Teen designers channel Dali in a unique Tampa Bay fashion show

Teen designers wove surreal inspiration from Salvador Dalí into wearable art for a unique fashion show Feb. 24 at Gibbs High School. The first reveal came as a surprise treat for Dalí patrons enjoying the museum’s weekly, late-hours opening on Feb. 1. Half of the program’s 24 students processed through the galleries alongside models wearing their creations.

The theme for this year’s program was “Eleg-ants: Designs from Dalí’s Animal Kingdom.” Each design drew something from an animal featured in a Dalí painting, including “The Ram,” 1928; “The Sheep,” 1942; a lobster from “The Lobster Telephone,” 1936-38; and an octopus from “The Ecumenical Council,” 1960.

The students were accepted into the 14-week partnership program in August 2023 and spent nearly every weekend designing, sewing and fitting their creations. Some of the designs will remain on public display at Florida CraftArt.

According to the Dalí’s website, the program, now entering its eighth year, was established for “artistically inclined high school students from the Tampa Bay area to learn the fundamentals of design, construction and runway presentation from experienced artists and designers. Through nontraditional materials, students are invited to think creatively to produce wearable works of art that translate from sketch to runway.” This year’s class of designers included students from 14 different schools in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Manatee counties.

The students met at Gibbs on Sunday afternoons, where they had access to a full costume workshop. Museum patrons donated clothing and supplies that students recycled for their designs, and the museum provided vouchers for the participants to shop for clothing and other materials at the Goodwill store near the high school.

Gibbs sophomore Rainna Rodgers Spaights said she used a combination of donated fabric swatches, old clothing and lace ripped from a shirt she found at Goodwill to create her version of Dalí’s “Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man” from 1943. Her goal was to replicate a chicken and an egg.

“My piece mimics the shape of an egg in the skirt and (uses) yellow fabric to represent egg yolk. The headpiece represents the uterus (above the) egg, located at the top of the painting. The lace on the corset was meant to add a youthful look to match the innocence of a chicken,” said Rodgers Spaights in her description of her work. At the evening fashion show at the Dalí, she said she hopes to study fashion in college and prefers designers “who do things that are out of the ordinary.”

Like Rodgers Spaights, most of the students in the program hope to pursue design after high school. “But, a lot of them will make it a hobby or a cool skill to have in their lives,” said Sumaya Ayad, the Dalí Museum’s school programs manager.

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Future fashion designers are congratulated after their runway show for Fashion Design at the Dalí, a semester-long program between the Pinellas County Center for the Arts and the Dalí Museum.

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