At fashionSPARK on Sept. 21, the audience was treated to a display of the Triangle’s established and emerging fashion talent. Playing before a packed arena that had been set up outdoors in Raleigh’s Moore Square, the show featured the works of 16 designers, whose collective aim was to emphasize fashion as a vehicle for self-expression.

The group of young designers who showed at fashionSPARK are hoping to expand conventional notions of what fashion is. More importantly, clothing collections were shown alongside body art and jewelry design, which ultimately spoke to the porousness of fashion culture and its larger impact on social lifehence this year’s sartorial imperative, “Wear What You Are.”

The exuberance of Fysh Clothing was unmistakable. The acronym aptly describes who the line will likely appeal to: “Four Young Sneaker Heads.” Fusing a kind of intellectual pop cynicism (the back of the standout T-shirt from the collection read, “Bathing Ape Was Borin Until I Wore Em”) with street-smart functional clothes, Fysh’s models confidently displayed the line’s oversized T-shirts with jeans and Nike high-tops. One ofthe standouts was the signature “King of the Sea” T-shirt, which features an intricate crown entangled in bright neon green seaweed. It is evident Fysh has put much time and thought into the artistic development of their logo, and branding power is important to them.

Next up was Bleighm, the label of Miranda Laughlin and Brittany Spangler, talented designers who understand how to strike a delicate balance between the physically suggestive and the elegantly sophisticated, all the while appearing youthful. The frame of reference for this well-executed collectionwith its airy tops, fastened together with chain link at the back of the neck, and lace bottoms worn atop semi-opaque black tightsseemed to be a young, sexually expressive Maria Schneider in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris. The collection was unapologetic in its use of lingerie as models strutted out in what might seem from a distance like lightweight tops, tights and not much else. The look at Bleighm was spot-onmodels sported of-the-moment, slightly disheveled, tousled-up hairdos. Standouts from this collection included a teal-blue jewel-tone dress and a well-constructed suspender-like dress in gold.

The look at Excess Simplicity was a campy take on K9 Couture, a fashion line for dogs. The collection served as a kind of meta-commentary on the overindulgence of a certain kind of narcissistic rock/celebrity sensibility. All of the models emerged proudly with a dog. Some of the male models came out onto the catwalk shirtless, their bare chests adorned with chain necklaces. One stellar look was a male model sporting a black blazer and a peace sign pin.

The men’s looks at Ampheele were exceptional, especially the printed shorts and printed pants. Almost batik-like, Ampheele explored what seemed the sort of romantic escapism one would find in a novel like Robinson Crusoe. Speaking of camp, we did see a tongue-in-cheek display of the domestic goddess at Mostess. Models in black classic shift dresses flirtatiouslyeven cheekilytook to the catwalk wearing colorful print aprons and carrying trays of cupcakes, while wearing wry smiles.

Lllavender‘s collection was excellent, with the focus on high-waisted denim paired with off-the-shoulder tees lightly embellished with brooches. There was a great vest with a foldover collar, and a wonderful mesh-like cowl neck tee layered under a vest. The silhouette of choice for the pants was the wide leg. But this collection showed it could be irreverent, pairing an orange mini with a checked cropped jacket. The brash eye makeup at Lllavender was statement-making: With side-swept metallic greens and other hues, the models displayed a bold, urban edge.

The preoccupation at Ebb and Flow was clearly ruffles. Though it may have seemed overdone at times, the construction of the clothes was so well done that dresses that would have otherwise looked too heavy actually seemed weightless, and the models were able to pull off cascading ruffles in a rather carefree fashion. There was a wonderful strapless scalloped dress in fuchsia and a longer white- and blush-colored number, and the closing featured a ruffled dress in a dramatic black, leaving the audience with the last glimpses of its decadent train.

Last to show was the very gifted Marie Cordella. An originator in her own right, she presented whimsical capes and cocooned silhouettes. The collection pushed the boundaries of surrealism and was almost dreamlike in its display of quilt-like fabrics and prints, embellished with small white pompoms on the ends of the garments. One stellar piece was a cape that seductively and playfully engulfed its model with an exaggerated, curved collar that surrounded her head, functioning almost like blinders or a kind of shield from the outside world. Cordella has a rampant imaginationit seemed like we could all benefit from traveling to her dreamworld.