Mesh “Welcome to Hell” Fashion Show Trailblazing the Seattle Fashion Scene
Updated: Jul 2
Edited by Marian Mohamed
Models wearing designs from the Chained collection at Mesh's "Welcome to Hell" fashion show on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
On May 9, Mesh debuted an inferno-based showcase with their 2023 fashion show entitled “Welcome to Hell.” This second annual show featured collections from 19 different independent designers based in Seattle.
Mesh, founded in 2021, is a creative collective based at the University of Washington (UW) that centers on fashion design, education, and exploration. The fashion world has had a reputation for being exclusionary and elitist, but Mesh is an organization trying to change that, as External Communications Director Jessi May explained.
“We have a really big focus as a club on trying to be as accessible and inclusive as we can,” said May. “We also have a dedicated focus to the queer, trans, BIPOC community. We are registered with the ECC here, which is the ethnic cultural center, so considering all of those things, people here want to work with everyone in the room.”
The idea behind Mesh is to foster a lively community of fashion enthusiasts not only on UW’s campus and beyond the larger Seattle fashion scene.
“I know, there's a lot of people who said they wished there was a fashion scene in Seattle. Like yes, there's a lot of fashionable people, but there isn't any sort of community that everyone's connected to,” said May.
Mesh is slowly achieving this goal by showcasing non-student designers, incorporating performers from the Seattle area, and broadening their reach by choosing to host their show this year off-campus.
“I'm kind of happy because the Crocodile is a very, very cool place to put this on, and last year was in one of the UW ballrooms. So I feel like for what we want this year, it makes sense. It's an upgrade,” said May.
In the heart of Belltown at the Crocodile, the Mesh brought the underworld to Seattle.
The show split into three sets featuring all the designers’ collections, broken up with intermissions including performances from the band Gender Evny, the K-Pop dance cover company the KOMPANY, and drag superstar Kylie Mooncakes. This is Mesh’s “Welcome to Hell.”
Band Gender Envy playing during the show's first intermission on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
The show was kicked off by UW electrical engineering sophomore Liz Huang’s collection, En Masse. Her collection is not only a portrayal of the nuances of “hell” but also symbolizes what she can create in stressful situations.
“My collection this year is called En Masse. It means altogether, I really want to focus on technical skills, and like different textures that would like to provide the experience,” said Huang. “Last year, I focused on statement pieces. So I kind of built off of that.”
Huang’s collection does this by putting a focus on pleating. She wanted to emphasize the difference between creating clothes for a person versus just buying clothes from a fast fashion store. She debuted four pieces in the show, each depicting what a different interpretation of hell is for her.
“So there's one with ropes all across the body, and chains, you know, the Christian belief of what hell is and how it's like, a negative connotated word,” said Huang. “Then I have a few others that are more airy and simple, which is kind of not hell, as in like dark and fiery but more like hell as a mind state and mindset.”
Model opens the show wearing one of the designs from the En Masse Collection on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
Creating this collection didn’t come without its challenges for Huang. She created these four pieces over the course of only one month while juggling all her other obligations.
“We're in a place where you can't really put your all into it because you have to consider reality, like your job, school, all of that. And a lot of this isn’t the designers’ majors or what they're studying,” said Huang.
Huang highlights that in addition to time, the lack of financial resources added additional challenges to complete her collection.
“We aren’t provided a stipend or budget right now, so everything comes out of our own pocket. All the time, all the models, all the makeup comes from us. So I had to recycle so many materials, like I literally tore one of my old dresses that I wore last year,” said Huang.
However, at the same time, Huang says that this brings into context for her how the fashion industry wastes so many things. She says it challenged her to create many different things from roughly $15.
Despite these challenges, Huang feels that her collections being featured in both of Mesh’s fashion shows marks a huge milestone for her.
Floor length dress from the En Masse collection captures the audience on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
“I feel like last year’s show was one of the main defining moments of my entire school year.. So being able to do that again, I’m kind of honored, kind of happy, you're kind of like, ‘wow I'm growing!’”, said Huang.
Karama by apaansasa
Beautifully ethereal pieces catch the light and glide through the runway, and at first glance, this collection may just seem dreamy, but designer Sasa Mou explains there’s more to what meets the eye.
Hippolyta Toussiant walking in the show in a Karama collection design on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
“I feel like even though the collection is, I guess really pretty, it's about the grieving process. And traditionally for my culture, when we grieve, it's an expansive experience,” said Mou.
She says that even though they feel disconnected from their culture, this collection is trying to reimagine what expensive grief looks like and how a moment of remembering joy. They try to achieve these feelings through the patterns, motifs, and fabrics they use.
