For weeks, South High School junior Lily Pieper has been cutting paper flowers. Daisies, roses, gardenias, orchids and abstract blooms not found in nature -- she has crafted well over a hundred. She has callouses from her scissors and burns from hot-gluing layers of petals. Every so often, her family's two retrievers run into the room and trample on the flowers, and she starts again.
"I don't think I ever want to see another flower again," she said on a recent afternoon while looking at the masses of paper petals, which were pinned to a dressmaker's dummy.
She's not alone in her exhaustion. For the past two months, Pieper and 24 other high school students have all been working to shape regular paper into something it isn't intended for -- dresses.
Juliette Green, a junior at West High, has been folding paper cranes -- hundreds of them (she wants to make a thousand, she said). At Steller Secondary, Lizzy Hinshaw and Annie Thorndike have carefully creased untold numbers of small, spiky folds, arranging them with almost mechanical precision into delicate layers to shape a bodice.
It's painstaking work, but Pieper and the other students have a few good reasons for doing it: fashion, scholarship money and Bean's.
They are competitors in a new design contest called "Pupil + Paper," which is sponsored and organized by kpb architects. In it, high school students work individually or in teams to make paper fashion designs. The prizes for the top three designs are $4,000, $3,000 and $2,000 in scholarship money.
Their fashion contest and display will be the centerpiece of a gala fundraiser for the Children's Lunch Box, a Bean's Cafe program that provides meals for Anchorage children living at or below the poverty line. There will also be a silent auction of metal lunchboxes that have been painted, sculpted and otherwise transformed by a variety of Alaska artists, including Alvin Amason, Drew Michael and Margaret Hugi-Lewis.
Mike Prozeralik, president and managing principal at kpb, said the firm has organized a few fundraisers for the program before, but they were standard gala affairs and Prozeralik was concerned that interest was waning. His firm wanted to generate excitement with something new, and Pupil + Paper was launched.
"A lot of scholarships are engineering- or science-based, but we wanted to bring more awareness to art," said Prozeralik. "Today, art in high school is an elective. But art is important and if we can help students that aspire in the arts, then we'll be a success."
The contest has several creative challenges. Not only must the "fabric" of the dress be constructed of paper, students were only allowed to use a limited range of recycled paper; free magazines and rejected printer pages donated from schools and businesses were fine, but store-bought tissue paper or even secondhand books purchased from thrift stores were not allowed.
Each team was loaned a dressmaker's dummy to mount and display their creation. (Unlike local design challenge Object Runway, the dresses won't be worn by models).
The students were given their materials in September, and they attended three workshops in which "mentors" -- architects and designers at kpb, and also artists and teachers with the school district -- critiqued their work and offered suggestions.
"We try to push them beyond thinking about it as a dress. It's not a dress, it's a paper sculpture," said Kamu Kakizaki, an intern architect at kpb. "Things look honest when materiality is honest, and that's why it looks interesting."
East High senior Por Yee Xiong rolled magazine pages into funnels and stacked them into the bodice, an effect like the walls of a honeycomb. She accordion-folded pages and piled them into layers for the skirt. Xiong is Hmong, from Thailand, and moved to Alaska in 2005. Her English is limited, but her school counselor, Paige Petr, said Xiong wants to be a seamstress and eventually a designer.
Many students are highly specific in their concepts -- Betsy Johnson, Louis Vuitton's Fall 2010 collection, and "Elizabethan fashion crossed with modern wedding design" were all raised as reference points in the final workshop. Joey Denney and Viola Armitstead worked from a broader idea: color.
"We wanted to use a lot of color and bring into focus that using recycled things doesn't have to be plain. We wanted it to be eye-catching," Armitstead said. Their glossy, brightly colored minidress, constructed out of triangular folds, looked equal parts '60s mod and punk-rock.
The paper "is really hard to manipulate," Denney said.
"It rips really easily. You have to be really careful when picking a page you like."
South High School senior Maggie Goniwiecha threw out a lot of ideas before deciding on a design concept. She liked the idea of incorporating nature, and she'd used cardboard and newspaper to make animal heads before. Things clicked when her friend showed her online images of Alexander McQueen's designs and she saw how he incorporated horns into his couture runway shows.
"I thought, oh -- I could totally put antlers on this," Goniwiecha said. She layered strips of cardboard and covered the shapes in papier-mache until they were bone-colored and smooth. (It took hours, she noted).
"It teaches you if you want something and you want it to turn out super awesome, you really need to put in a lot of time with it," Goniwiecha said.
The paper fashions of Pupil + Paper and artist lunchboxes will be displayed during a gala fundraiser from 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9. Tickets are $40 for adults, $15 for students at brownpapertickets.com. See more at www.facebook.com/pupil.paper
• Reach Victoria Barber at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4556.