Maura Pozek, the Teenage Designer in the Dorito Bag Prom Dress

An inspiring piece about fashion as art popped up in our NPR newsfeed the other day. The story centered around 17-year-old Maura Pozek, from Reed Springs, Missouri, who has been making her own prom dresses for three years. Big deal, right? So she took Home Ec., or her mom taught her to sew or something. Except Maura didn't head to the fabric store and make a dress from a pattern -- she designed the dresses herself. Again, big deal, right? It is kind of a big deal, because Maura not only designed the dresses, she made them from empty Doritos bags (sophomore year), more than 4,000 tabs from soda cans (junior year), and cardboard and paper (senior year).

Aside from the fact that you have to be a pretty confident person to show up at your prom in a dress made out of Doritos bags, Maura's prom dress adventures are inspiring from an artistic standpoint. There is something delightfully Warhol-esque about a Doritos-brand dress, and that it was beautifully designed and well-fitting creates an amazing juxtaposition for the viewer. Does the use of Doritos bags make the dress pop art, or does the repurposing of the Doritos bags into a functional dress with solid design elements result in high art? It's a pretty delicious thing to think about, no matter what your favorite flavor of Doritos chips might be.

Maura comes from an artistic background -- her mother is an artist, she explains in this NPR telephone interview -- and has always been creative herself. When asked whether she sews, Maura says yes, but explains that her plan to go to art and design school has been shuttled aside in favor of a degree in education. Ironically, art school is too expensive, so she is choosing a more stable, well-paying career because getting an education to be a starving artist just costs too much money.

Which is too bad, really, because Maura's natural talent is pretty obvious. The Doritos dress is cool and funky, and the cardboard dress is really impressive, but it was the "soda can tab" dress that really takes the breath away. You can see a still photo of the dress in this slideshow from the original NPR article about Maura's prom dresses, but take a minute (literally -- it's one minute long) to see the dress in this video about Maura from the local news. The dress is hanging on a form, but even without movement you can see that it's a stunning piece, worth every one of the 100+ hours Maura spent weaving the tabs together.

It would be fun to show this video to the designers on Project Runway, who start each season with an "unusual textiles" challenge. We have seen the designers thrown into pet supply stores, recycling plants and party supply stores and asked to source their materials from non-fabric items to create beautiful clothing. It's a great challenge because it pushes all of the designers out of their comfort zones, giving the audience a chance to gauge raw talent. For the rest of the season some designers will feel comfortable with almost any set of parameters -- couture, menswear, sportswear -- but a challenge that requires designers to use non-fabric materials levels the playing field, and there are always designers who get really angry or upset. (Don't they watch the show? It happens every year, after all.) Wouldn't it be great to have someone like Maura come in and show these prima donnas how it's done?

Hopefully Maura continues designing and creating clothing, no matter what education or vocation she pursues in the future. Artists like Raymond Waters and Una Burke are examples of artists creating unusual, high-art fashion with non-fabric materials. Waters has created incredible haute couture dresses using pennies, classic film strips (Chaplin's The Gold Rush and Modern Times) and film strips of pornographic images. In contrast, Burke uses leather -- a traditional material in clothing design -- to create sculptural pieces that reference body armor and medical braces, described as "carcass-like" on the artist's Web site. If rarely used coins and sculptural leather harnesses which by the artist's own admission resemble dead animals, why not Doritos bags and soda can tabs? We're hoping to see more from Maura Pozek in the future, hopefully on a runway.

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Christina Uticone