“I use a lot of flowers and also grommets as a representation of heartbreak and the holes in my heart. I guess it's kind of silly, like saying it out loud, but just allowing the flowers and the beauty to grow through those holes,” said Mou.
Model showcasing a grommet mini dress from the Karama collection at the show on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
Mou says her collection is youthful, feeling the need to preserve their youth, innocence, and hope for the world and humanity. So, while it’s about death, Karama is also a collection that is more hopeful and imaginative.
Chainstitch by The Armory
Jessi May doubles as a Mesh Board Member and sews half of the collection Chainstitch.
Vee Johnson is the powerhouse creating chain maille elements of the collection.
Vee Johnson stitching chain maille backstage at the show on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
Inspired by the "Knightcore" trend, each of their four looks explore a different facet of the popular imagination of knights, corresponding with a different part of their garb: regal chainmail, romantic brigandine, a playful gambeson, and an edgy tabard. However, they originally had a different vision in mind.
“So I was brainstorming for ages, originally, I was going to do a completely different idea, and then I was actually inspired by religious architecture,” said May.
But after working with their models, they realized some of their initial designs weren't necessarily fitting with them. They went back to the drawing board and decided on everything a week before the show May recounted.
May says that their collection falls far outside of the range of the show's theme, but that’s the beauty of it.
Jessi May and Vee Johnson walking down the runway together, showcasing their collection on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
“I have some looks that are more related to punk look. They’re a little more gritty, like vaguely hell related, but I really didn't incorporate that into my designs initially,” said May.
Seamless by Neha Venkatesh
Neha Venkatesh pays homage to her South Asian culture with her collection, incorporating traditional elements with a modern twist. Each piece of the collection focuses on the convergence of the Indian and Western worlds, exploring different color and fabric combinations.
Venkatesh says she always wanted to make South Asian Western wear a focus of her collection.
“My collection speaks to the diaspora experience, it’s a vibrant collection that invites wearers to embrace and embody the beauty and complexity of cultural identity,” said Venkatesh.
Aisha Rashid modeling a two-piece set from the Seamless collection at the show dress rehearsal on May 6, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang).
For Venkatesh coming up with ideas for her collection wasn't the hard part but instead the sewing component, especially for people besides herself.
“I've never really made anything for someone else. So with other people, it's hard to figure out how to alter it, and if it’s something that can't be altered, to pin it in a certain way where it's not noticeable,” said Venkatesh.
With challenges, though, Venkatesh says she found a partnership in her models, speaking to the collaborative nature of Mesh as an organization seeking to build a holistic, non-hierarchal creative collective.
Neha Venkatesh stands together with her models wearing her collection to receive a round of applause on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia).
“One of my models definitely has a lot more insight into the whole process, and she's had a lot of ideas and kind of helped me figure out where I want to go with this collection,” said Venkatesh. “Also with just small logistical things, like, trying to figure out how to pin something, and she was like, ‘Oh, you could just use Fashion Tape!’ and I was like, that's such a small thing that I just didn't even think of.”
TEETH by BITCHHOUSE
Julia Hopkin’s collection can be defined by one fabric: leather. Between leather mini dresses, leather corsets, or a piece that incorporated a body chain with a leather spine, Hopkins was quite particular with her focus.
Hopkin's leather spine body chain design from the Teeth Collection being modeled down the runway on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
“Yeah, I'm doing a lot of leather working this year. I think I enjoy the process of leather working a little more than just sewing. I like the hands-on process,” said Hopkins. “Also, with leather, every hide is different. Just kind of like feeling out the differences and getting to know the piece of material you're working with. I think it is really satisfying, and it's not something you always get with fabric.”
Hopkin has only been working with leather for a year and has found that it comes with some challenges unique to sewing.
“With leather, once you put holes in it, the holes are there. That's it, there's nothing you can do about it. You're gonna have to re-cut it if you don't want that to be there.”
Model wearing a leather mini dress from the TEETH collection on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
This has led her to pattern her designs a lot, but she says it paid off because they feel that everything in her collection works just well with each other to portray her message.
The message of feminine rage. Hopkins wanted to play with this theme and to flip the gender norms of dynamics in fashion when it comes to designs and her models.
“It's kind of a funny message because in fashion you have models and the whole point is that you're looking at these and enjoying these clothes on these models’ bodies,” said Hopkins. “But just kind of hopefully getting some of the like agency back in tying back to the feminine rage thing by reclaiming the power almost.”
Throughout history, most fashion houses have been led by male designers. Hopkins says you can see the difference when there's some misogynist designing versus someone who actually views their women models as people.
