. It just lights me up from within and is so different from my regular life.”
KMAC Couture’s enduring popularity has launched fashion careers for previous artists. Some have gone on to national fame, like Louisville-based fashion designer Frances “Frankie” Lewis.
Artists Ehren Reed and Jessica Sharp first collaborated on a piece for KMAC Couture in 2019 and are returning in 2020 with separate creations. It’s a chance for Sharp, a seamstress, and Reed, a fiber artist, to step outside of their comfort zones. Sharp is reconstructing a projector screen into a dress for this year’s event. “I ripped up the screen and created a dress called ‘Projection’ because it is looking at your secret self. KMAC is stressful yet fun for the artists. I am projecting what you want people to see, and with great pressure, I hope I project outward and spiral into a great gem or star.”
Reed said the KMAC event energizes her creative process. “It’s amazing and electric,” she said. “The challenge of creating something larger than life and unconventional is half the fun. When else do you have the opportunity to push the boundaries of your creativity?”
In recent years, the event has expanded to include KMAC Couture Fashion Week, a series of events at local businesses that offer special deals and exclusive gatherings in the days leading up to the April 11 event. (For a full listing of KMAC Couture Fashion Week events and locations, see page 95.)
In the meantime, the museum looks to the rest of 2020 with excitement. KMAC recently enjoyed two blockbuster exhibitions, “Summer Wheat: Heavy Lifting,” and the wildly popular “Picasso: From Antibes to Louisville.” Thousands of guests have poured through the doors of KMAC since December, said Milliken, and he hopes that enthusiasm continues throughout the coming year.
“People see how vibrant KMAC is with our recent exhibitions,” said Milliken. “You earn your audiences and want them to say, ‘Wow, I have to be a part of that.’”
Every day at KMAC offers something unique and artistic, but the month of April is on fire for the museum. Not only will KMAC Couture take the runway on April 11 but the museum will launch new exhibitions.
Julie Baldyga’s ”Heavenly People” opens April 17 and runs through Aug. 16. Baldyga’s exhibition coincides with the release of her book in conjunction with the Louisville Story Program, titled “In Heaven, Everyone Will Shake Your Hand: The Art of Julie Baldyga.”
Another, yet untitled, exhibition will also open in April, focusing on the work of some of the artists featured in the book “Walks to the Paradise Garden,” written by poet and Black Mountain College alum Jonathan Williams. The show will help celebrate KMAC’s 40th anniversary and folk art and crafts legacy.
“We have reimagined craft as an artistic process and want to keep the momentum going from our past successes,” said Milliken. “We know people are actively engaged with this institution, and we have great things lined up. People thought we were the older craft museum, but they’ve finally figured out that we’re so much more. We don’t compromise on quality. When we stand behind something or someone, we want people to say, ‘I need to see what KMAC is doing because I can’t miss this show.’”
Milliken and his team hope KMAC Couture launches that rocket of success into the stratosphere.
Artist and wedding gown designer Andrea Hansen latched onto the cosmic theme as a reflection of her impending 30th birthday and how she finds her life circling in the cosmos. For her, participating in KMAC Couture this year is both exciting and deeply personal. “KMAC Couture is art as self-reflection,” she said. “Is it a millennial existential crisis? Maybe. But, it’s about my emotional input into my dress, which is a black silk gown reflecting a zodiac wheel and beating heart. I’m discovering my true self and realizing what I’m meant to do. My effort is here and I’m seeing all that’s possible. Hopefully, the stars are all aligned!”
As the popularity of both the museum and KMAC Couture grows, Milliken relishes the moment. “We are highlighting creativity around the city, and it’s showcased with this awesome event,” he said. “There is this incredible euphoria that you saw something special, and then, there’s this incredible sadness that it’s over for a year. There is a ton of dancing, an amazing party and everyone is so happy. There’s so much love and energy for art and the museum. The threads go out to the city on so many levels and draw and connect people to art.”
“Louisville has its finger on the pulse of the fashion and art world,” agreed Jessica Sharp. “There are cool things happening here and it all starts with KMAC Couture.” V
Tickets for KMAC Couture are currently available at KMACmuseum.org/couture. KMAC Couture 2020 hits Main Street in front of KMAC (715 W. Main St.) on April 11, 2020. Pre-show cocktail hour, 7 p.m. KMAC Couture runway show, 8:30 p.m. An After Party immediately follows the runway show. Find information about KMAC Couture Fashion Week events on page 95. The Voice of Louisville is proud to serve as the media sponsor of KMAC Couture.