Intergalactic Aliens and Human Volanoes

This year's IIDA New England fashion competition Coutourism 2016 blew our minds.


Dive Deeper by Tsoi/Kobus.

On Thursday night, 1,500 people gathered in a darkened event room at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, completely awestruck by the talent and imagination of the designers in our midst. (All photos by C. Thomas Huff.)

Models strutted their stuff down the runway in elaborate bodysuits (Elemental: Sand, Sea, Space by CBT Architects):


oversize Nordic-ish fringed coats (Nordique by Lavellee Brensinger Architects):


fantastic illuminated collars (Oceania by PCA):


or dresses with impossibly long trains (Northern Lights by Perkins + Will):


and with unwieldy armatures around their heads or torsos. There was extreme couture, of the Alexander McQueen-meets-Tim Burton ilk (Is it a Dream or a Nightmare? by SGA featuring a custom-made Strandbeest):


There were elegantly pleated sea foam culottes (Couture of the Coral Reef by Gensler).


And human volcanoes (Elusive Beauty by Margulies Perruzzi Architects):


Many pieces included LEDs strategically positioned to illuminate the heart, the legs, or the head. It was thrilling.

All the more exciting when you find out what these pieces are made of: deconstructed lamps, backing fabrics, laser-cut leathers, 3-D printed polymersnot the typical stuff of fashion (Dive Deeper by Tsoi/Kobus):


For nearly two decades, the New England chapter of the International Interior Design Association has held this fashion design competition, open to members of its community. And every year, the submissions get ever more extreme (think: life-size elephant with three people inside).

Designers have a love/hate relationship with rules, and in this competition, they’re limited to working with materials donated by their sponsors, meaning fabrics from window shades, chair parts, woven electrical cords, rubber flooring, high-traffic carpeting. Not exactly fashion-friendly. Which makes this so much fun. The design teams start their planning months in advance, and can spend hundreds of hours on concepting and constructing their pieces, hair, and makeup.

This year’s theme, Coutourism, explored the intersection of couture and tourism. Beyond that, the teams were free to interpret. Some took their fashions to actual placesa Masai-themed East African collection, complete with a lion, spear, and drum (Fearless Warrior: Ilmeluaya by TRO Design:


a Northern Lights collection radiant in the rich colors of that fantastic atmospheric display by Perkins + Will:


Others stretched their interpretation to include traveling back in time (a 1920s-inspired suite of elegant pieces called The Constant Flicker by Payette):


or intergalactic travel (including an “alien” headpiece that looked like a dandelion seed head in Cosmic Coutourists by Jacobs Engineering Group):


A few went into the depths of the sea—including Atlantis by DiMella Shaffer Associates:


and another inspired by deep sea creatures such as the angler fish in The Abyss created by Fusion Design Consultants:


As each model worked the runway, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in threes, we had to keep reminding ourselves that this was Boston not New York, and that these were corporate interior designers rather than Fashion Institute of Technology grads.

In their day jobs, the designers behind these creations outfit buildings, not peopletwo very different skills. One has to stand the test of time, the other has to stand the test of movement. Often, these qualities are in opposition to each other.

Five judges–blogging superstar Erin Gates, WBUR’s Cognescenti editor Kelly Horan, artist and designer Christian Restrepo, IIDA Executive VP and CEO Cheryl Durst, and our own Boston Home Editor Rachel Slade–had their work cut out for them.

The winners included Lavalee Brensinger for Most Innovative:


Payette for Best Interpretation of Theme:

payette Bergmeyer for Best Use of Materials in Wanderlust:


Best in Show and the People’s Choice Award went to CBT Architects for their Elemental: Sand, Sea, and Space:


Best Hair and Makeup by Margulies Perrezzi.


Best School Entry and Best Walk was awarded to The Boston Architectural College for Timeless Vogue:


Best Red Carpet Look was awarded to Gensler: