Backstage at VALT with Jacqueline Ryan

Thanks to guest writer Jacqueline Ryan for her great behind the scenes article on what it was like to be a part of VALT!


Monday, the morning after my two sensational nights modeling in the VALT fashion shows aptly themed Decadence and Delightmy facebook status read: “Surprising things you don't expect to hear yourself say: My eyelashes are still painted white, but there was no problem getting the glue stick off of my eyebrows." I love my life!

When the modeling casting call came from Vancouver Alternative FashionWeek (VALT),  I jumped in with both high heels! Magical things happen when you say yes, especially to my eternally innovative friends Aaron and Kat Morris of Morrismore ModelsNightshade Beauty and GrindDownVancouver MagazineThey are fearless risk takers in the world of performance art, the realm of modeling, alternative fashion photography, publishing, and are at the epicenter of what has become a push of several subcultures into the local mainstream consciousness. It was especially when I met the AMAZING organizers Kat Ferneyhough and Kat Kozak, that I knew I was going to be in for a truly unique experience!.

Photo by Kat Eye Imaging
Two weeks later, I found myself at The Ironworks Studio - an unassuming building on Alexander Street that encompasses what is so cool about Gastown. The industrial warehouse atmosphere oozes in rich history while enveloping you in a funky, well-loved space. During VALT, Ironworks (which was a movie set the day before) was bejeweled with art installations, a raised runway, stages for the bands and photographers, a backstage buzzing with a kaleidoscope of alternative models, a bevy of some of Vancouver’s best makeup and hair artists, photographers, writers, dressing assistants, rocking designers, and rack after glorious rack of unusual, pretty, elegant, sexy, sumptuously strange, and exotic fantasy costumery you can, and can’t even begin to imagine. The totality of it all fit the venue like a leather and lace opera length glove.

Shiverz Designs -
Photo by Kat Eye Imaging
It all started out with the makeup and hair. Friday’s theme of Decadence consisted of glittery lashes, eye framing crystals and sleek chignons - an elegant fit for the lush headpieces and elaborate designs making their debut on the runway - and first up for me was Shiverz Designs  Designer Siohban B. is vibrantly passionate, upbeat, and has a beaming smile you HAVE to love! Her exquisite fascinators are adorned with feathers, veils, giant flowers of gloriously rich colour, and more edgy pieces encrusted with spikes and crystals. They are sculptural works of art that were a joy to behold. Mine was a fountain of deep red and irridescent black feathers meticulously placed on a red and black base bordered with crystals, paired with a with a huge red glass teardrop amulet necklace with deep red roses adorning either side. J’adore! My matching red beaded drop earrings, well, they got to come home with me. A perfect little gift to remember the moment by!

For Arafel Designs, I stepped into the role of the Victorian Black Widow. I quite enjoyed my visit back in time in a floor-length black taffeta coat matched with an ample cascading bustle and a long, theatrical, red lace trimmed train that I removed (with the attitude of the-not-so-terribly-sad-that-I-had-lost-my-beloved) in front of the crowd. I was delighted when designer Leia layered on a top hat which was dramatically punctuated by a black face veil and long feather. To finish the look, black boots and satin gloves were added, and my transformation was complete.

Aafel Designs - image by CogitoErgoShoot//mel buenaventura
My second day at VALT was Sunday. That evening the theme of Delight took a more etherial tone with elfin-esque pale faces and glitter... It was a little girls’ and boys’ dress up heaven! Speaking of heaven, I have been not-so-secretly worshipping Nina (pronouncedNine-a) Pak for some time now - her masterful, magical photographs literally take my breath away, and her union with makeup artist Kat Morris is a creative dance that manifests compellingly beautiful works of art... So there I was on Sunday night, astonished and delighted at having my long hair meticulously crimped by the brilliant Pak herself, and feeling incredibly blessed to be sitting with her for an hour chatting about her work and vision. 

Kat was right next to us focusing her talents on one of the thirty or so models, and April Peters of  The House Gallery Boutique was dressing the fortunate few who lived the fantasy by wearing her rich leathers, Renaissance velvet gowns, lace cone face masks and Steampunk masterpieces... Just when I was thinking I must be dreaming, I heard from directly behind me, “Are you tucked?” This was the question Peters put to model Nathan McLean who spectacularly wore the bridal mini skirt in full drag for The House Gallery Boutique’s finale. I had to smile to myself.

Silverwolf girls wearing House Gallery - Photographer Patrick Parenteau.
The beautiful little Silverwolf girls were there, usually quietly reading the ‘How To Catch a Fairy’ books the Morris’s had given them, looking stunning in their matching hair and makeup. They also would grace the catwalk in addition to co-starring as Aaron’s onstage companions while he introduced, in full regalia, the show each evening. “I am Fancy!” he grinned under his white powdered wig as I helped him button his flouncy lace cuff the first night. He upstaged himself, however, by gluing goat horns to his forehead, donning furry pants and having superstar makeup artist Jenny Ruth obligingly paint hooves onto his feet for his Sunday evening as a faun: half man, half goat.

