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Marie Antoinette Inspires Beverly Artist Ahead Of Steppenwolf Fashion Show

By Howard Ludwig | March 18, 2015 8:36am
 Sandra Leonard of Beverly is one of six Chicago fashion designers who will compete in a show hosted by the Steppenwolf Theatre Co. in Lincoln Park. The show on April 19 comes during the run of "Marie Antoinette," which takes the stage through May 10.
Sandra Leonard
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BEVERLY — Marie Antoinette is Sandra Leonard's latest muse.

Leonard, a Beverly resident, is one of six Chicago fashion designers chosen to showcase their work at 5:30 p.m. on April 9 at the Steppenwolf Theatre Co.'s rehearsal hall in Lincoln Park.

The show comes as the theater at 758 W. North Ave. performs "Marie Antoinette." The play written by David Adjmi and directed by Robert O'Hara runs through May 10.

"Marie Antoinette was over-the-top decadent — more is more is more," said Leonard, who attended the show two weeks ago.

While traditional fashion designers create evening gowns, swimsuits and other garments, Leonard’s work is best described as "sculptural clothing." Her clothes aren’t particularly functional but rather are viewed as art with the human form as a canvas or backdrop.

Leonard has been creating sculptural clothing and costumes for more than 25 years. Her latest design features a hand-painted linen shirt with a high collar that reaches up just beneath the nose. The top is paired with a three-dimensional skirt and a over-the-top hat is also in the works.

"A lot of it [my work] is by hand, and it takes hours and hours," said Leonard, who learned she'd be part of the show on Feb. 23.

Only one of her designs will be worn by a runway model. Two others may be displayed on mannequins. A winner will be chosen from among the submissions, and his or her work will remain on display in the lobby throughout the run of the play.

"I'm doing it for the exposure," Leonard said Tuesday.

Indeed, Leonard's work has already been featured in galleries in Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Paris. On Oct. 10, she was the lead artist in a surrealist fashion show at the Beverly Arts Center.

The fashion show in Morgan Park was part of Chicago Artist Month. The Beverly Art Walk was held this same weekend, also in conjunction with the month-long celebration of local artists coordinated by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.

It was through this connection with the Cultural Affairs department that Leonard learned of the show at Steppenwolf.

Leonard first felt compelled to create her wild wares after falling in with a performance art group as an undergraduate at the University of North Texas.

And while her wearable art is fascinating, it's not the sort of thing someone would ever wear to a cocktail party or a family picnic. That doesn't concern Leonard, who hand-paints many of her fabrics using a syringe.

She has designed more conventional children's costumes for the Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum. Her designs were also featured in an industrial film staring Carol Kane.

But Leonard's passion truly lies in creating the avant-garde. This same experimental attitude is reflected in the Steppenwolf's portrayal of Marie Antoinette, she said.

"I really love the contemporary vibe that they did," she said.

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