Project Runway

The designers involved in Urban Accoutre have shown work in local style showcases, but none of them has ever supervised an event in Kansas City — and there’s no denying that it’s a mammoth leap from participation to program planning. For these five fashionistas, sitting in the pilot’s seat provokes a mix of anxiety and euphoria.

“It’s great to have so much control, but it’s also completely terrifying,” says Lily Walker. A recently relocated Austin, Texas, native, Walker draws inspiration from clear seasonal distinctions, a phenomenon notably absent in the Lone Star state. Radiantly colored shorts and hot pants dominate her latest line.

“We don’t want it to be a cold experience,” adds fellow Texas transplant Heather Gutierrez, and she’s not talking about attendance-stifling weather conditions. Gutierrez wants Urban Accoutre to strike a balance between the frigid efficiency of professional runways and the drunken sloppiness of some area amateurs. “We want the models to be characters, but there won’t be a lot of crazy elements, like burlesque.”

Instead of a thumping techno catwalk soundtrack, Urban Accoutre incorporates art-thrash group Ad Astra per Aspera and daring dark-wave band Roman Numerals. The musicians trade songs from circular white platforms (Gutierrez likens them to aspirins) that bookend the 33-foot runway. The sonic exchange strikes a special chord with Nancy Bach, whose work deals with music as communication. She uses speech bubbles and sound-wave imagery prominently in her printed patterns and tight T-shirt dresses.

The wildest visuals will come from Ariadne Fish’s wardrobe, which contrasts functionality (skirts for bicycle riders) with what she calls “the wonderment of child’s play.” She also experiments with androgyny, making the most of her male models. Of the 60-plus designs on display, the dozen that are too experimental for everyday wear come from Fish’s drawing board.

The rest of the outfits are either ready-to-wear or prototypes for products for sale. Gutierrez references vintage clothing lines with a contemporary twist. Playing on the glamour of old Hollywood, she uses latex hairpieces for a strikingly glossy sheen and decorates dresses with knotted sashes and frilled collars. And Lauren McEntire playfully updates ’70s punk peacockery, giving a feminine feel to her bold colors and blatant stitches.

If there are no takers for specific outfits, though, the designers will be more than happy to wear their work home. “I try to find models that are the same size as me, because I’m thinking, If I don’t sell this … ,” Walker confesses with a laugh. “We all do that,” Bach says. “That’s how it all started, making things for ourselves.”

Urban Accoutre will likely be the only union of these talents. Gutierrez moves to New York in July, and Bach is pursuing an internship in Philadelphia. It might take some time for the departing designers to control the production process in these larger cities, but in Kansas City, it was easy to find a suitable space (the Boley Building, where the raw aesthetic enhances artwork rather than distracting from it) and two standout bands.

“We have been able to tailor this show specifically to ourselves,” Walker says. A scan of her tone and facial expression detects no intended pun, however — only boundless enthusiasm.