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Cyber Sizzle : Creativity Is Turning Bits and Pieces of Computer Hardware and Musical Discards Into Warewear, the Latest in On-Line Finery

July 28, 1994|DAVID COLKER

Put fashion and computers together and what do you get?

Pocket protectors? Adhesive tape on eyeglasses? An evening- wear line designed by Bill Gates?

Maybe not. A small group of designers is using computer components in imaginative ways to create a variety of accessories and even entire outfits.

We're not talking gaudy pins with blinking lights, calculator belt buckles or certainly anything that beeps on the hour. These designers aren't attracted to electronic parts for their utility or gimmickry. It's their beauty that inspires them.

"I remember the first time I saw a circuit board from the back of a calculator," Melissa Panages said. It was the late 1970s, and she was studying art and ceramics at UC Berkeley. "It was this beautiful green. It looked like a piece of jade to me."

The San Francisco-based Panages, by far the best-known designer working with electronic parts, took a mass of these shimmering, stamp-size circuit boards and hooked them together with tiny gold connectors (also electronic parts) to make a camisole, her first high-tech article of clothing. She also began making elegant necklaces and other pieces of jewelry using a variety of gold parts salvaged from aerospace companies.

"You look at one of these pieces, and it is much more like gold-filled than anything that is just plated. People don't realize it, but the electronics industry is one of the leading buyers of gold in the world."

Her circuit-board clothing, which is surprisingly sheer and flowing, attains a kind of Egyptian look from the angular, repetitive patterns of the fiberboard-based pieces imprinted with gold. The patterns are so eye-catching that only upon closer examination do you realize just what makes up the fabric of her vests, halter tops and dresses.

The handmade pieces are not for everyone. They're fairly adventurous and definitely expensive, ranging from about $800 for a top to about $5,000 for a dress. (Her jewelry pieces are far more accessible--from $20 for a pair of earrings to about $2,000 for one of her signature necklaces.)

Famous Melissa, the name of Panages' line, can be reached at (415) 788-1866.


Connie Perry of Somerville, Mass., was an art student in 1986 when she saw her first compact disc. "It was at a party," Perry said, "and as soon as I looked at one I thought, 'This would make great jewelry.' "

She especially liked the way the surface of the CDs caught the light. "The colors, the way they were refracted on the metalized surface," she said, "were so beautiful."

Perry now makes elaborate earrings, pins and tie bars--ranging in price from $5 to $10--out of pie-shaped sections cut from surplus CDs she gets mostly from companies that are updating their CD-ROM information disks.

But don't try this at home with an old Fleetwood Mac disc you are sick of hearing.

"At first I cut them with a kind of X-Acto knife, but the CDs gave off a smell that I was worried was toxic," Perry said. Not a surprising possibility, considering the high-tech materials and processes that go into manufacturing a CD. Perry never established if these odors were indeed toxic, but for her peace of mind she now uses more sophisticated high-tech cutting techniques that she did not want to divulge.

Perry sells the jewelry through her company, CEEDEEZ ((617) 666-0152), while working toward getting a national distributor. In the meantime, she supplements her income by teaching costuming and with occasional acting jobs. This fall she can be spotted in a commercial for the Dunkin' Donuts chain. "I'm the one holding the tray of Halloween doughnuts standing next to the star, Fred the Baker," Perry said. "It would have been nice if they had let me wear one of my pieces, but it wouldn't have fit the situation."


Suzanne Bevan is a painter who, three years ago, started painting mythical cityscapes directly onto circuit boards that had been discarded by a high-tech manufacturing company.

"The grid on the board is very city-like, anyway," said Bevan, speaking from her studio loft in Chicago. "I thought they were so interesting looking, so colorful."

Her boyfriend, Charles Weaver, thought so, too, although he had more utilitarian ideas. "We started talking about the possibility of laminating them and making them into furniture," he said.

But Weaver's experience was in the gift business, so they naturally started talking about smaller products for retail. Together, they designed circuit-board earrings and key chains, and more everyday items: place mats, clipboards, coasters and business-card wallets.

Because they use whatever surplus circuit boards they can get at the time, the pieces vary tremendously in color and pattern. Some of the most stunning pieces they have made come from a pale yellow circuit board that recalls mother-of-pearl.

"The things we make have an industrial look, but a little artier," Bevan said. "The address-card holders have been especially popular because it's the kind of thing a woman looking at our earrings will spot and then get to give as a gift to a man."

Their products, ranging in price from $3.50 for a key chain to $48.95 for a set of aluminum-backed coasters, were an instant hit at eco-type fairs across the county. They are gearing up to try to build an inventory and go for wider distribution.

"We have the eco people interested in us because it's all recycled, and that's big in the gift business now," Weaver said. "And it's something that is unique. I think it's our time."

Their company, Motherboard Enterprises, can be reached at (312) 842-6788.

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