“Project Runway” host Heidi Klum always says, “In fashion, one day you’re in and the next day you’re out.” For local designer Timothy Westbook, the day came sooner than he would have hoped.
After he was eliminated from Project Runway’s current 12th season, the Milwaukee resident returned home to continue production on his eco-friendly, dinosaur-inspired collection, “Paleontology of a Woman” a group of garments intent on proving that style and sustainability are far from extinct.
Westbrook’s innovative design aesthetic, which he refers to as sustainability design, recently gained national attention on “Project Runway” and is what he hopes will make “Paleontology of a Woman” impress at the collections’ upcoming upcoming debut event. The sustainability process focuses on repurposing used and discarded materials such as fabric scraps (some from the set of “Project Runway”), vintage dresses, curtains, cassette tapes and even garbage bags.
Westbrook describes himself as a “sustainability driven fiber artist,” and refers to his style as a “parody of luxury.”
“When I started doing sustainability design, I asked myself, ‘How do I sell garbage to people without them thinking it’s garbage?’” Westbrook said.
The results of Westbrook’s initial thesis are stunning. Using only a loom, hand stitching and a manual sewing machine, Westbrook is able to create everything from flattering trench coats to stylish evening dresses using items that many would have once considered trash.
After the new materials are created, Westbrook crafts them into new garments that showcase his unique sense of style.
“If Alexander McQueen, Tim Burton and Pixar Animation Studios got together, went on a roller coaster and threw up, that would be me,” Westbrook said.
Westbrook’s clever combination of playful humor and fairy-tale elegance are the first things one will notice in “Paleontology of a Woman”, a project that Westbrook has been working on since his junior year at Syracuse University. The collection consists of 15 looks, 12 created by Westbrook and three by another local designer, Laura Meyer.
Every garment represents the prehistoric theme, but also embodies the larger theme of the year 1887. Westbrook explaine
d that 1887 was the year the first Triceratops fossil was found, the first year a calculator was patented and the year the Helen Keller began her education.
“It was a remarkable year for science, history, education and imagination,” Westbrook said.
The event is set for Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Milwaukee Public Museum in the dinosaur exhibit.
“This is super exciting and super flattering because it’s an extremely progressive project. It’s totally different than any gala they’ve done before,” Westbrook said. Instead of the traditional runway setup, “Paleontology of a Woman” will be more free form performance art.
“Every single model will be out at once in the space and moving around, which makes it look like there’s all these dinosaurs moving through different layers and periods,” Westbrook said.
In addition to their garments, three models will also wear Triceratops masks. Westbrook says that the masks add an element of playfulness to a heavy topic.
“The performance is so important. It’s going to be really fun and wild,” Westbrook said.
In the future, Westbrook plans to continue practicing sustainability design and wants to produce at least two more collections in the next year. The next, Westbrook explained, will be something along the lines of “figure skating meets the surrealism of Dalí.”
The final unicorn-themed collection of this series will be released in late 2014. The subject, as avid “Project Runway” viewers know, is something that Westbrook holds very close to his heart.
“Unicorns, to me, are a parallel to religion,” Westbrook said, “My realization is that fantasy and mythology take place in the natural spaces of the world, and somehow fantasy is accidentally equated with nature, and if fantasy does not exist therefore nature does not exist, and if nature doesn’t exist then it’s not something tangible that we can protect. What I’m trying to do is put that on top of itself and say, ‘Now, moving forward, we have to save the forest to protect the unicorns.’”
Although he may not have made it big on “Project Runway,” there may be much larger and more magical things in store for the Milwaukee designer with dinosaur-sized dreams.