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Can Fashion Designers Battle with Samurais?

by Lisa Diggs

When most of us think of Samurais we picture strong men, clad in metal in ancient times. Not exactly the making of modern day fashion, but not so fast says the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). The DIA is partnering with the Detroit Garment Group Guild (DG3) to host a competition that challenges local designers to create a complete outfit based on artworks in the Samurai: Beyond the Sword exhibition, currently on view at the museum through June 1.

Once the gauntlet was thrown, dozens of area designers submitted entries to the competition, aptly named Beyond the Armor. It is the third edition of a program, which invites people to use the museum as a source of inspiration and to create works of art based on what they see. That is exactly that kind of challenge that drew Bridget Sullivan to enter.

“My designs tend to be very romantic and feminine, so Samurai weapons and armor would not be a typical source of inspiration for me,” said Sullivan. “The private tour we were given at the DIA was amazing. The exhibit was so informative and full of incredible objects that were so detailed and beautifully crafted. I'm using the things I've learned and seen at the exhibit to create my garment for the show, and I know it will influence my future work as well.”

Sullivan, one of ten finalists, is a 2012 graduate of the College for Creative Studies. She works as a fabric designer at Lear Corporation, and also has a clothing line of her own, Bridget Sullivan Designs. The complete list of selected fashion warriors includes:

  • Narjes Almajidi – Detroit
  • Janna Coumoundouros – Clawson
  • Loren D. Jordan – Southfield
  • Sarah Lapinski – Detroit
  • Bonnie Pearce – Northville
  • Kelly Sager – Ann Arbor
  • Bridget Sullivan – Grosse Pointe Farms
  • Lena Harbali – Ann Arbor
  • Deanna Zapico – Troy
  • Cheryl Zemke – Riverview
The designers visited the Samurai exhibition on March 18 for inspiration and will spend the next month creating their fashions and posting blogs and videos about the experience at  
Sullivan describes her designs as typically being more inspired by nature, but also admits that an internship with a custom corset maker gave her an appreciation for historical garments. Perhaps that insight will guide her in this new dalliance with the past.
The finished outfits will be displayed in three tri-county locations:
  • April 21–27 at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, 6777 W. Maple Road in West Bloomfield
  • April 28–May 4 at Warren Community Center, 5460 Arden Road in Warren
  • May 5–12 at a yet to be determined venue in Canton
The public is encouraged to go out and see the work of all of these talented designers and then select the winner by voting for their favorite outfit at any of the three venues, or online, beginning April 21 at
The winning design will be announced at a fashion show at the DIA on Saturday, May 18, at noon. 

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