Rarely does a name so quaintly suit a person like Katie Props-Allen’s. The former Wilmington milliner has been making hats for more than 15 years. She started with costumes and props for theatrical productions, but she’s moving from stage to showroom in New Element’s current exhibition, “The Muse’s Closet,” a wearables showcase.
“I was never really into contemporary fashion until recently,” Props-Allen says. “I kept getting these requests for custom pieces, and it kind of grew from there.”
The hat maker uses thrifted materials to create original, upcycled pieces with vintage flair. Her works have been shown at local events, like the North Carolina Azalea Festival and the Kentucky Derby Party at Poplar Grove Plantation. As for her personal preferences, she focuses on creative functionality.
“When I make things for myself, I like a classic, clean silhouette,” Props-Allen explains. “I like to blend casual with dressy fashion so my pieces are really versatile.”
One is called “Pink Silk Platter Hat with Dragon Feathers.” The piece features a sheer silk in creamy blush, festooned with wispy, whimsical black feathers. It’s utterly stunning. And it’s affordable.
“I think there’s this perception that everything in an art gallery is out of reach—that it’s really expensive,” shares Miriam Oehrlein, owner of New Elements. “Wearable art is a way to make art accessible.”
In addition to featuring items that are economical, Oehrlein hopes the wearables showcase will attract a different type of crowd. Specifically, she wants to draw the many fashion-forward women in Wilmington who are searching for one-of-a-kind pieces to add to their wardrobes.
The exhibition features Props-Allen’s hand-painted silk ponchos, hand-woven scarves and handmade jewelry. Oehrlein, too, has a few pieces featured in the show, including vintage-inspired necklaces fashioned from gemstones and semi-precious stones. Her pieces are chunky and architectural. “I really wanted to mix up what was in the space,” Oehrlein tells. “All of my jewelry I created for the show complements the wearables.” They hang beautifully against Wendy Clark’s scarves. Clark hand-dyes and weaves in her log cabin studio in the mountains of West Virginia.
Other jewelers featured include Helene Icard, a Wilmingtonian and native of Sweden who is known for works made from luminous freshwater pearls and semi-precious stones. Laura Mostaghel renders smaller versions of her large acrylic and oil paintings onto brooches fashioned out of clay and ceramic. Oehrlein selected figurative works from Mostaghel, as well as artists Bruce Bowman, Sally Sutton, Kevin Bass, and Valerie Lennon, to hang in tandem with the wearables. Lennon’s works, in particular, makes a perfect backdrop for the occasion. Expressionist women in flowing red gowns and tuxedo-clad men form “The Perfect Line.”
“Despite the debate right now between fashion and art design, I believe there’s a real art to dressing,” Oehrlein notes. “There’s a little something for everybody at this show.”