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Duluth costume designer produces her first fashion show

Designer Sasha Howell has designed about 40 looks for her first fashion show. (Steve Kuchera / News Tribune)1 / 2
A military-style coat used in a production at the College of St. Scholastica got a Steampunk makeover for designer Sasha Howell’s fashion show debut. The piece will be part of Howell’s “Spectacle” on Friday at The Underground. (Steve Kuchera / / 2

A theatrical costume designer whose work has been called “worth the price of admission” is taking her concepts from the stage to the runway for her first fashion show.

Sasha Howell’s “Spectacle” will feature the likes of Victorian gowns, metal scraps, jail stripes, rainbow palettes, animal masks, big hair, body paint and dramatic makeup during her show Friday at The Underground.

Howell works in the costume shop at the College of St. Scholastica and has designed the looks for the college’s productions in addition to shows at other local play houses.

With this fashion show, she is relishing the chance to take, for instance, a Victorian gown from “An Ideal Husband,” and accessorize it with Steampunk-style metals, leathers, gadgets and gears.

“The most exciting thing is that usually I’m tied to the rules of a show,” Howell said. “Now the sky is the limit.”

“Spectacle” was originally planned as a modest show to help finance a trip to Burning Man, the annual arts-cultural festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. The summer-ending event is known for attracting attendees with colorful costumes — and that was the appeal for Howell, too.

That trip fell through (“38,000 tickets sold out in 40 minutes,” Howell said) but she didn’t scrap the fashion show. As a nod to the unfulfilled trip, Howell’s event will include Burning Man-themed pieces inspired by the festival — the crow masks, flow-y jellyfish skirts and head pieces she won’t get to wear this year.

The show

Howell’s office is the costume shop at the College of St. Scholastica. A week before her show she had racks filled with clothing, each piece with the model’s name attached to the hanger.

She was in the process of creating watercolor-style renderings for each look, excessive, she said, but part of her nature.

The fashion show will be divided into themes — Burning Man, Steampunk, Sasha’s Rocker Style, Horror and Lisa Frank — and she’s got more than 40 models ready to walk. Hair, makeup and lighting play a role in what she billed as a “performance” when she waged her successful Kickstarter campaign. Also: This is not your standard strut-duckface-pose fashion event.

“We have choreographers involved,” Howell said.

She’s borrowed pieces from the local playhouses and has done some repurposing and re-imagining with costume pieces she’s used during her day job, including selections from “Iph,” “Sailor’s Song” and “Seussical.”

Howell has a military coat adorned with a heavy metal crest, pretty dresses mixed with ripped netting and studded denim, ghostly gowns and serial killer masks, color mishmashes with clunky jewelry and fluffy feathered looks.

Lindsey Fistler will be wearing “crazy leggings, high heels, and wild hair and makeup” in the show. She’s gotten involved not just because she’s Howell’s friend, but:

“It’s just something fun. We really like getting involved in all the art Duluth has to offer.”

Howell’s route to fashion

First Howell was a watercolorist working toward a studio art major at the University of Minnesota Duluth — but it wasn’t really the right fit.

“It’s too pretentious for me. Too many rules,” she said. “I thought it was strange that there were ways to do it wrong.”

An introduction to theater class spun her in a new direction. A classmate was speaking about props and:

“I had a light bulb totally Oprah-aha-moment,” she said.

Howell added theater studies to her class list and the art side became more about 3-D pursuits like sculpture and ceramics.

She got her first off-campus costume gig on the set of “The Sparrow” at Renegade Theater Company.

She also worked on “Hair” at the Playhouse.

Her work has been noted in News Tribune reviews: “Stunning and spectacular” in “Iph” and “whimsical and evocative” for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”

There was a moment in “Spring Awakening” when the cast stripped down from classical school uniforms to a more punk-rock look.

Company director Katy Helbacka called it one of the best moments in the show.

“She definitely has a fashion background, where she looks for a unique way to put a spin on things,” Helbacka said.

Howell said she is hoping to add another layer to her artistic identity with this production.

“Once this fashion show goes up, I can finally say I do fashion,” she said.

Go see it

What: “Spectacle: A Fashion Event”

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.

Tickets: $10 at the door