Designer, dancemaker mixes fashion, feminism

If designer Jean Paul Gaultier and feminist leader Gloria Steinem had a lovechild – wrap your head around that one for a moment – she might have turned out like Kate Mitchell.

Choreographer, couturier, artist and social provocateur, Mitchell has fashioned a career around the unlikeliest of marriages: feminism and fashion.

Mitchell is adding a new credit to her name: author.

On Saturday at SOMArts Cultural Center, Mitchell launches her new book, “Fashioning Women,” with a dance performance of the same name and a runway show of her latest designs, featuring a cast of 25 women.

Her book is a sendup of the glossy magazines of the rag trade that often send women conflicting messages. Like her choreography and her designs, it’s a winking festival of color and kitsch, directing a very pointed eye to America’s fascination with and addiction to fashion.

Mitchell also will exhibit her textile-based collages, constructed from iconic women’s clothing. In one collage, she has taken apart two pairs of ladies white cotton church gloves, reshaped them architecturally and painted them with tribal patterns.

In another, it’s a 1960s pre-lycra seamed cotton bra that she has repurposed.

“The collages are about being a woman,” Mitchell says. “They are about confinement but at the same time being centered because all aspects of a woman can never be completely contained.”

As with her previous choreography, she illustrates her story of womanhood with humor and a dose of eroticism. The runway show leads off with a “sexy” lingerie collection and ends with the bride.

“You always have to end a runway show with a bridal gown,” she says.

Mitchell’s fascination with design began in childhood when her babysitter, an expert seamstress, made couture knockoffs for her Barbie dolls.

“I confess when my sister and I were little we did play with Barbies,” she says. But like many, she outgrew their allure. “A neighbor’s daughter recently told me that girls are doing Barbies at a very young age now – like 5 or 6, but that when she was about 10 she was done with them, so she hung them out her window.”

The statuesque Mitchell, who describes herself as “five-foot-twelve,” could well have been a model herself. “I once thought it was sort of a cool, glamorous idea,” she says. “But when I started reading fashion magazines and about models I realized I would have to weigh 20 pounds less and I really like chocolate too much.”

IF YOU GO

Fashioning Women

Where: SOMArts Cutural Center, 934 Brannan St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $25

Contact: wwwbownpapertickets.com, www.fashioningwomen.com

Note: The performance is preceded by a 7 p.m. book launch and gallery show.

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