Mission: Discarded To Divine Designs Are Eco Chic

Mission: Discarded To Divine Designs Are Eco Chic

April 20125738Views

Circus Star by Sarah Padgham

San Francisco — Last month I was invited to the exclusive sneak preview of the 2012 Discarded To Divine (D2D) collection, held at Gensler. The modern interior of the architecture firm was the perfect backdrop to exhibit the one-of-a-kind designs submitted to the charity. The mantra “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” definitely holds true for this eco-fashionable annual event, when designers are challenged to transform used discarded clothing donated to the St. Vincent de Paul, into divinely new garments.

Select award-winning designs will be showcased in a fashion show and auctioned to the highest bidder on April 26 at the SF Design Center Galleria. This highly anticipated event will kickoff with a reception, where guests can mingle and participate in the silent auction featuring items running the gamut from clothing and accessories to home décor. This year BidPal technology will be introduced, which will help bidders keep tabs on all their bids electronically. 

To get the inside scoop on this chic extravaganza, I interviewed Bette McKenzie, the co-chair of Discarded To Divine.

My favorite designs are the ones that have stories. Stories about where they came from, who touched and transformed them, and where they go from here. ~ Bette McKenzie, co-chair of Discarded To Divine

The Chic Spy: What are the guidelines for submitting a garment into the show?

Bette McKenzie: Designers select their materials from the discarded clothes, furnishings, and fabric donated to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco (SVDP-SF) Help Desk in the Tenderloin. The finished product must be composed of at least 50% recycled materials. We also ask the designers to look for inspiration in the de Young Museum’s collections. Garments should fit a standard model and all items are submitted by the first week of January to be evaluated by the selection committee and then judged by a jury of interior designers, artists, and fashion professionals.

TCS: Discarded to Divine is in its seventh year; how do you believe the fashion event has evolved in that time?

BM: The quality, the sophistication, and the end products get better every year — the designs are more interesting and more diverse.  What started out as a garment show has now expanded to include accessories, jewelry, home furnishings, and items for children and pets. The number of designers participating has also increased, which means that we’ve become even more selective in choosing what gets included in the collection and in the live and silent auctions.

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TCS: In the past 7 years, what has amazed you most about the designs submitted? Do you have a favorite?

BM: What amazes me the most is the amount of attention to detail. A good example this year is Dawn Castel’s garment, “Bound and Intertwined.” The hoop skirt was made from the inseams of 60 pairs of jeans and the denim belt loops were used to embellish the bodice. The woven cocktail dress and jacket entitled “ A Beautiful Cage” by fabric arts instructor Tina Maier is also a standout.

Bound and Intertwined by Dawn Castel (Photo credit: Gabriel Harber)

My favorite designs are the ones that have stories. Two years ago, Lisa Salamone, a former SVDP-SF board member and two-time Discarded to Divine co-chair, cleaned out her late father’s closet. She gave all her dad’s fabulous sport coats—cashmere, camel hair, Hickey Freeman — to Barbara Kelly, an instructor at California College of the Arts (CCA) and D2D committee member. The class deconstructed them to learn how beautiful men’s tailoring is achieved and then reconstructed them for D2D. One of the creations, a one-of-a-kind ladies camel’s hair jacket, now hangs in Lisa’s closet. This year Lisa gave me some antique doilies handmade by her grandmother.  I gave them to well-known local artist Sue Friedland who wove them into a beautiful quilt that will be auctioned this April at the Gala.

These are more than just amazing pieces — they all have stories. Stories about where they came from, who touched and transformed them, and where they go from here. This is also a metaphor for Discarded to Divine and why SVDP-SF started it to help people who are struggling to overcome poverty, homelessness, addiction, and domestic violence.

TCS: Since the auctioning process began, what is the most an item has auctioned for and can you describe the piece?

BM: The most expensive piece was an evening kimono jacket titled “Out of Africa” from New York designer Michael Boris that sold for $2,200 in 2008. It combined cast-off charcoal grey Italian cashmere with a burgundy colored curtain panel hand-stitched together in a railroad pattern and edged with white satin houndstooth French binding. Michael created another standout design this year. One of the most surprising results was last year’s dog coat, which sold for $800. Designed by Marianne Pearson and fashioned out of old designer labels and boiled wool, it was modeled on the runway by a cute little celebrity dog named Biggie. Outerwear tends to be especially popular, probably because it fits several sizes and is perfect for our San Francisco weather.

TCS: What type of items will be showcased at the fashion event besides apparel?

BM: This year we have more than 120 items in total.  In addition to apparel, we have fabulous tables and chairs, wall décor, pillows, jewelry and accessories, handbags and hats, and a Picasso-inspired hand painted box.

Untitled Box by Elaina Bland

TCS: Have any famous designers or notable companies ever participated in the event through designing a garment?

BM: Quite a few notables have participated including On Aura Tout Vu and such Project Runway alumni as Christopher Collins, Sweet P, and Jay Nicolas Sario. New York designer Michael Boris is back again, this year with a magnificent coat that used vintage silk pajamas from China. Such jewelers as Meghan Carozza, Pamela Wiston-Charbonneau, Lori Goldman, an instructor at Academy of Art University, are also contributors.

Renowned local designers Wesley Ito and Cari Borja are participating again this year. Wesley made a chic skirt and blouse from upholstery fabric, trousers, and wedding gown lining. Cari crafted an elegant evening gown and coat from fabric donated by one of the SF Design Center ShowroomsFinally, at this year’s Discarded to Divine gala, we are honoring local fashion icon and writer Christine Suppes, a longtime supporter of our event and SVDP-SF.  We are very excited that Karen Caldwell is creating a special ensemble for Christine, which will be auctioned on the runway.

TCS: If you could select a well-known designer to participate, who would it be and why?

BM: If I could select anyone it would be Coco Chanel who transformed how women dress by transforming how they think! But since Coco is not available, I would choose Jean Paul Gaultier who is iconic, fantastical, and creative.

For more information on the 2012 Discarded to Divine and how to purchase tickets to the event, visit

(Images courtesy of Discarded To Divine)
The Chic Spy

The Chic Spy

Hello Agents of Chic, I'm your source for chic style and entertainment intel on fashion, film, and pop culture. From fashion trends and beauty products to movie reviews and celebrity interviews, I'm on a mission to uncover the chicest. A few faves on my radar include whimsical clutches, embellished flats, and gourmet macarons.

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