There are dress designers who buy their silk in France, their cashmere in Scotland, their lace in Belgium. And then there is Chris March, who bought the makings of his latest dresses at a vegetable market.
"I told them, `I'm making a dress out of lettuce,"' March explained Tuesday after some slicing, some gluing, and, with help from a model, some trying on. "They said, `That's one expensive dress."'
The lettuce cost US$50, March said, and before anyone could ask about his markup -- or whether the dress would wilt under hot fashion-runway lights -- he pointed out that this was not just another off-the-rack lettuce-and-cabbage number.
"This is a couture original, so, of course, it's priceless," he said.
Making dresses out of vegetables, a stunt dreamed up by a salad-dressing manufacturer, opens new horizons for a designer like March, and for the fashion police: Do cucumbers clash with celery? Should carrots be worn with radishes? (Or is that the vegetable-dress equivalent of wearing stripes with plaid?)
March, who has made boxer shorts for Madonna and costumes for performers from Cirque du Soleil, left those questions unanswered as he outfitted two models who will wear similar dresses at a fashion show at Grand Central Terminal on June 2. But he did explain which vegetables were real and which were artificial.
Yes, the lettuce, tomatoes and cabbage may have looked good enough to eat, unless you are a fire-breathing salad hater, but some of that fresh-looking produce was made of plastic and bought at "prop houses," companies that specialize in supplying stage props for theaters.
"These green onions, I still can't tell that they're fake," he said as one of the models, Lindsey Mackey, put on the ultrawide-brim hat he had designed, with artificial lettuce and tomatoes glued to the underside of the brim.
The vegetable dresses are not the most unusual to come from March's sketch pad. He has done a Mr. Potato Head, a palm tree, a lobster and a 3m martini. He has also designed costumes for theatrical productions; he was nominated for a Drama Desk Award in 2002 for Christmas With the Crawfords.
"A lot of places call me up and say, `I don't know how you could possibly do this, but ..."' He explained.
The call that led to the vegetable dresses, from Wish-Bone, which is introducing salad dressings in spray containers, began much the same way.
"They said, `You know, we don't really know anyone who could do this, but do you think you could make a line of clothing made out of salad and food?"' he recalled. "I said, sure, it's one of the easier things I've done. I once made a giant 1.8m can of Crisco that a person had to dance in, and that had an Elvis wig on top." During a photo session on Tuesday, a warm-up for an appearance on Martha Stewart's television program for the following day, he traded jokes ("What did one vegetable say to the other on their honeymoon? Lettuce alone") and one-liners ("Leaf my dress alone") with the models, the makeup artist who was hovering over them, and Wish-Bone's publicists, who were hovering over everybody.
The second model, Susan Marie, wore what March called a "vegetable medley trapeze dress." This was the one with the green onions, the celery ribs and real and artificial Boston lettuce.
And then there was her "tomato coiffure," a tower of beefsteak tomatoes as tall as a Marge Simpson hairdo and as showy as a Carmen Miranda topper.