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In a back room of Royal Oak's 323 East, an unforgettable Detroit-centric art gallery and store that features a top crop of the hippest artists in and around metro Detroit, 25-year-old designer Angela McBride appears to combust in a web of thread and fabric — namely spandex. It's as if anything within arm's reach could get caught and wrapped in her designs, which are whimsical, wondrous and weird — and backward-gazing.
In effect, McBride's fashions are so Back to the Future II, and her Lycra and DayGlo fetish recalls Olivia Newton-John's "Let's Get Physical" video — or Pat Benatar's '80s booty — or that which revealed David Lee Roth's unfortunate penis size years ago. McBride's strength is that she smartly transforms recycled materials from subdued kitschy to art-minded — like a wearable Heidelberg Project, if you will.
She'll tell you that she "lives and breathes fashion," but after just a few minutes with this tangent-prone, million-mile-a-minute woman, it's clear that, whatever she lives for, she does so with an involuntary drive to make art in any form she can.
Turns out, what she can do is sew a thing or two. Like so many designers, McBride learned to stitch and seam as a kid on Mom's machine, and, like so many designers who've sprung up in recent years, she's been inspired by all things pop, including television. In fact, if not for TV shows such as Project Runway — where aspiring fashion designers compete (and where co-host Tim Gunn spawned the pop-phrase phenomenon "make it work") — McBride isn't sure that fashion design would've been a career option at all. Now, McBride's throwback spandex pants and chopped, dyed and bleached dresses and jackets are effortlessly accented and adored by the vintage-shades and -sneaker crowd.
Today, McBride's not cutting fabric for a new pair of fly girl-inspired spandex, nor is she (de)constructing a blue jean jacket that'll ultimately look like a Hypercolor hallucination. McBride's just thrown together a little something for Dad, who, by the way, owns and operates Gold Rush, her family's east side jewelry store and pawn shop.
"I'll be right back," she says. "Let me go get the cape. I made it out of a tablecloth and something else, oh, I can't even remember."
(When McBride's energy is focused solely on the spool, needle and pedal, she's transformed. She becomes one, she becomes contained. Other times, she's as disjointed and electric as the hues in her fabrics.)
McBride calls it a cape, but it suggests something you'd find in Mike Tyson's closet, or on the mythical Merlin — it's a clashing, gold-lamé-and-red-velvet robe, hooded, with oversized, wizard-y sleeves and adorned with dollar signs. Once she slips it on, her face twists; first into a squint, then a scowl, which gives way to a smirk. And then she smiles: "I made it so he can wear it in the store and when he's out in front by the sign. Gold is up, you know?"
McBride works in art classes with kindergarten and elementary-aged kids at Detroit Country Day School and helps design and create costumes for its high school's theater program. Fitting scenarios for McBride — she's an adult, but a part of her stays a kid, a Peter Pan thing that makes it a joy to be around her.
If simply looking at her work sparks some sort of cheery-eyed reaction, imagine her clothes on your body. Her garments are all about exhilaration and movement.
"I use my friends as models and for getting their reactions to things I'm making," she says. "They're my focus group and one of my biggest influences. They'll try on anything I ask them to, and, when they do, they usually say they feel different — sometimes they even act different. They're more confident, sillier, more open to having fun."
While pop-culture gems are as much an influence on her designs as her friends and students, it's the spandex — that stretchy, shiny, form-fitting fabric — that really gets her off, artistically speaking. McBride's mantra (and website) is Peace. Love. Spandex.
"It's the best, really, everyone should wear it," she says, eyes wide. "Spandex can make you feel new, it can turn you into a different person, and it's affordable. Oh, and because of the way it's made, everyone can wear it. And it's unisex!" she says, trying to sell me on the cult of spandex that she'd be more than happy to outfit.
There's more to McBride than just creating genital-hugging trou. If that were the case, her work wouldn't be so desired, she wouldn't be so talked-up and making her mark on fashion shows around the state. A couple years back, McBride won ArtRageous, a Detroit-based fashion competition for up-and-coming designers, and has seen her work sashaying catwalks during Detroit Fashion Week — Michigan's largest fashion industry event.
She says the goal of Peace. Love. Spandex. is to use vintage materials and hand-altered fabrics — like integrating various painting or printing techniques — to create garments that "incorporate items 'rescued' from yard sales, resale shops and old ladies' closets to make fresh, colorful and inspiring designs."
With such electro-hipster appeal, who'd be surprised if McBride packed it up for New York? She's not interested in such a clichéd move. "I've been to New York — it was a fun vacation," she says, eyes rolling as if to say, "Fuck that, I'm so over it."
And of Detroit? She says she's privileged to be part of such a creative scene, citing a slew of local painters, designers, DJs and musicians. "We're special here in Detroit. We perform for each other all the time and because we rely on each other to be each other's audiences and entertainers, it only makes us stronger at what we do."
Angela McBride's fortitude, which relies on imaginative deconstruction and clever reassembly, draws comparisons to Tyree Guyton's vibrant, albeit ramshackle, Heidelberg Project. What might at first seem accidental, overwhelming and maybe even psychotic is seen, with some patience, as focused, beautiful and stimulating.
It's hard to keep up with McBride's future plans, not that she doesn't tell me, it's just that her work ethic and heart rate race. But it's all a continuous motion — albeit fashionable (and perhaps societal). How she keeps up with herself is anyone's guess.
"My peak is far from today," she says. "I am not sure where I will eventually end up, but this is definitely just the beginning of my journey. I look forward to the ride!"