Ruching, ruffles and ribbons transformed a discarded hospital material into haute couture at Wednesday night’s sold-out Blue Wrap Project Runway party held at the Portland Museum of Art.
The event recruited local fashion designers and art students to create garments from blue wrap, a synthetic fabric used to sterilize medical equipment. The fabric comes from Partners for World Health, a Maine nonprofit that collects unused, discarded medical supplies and donates them to health-care facilities in developing countries. Large quantities of blue wrap can be found in the Partners for World Health warehouse in Scarborough, yet the disposable fabric can’t be sent overseas because hospitals in less affluent nations employ reusable towels to sterilize instruments instead of disposable blue wrap.
“What we decided to do is recycle it,” said Elizabeth McLellan, who is a nurse and the founder of Partners for World Health, which will ship medical supplies to three countries this year.
Tim Kane, the vice president of advancement and college relations at the Maine College of Art, told me he recalled the luncheon where the idea for the event began to take shape.
“We had a lunch with a trustee and we invited Elizabeth McLellan,” Kane told me. “She said, ‘We have all this blue wrap that we don’t know what to do with.’ So we put her in touch with Christina.”
That would be Christina Bechstein, a sculpture professor at MECA, who incorporated blue wrap into her 3D Foundations class.
“The whole class took trips to the hospital so they could understand the path of the product,” Bechstein told me. “They came back and responded to the product.”
Since the synthetic fabric is made from petroleum, Bechstein said her students decided to turn the oil-based medium into floral objects.
“It was unlike anything we’d done,” MECA student Carly Soos told me. “At first it was unforgiving, but after a while we got the hang of it.”
All the nature-inspired artworks the students created will be for sale at MECA’s Institute for Contemporary Art during the month of April.
“Elizabeth is visionary to want to get art students involved in thinking about material and waste,” Bechstein added.
MadWorld fashion designer Meredith Alex, who created one of her signature art installation dresses for the event, said she was intrigued by the bow ties, wine totes and handbags on sale in the party’s boutique.
“It’s a really interesting medium,” Alex told me. “There are so many possibilities of where you can go with it.”
Alex expressed interest in making room at her Commercial Street boutique to sell some of the items.
“Can you imagine the blue wrap corner at the Mad House?” she asked me.
I imagine it would be quite a sight.
Jane Krasnow, who is a fashion merchandising instructor at Portland Arts and Technology High School, has helped her students work with the fabric all semester.
“It was challenging to work with, because it doesn’t drape well,” Krasnow told me. But she and her students overcame this and other obstacles.
When the runway show got under way, Krasnow’s student Julie Tao modeled a sassy mini-dress of her own design and Krasnow’s former student Erika Smith designed a baby-doll cocktail dress modeled by Miss Maine United States Aleksandra Derikonja.
Other notable looks spotted on the catwalk included the blue wrap and surgical glove dress modeled by former broadcast journalist Neila Smith. The daring dress was designed by Mardie Weldon, who found inspiration in Lady Gaga’s fashion sense.
Kris Hall designed a sheaf dress that was a blue wrap take on the classic Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress, which was modeled by Maine Medical Center nurse Amy Strum. Erin Curren designed and modeled a sultry dress she called Scandinavian Scandal.
Alex Rheault, who chairs the illustration department at MECA and directs the Quimby Colony’s fashion program, modeled a sexy number designed by Lillian Prentice. Well-known Portland Realtor John Hatcher donned a pirate costume designed by Barbara Kelly as he swashbuckled across the stage.
Frank E. Reilly served as the fashion show’s master of ceremonies and told the crowd, “If ever there was a time in our history where we need to recycle and conserve … it is now.”
He wasn’t the only one who appreciated the event’s environmentally conscious flair.
“In Maine, people are interested in recycling and reusing,” volunteer Marie Harrington told me. “It makes perfect sense for someone in Maine to create an event like this.”
“It’s great to see the blue wrap recycled,” Katherine Rogers, who works in Mercy Hospital’s administration, told me. “The stuff is indestructible.”
Her friend Susan Saker, who is a nurse at Maine Medical Center, added, “I’d like to see them do it again, as an annual event.”
Judging by the wall-to-wall crowd and its enthusiasm, I’d say it’s a safe bet this won’t be the last time we see blue wrapped models sashay across the catwalk.
Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:
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