What do used tea bags, shredded trash bags and used single-serve coffee pods have to do with fashion?
Plenty, as it turns out.
These unwanted items, and many more, have taken center stage in the whimsical "Art of Fashion" exhibit, which will run through Oct. 8 in the Townsend Gallery of the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center at 1201 Pine Ave., Niagara Falls.
At first glance, it's difficult to believe that the elegant and intricate costumes are made from recycled materials. In co-curator Mary Grace Ohrum's ballerina-style dresses, the tops, with spaghetti straps and delicate lace edging, flow naturally into full skirts that are made of shredded plastic trash bag panels.
Danielle Grace Di Palma's glorious flowered gown, which would fit in on any red carpet, turns out to be crafted from hand-rolled wrapping paper blooms; a second slender gown by the same artist titled "Drogon" bristles with dark scales that started life as Keurig pods.
Dana Calanan has built a short, form-fitting golden battle costume, complete with a shield-like accessory, titled "Athena Takes Form" from recycled packaging and ads from the Lexington Co-op.
Color Puke Designs contributed to a room of punk-style fashions, including shredded and patched denim skirts, an embellished denim jacket, a studded and overpainted fur jacket, and a bright floral dress with a human skeleton painted on it.
But the showstopper may be the barely wearable gown titled "Tea Time," by Betsy Aguilar of Just B Creative. The dress' simple cream-colored lace bodice and black tulle midriff expand into a literal tea party. The gown's understructure forms a table at the hips, and the table is set with a real china cup and saucer, plate, spoons and pitcher. The fringe of the skirt below the table is a row of used tea bags, dipped and dried to various shades.
Guests taking in the exhibit this week were inspired and amused.
"I think it's very, very interesting," said Ritchy Leveille of Paris, France, who was visiting the NAAC with his cousins from Brooklyn. "I've never seen this type of thing in my life. It's beautiful, and you have to have a good imagination to think of it."
Leveille's cousin, Kye Toussaint of Brooklyn, also was impressed. "I find it really interesting and different," he said. "They have a lot of imagination to do things like this. They have taken material from the garbage and put in into a new form, art."
The recycled material fashions were accented by paintings, prints and fashion drawings. Large-scale mixed-media art was contributed by Ohrum; Richard Christian provided complex, haunting works, including one deeply painted and textured piece called "Kronus," made from acrylic on a stretched shirt, accented with a collage and a bleached shark jawbone.
On the more conventional side of fashion, Dr. Joycelyn Burdett of Villa Maria College loaned a table full of graceful ladies hats made of wool felt, straw, wire, feathers, fur and ribbons. Her historic costume from the late 1500s is a marvel of layers, pleats, embroidery and jewels.
Student portfolio fashion drawings from Villa Maria, showing not only finished clothing but some of the costumes' construction, brightened some walls. Mary Granger Welt's large-scale work in acrylics illustrated how much can be implied with just a few flowing lines.
Niagara University provided costumes from several plays, including "Anything Goes" and "Pirates of Penzance," showing the elaborate work that goes into realism on the stage.
The exhibit, which is free, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Along with Ohrum, Maria McLaughlin is co-curator.
The "Art of Fashion" show will culminate with the "Transformation" Wearable Art Show and Competition, starting at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 in the NACC's Grand Theatre.