RetroRama in review: Modern designers combine politics and fashion

Revelers celebrate fashion and politics at RetroRama
Revelers celebrate fashion and politics at RetroRama
Photo by Hilary Stein

Walking into RetroRama, an annual evening of retro fashion and fun at the Minnesota History Center, felt like stepping back in time. Attendees were invited to dress up for the event, and they didn't disappoint. Clad in their finest vintage attire with looks ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s, men and women alike showed that Minnesota knows how to do vintage fashion.

"People have fun dressing up for the event, and they are sharing their personal history with their clothing," says Aleah Vinick, adult audience specialist for the Minnesota History Center. "Vintage clothes have a personal meaning to people, and there's a story behind what they're wearing."

This year's theme, when politics and fashion collide, added a fun element to the event as attendees had the opportunity to create souvenir election hats and have their photo taken in the "Oval Office" at the "President's desk.""We always try to tie RetroRama into something that's happening at the History Center, and it's also an election year so it seemed like a really good time to talk about political expression," Vinick explains.

Work by Samantha Rei
Work by Samantha Rei
Photo by Hilary Stein

People also had the opportunity to shop at the pop-up boutiques by Blacklist Vintage, the Spectacle Shoppe, and Flamingo's Fabulous Finds; enjoy cocktail demonstrations and drink sampling by Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz of Bittercube bitters and Bombay Sapphire Gin; and dance to music by the Southside Aces.

One of the most popular aspects of the night was a fashion show produced by Anna Lee featuring local designers Max Lohrbach, Emma Berg, Christopher Straub, Samantha Rei, and Danielle Everine. Each designer was given a constitutional amendment to serve as the inspiration for their garment, and the garments were modeled by the women of Lili's Burlesque.

Max Lohrbach kicked off the show with a look inspired by women's suffrage: linen trousers, a white blouse, and a bow tie topped off with a vote-themed hat. Lohrbach says that he wanted to create a men's look because women often faced insults while they were rallying for their rights.

"RetroRama is so much fun for me," Lohrbach says. "I have made garments for the show three times now -- and attended four times -- and I always enjoy the process of creating a historically-twisted and tricked-out garment."

Next up was Samantha Rei, whose Prohibition look was inspired by designers Lanvin and Chanel, featured drop waist pannier dresses from the 1920s and a whiskey barrel. She added excitement to her look with an alcohol-themed reveal.

"I decided to do a hidden mini-bar of small bottles of liquor under the top skirt layer," Rei says. "It was a really fun reveal that I thought would make a better statement that a flask in a garter."

Christopher Straub presented a jacket and skirt inspired by the Chanel suits Jacqueline Kennedy was known for wearing. He created a digital print using various campaign buttons that John F. Kennedy used to get elected.

"I decided to use buttons for my print because of their symbolism," Straub says. "They evoked the hope that America needed at that time."

Danielle Everine says that history inspires all of her work and she was excited to participate in what she says is the best event of the year. Her silk jumpsuit and emerald velvet rocker cape were inspired by the equal rights amendment.

"My look evokes the female rocker spirit of the 1960s; the transition from women as 'delicate things' to bad-ass breadwinners," Everine says.

Emma Berg closed out the show with a look inspired by the civil rights movement and current events. She says that she was originally exploring the idea of creating a garment representative of women like Rosa Parks or Angela Davis, but decided to create a black grosgrain ribbon hoodie dress to honor Trayvon Martin.

"I listen to MPR non-stop, and am often saddened and astounded by the struggles that people in our country continue to endure because of the color of their skin," Berg says. "The Civil Rights movement did so much to move our country toward a place of equality for all, but it is far from over. This hoodie dress was created as a memorial to Trayvon Martin, and a reminder to all that the work is not complete."

It was apparent that the designers embraced the challenge of combining history and fashion in an interesting way, and the burlesque models added a fun energy to the show.

"I have attended RetroRama several times over the past few years, and I always appreciate the thoughtfulness and creativity behind the work of the designers," Berg says. "The attendees at the event are so engaged in the show and with the overall theme. I was honored to be a part of such a great annual event at such a beautiful venue."

Want more? Check out our RetroRama 2012 slideshow here.

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Minnesota History Center

345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102


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