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The Best Mardi Gras Party This Side of New Orleans

Moab's Annual Mardi Gras Fashion Bizarre

Found in: | Inside | Art |

Sex appeal. Wild and daring feats of ingenuity and immorality. A flair for the utterly glamorous and hopelessly ridiculous. Debauchery and thrills. No longer is New Orleans sole proprietor of such Mardi Gras elements. Talk to any Moabite, and she'll tell you that this tiny desert outpost can throw a damned good Fat Tuesday party.
This February will mark the eighth incarnation of Moab's annual Mardi Gras Fashion Bizarre. The event has grown in scope and popularity each year, and the locals-favorite show sells out well in advance. This year's event is Saturday, Feb. 20, at Old Spanish Trail Arena, south of Moab. Doors open at 6 p.m. with the unveiling of homegrown high fashion at 7 p.m.
"Inventive. Naughty. Surprising. The result of creativity coupled with long, cold winter nights." This is how Laurie Collins, the event's creative director describes the evening. "We're a recycled art fashion show that cares nothing for the conventions of fashion. We're about having a good time and supporting our friends and neighbors."
The event is the brainchild - and main fundraising event - of WabiSabi, a Moab-based nonprofit thrift store that exists to support the health and vibrancy of the community. All proceeds from the event - from ticket sales and the auction of featured costumes - go to support WabiSabi's 14 nonprofit partners. Included are organizations like the Humane Society, the Moab Free Health Clinic, the local women's shelter and the recycling center. Also, because WabiSabi is a thrift store promoting reuse and recycling, all costumes at the fashion show are made from community castoffs - items that have been donated to WabiSabi.
Thus, the fashion show is about much more than generating wild memories and killer hangovers; it's about building a compassionate and sustainable community.
"Every dollar spent at the fashion show supports our community," says Collins. "It supports literacy and arts programs for children and adults, after-school programs, recycling, community radio, and free health care. It supports those who save our natural resources. It celebrates diversity of culture and helps us grow healthy children. It's creativity supporting community."
One veteran designer - who goes by the name Alien Child - takes creativity and recycling to the extreme. He crafted last year's fashions - inspired by the area's invasive plant species - out of mini-blinds. The year before, he created costumes from discarded CDs. Such items had otherwise outlived their usefulness and were landfill-bound. Instead, they helped raise thousands of dollars for Moab's nonprofit community.
"I feel that the main goal is to help support other nonprofit organizations in Moab and to make sure that people have a better quality of life. This is my way of giving back to the community," he says. "The fashion show allows me to be creative with my art, and by sharing my vision with others, I feel I am touching those around me."
Alien Child is known for his over-the-top style, and this year's fashions are no exception. Their intricacy (each outfit made of thousands of individual, hand-cut pieces) and grandeur (larger than life in all dimensions), are elements Moabites have come to expect. And they've made this artist - who likes to keep his identity hidden - an unlikely celebrity.
For each show, designers must adhere to a particular subject. This year's theme is "Moab Montage," a unique look at various film genres, including Japanese anime, pirates, spy film, film noir and more. On February 20, 10 Moab designers will showcase their cinema-inspired, handcrafted wares. Costumes are kept secret until the models finally strut their stuff down the runway.
In addition to haute couture, the evening will include music, dancing, food, beverages, a live costume auction, and some of Moab's finest - and wildest - entertainers.
"This has always been Moab's biggest party of the year," says Jeff Cohen, executive director of WabiSabi. "Not only does it showcase models in outrageous, eye-popping costumes, but the audience members dress up as well. This is a celebration of community organizations, the arts - including visual, musical and performance - and everything that makes Moab such a unique, diverse and thriving community."
Each designer spends hundreds of hours crafting his or her wares, all for five minutes of fame on the catwalk. Alien Child will spend an entire month - five hours a day - on one outfit alone. And with no monetary compensation, why do they do it?
 "As an artist, lover of ?upcycling' and supporter of Wabi-Sabi, nothing was holding me back from getting involved. It's a great opportunity to have access to a wealth of materials and to work with other artists in town," says Erin Trim, a first-year designer. Her line, titled "Sepiabloom," is inspired by silent film. "I enjoy the creative process of working with what you have at hand, and the idea that usefulness or purpose can emerge from where you may least expect it is a beautiful thing."
Alien Child adds, "The fashion show is incredible. Everyone should experience it! It brings people together in a harmonious way and benefits the community. I am proud to be in a community that allows artists the freedom to express their talents. In that sense Moab is unique and a special place to live in." 
Last year, Salt Lake City Weekly named the event Utah's "Best Recycled Fashion Show," saying, "The event promises a chance to savor the most cutting edge fashions of the recycled aesthetic along with one hell of a Fat Tuesday party."
Tickets are $15 general admission, $35 for VIP tickets, and $45 for front-row seating. Also, tables seating six - alongside the runway - are available for $300. Tickets are now on sale at The price of admission includes a chance to bid on one-of-a-kind fashions straight off the runway.
This is a 21-and-over only event, and a valid ID is necessary for admission.
"Moab is blessed with an abundance of talent, creativity, and people willing to wear odd costumes and strut the catwalk like it's Fashion Week," says Collins. "This year's show has a little something for everyone - sex appeal, comedy, thrills and monsters."
And if the monsters have sex appeal? Well . . . stand back, New Orleans. Moab might just be Mardi Gras' new home.

Jen Jackson writes from Moab, Utah, where she will model a creation by Alien Child for this year's Mardi Gras event.

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