Freaks go undercover

Chikoko set to unleash its latest rock-opera fashion show

CHIC <br>Chikoko are, from left: Genevieve Dietz, Nel Adams, Sara Rose Testman and Muir Hughes

Chikoko are, from left: Genevieve Dietz, Nel Adams, Sara Rose Testman and Muir Hughes

Photo By josh mills

Last year’s “Freak Phenomena” show started out tame by Chikoko standards. A tall, heavily tattooed woman with smoky eye shadow and elegantly elongated face hit the runway like a crimson cock-of-the-walk. Wearing ripped fishnets and high-heeled shoes that complemented her bright red outfit (a combination of mummy bandages, peacock tail and pirate-hat-meets-Royal-Ascot), she strutted to sensuous, driving, electronic music. She was followed by other equally captivating models dressed in imaginative outfits—increasingly fanciful as the night went on.

Très avant-garde.

“Undercover” should be no less fantastic. The three-year-old sewing collective will return to the scene of October’s “Freak Phenomena” fashion show May 16 to rock the catwalk once again for its upcoming lingerie-focused fashion/performance show.

Muir Hughes is one of the five young seamstress-performers who make up Chikoko, and the only member who has not performed in a circus. Hughes’ background is in acting and theater. The striking 33-year-old brunette worked at Bidwell Mansion playing Annie Bidwell, among other historical characters, for 10 years before co-founding Chikoko in 2005.

There is an obvious let-loose enthusiasm surrounding a Chikoko performance. And it takes the seamstresses six months to sew all of the one-of-a-kind outfits required for one of their major shows. All five Chikoko members have their own creative specialties.

Hughes also likes the idea of contributing in a creative way to the public’s growing “green” sensibility when it comes to buying clothing.

“There’s a big do-it-yourself movement with clothing,” said Hughes. “People are thinking more and more about sustainability, about the green movement. Fashion doesn’t have to be something mass-produced that we buy from a big chain store.”

Chikoko member Genevieve Dietz specializes in everyday wear: “Something you can wear downtown going shopping—sophisticated, but it appeals to the broadest range of people.” Hughes’ pieces are generally very experimental and haute couture. Nel Adams’ work is also experimental, with a touch of circus flair, as are Michalyn Renwick’s pieces, which also incorporate Middle Eastern influences. And 27-year-old Sara Rose Testman (the youngest Chikokoan and the only one who is not a mother) is known for her sophisticated, urban-youth-look creations.

Chikoko fashion shows (two big ones per year, and the occasional smaller one in between) are notoriously glorious, showy, colorful, and just plain amazing. Performances are organized along the lines of a music show, with “sets” of sassy runway walking punctuated by live performances. Models, as always, are mostly female, all screened and selected by the Chikoko women for diversity of body type, ethnicity and age.

For “Undercover” Dietz will “performance-emcee” in character (it’s a surprise)—her fans will expect no less from her than the somewhat campy, sensual characters she’s inhabited at past shows. It will be a true modern rock opera as flamboyant rock fleet Gorgeous Armada will perform between sets.

“The show is really high-energy,” Dietz said. “The pace is really fast. If you don’t like an article of clothing [snaps her fingers], it’s gone! If you don’t like the music—it’s over!”

There will be four thematic sections to the show, with each section more risqué than the last—the logic is simply taking it off more and more as the show goes on. The first will feature street wear (or Chikoko’s interpretation of street wear). The second section will include more avant-garde, eclectic and bizarre designs. From there it gets down to bathing suits, lingerie and pool wear, and by section four, the models will be down to panties, bras and pasties.

If last year’s two-hour, nonstop “Freak” show is any indication, “Undercover” will be just as extravagant. The 600 chairs were all filled as audience members expressed themselves in all types of clothing from elegant evening attire to outlandish costumes. And when it was time to buy at the end of the night, Chikoko’s clothing was flying off the racks.

“People should definitely come with their checkbooks and their running shoes,” advised Dietz with a knowing smile. “And clip your nails so you don’t hurt anyone!”