Condom couture 

Artist Stephanie Wing joins other designers to celebrate Missoula's sexual health

Unrolling hundreds of condoms in one sitting is a tedious taskbut someone's got to do it. In fact, while there's no hard data to back this up, Missoula has seen a spike in condom usage just in the last couple of weeks. Is everyone getting lucky? Well, not in the way you might think.

Off the Rack, the annual fashion show that celebrates sexual health and benefits Blue Mountain Clinic, hits the Wilma this weekend with clothing designs by local artists that incorporate condoms. This year, the event is called "Sex in the Zoo: Desire, Choice and Exploration." Serious, provocative questions, such as What is a man or a woman? and How do we move when we love?, will be seen through wild performances, like circus acts, spoken word, a comedy routine and tons of costumes that will be flaunted to the sounds of Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" and other popular tunes. What better place to unroll a rainbow of colored condoms to match the party atmosphere?

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In a classroom on the top floor of Willard Alternative School, teacher Stephanie Wing has been working on a peacock bustle made of green and blue condoms. In addition to the condoms, the garment includes felted feathers, wool, silk, cotton and sparkly fabrics. The top of it bursts with blue netting. The hundreds of condoms, unraveled, flow in a shimmery train.

"My sister came up with the idea of the peacock tail," Wing says. "The theme we were driving for was 'true colors'showing your true colorsbecause the whole fundraiser is about raising sexual awareness in the community and about healthy sex."

Wing is a warm, outgoing, funny teacher whose classroom feels like an artist's attic, full of colored yarn and art supplies, a comfy vintage couch, walls lined with posters of Bob Dylan and other icons. She started working on the peacock costume along with her friend Chris Vance after school and during lunches, and the activity snared the curiosity of her students.

"The kids have been coming in to see it, but the initial shock was funny," she says. "I had a kid come in and he said, 'There's a condom on your floor, Steph.' And I said, 'Oh yeah, I know.' And then I held up the whole bag and said, 'I have a whole bag of condoms here.'" She laughs, recalling their horrified expressions. "And they were like, 'Oh my gosh!'"

A few of Wing's students have also gotten in on the fashion designing. Sabrina Willis, a senior, was originally going to make a bee costume with another student. The first problem was how much time it took to unroll the condoms.

Eventually, her whole class pitched in to help. The second problem was how to make the spandex and condoms compatible.

"It's interesting working with the condoms," Wing says. "We'd been sewing them by hand but they were so heavy they were breaking the thread. And with the spandex dress, whenever it would stretch out, the condoms would fall off."

Willis decided to start over with a new idea: an animal print dress that's meant to represent a cheetah. On the black part of the dress, she's sewing black condoms. Instead of unrolling them, she's sewing them with the tips sticking out to give the dress an almost spiky, armored look. She'll do the same thing with a pair of go-go boots. "I wanted to use brown ones for the boots," she says. "But they don't have [condoms] in brown."

There's often a little sheepishness when it comest to going to the store and buying condoms. Is the cashier picturing your sexcapades for the evening? Designers for Off the Rack didn't have to go through the pageantry or money suck of buying hundreds of condoms.

"Blue Mountain Clinic provided a huge box of different colored condoms for the participants," Wing says. "I was telling my friend, I've touched more condoms for this project then I ever have my whole life. Probably more than I ever will!"

As an artist, Wing's looking forward to seeing the other designs at the show, including another peacock costumea female peacock rendered all in white. But the main reason for the project is clear to her.

"I really think it's important for people to be honest about their sexuality, and be proud," Wing says. "When I was growing up you didn't talk about sex. "When AIDS came out in the 1980s it totally freaked me out. Nobody was talking about it. Here we're saying humans have sex and that it's a natural part of life. It's not abnormal. It doesn't need to be taboo."

Off the Rack hits the Wilma Theater Sat., Feb. 9, at 8:30 PM. Doors open at 7:30. VIP reception at 6:30. $25/$15 students/$55 VIP.

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