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Art + Fashion = Fabulous new Metro Detroit design competition to find inspiration at the DIA

1 - DIA meeting

In Detroit, inspiration is everywhere – the riverfront, the parks, the architecture, the samurai.

Wait. Reread. Samurai?

2 - SamuraiIn a brilliant stroke of art-fashion fusion, the newest Detroit Institute of Arts exhibit based on these Japanese warriors will become the inspiration for 10 hand-selected Detroit-area designers. The goal is to see what these fashion-forward thinkers will create based on the Samurai’s view of the world.

The contest is the brainchild between the DIA and the non-profit Detroit Garment Group Guild (DG3), the educational organization that brought you the sold-out “FashionSpeak” event last October. It is the first time these two organizations have worked together, and it won’t be the last based on Tuesday’s press conference to announce the competition.

“Fashion is an art, and what better place to show that than at the DIA,” said DG3’s fabulous President Karen Buscemi.

Well, let’s dive a little deeper here. The competition has a few more layers. It is the third phase of the museum’s well-received “DIA Inspired” program, which aims to connect people with this invaluable resource in real and palatable ways, said Kathryn Diamond, the DIA’s Director of Community Relations. The idea is to ask museum visitors to create art based on what they see there – to use the DIA as their muse, so to speak – and share those works with Detroit, the region and beyond.

For DG3, it is one more way it can show Detroit-area designers that this state can be their home for the long term. Rather than base their dreams on New York runways, DG3 is creating a space within Metro Detroit where creativity in terms of clothing, shoes and accessories is respected. And helping fashion designers of all ages and skill levels become brands names – or, at least, hometown heroes – is a very key part of its mission.

“We are all about giving our design and fashion communities the education and inspirations they need to do their jobs even better,” Buscemi said.

3 - karenSo here is how it will work, explained Gabby Bryant, the DIA’s community relations specialist (and the glue that brought the DIA and DG3 together; she’s in charge of the spreadsheets). Metro Detroit fashion designers of every age and skill level who want to compete are asked to send an electronic portfolio of their work to DG3 ( You have until Jan. 31 to show off your skills, whether you are a student, a working professional designer or an old soul with a flair for sewing. Ideally, you’ll live in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb counties and have the skills to create a complete outfit from scratch.

Once DG3 and its board determines the top 10 designers by Valentine’s Day, this group of fashion artists will receive a private, after-hours tour of the the DIA’s “Samurai: Beyond the Sword” exhibit. This will be led by Megan DiRienzo, an interpretive specialist at the museum who is helping put the exhibit together. The rest of us will be able to view the exhibit from March 9 through June 1.

The DIA anticipates that 100,000 people will go through this area, checking out everything from how the fierce warriors viewed art, food, love, spirituality and more – even simple pleasures like tea ceremonies are part of the samurai world when they weren’t at war, noted DiRienzo. Armor is a small portion of what will be on display, but it is among the most memorable items, she added.

“The armor in the show is like haute couture,” or high fashion constructed by hand,” DiRienzo said. These items were meant to be intense and to impress. They were meant to scare off anyone who would dare to challenge these frightful warriors.

Next, the artists will sketch their ideas for their competition outfit. They will receive assorted help (photos from the exhibit) and a DIA-funded stipend to spend on fabric, beads and anything else they need. Then, they will have about four weeks to complete an outfit inspired by Samurai garb, artwork, armor or anything else they will see during their tour or in the exhibit. They don’t have to make their own armor, but I’m just sayin’ that would be kinda cool and all.

DiRienzo noted: “They were the rulers of Japan, and their fashion definitely shows it. … It is a lush buffet of things for them to draw.”

1 - DIA meetingWant to know how the outfits are progressing? Good – because I will as well. That is why the DIA will post regularly updated blogs and videos from the designers on its website. That both drives us all to the exhibit as well as its online home, all part of the DIA’s clever plan to instill a love of art and the city in our very souls. Crafty, those artist types.

These unique looks will then go on tour in the tri-county area, hitting up at least three or so locations for local exhibits. What is being coined the “Beyond the Armor” competition will end with a fashion show (somewhere in May and somewhere in Midtown) where the public will help select the final winner. There will be prizes – and no one has to commit seppuku or anything.

P.S. Go see the DIA. Go hang out in the Kresge Court. It’s ridiculously beautiful. So is the art, all 60,000 pieces. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It’s free for all Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county residents.

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