The High Fashion High show at Seattle’s 2023 Bumbershoot was thoughtfully designed, curated, and inspired. Ellie Fein, the curator, gathered young people from around the greater Seattle area to share their love of fashion and teach like-minded peers about the design process. If you’re familiar with Project Runway, Fein played the role of Tim Gunn, helping to acquire material, talk through designs, and give feedback. Fein assisted her designers while reaching out to different studios and planning the logistics of the show itself.
Fein’s vision began with stained glass windows and puffer coats and gave a theme to each of the designs. The young designers, accompanied by Fein, went to a puffer coat manufacturer in SODO, Seattle, where they learned about the construction of puffer coats to further understand their inspiration. In our interview, Fein mentioned the puffer coat facility showed them past designs worn by Lady Gaga—and if Gaga doesn’t scream high fashion, I don’t know what does. Fein also organized for the designers to participate in a stained glass workshop to understand the physics and geometry of stained glass and how each piece must be thoughtfully shaped to fit the window. As there are limits piecing glass together, there are similar boundaries with how different fabrics can be joined. After learning more about their themes, the designers were ready to create and Fein ready to take on the role of the designer’s supporter.
People often underestimate young people’s capabilities, especially when it comes to coordinating large events. It can be a struggle to check emails, make phone calls, and maintain a calendar, but Fein’s organizational skills are the redemption arc for Generation Z’s reputation of poor planning skills. Fein orchestrated High Fashion High and put on two, 13 garment, runway walks for each day of Bumbershoot, as well as an initial dress rehearsal the day prior to the festival.
Fein started sewing at 10 years old and her love of clothes has anything but dwindled. It is moving to see someone’s passion for the arts being shared instead of fueling the competitive nature of colleges and job applications. Though the fashion industry is infamous for its cut-throat environment and morally ambiguous mass production, neither of those traits were exhibited in High Fashion High. The pieces walked will be kept by the designers, one will even be repurposed as a prom dress. The models were beautifully diverse and supportive of one another. Fein spoke of her designers with pride and understood the attention to detail and effort each put into their piece. She talked about the risk of allowing one’s art to be seen by the public. Artists supporting artists always gives me goosebumps.
It is a privilege to become an artist at a young age and develop your skills. It is a privilege to find your passion and have the opportunity to become educated on it as a young person. Fein started at age 10 on her mom’s sewing machine. She acknowledges this advantage and has used her knowledge to assist her peers to create and exhibit their creations. My personal favorite was the second piece to walk, worn by a small child under the category “Not Another Puffer”. The look was purple with long, flare, puffy sleeves—giving an avant garde pool floatie effect. The child also wore an asymmetrical lavender headpiece, an ode to Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog, the shape mimicking balloon twisting. Each look was different from the last, but clearly drawn from either a puffer coat or stained glass window for inspiration. It is difficult to maintain your own vision let alone share it with others and have it be reflexive of a concept. Fein could not have done a better job on this show. I was stoked to hear that the High Fashion High show will be passed down to the next youth curator and done again next Bumbershoot.