Perhaps it was the intoxicating hue of low-intensity, LED lighting. Or, maybe the mesmerizing arrangement of puzzle-like pieces shrouding an iridescent glow.
Whatever caught her attention, Amy Sinning knew immediately: "That would work."
The lifelong artist, fashion designer and Mankato mother of two was holiday shopping last December at the Mall of America. While idly strolling the Twin Cities Mecca of material order, she lit upon a kiosk selling a peculiar three-dimensional light fixture that can be assembled into a variety of shapes and accented with color-changing LED lights.
At the time, she was only a few months away from displaying a dress design at the annual RAW Fusion Fashion Show. And as soon as she saw Puzzle Lights (as one maker of the fixtures is known) the light bulb — or, in this case, light-emitting diode — went off.
"I was walking around the mall thinking about RAW Fusion," Sinning said. "I saw this kiosk and I knew."
What emerged after Sinning began applying her inspiration to the base of skills she learned during a post-high school stint as a pattern-maker and designer for private clothing labels in Los Angeles may seem out of place in the relative placid fashion waters of south-central Minnesota. But in fairness, wearable dresses that are comprised of interlocking plastic pieces and sewn-in LED modules would be a novelty just about anywhere.
Her designs caused such a stir, in fact, that after she debuted a red and white dress at RAW Fusion in Mankato, she was invited to participate in a subsequent show for independent Minnesota designers at the Fine Line Music Cafe. Her trio of more functional, but still entirely illuminated dresses for that show drew yet another invitation — this one to the Rocco Altobelli Fashion Awards show in August in Minneapolis, for which she made a series of showier, less practical models.
In addition, she'll display her dresses during Saturday's Black and White Gala in Mankato (the Twin Rivers Council for the Arts' annual fundraiser) as well as the Northstar Fashion market in October, a private trade show for retailers and manufacturers held annually in St. Paul.
"The first show turned into another show, and then another," Sinning said. "I'm just taking it one step at a time."
For now, Sinning's dresses are assembled entirely by hand with components she purchases at near-retail prices. As such, prototypes have been labor-intensive and expensive to produce.
But, the designer said she is hopeful of creating a pattern that could be manufactured in large quantities, thereby fixing the cost for an individual dress somewhere in the range of $500.
Sinning said she'd like to eventually market her dresses to prom-going teens and bridal parties. Since many of her designs are simply skirts or accessory pieces that can be attached to other pieces, Sinning envisions a bridal party with matching illuminations, or a bride who embellishes her traditional dress with a LED accents for the reception.
"I love these dresses as art," said Sinning, who teaches art lessons at the Children's Museum of Southern Minnesota as well as private lessons in her home. "They are like sculpture."
For more about Sinning's designs, visit www.puzzlelightdresses.com, or www.facebook.com/amy.sinning.3.