Hundreds of people came out to Union Station for Bike Night 2016 on May 27. This was the third annual celebratory close to Bike Month (previously Bike Week) and was the most successful yet. There were the usual tables by the familiar and well-loved nonprofit groups, some new faces from local businesses and, of course, the anchor Metro table with this year’s offbeat way to have fun with biking: a temporary tattoo parlor. (You may remember the blender bike from previous years.)
Bike Night is a party so we enjoyed the funky grooves of Jungle Fire (thanks to the folks at Metro Art) and between sets we had a fashion show. We’re pretty sure that in the promotion leading up to Bike Night, the bike-centric public that is our audience did not fully understand what we meant by ‘fashion show.’ But in the spirit of bringing the world of biking to Los Angeles County in unexpected ways, we meant it. A real honest to goodness, runway fashion show.
When the band took their first break and recorded music queued up, the MC asked people to step back from the runway. A green carpet (perhaps vaguely resembling a green bike lane) was conspicuously stretching from the stage into the crowd. This was the first clue of what was to come. The music kicked in. Spotlights lit up the runway. A small herd of human gazelles had appeared at stage right, one with a new Metro Bike.
And then it happened. The models came to life as they flawlessly executed long, gliding strides up and down the runway. Each one stopped at the Metro Bike to transform her look. Jackets came off to reveal Metro-inspired detailing and dresses that a second prior were short enough to bike in became long and flowing. Another piece turned inside out to become a high visibility jacket. Several looks were adorned with necklaces, glowing with the familiar blinking cadence of bike lights. Many pieces had brilliant reflective piping, one of the few elements recognizable to a spandex-wearing cyclist.
In a finale, all nine of the looks made a final circuit of the runway in tight formation, with the last model in line riding the Metro Bike off stage. The crowd applauded in awkward, half-stunned stillness, punctuated with excitement. The diverse audience of families with small children to dreadlocked activists looked around wide-eyed and grinning, but seemed to share one thought: What the heck did I just see?
In the setting of a government-sponsored bicycle festival, it’s a fair question to ask. The most concise answer is: art. The looks on display were the product of months of work by the 2016 senior Fashion Design class of Otis College of Art and Design. Under the direction of designer and artist Todd Oldham (remember the 90’s?), the students took a problem statement provided by the Metro Bike Planning Department and created solutions to it.
In the words of Fashion Design Department Chair Rosemary Brantley, “The clothes … have been designed specifically to encourage day to night dressing for women riding bikes in Los Angeles. The garments had to be reflective, functional, transformative, and beautiful.” The problem statement was inspired by this year’s campaign theme: Bike to Train and Back Again. As we hear so often, public transit and biking is a daunting idea to most Angelenos. The strongest reluctance to bike comes from women.
Women are chronically underrepresented in bicycle counts across the nation. We know that the demands on women often create hurdles to biking and the statistics gathered of people who ride bikes reflects this. Part of bringing biking into everyday life is to dress for your destination, not for the ride.
Of the many barriers to women riding, we felt one that could be most easily tackled is attire. How is a gal supposed to ride a bicycle to work and arrive all sweaty? How does a lady bike to a dinner date and look and feel beautiful? Biking in the U.S. is often associated with male-dominated racing culture and Metro’s predominantly female Bike Planning team consciously strives to overcome this stigma at every opportunity.
The students’ work is not intended to be your new wardrobe. Otis, a giant in the world of fashion, exists in a world of conceptual design. Students explore the how and why of the articles of clothing that most of us take for granted, free from the restrictions of price point and closet space. The students’ work is intended to open the minds of people who don’t usually consider themselves to be cyclists. We think wrapping one’s mind around a shape-shifting, glowing dress is a valuable exercise in shifting the conversation from “I can’t ride…” to “Why can’t I ride?”