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Diehl With It

Would-be designers struggle to create original avant-garde fashions, using whatever puffy sleeves happen to be thrust their way. You sit back and silently judge. Thats the idea behind House of Diehls Style Battling (Yes, its trademarked, so step off), a wildly inventive enterprise spearheaded by House of Diehls Mary Jo Diehl and her husband, Roman Milisic. Powered by panic and a four-and-a-half minute deadline, Style Wars injects your standard fashion show with a strong dose of improvisation and absurdity. Were seeing tomorrows greatest designers in flashes of pure creativity, Mary Jo explains breathlessly. Weve already done 15 shows and each time Im thrilled; theres always something totally different and totally new. On the heels of their second nationwide tour, we chatted with Roman and Mary Jo about annoying office people, blowtorches, and how to make your own Galliano in less than five minutes. Out: So. Whats going on?Roman Milisic: Were pretty good. Were mad busy with the tour. Its a lean operation -- basically three people: the two of us and an intern. In every city weve got some wicked promoters and coconspirators, though. OK -- so, Style Wars. For those of us with no clue, what is it, exactly?Mary Jo Diehl: Its the intensity of an emcee battle, coupled with the originality and the glamour of high fashion! We like to call it the 8 Mile of style. Roman: Its a nationwide competition. Actually, its international now, and this is the second installment. Its a competition for young designers, rising up-and-coming stars, and its a live fashion competition. Each designer goes up against one another head-to-head, making clothing in under five minutes, and using anything we present to them Mary Jo: We wanted to create a platform for great talent. For the most part, the content of fashion continuously rips off and renews, so that every season weve seen everything thats out there. The only way to do something fresh is to manipulate the form; its about finding a fresh new approach to fashion, doing it live, representing the city, the crowd. In that way, its about changing the form of fashion. Its got some credibility. Its also mad fun at the same time. The whole idea of taking pieces of music to create new music, sampling; Style Wars has a lot in common with that. Were DJs of style. How did this idea cook itself up?Roman: Well, we like to play with shit. We like to make ludicrous things. Mary Jo: Were also very much about engaging the audience and creating a process that allows people to step up and make shit. Roman: Right now, were literally surrounded by shredded pieces of paper umbrellas, figuring out what we should do for our intro piece. Who do you have contributing to the show? How do you find the designers?Mary Jo: We do an open call. Surface magazine will send a blast. The winner of the competition is going to get a spread in Surface. Theres a community thats building around Style Wars, definitely. When we first started this thing, we had about four people that were interested. The next time, there were 600 people. Its getting bigger, too. We see these battles going on now all over the world. But we were the first and were the best! Roman: Like any movement, which I hope this is, were not trying to stifle it by any means There are prizes? Riches?Mary Jo: Theres cash. Some people seem to like that. Theres the Surface spread. The winners of each city will fly to New York for the grand finale were still picking out prizes, cash prizes, goodie bags I dont know what all theyll be, but theyll be very impressive. Are you guys some dream couple that goes out all night, works on your stuff all day, still manages to find time for the kid, and everyone is very jealous?Roman: This is the only time we talk to each other, actually. When were being interviewed. Mary Jo: You cant quit working for yourself. Having such a unique perspective as we do It can be a challenge, but at the same time, you know how annoying people are in offices. Yes. I do.Roman: Its good to work with someone you like and respect. Im quintessentially English shes much more Brooklyn and Italian Who are the special judges this time around or is that secret sssh?Mary Jo: In New York, Jenny Shimizu, the famous supermodel who dated Angelina Jolie back in the day, whos one of the hosts on Make Me a Supermodel, Emmy-award winning stylist Rebecca Weinberg, shes a very cool chick, Dallas Austin, the music producer, Elettra Rossellini, Paul Sevigny What should audiences expect? Mary Jo: Each battle is four and a half minutes. Everyone is designing a completely new garment and you get to watch the process and see the tools they use. I mean, theyre up there with, like, a blowtorch? They come locked and loaded with tool-belts and its interesting to see what they do. Its a sport. They come up with these really beautiful and interesting avant-garde pieces they can make a Galliano in four and a half minutes. Its great to see trends the moment they are created. The Style Battle Championships Tour 2009 kicks off 11/4 in Miami. Find more info at HouseOfDiehl.comSend a letter to the editor about this article.
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