Designers stitch up Audubon-inspired frocks

The lights were dim and the music was thumping as New Orleans’ young and beautiful gathered on a recent Saturday night at the House of Blues Foundation Room.

There were drinks, a dizzying array of short skirts and high heels, lively conversations punctuated with boisterous laughter — and sewing machines.

The occasion: WildHouse, a benefit for the Audubon Fund.

Part cocktail party, part-Project Runway inspired style show and competition, the event was sponsored by fashion website

WildHouse tested the skills of three local designers as they worked feverishly to create one-of-a-kind, Audubon-themed dresses in only three hours.

“When they arrived tonight, each of the designers was handed a box of fabric and accessories,” said Dalton Primeaux, editor in chief of The WearHouse District. “The boxes were inspired by one of the Audubon Institute’s attractions: one for the zoo, one for the aquarium and one for the insectarium. From that, they have to create an original piece.”

The three dresses were auctioned off at the end of the evening to benefit the Audubon Fund.

Primeaux and high school best friend Veronica Traigle created the fashion blog two years ago, and were later joined by associate editor Michelle Betanof. The three hope to change the way fashion is perceived.

“I think fashion can be seen as something shallow,” Primeaux said. “It’s not. It’s really just another form of art – like painting or music. Fashion is, and should be, for everyone. You just feel good when you put on a beautiful dress or a great suit.”

At the end of the evening, three event attendees went home with a new beautiful dress to feel good in, courtesy of designers Faye Caston, Erica Durousseau and Michelle O’Reagan.

Using the aquarium-inspired box, Caston created a shimmering blue one-shoulder cocktail dress.

“I was really inspired by a photo in the box of a jellyfish swimming in bright blue water,” Caston said.

Durousseau got a chance to embrace her own wild side after drawing the zoo inspired box. Her long, mermaid-style fitted dress was a bold leopard print with accents of orange.

O’Reagan said she drew exactly the box she wanted — the insectarium.

“I was really hoping for that one because a lot of the things I create are more alien-like, more bizarre,” she said. “I had brought this necklace with me from Magpie Collections just in case. It’s made of real Thai beetle wings.”

O’Reagan’s iridescent necklace was the perfect complement to a silky, floor-length bright pink gown. Showcasing that little bit of the bizarre, the gown gathered on one side and featured only one sleeve. When the model raised her arm a dark wing was exposed. “My inspiration was the luna moth,” O’Reagan said.

Attendees embraced the creativity of all three designers, and in the end O’Reagan’s moth-like creation sold for $150, taking home the prize for the evening.

Attendance for WildHouse was estimated at more than 150 people; more than $2,000 was raised.

When asked about the state of New Orleans’ fashion scene, all three designers agreed with the staff at The WearHouse District that it’s getting stronger by the moment, boosted by two successful Fashion Weeks.

“New Orleans is a place of great culture, art and hospitality,” Primeaux said. “Mixing these three together, you get a perfect formula for something as self-expressive as fashion. I think this city is the perfect place to start giving fashion that positive image.”