OOAK Designs on Madison Avenue

By Peggy Roalf   Monday November 6, 2017

A group of 20 School of Visual Arts BFA Design students are making their mark on Madison Avenue, with an exhibition of 14 original fashion ensembles currently dotting a stretch of the luxury shopping strip on the Upper East Side. Each piece is made out of a single material and installed in its own glass case; objects on view range from a flapper-style dress constructed out of silverware to a slinky number made, appropriately, out of Slinkys to packing-peanut pajamas. The exhibition, on view through November 15, is being held as part of the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District’s ongoing One-of-a-Kind Luxury event.

The Madison Avenue BID approached SVA's 3D Design Chair Kevin O'Callaghan with the exhibition proposal, having worked with the educator and designer earlier this year for another public installation celebrating Madison Avenue Watch Week. O'Callaghan in turn brought the opportunity to the third- and fourth-year students in his Three-Dimensional Design course. He and the students had roughly two weeks to execute their projects, from conception to construction to installation.

"I became intrigued by the 'one' in One-of-a-Kind," O'Callaghan says. Accordingly, he asked students to choose just one item to use as their material. He and his students' designs focus on re-use and working within constraints, which meant keeping budgets low and using unconventional and inexpensive materials. O'Callaghan supplied the dress forms (as well as display stands and vitrines) but left the other choices to students, who settled on things like RAM chips (a common source of e-waste), orange earplugs (a design workshop staple) and teabags. 

Dress made of earplugs by Julia Fama (BFA 2018 Design). Photo by Kevin O'Callaghan.

Included in each piece's display case is a small card identifying the material used and quantity thereof, as well as stats that put the often staggering amounts in some perspective (a suit made of 900 wheat stalks contains enough grain to make seven sandwiches; shoes made of 288 pencils could write 12.9 million words). Mert Avadya (BFA 2018 Design) made a dress out of 12,500 pennies. "I used pennies to underline the money that we spend on fashion," Avadya says, whose base material cost, apart from the wire used to attach the coins, was under $30. 

Left: Dress made of pennies by Mert Avadya (BFA 2018 Design). Right: Fork and spoon cocktail dress by Filipa Mota (BFA 2019 Design). Photos by Kevin O'Callaghan.

A 1920s-style dress made by Filipa Mota (BFA 2019 Design), which stands in front of the Dolce and Gabbana store on the corner of East 69th Street, was built of forks and spoons salvaged from thrift and vintage stores. It was not easy to find enough for her 491-piece construction, nor was it to fasten them all together. "It took a few tries—stainless steel is really smooth so it doesn’t adhere easily," Mota says. "And then of course the weight of it was a challenge—the dress is super heavy and it's hard to work against gravity!"

Poured-paint dress by Fernando Alvarenga (BFA 2018 Design). Photo by Kevin O'Callaghan

 "While other students only used hundreds of a small object, I took liberties and interpreted it as only using one material," Fernando Alvarenga says of his white, paint-pour dress. He also found his learning curve to be a steep one: even after practicing on a Barbie torso to see what the material would do, it wasn't until the halfway through the over 300 pours and 4 gallons of paint used in the process that Alvarenga felt he could finally manipulate it. "If you learn the integrity of materials, you learn what they can and can't do, there isn't any project that you can't tackle," O'Callaghan says. Alvarenga concurs. "I was told that this project was impossible to create. I took that as a challenge," he says. As a result, "[this] project became more personal to me than any other I've worked on."

The One-of-a-Kind installations are on view until November 15, between East 61st Street and East 76th Street on Madison Avenue. Info courtesy SVA.