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Fashionable aliens, robots invade runway

Kent Stetson ’01 collaborated with Providence’s Big Nazo Labs for a unique show

A hush fell over a crowd of Providence fashionistas Tuesday night as a bug-headed creature strode across an empty runway and took a seat in the front row. She was a fashionista in her own right, wearing a sparkling red and gold number and carrying a handbag, square and plastic, imprinted with a photograph of her own insect face. A bodyguard who donned a massive futuristic diving helmet shielded her from photographers as she held the handbag up to her head, and the show began.

The playful runway show — which closed StyleWeek Northeast’s Tuesday night program and received a standing ovation — was a collaboration between handbag designer Kent Stetson ’01 and creature workshop Big Nazo Lab.

Big Nazo, headed by Rhode Island School of Design graduate Erminio Pinque, specializes in creating latex and rubber beasts. The troupe of performers uses the characters in artistic endeavors such as lively street performances and even a Brown TV short film. Stetson said he wanted to present a unique product to the fashion market as well as provide a performance that would be more entertaining than an average runway show.

Calling the exhibition bizarre would be an understatement — the models ranged from a squat alien who vomited up a plastic envelope-style bag with hands printed on it,  a clever play on the ‘hand-bag’ — to a robot carrying a glossy red strapped bag with splotches of neon green poking through. At one point, a giant skeleton danced down the runway, carrying a black purse with an x-ray pelvic bone along the front.

Stetson’s style is a mix of the classic and the irreverent. Some of his bags are exactly the sort of pieces one would expect to find in the designer section at Nordstrom, like one leather hand purse with a lattice texture and gold fringe hanging off the lip. Others are pure whimsy, like a black bag one of the aliens modeled with a zipper in the front that opens to reveal a fabric flap with a design of a mouth inside. Most, though, are somewhere in between.

As the show closed, Stetson stood up from his seat beside the bug-headed fashionista and walked the runway with his models. The crowd applauded enthusiastically, and the excitement in the room lingered for some time afterward.

“It took me by surprise,” said Gail Vartion, who was in attendance Tuesday night. “I expected all the models to come out in basic black carrying the handbags, letting the handbags be the focus. But seeing the costumes, I thought that was really different and fun and upbeat.”

Stetson said that after StyleWeek is done, he will head off to Florida for a few shows and spend the spring season exhibiting his work.

“My goal is to be able to sustain a career doing this for the rest of my life,” he said.

Whether that career means commercial deals with major department stores or trying to carve a niche out in the world of high fashion is yet to be determined, he said. For now, Stetson said he is enjoying the attention and working to build his name among the Providence community.

“Everyone is asking me when they can buy the bags,” he said. “I’m not selling tonight, it’s about celebration. This is about an experience that I wanted people to have and not about a transaction.”

Andrew Bramson, another StyleWeek attendee, said he had seen Stetson’s work before but thought the exhibition tonight was “able to showcase the bags in a way that made you want to be a part of the whole experience.”

“Who doesn’t want a pelvis bag now?” he said. “When you see a twelve-foot skeleton holding one, you think, ‘Hey, I might be able to pull it off, too!’”


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