That night, Sydkney of SilentKay was adorable with her pink bob and homemade “jumper” dress covered in a little green scissors pattern with a bright red zipper up the back; a perfect little detail to echo her shiny red patent leather boots! My dress was an eye-popping green and white wisp of a thing that looked fun and mod - it was also a bit of a departure from her other equally pretty dresses and skirts that were made with softer, more demure fabrics like toille.

SilentKay (left) and Sans Scoucie (right) - Photo by Kat Eye Imaging
KatherineSoucie of Sans Soucie is as prolific as she is creative. Her unique pieces repurposed from factory nylon castoffs are fascinating. She had about 22 models walk for her and some of them had changes. I was surprised at her men’s line and what she is able to do with colour and texture on blazers, vests and button-down shirts. It was fabulous to see men wearing beautiful mixes of patterns and hues. I felt very Rock and Roll in my clingy pink patched together dress paired with a yellow neckpiece. Katherine was also kind enough to offer a gift of a beautiful soft leather change purse by Patina or a set of pretty earrings... Change purse for me!

Pixie- Photo by Kat Eye Imaging
The ultimate way to finish up a weekend like this was to slip on a pair of amply sized handmade fairy wings lovingly created by Julie Ramsay, better known as Pixi Doll  My pretty lovelies were transparent with an irridescent lustre. These creations are truly magical. The crowd went wild for them, some of which lit up with little lights and reflectors, others elaborately shimmering with feathers and branches, shaped lovingly into curls and points even Tinkerbell would envy.

One of the things I appreciated about the designers was that they just wanted us to express how their fashions made us feel when we were wearing them. Nothing contrived - just “go with it and own it!” Considering the collection of models’ personalities, there was no shortage of playfulness and attitude on the catwalk. How refreshing! Walking on the runway at VALT was easy because the room had a tangible warm vibe to it. The audience was so appreciative that after my first walk, any jangly nerves I may have had completely vanished. We could hear the bands rocking the house accompanied by uproarious applause as each act took their turn entertaining the delighted audience. We were also beautifully documented by Mel Buenaventura s camera lens as he photographed each model in his or her outfit in front of a funky grey garage door before we took to the stage!

Probably the most amusing aspect of the whole thing was the amount of time we spent crammed into the men’s backstage bathroom, which doubled for the waiting area while we assembled for our turn on the runway. Very glamourous! It was particularly challenging when the lights were blacked out so none of the guests could peer through the narrow wall we carefully slipped through. We avoided poking each other in the eyes with wings and antlers and feathers and took it all in stride. I’d like to offer an especially deep thank you to Kat Ferneyhough. She was laser-beam dialed in to all aspects of the show; her calm and lighthearted demeanor never wavered with us as she communicated on her radio as to what was happening in the front of the house, and directed us on and off the runway seamlessly - queuing us gently with a touch of her hand. She was truly a rock star!

In the cramped dressing room!
(Image from the Ironworks website)

What does one talk about behind-the-scenes? Oh, you know, the usual...I had a conversation with someone special who confided in me that she is in a relationship with a man she absolutely adores, who happens to be polyamorous; Pin Up Girls talked about where to get the best Elvis and Marilyn Monroe tattoos; a boy that one girl met at the fitting showed up just to give her a bottle of white wine, which she was 
kind enough to share with yours truly; I asked burlesque queen Diamond Minx, "Where exactly do you keep all of your costumes, anyway?" (The answer was, “One whole bedroom, at my parent’s house and yes, I have storage as well...”) Ah, a girl after my own heart. One absolutely beautiful girl told me about her struggles with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and how she wishes she could see herself like everyone else sees her, yet she was one of the most physically flawless models there... Not to worry, she and all the rest of us devoured the mountains of pizza provided for us with an abundance of lemon infused water to keep us hydrated and fed for the seven to ten hours we spent there every day.
Valt Directors Kat Ferneyhough and Kat Kozak
Image by Lucho Bersek

My daydreams still burst with flashes of elaborately black feathered Elizabethan neck pieces, Steampunk top hats and leather goggles bathed in gold studs, gorgeous boys and girls of all shapes and sizes, long, green, pointy elf shoes and wings and baby dragons, oversized oval hoop skirts, crinolines and bonnets, richly textured overcoats, sexy tattooed girls in black fishnets and chains, leather, corsets, and all things fashionably eclectic and surreal... It’s the kind of dream you wish you could stay in forever...

(Editor's Note - VALT would like to acknowledge the amazing official behind the scenes team recording this event - Photographers Kat Eye Imaging, Mel Buenaventura and Laurent Danis along with videographer Parya Pourkarimi.)