Fielding Pierce Biggs was 12 years old when he got his first dress form mannequin. He picked it out while on a family trip to St. Louis and began draping fabric over it while still in the store. “I remember draping the fabric and having my mind blown. I felt like I could do anything,” said Biggs, now 28. “It was life-changing.”
The family packed the form in the car and hauled it back to Waynesboro, Virginia, where Biggs set it up in his bedroom and began to emulate Britney Spears’ most famous ensembles. His first design was a two-piece yellow dress with a giant snake appliqué laid across the shoulders.
Eventually, Biggs’ zeal for design and beauty led him to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology and with MAC Cosmetics in New York City, where he also worked a few New York Fashion Week runway shows and events.
Now he’s creating his own brand of runway show here in Charlottesville.
With the support of Ix Art Park and various community partners, Biggs has coordinated Sew What! A Fashion Experience, a showcase of design and performance art to be held at Ix on April 25.
Biggs doesn’t design for a living. He works as a master stylist at Moxie Hair & Body Lounge and often styles hair and makeup for community events. He creates clothes in his spare time. His ability to remain calm and spirited while designing hair, makeup and clothes for last year’s Live Arts Gala impressed Ix event coordinator LaTrina Candia.
“Charlottesville is loaded with moonlighting artists,” said Candia. She strives to bring those artists out through “unconventional ways of presenting art on a familiar platform.”
When considering a collaborative event, Candia knew that Biggs, who is friendly, animated and dedicated, was right for the job. Since December, Biggs has spent most of his free time reaching out to artists, artisans and performers and scheduling, coordinating and promoting Sew What!, while designing the clothes and the performance space.
“I told all of the performers, ‘Whatever it is you have been wanting to do, now is the time to do it.’ That is the inspiration,” said Biggs. He is certain that the element of spontaneity in Sew What! will produce spectacular results. “I can’t wait to see what happens when all of these things collide,” he said.
The show will be presented on a 2′-tall runway stage with theater seating on either side. “We’re going to pull some magic tricks to make it look like a million dollars,” said Biggs, who plans to use music and flowers to transform the space. Moxie will style the models for an opening showcase by the new-to-town Betsey Boutique and a runway show featuring Biggs’ original designs.
Biggs even created the looks on that old dress form from St. Louis, and while the snake dress won’t make an appearance on the runway, he promises that his gypsy- and bohemian-inspired looks use plenty of patterns, rich textures and colorful chiffon to pack a visual punch.
Biggs is quick to note that Sew What! is not only about his work. He hoped to feature other designers as well, but that was easier said than done. Instead, he stacked the bill with other local acts that are part of what Biggs calls Charlottesville’s “secret current of art and artistry.”
Take, for example, Moonlight Circus, a Sew What! featured performance troupe. By day, the members of this Charlottesville-based circus arts group are teachers, scientists, artists and parents. By night, they’re aerial acrobats who perform on suspended silks and hoops; they’re dancers, fire-spinners and balancers.
By performing, these moonlighters get the chance to express themselves and delight an audience with their talents. For Sew What!, Moonlight Circus will perform original silks, lyra and partner dance acts during intermission, suspended above the outdoor runway. “We love performing, and Fielding has given us a lot of creative leeway, which is always fun,” said Brian Gibney, leader of Moonlight Circus.
And the spectacle won’t stop there—belly dancers, fire breathers, a Cajun food truck, cocktails and a glittery after-party will complement the evening.
This collision of the arts, said Biggs, could potentially make Charlottesville arts culture “bigger, brighter, bolder.” He believes that the city is on the brink of becoming a magnet for up-and-coming artists in search of a supportive community. Sew What! is a test of that potential, a test of how big Charlottesville artists and aesthetes can dream.
“I wanted to quit feeling like I had to go somewhere else to live my dream,” said Biggs. The goal of Sew What! is to spur the imagination and invite all artists—from the kid who sews clothes in her bedroom to the scientist who picks up a paintbrush when he comes home from the office—to share their work and join the arts community.
“This is all about artists doing what they love,” said Biggs. “We can bring those dreams to life here.” — Erin O’Hare
Sew What! A Fashion Experience takes place at the Ix Art Park on April 25.