ST. JOHN’S, N.L. —
Not even the COVID-19 pandemic can spur an appreciation for toilet paper like Rod Philpott can.
Thousands upon thousands of cherry blossom petals, hand-punched and waxed and curled and intricately sewn to form a haute couture gown worthy of a New York runway — that’s Philpott’s latest project, and it’s all made from bathroom tissue.
Philpott, a native of the north-central Newfoundland town Point of Bay, was one of 15 fashion designers from across the country and the only one from this province invited to participate in this year’s Cashmere Collection Masquerade Ball in Toronto. The annual fashion show — which happened online this year — features original bathroom tissue couture created from Cashmere toilet paper, raising awareness and funds for the breast cancer cause through the Canadian Cancer Society.
With a 16th-century Venetian masquerade theme, the event focused on gowns and another hot item in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic: the mask.
Philpott’s concept blended fashion with a poignant tribute to breast cancer survivors. Created on a base of nude netting, his bathroom tissue gown included about 3,000 eight-layer tissue and rhinestone cherry blossoms cascading from the shoulder and down a corset bodice, tumbling into another 5,000 or so petals scattered onto a structured ballgown skirt. The blossoms represent feminine beauty and the fragility of life, while his choice of inspiration for the accompanying mask — a fencing mask — represents strength and a fight.
“We had toilet paper everywhere,” Philpott says with a smile. “There was actually more I wanted to do with this dress, but I ran out of time.”
Philpott has been designing for about 30 years, first in Toronto, where he graduated from the Academy of Design and worked as a buyer for a denim retail chain before founding SHKANK Inc., a fashion house focused on club couture. The club kids eventually grew up and the internet changed the market, he says, so he moved into designing cocktail and special occasion gowns and statement pieces.
Philpott moved home almost eight years ago, opening his Rodney Philpott Design shop on Water Street in St. John’s and quickly earning a reputation for his intricate wedding gowns, custom designs and trademark corsets. He runs the business with his husband, Christopher Philpott, and junior designer Erica Dawe, who both helped him with the Cashmere gown.
The creation process began with a vision and a sketch, and evolved similarly to any other gown design, Philpott explained.
“You start with a silhouette, you just have to figure out how you’re doing it and how to make everything stay in place because it’s toilet paper. Some things worked, some didn’t, but to do something like that was a lot of fun,” he said.
Coating the paper in beeswax proved too thick and too yellow, Dawe said, but paraffin, carefully ironed between parchment and curled and steamed, worked perfectly.
“We spent weeks playing with how it was going to work,” Christopher says. “For Rod and Erica it was like being in a laboratory, trying something, seeing how it works, making samples of it and thrashing it around.”
The dress had to be created to last at least five years, since Kruger Products, makers of Cashmere bathroom tissue, is keeping the creations from the fashion show and displaying them.
Philpott’s final piece caught the attention of the event hosts, including fashion stylist, journalist and TV host Joe Zee, who marvelled at its detail.
“I have sat in the front row of fashion shows in Milan, London, Paris and New York for decades and if this came out, everybody would be standing up, everybody would be taking a picture of it. It is incredible, this amount of detail, and we’re talking about bathroom tissue,” Zee said during the online fashion show.
For Philpott and his team, the comments were humbling and exciting.
“It was like, oh wow,” Philpott says. “It was a great feeling, of course. And I loved how much fun the model looked like she was having, twirling in the dress.”
“It was absolutely amazing,” adds Dawe. Oh, it was beautiful watching her walk down (the runway).”
This was Philpott’s third time creating fashion from bathroom tissue for the annual event, which has a cause that’s close to his heart, since his and Christopher’s family has been touched by cancer. He created a fitted pink gown for the old-Hollywood-themed show in 2012 and a Brazilian carnivale-style costume in 2013, each time looking to challenge himself to create something more exquisite.
“If I can’t win, I don’t play,” he says, but it’s not about competing with anyone other than himself. That’s one thing his husband loves about him.
“He’s sincere when he says that. We’re sincere about it,” Christopher explained. “Each designer has their own interpretation and each one does their own thing. Everyone has their own vision. We compete with ourselves, always thinking we want to do something better than we’ve ever done, and this is for an important cause.”
The 2020 Cashmere Collection Masquerade Ball can be viewed online at www.facebook.com/thesocialCTV and www.facebook.com/etalkctv. Canadians can vote for their favourite of the 15 gowns online at cashmerevotecouture.com until Nov. 8, with Cashmere donating $1 to the Canadian Cancer Society in the winning designer’s name for every vote received, to a maximum of $10,000.