Haute Trash: An Artists Collaborative

A non-profit 501(c)3 Organization

HauteTrash History


The idea for trash fashions was said to have come to founder Susan Lamela while she was repairing a designer suit. Discouraged with the shoddy workmanship of the expensive garment, she claimed “I could do better than this with trash!” Thus was born the first trash fashion show in 1983, entitled “The Cutting Edge of Fashion”. The show was part of a Social Science exhibition in the small town of Nevada City, California. It consisted of 21 outfits, all designed by Susan, who took on the alter ego “Polly Ethylena”. Simple designs were made from trash bags, aluminum foil, and plastic wrap, with duct tape accents.

In 1986, the show expanded to its exclusive showing at the Old Nevada Theatre. Two new designers, Mary X (Mary Welch) and Mr. Perception (Crystal Fivenson), joined Polly for “Outer Wear for the Inner You”. The audience was enraptured by models so elegantly dressed in trash!

The auspicious date of 8-8-88 was chosen for the next show, dubbed “Hot Trash”. Among the new inspired designers to join the ranks were Prima Debris (Kathi Griffis), Rayona Visqueen (Robin Worley), and Eve’s House of Original Sin (Eve Elder). A show of over 50 oufits played to a packed house.

“Trash Tech” followed in July 1989, adding yet another designer – Disposabelle (Jann Garitty). After another successful sell out show, the Nevada Theatre asked the trash troupe to perform a benefit for the theatre in October of that year. It was another standing room only show and the theatre raised enough money to install a new fire escape, and gave Hot Trash a name plate on seat #13 in row J!

September 1990 saw trash fashion at its peak. The name “Haute Trash” was coined with the “Haute Trash – Objet Trouve Fashions”. This was a two-night show, showcasing the work of 14 designers. This effort was over 70 outfits, shown in two different nights.

Citing “producer burn out”, Polly E. went into semi-retirement after this show and Haute Trash went into slumber mode for most of the California designers. With the exception of Rayona Visqueen, who moved to Hawaii and kept the trash tradition alive!

In 1991 Rayona took part in the first annual Art of Trash exhibit in Hilo, Hawaii as the Gala Opening Night entertainment. This became an annual tradition for the next 10 years and led to similar shows on the islands of Oahu and Maui. Working together with numerous non-profit, recycling and environmental organizations, Haute Trash performed hundreds of shows throughout the Hawaiian Islands between 1991 and 2000, inspiring numerous designers to join the fun.

In the summer of 2000, Haute Trash was invited by The Flying Karamazov Brothers to join the vaudeville entertainment at the Oregon Country Fair, which united Rayona again with Prima Debris and the original roots of Haute Trash. This in turn serendipitously connected Haute Trash with the New Old Time Chautauqua, a touring vaudeville extravaganza and educational circus. Things began to grow and in 2002 Rayona made her move to Seattle, thereby stringing a web of trash fashionistas across the entire Pacific rim!

Founder Susan Lamela (Polly Ethylena) passed away in June 2000 after a brief bout with liver cancer. However, shortly before her diagnosis, she and Prima Debris had begun to toy with the idea of a Haute Trash comeback. In 2001, after joining Rayona for the gig at the Oregon Country Fair, Prima came back to California determined to relight the trash fire. She produced a small retrospective show at the North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center. It was clear from the audience response that the time was right for a Haute Trash revival! She rounded up as many past designers as she could find, and added several new ones to put on “Haute Trash Fall Fashions for 2002”, wowing audiences once again with its mind boggling haute couture.

Since September 2002, Haute Trash has put on over 100 shows. In 2006, we officially became a Non Profit 501(c)3. We are developing educational programs, and continue to perform at an increasingly wide variety of venues and events. And we’ve welcomed numerous new designers from all around the continent. We perform annually at events like the Oregon Country Fair, the Nevada County Fair, the Seattle ReStore Art Show, and the American River Confluence Festival. We are making more history, even as we speak!