It was lunchtime, and The Real Housewives of Crystal Pines gathered like they do just about every week in their Lake Murray community.
But these friends arent the typical ladies who lunch. On a Wednesday afternoon in mid-March, they were convening at Donna Murphys house to work on their entry for Saturdays Runaway Runway, the fashion show of garments made with recycled materials. It will be held at Township Auditorium.
The dress, which was pinned to a bust form the ladies passed as they carried dishes to the kitchen, is the fifth entry in Runaway Runway by The Real Housewives of Crystal Pines, a group of 12 designers. The seventh annual event, hosted by the Columbia Design League, an affiliate group of the Columbia Museum of Art, features designs that blur the line between fashion and wearable art.
The detailed construction of the Real Housewives dress, titled An Educated Dress, has encyclopedic origins, with the definition of shape and color a source of marvel.
But first, they ate.
You dont ask Maryann to bring ice, said Karen Larrabee, referring to Maryann Lapine, who had yet to arrive at the house that overlooks what is called Crystal Lake. The women laughed.
On a table in the breakfast nook, there were deviled eggs, chips, croissants, crackers and a Barbie. The doll was dressed in a homemade honeycomb dress, conspicuously standing on a stack of World Book Encyclopedias. Barbie was the first model for this years design.
In the kitchen there was soup and other food to be washed down with mint green tea or sugar-free lemonade, the pitchers labeled with a white ribbon. For dessert, there were strawberries, ice cream and pound cake so delicious it will haunt any subsequent dessert cravings.
Between bites the women shared stories, like the one about the French-themed joint birthday party thrown for Alice Massey and Monica Barnes at IHOP because Barnes had said she wanted to go to Paris. And the white elephant Christmas exchange a competitive affair.
Theres nothing like it, Joy Carpenter said. No husbands are allowed.
An old breast pump given as a gift is legendary.
I should go get it, Barnes said as she got up from the dining room table.
She returned with a box that indeed contained a breast pump and liposuction literature, the punch line to an inside joke.
Do you think this is too much information? Lapine said, getting a laugh. I didnt even know what it was.
Thats the only thing theyre going to remember out of the whole story, Vickie Lepper added. Whats the deal with the breast pump?
Crystal Pines is a Chapin subdivision of about 20 to 30 houses where the homeowners have backyard access to the lake. Its the kind of small, close-knit community where one doesnt have to get out of bed in the middle of the night to check if the porch door is locked. Its the kind of community where friends meet on the water and where so-called progressive dock parties can last several hours.
In the summer, itll be like, Im going for a swim, meet me at 4 p.m. And everybody will jump in the water, Larrabee said.
The housewives wade out in kayaks and paddle boats. Some bring pool noodles. They pass food to each other on oars.
And we chase off fishermen we dont like, Massey said. The Real Housewives of Crystal Pines also serve in the Crystal Pines navy.
We just make so much noise, Lepper said.
The RHCP design team began with 14, but now its down to 12. There were nine at the lunch when a reporter from The State visited the neighborhood. (Carol Weathers, Elaine McKenzie and Lisa Register didnt attend.) They have little in common with the casts of the real Real Housewives, the popular reality TV franchise broadcast on the cable network Bravo. Well, thats only true since Colleen Ford moved away.
They begin planning the Runaway Runway look at January brainstorming sessions. This year, Lepper brought three of her daughters Barbies she found in a box in her attic.
So she made outfits on these Barbie dolls and she brought out a little fashion show for us, Barnes said.
She had music, Murphy added.
I put on a little Aretha Franklin, Lepper said.
Pointing to the Barbie on display, she said, That happens to be 1996 Olympic Barbie.
Lepper had a pile of magazines she wanted to get rid of, so she used some of the pages to make the cones on the Barbies dress. The idea stuck, especially when Weathers couldnt unload her World Book Encyclopedias.
She always donates books and she was going to donate her set of encyclopedias and they wouldnt take them, Larrabee said, referring to a Chapin book sale that refused the donation. And then she went to the library and they wouldnt take them, either. So shes like, Hey guys, Ive got encyclopedias.
So we used her set and my set. We had identical sets, Diane Westmoreland said.
The housewives range in age from 47 to 75, and one of them has always walked the runway. But not on Saturday, because the dress lends itself to a younger woman, Larrabee said.
Amy Lepper, Leppers 21-year-old daughter, will model. The shoulder-exposing top was crafted from strips of sewn encyclopedia pages that were then woven to make the bodice of the dress. The skirt is made of free flowing cones of paper. At least thats what one sees from afar. Oh, the detail.
Every cone is made from two white pages and two color pages sewn together that were then rolled into the cones, the zigzag stitching primarily Lapines handiwork. Before becoming cones but after they were ripped from the World Book spines, the pages were soaked in water.
Massey made earrings to accessorize the dress. Theres also a clutch with the World Book insignia on the front, and theres a coin purse inside.
Better than Gucci, Carpenter said.
The housewives will wear matching name tags that match the dress.
Sometimes its hard to know when to stop, Massey acknowledged.
Weve learned to edit, Murphy added, sparking an uproar of laughter.
A few years ago, Tina Say, who was going to be the RHCPs model, had shoulder surgery.
Everybody supported me and they redesigned the dress so I could walk into it like a Barbie doll, Say said. I literally walked into this dress.
The housewives have won awards for craftsmanship and originality.
Last years garment, which admittedly wasnt their best entry, had an aquatic theme. Tiles that were meant to look like scales didnt make the cut.
We needed a male model to carry that weight, Carpenter said.
We can make him an honorary housewife, Massey said, referring to a reporter.
It all starts with lunch, said Westmoreland, the baker of the dreamy almond pound cake with butter cream frosting.
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.