Brielle Killip is not a fashion designer, although she is making two dresses for an upcoming fashion show. She also doesn’t use fabric to make the dresses — they’re created from paper.
Killip makes the dresses of the next Paper fashion show, held every spring since 2004 (with the exception of last year). Designers compete for cash prizes using premium paper from event-sponsoring manufacturers, creating garments that push the boundaries of art and fashion. Just about anything goes, as long as the pieces are made of at least 90% paper.
Most competitors are not fashion designers; they come from all walks of life and all professions. Killip is a graphic designer with Blue Linen Creative and has participated in the Paper Fashion Show every year since 2016, using it as a creative outlet. “One thing that fills my soul is creating and being able to share that with people,” she says. “I’ve always done different things, from furniture to painting. I do creative work all the time with my graphic design business, but a lot of it is for clients rather than being creative for myself.
One of the best parts of the Paper Fashion Show is seeing the work of those who do it as a hobby, she adds, “It’s so cool to see what people can create.”
For Killip, not being in the fashion industry allows him to break free from the traditional rules of clothing construction. “I don’t know what it is, so I can come up with an idea and we just figure out how to make it work and move on a body,” she says.
As a regular attendee, Killip always finds little sparks of inspiration for her next project. “I can see something and take a picture or do a little sketch. For me, I just like to experiment. All the dresses we’ve made have started with an individual shape or piece of paper, and we try different things, like repeating a pattern or finding ways to loop it or knit it together,” she explains.
Killip works with a team that includes her boyfriend, Christopher Geissinger, and her friend/model Jennifer Garber. They each bring distinct skills to the table. “Chris has worked in construction, so he knows how to build things,” she says, “and Jen likes to knit, so she has experience doing something for the body.”
The building process can take months, which is good for Killip, who enjoys sharing the creative experience with her boyfriend; it gives them a hobby during the cold Colorado winters. They start with a fitting, making a mannequin out of a t-shirt and tape around which they can build the garment. But it’s usually not until the complete part is built that they start thinking about how to insert and remove it from the model.
“We sewed pieces together; this year we are knitting it together,” she says. “Many designers use hot glue — he really is your best friend. I’ve seen dresses glued directly to the mannequins!”
They also need to think about how they will transport the dresses to the show. “The paper is surprisingly strong, especially when it’s in small pieces. We made a garment with a large cape that was separate from the dress and we carried it in two pieces and then tied it together with velcro,” says Killip.
The Paper Fashion Show audience grew from a few hundred to thousands. This year’s event, taking place Thursday, March 10 at the Fillmore Auditorium, will feature 37 participating designers. Ya Girl Cedes will host the evening, with music from DJ Simone Says.
“The shows have grown every year,” says co-producer Michael Garcia, who handles marketing and entertainment for the event; Garcia is an LGBTQ advocate and owns his own business, Proud Communications. “I got involved around 2016. They asked me to co-host. Then they asked me to be part of the production team. It’s been such an amazing ride. I’m inspired every day by being a part of it.”
The show was started by the Denver Chapter of the ONE Club for Creativity, a global non-profit organization that supports and celebrates creative communities. Garcia says that was a big reason he got involved. The Paper Fashion Show is a charity event that supports Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA), which offers after-school arts programs for youth aged seven to seventeen. DAVA’s program also includes the Paper Fashion Show. “Students work with participants to learn how design works,” notes Garcia.
To date, the Paper Fashion Show and ONE Club have donated over $62,000 to DAVA. “It’s so great that we can inspire younger generations to be creative,” says Garcia.
The wealth of creativity is really what makes the Paper Fashion Show a must-attend event, he says, adding that he and the whole team can’t wait to bring it back after having to cancel it last year.
“We’re excited to be back after the light has been dimmed with COVID,” Garcia concludes. “It’s definitely a wonderland experience.”
The Paper Fashion Show, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street. Find tickets, $35 to $105, and more information at paperfashionshow.com.