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Timothy Westbrook's Next Steps
Post-"Project Runway," the sustainability-focused fiber artist unveils new studio and fall fashions.

The doors to the new studio.

Fresh off of his "Project Runway" stint and Pfister Artist-in-Residency, Timothy Westbrook, 24, is redefining himself. We met last fall when I was also doing some work at the Pfister and I became a fast fan of his inventive and whimsical approach to fashion and design. His old-world weaving methods and penchant for turning trash into treasure (and his obsession with unicorns) made me really want to know what made this guy tick.

Last spring he spent time in New York City for the fashion-design reality show "Project Runway," which sounds like every designer’s dream. But Westbrook says he disliked the cutthroat environment and the misconception that you had to live in New York City to work there.

A native of upstate New York, Westbrook is now back in Milwaukee after making it through three rounds of the show. So why come back here? Because, he says, he appreciates that artists here want to collaborate.

“Here in Milwaukee we celebrate people who have a voice and who are doing something creative. It’s a city steeped in tradition, with a positive spirit and energy, and extreme pride of place,” he says.  Westbrook appreciates the fact that people are interested and excited about his work here. In fact, he calls Milwaukee “one big group hug.”

So what's next? Currently, he's working out of his eponymous studio in the Shops of Grand Avenue to create wearable art out of repurposed materials - or “turning garbage into fashion” - as he calls it. Westbrook realizes that the topic of sustainability and the environment can be a lot of gloom and doom, to which he says: “Just let me take care of it!”

With the help of eight studio apprentices hand-selected by professors at UW-Milwaukee and Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Westbrook is preparing for two big events: a formal gallery opening on Saturday, Aug. 24 and the "Paleontology of a Woman" performance event on Saturday, Sept. 21 at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

The gallery opening features a performance by Bass Structures, who will be creating a print on canvas based on the vibrations of music. There will also be a beer and coffee sampling, and a 50 percent discount on select items if you arrive wearing a bike helmet. Plus, the gallery opening will serve up a preview of the "Paleontology of a Woman" event.

In the studio, Timothy’s one-of-a-kind scarves with hand-woven cassette tape fabric are available for purchase, as well as the work of other designers. (Think vintage up-cycled wearables, wallets made from old pants, and a story book from Sue Lawton.)

Westbrook's apprentice Tim Murphy overlooking
the Shops of Grand Avenue.

On Sept. 21, Westbrook takes to the Milwaukee Public Museum for his bold creation "Paleontology of a Woman," which will feature a few ready-to-wear pieces and many costumes.

The idea that inspired the show is that plastic bags are created in part by fossil fuels, which, to Westbrook, means that those bags are the ancestors of dinosaurs. It is in this context that Westbrook plans to focus on sustainability. He will collaborate with 32 local artists including a music composer, jewelry designers and sculptors.

With both his cassette tape and plastic bag fabrics, Westbrook loves making people experience everyday items in new ways.

His hole-punched PBR-can shoes and dinosaur masks, inspired by the masks of Broadway’s The Lion King, will also appear on the runway. Westbrook enjoys playing with gender roles, so while you might see a more traditional wedding gown that night, he will also showcase feminine tailcoats.

Tickets for the fashion show are $50. Stay post-show for a networking reception where members of the fashion, art, and sustainability communities will speak briefly about the sustainability themes of the show. To purchase tickets for "Paleontology of a Woman" click here. And for more information and to RSVP to both events, check out Westbrook's Facebook page.

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @jkashou and search #GirlAboutTown to stay on top of what’s happening around town.

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