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Art Gowns: Contessa Fiori

By Resa McConaghy:

What can you make with a vintage 1960’s red, orange, and mirrored vest from India, half a vintage sari, 3 yards of bargain bin black curtain sheer, a few yards of striped men’s suit lining from the 1970’s, a very old box of dye, and some bubble wrap you don’t want to throw out?

My answer: an Art Gown.

I made the first Art Gown, "Strawberry Kisses," 7 years ago. My mom had passed away, and I was feeling like the world was no longer beautiful. So, I decided to make some beauty. I found a long piece of fine red jacquard silk in my fabric stash and went to work. As time passed, I continued the tradition of making beauty, which evolved into making treasure from trash.

The Art Gowns are made from repurposed items (i.e., taking old clothes apart), recycled fabrics (i.e., curtains), and anything up-cycled that I can get to work (I embellished one Art Gown with 300 wine corks). If I buy fabric, it's from bargain bins on the street, from the back of the store, or from yard or liquidation sales. I stick to around $2.00–$4.00 per yard. I also buy acrylic paint and fabric medium, as I actually paint some of them.

They are 100% sewn together by hand. No machines are involved.

As of today, there are 23 Art Gowns (Art Gown 24 is currently under construction). They all have names and personalities. Art Gowns are not garments per se, but can be fit to an individual and used for promotional photography or events.


I thought royalty was the way to go for this one, a Contessa specifically. As such, "Contessa Fiori" would have to be romantic and castle worthy.

The vest was deconstructed, over-dyed with black, and used upside down to make a corset top. The sari, which ran black to red to multi-colored floral, was cut into squares. The squares were gathered in the center, forming flowers. Strips of the black curtain sheer were braided and used to edge the sheer overskirt.

She needed a bustle feel in the back. It was flat, so I made giant bows out of the striped lining and stuffed them with bubble wrap.

Just a note: the entire Art Gown is sewn by hand.

No machines are used to put the Art Gowns together.

"Contessa Fiori" would love to move to a castle in Ireland. However, until I can save enough money, she will have to live in the apartment with the other Art Gowns.


An established Costume Designer in film, television, & digital media, Resa McConaghy has worked on productions for Showtime, ABC, Disney, CBS, CBC, Hallmark, and more.

Her mission: to enable the articulation of character through wardrobe.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
Oct 08, 2019

Thank you so much, Flapper Press!

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