So with TEETH, Hopkins is looking to empower women.
Julia Hopkins Standing with their models wearing her TEETH collection on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
“I really hope that people watching can tell that it's important to work with my models to make them feel powerful and good. Like and show off my work, obviously, but I wouldn't feel good about showing off something if my model didn't want to,” said Hopkins.
VVestworld by Velour Visions
The third and final set of the show ushered in some theatrics when a model in a black leather fringe cowboy hat in a matching leather cut-out jacket and denim chaps walked to the end of the runaway to open a suitcase with money falling to the ground and trifold banner that revealed VVestworld by Velour Visions for the audience to read.
Justin Velour is the brainpower behind the brand Velour Visions and is also one of the original founders of Mesh. Seeing how much Mesh has grown since it was first founded makes Velour happy, and is a testament to Velour’s own growth as well, they say.
“I definitely did want to come back and just show that I am a testimony of what you can do with just one sewing class and pursuing your passions,” said Velour.
VVestworld by Velour Visions being unveiled with a suitcase drop at dress rehersals on May 6, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
Initially, Velour said he didn’t have any intention of designing for or being a part of the show. However, after encouragement from Mesh’s current board, he submitted his designs an hour before the deadline.
“I feel I'm most creative when I'm under pressure. So when I was drawing those drawings, I didn't know how I was gonna do it. I don't know how I'm gonna make it look, but I was gonna figure it out,” said Velour. “So that's kind of just like how I navigate with all of my designs, I just draw it first. I think about how I want to transform it into something that is tangible.”
When crafting their design drawings, he said the first thing that popped into their head was Western. As a result, VVestworld features a diverse set of fabrics, cut-outs, and designs that range from leather wristlets with floor-length fringe attachments to full denim two-piece dripped in crystal fringing, making the collection feel dramatic, modern, and have that extra x-factor.
“It's basically just what people would wear in like a wild wild west town in my city. So I can have a Velour Visions city, this is what people would wear. It's upper echelon people like celebrities, but also locals even, so it's just showing the range of the people that would live there,” said Velour.
Alice Dibbo in a two-piece denim rhinestone fringe set from the VVestworld collection by Velour Visions on May 6, 2023, during dress rehearsal. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
And Velour gives a subtle nod to their own brand Velour Visions, making the W in West spelled with two V's.
Creating this collection was no small feat for Velour, who treated this second job after his usual nine to five, sewing every night and on weekends. But, being an independent designer has also come with its challenges as well in a world where fast fashion consumption has taken over and influenced people’s perceptions of what they should pay for clothes.
“This creativity stuff is not cheap at all, and then people expect you to charge cheap, they're like, ‘Can I get that for a Forever 21 price?’ And I'm like, ‘Um, this is not a sweatshop so I can't do that’. Everything is hand sewn and sustainable.” said Velour.
And while these challenges can present obstacles to getting creative and pursuing your passion, Velour still continues to push themselves in hopes that others will see they can do this too.
“But as far as the passion, I definitely do want to see a lot more people like, put themselves out there, take a chance, take a risk, you know, join Mesh! Honestly, Mesh is a good segway into learning what you want to learn [and] having good networking opportunities,” said Velour.
Hoony Chang modeling a leather two piece from the VVestworld collection by Velour Visions on May 6, 2023. (Photo/Gurjot Kang)
And for Velour, Mesh isn’t where it’s ending for them; it’s only the beginning, and they hope the same for the Seattle Creative Scene as a whole.
“I definitely want to see a lot more collaboration, I feel like the city focuses on competition instead of collaboration, and that's what is toxic,” said Velour. “Because people want to gatekeep fabrics or keep this music to themselves, and so that's annoying when you're in a city that just wants to create! You see it bubbling up, so someone gotta take off the lid and unveil all of it.”
John Paul Purugganan strutting down the runway in a Velour Visions design from the VVestworld collection on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
Mesh’s “Welcome to Hell” fashion show was completely sold out, filled with creatives, students, and community members alike, showing that this scene is indeed bubbling.
Mesh's Board members (left to right), Jessi May, John Paul Purugganan, Irya Bland, Archie Sugiyama, and Amy Sun, start the show with opening remarks on May 9, 2023. (Photo/Enya Garcia)
What Mesh is creating goes so far beyond fashion itself; they have a whole plethora of artists involved in their productions, including hair stylists, makeup artists, photographers, videographers, graphic designers, musicians, and performers. They are building a landscape for the Seattle art scene for the next generation that is diverse, inclusive, and holistic, and they’re just getting started.