A breath of fresh air

Southwest fashion designer Laura Fulk is turning heads with her cutting-edge collections

Laura Fulk’s mother Mary remembers the precise moment when she knew her daughter would become an artist.

She was 4 years old, playing with a large box of crayons filled with every imaginable color. Still, something was missing and Laura let out big sigh. “I don’t have the right yellow,” she told her mother.

Even then, as a little kid in New Richmond, Wis., her commitment to her artistic vision was unwavering.

Fulk, 26, is one of the rising stars of the Twin Cities fashion design community. She recently debuted her first solo show, “Suffocate,” at the Lab Theater in the North Loop neighborhood during MNfashion Week, and won SCION’s Fashion Feud competition at the 7th Street Entry on May 6. The match pitted her against Jenny Carle Designs. Each designer was given a bag of fabric to whip up a dress in one hour.

Anna Lee, executive director of MNfashion, a local organization devoted to independent fashion design, and producer of the annual rock/fashion show Voltage, called Fulk a “gem.”

“She is unapologetic about her artistic statements that she makes. She is undeniably Laura Fulk,” Lee said. “She’s got her style and she’s dedicated to that. I think that people really respond well to that.”

During a recent interview at her apartment in the Wedge neighborhood, Fulk reflected on her solo show. Her dresses from “Suffocate” lined the walls. The pieces featured bold elements around the neck, some designed to shield the mouth. She collaborated with painter Melissa Breitenfeldt and tattoo artist Jay Langer on the dresses.

In a promotional piece about her collection, the paintings’ role is examined: “The artists’ paintings literally become gasps of air for the wearer, displayed on and hidden within each of the heavily structured and shoulder weighted garments.”

When Fulk started conceiving the concept for her solo show, she kept coming back to the theme of suffocation.

“I don’t normally like to take on themes with negative contexts, but it was a thought I couldn’t get out of my head,” she said. “Everybody in some form or another knows what it’s like to lose their breath — whether it be on accident or by force. Sometimes even just by a simple thought or spoken word.”

The show ended on a positive note, however.

“I have never done a line that ended in a negative context,” she said. “This collection ends with positive air in that it shows the struggle, the desperation for air and in the end it is found, through a gasp — a sigh of relief.”

The final pieces worn by models in the show had interchangeable parts designed to symbolize that sense of catching one’s breath. One dress featured a giant hooded cape that was released and became a train of the garment.

Emma Berg, co-producer of “Suffocate” and director and founder of the online arts calendar mpls.art.com, said one of her main goals is to “support young and emerging artists.” The fashion show was a good opportunity to do that outside of the more traditional “visual arts arena.”

“For [mplsart.com], producing the Suffocate event allows us to work with an individual designer that is interested in bridging two worlds — visual arts and fashion design — not just in the use of the painting by Jay and Melissa in the pieces, but also in how her concepts are created and realized,” Berg said.

While highly conceptualized and more like art pieces than something you’d see someone wearing at a cocktail party, the Suffocate collection drew praise from many who attended the show.

“I was blown away by a lot of her designs,” Lee said. “I thought, I’d wear for that sure, even if it’s a little avant-garde. I really loved it because she was making a really honest statement about what she wants clothes to look like. Because she is so down-to-earth, but has so much artistic depth, there’s a lot of integrity there.”

Langer created three original liquid acrylic tattoo-based paintings for the show featuring cherry blossoms. “It was amazing. I wasn’t expecting it to be as grand as it was,” he said of the show.

While Langer’s work was more organic and natural, Breitenfeldt’s paintings for the collection were more abstract.

“Our stuff automatically works well together. We both use a lot of sharp and drastic lines,” Breitenfeldt said.

In the days leading up the show, Fulk got very little sleep as she worked feverishly to finish the dresses and attend to all of the details that went into the production.

“It was a dream come true and quite overwhelming,” she said of the experience.

Fulk, who holds degrees from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Minneapolis Community and Technical College, has been featured in dozens of fashion shows in the past few years. Her designs have been purchased by the Minnesota Historical Society and the Goldstein Museum of Design.

As for her day job, she has worked with Southwest-based seamstress Stevie Hartigan for the past six-and-a-half years.

“Seeing her designs and all she takes on inspires me to work harder,” Hartigan said. “Laura’s a very beautiful and creative person inside and out. I dread the day she leaves me, but will be excited for her as it will mean she’s moving to the next chapter of her exciting life.”