Rulli Torres moved to Dallas in 2012 after graduating from the University of Arkansas with a degree in fashion design. He spent years designing and creating formal dresses for momentous events. His career was built around life’s great social occasions.
When the pandemic hit, all of that glamour came to a screeching halt. With social distancing orders in place, big gatherings such as proms, weddings and everything else were canceled.
“I can’t even express in words how horrible I felt at that time,” Torres says.
Torres also runs a modeling school. At a loss, he was prepared to shut everything down.
"I was ready to notify everyone that I was going to close. But, my models told me I couldn’t give up. I had to reinvent myself,” Torres says. “So, I started thinking about how I was going to do that. I kind of caught myself before falling into a hardcore depression."
Torres has been there before, in such a dark place that he considered taking his own life. He recognized the signs and knew he had to pull himself out of it.
The designer refocused and transitioned his operation from evening gowns to dual-purpose fashion masks. Surprisingly, he got a lot of criticism for this line of business at first.
“I started out designing fashion face masks, and people wrote me and said those weren’t going to protect anyone against COVID. It was crazy because I was finally trying to recover and people were criticizing me. It’s been pretty tough. I literally had to stop reading messages from people,” Torres says.
Eventually mask orders starting rolling in. His team produced hundreds of masks, and Torres donated many to local medical workers. His new mask-making business was brisk enough to keep his company afloat and support his team and their families.
But, masks didn’t quite satiate his desire to design and create.
Disturbance – A Snapshot into a New Reality is his focus now. Torres is creating a 15-piece exhibition that demonstrates the chaos that has been 2020.
Once again, his idea for this project was met with skepticism. His team didn’t understand how they could adhere to social distancing guidelines and produce a fashion show. Determined, he pressed on.
This untraditional gallery-style show set for Sept. 6 at the Urban Arts Center will allow guests to walk through the exhibition in a similar way to walking through the aisles of a grocery store (which in itself has meaning) at a safe distance while wearing masks. A greeter will be at each entrance to check guests’ temperatures.
Participants, who are ironically also part of the exhibition, will weave through art that represent the disturbance caused by COVID-19 in our lives, a snapshot of our new reality. Panic buying and hoarding of toilet paper from the early days of the pandemic are certainly part of the show. Other pieces will represent loneliness, depression, solitude and death.
There will also be culturally relevant pieces, including a toilet paper Catrina, a symbolic figure that represents death and is associated with Dia de los Muertos.
Torres is ending the show in the most dramatic fashion.
"I will be inside a casket, which will be the last installation. I know it sounds crazy. Our culture views death in a different way,” Torres says. “Dia de los Muertos is one of my favorite Mexican holidays.”
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There will be several toilet paper dresses (surprisingly, it takes less than a 24-pack to make a dress). Other pieces will reflect love and gratitude toward front-line medical workers, the cancellation of gatherings, particularly quinceañeras, weddings, graduations and prom, as well as the frustration experienced by parents homeschooling their kids and pressing social matters such as homelessness.
“It's going to be very abstract, so it's obviously going to create a lot of different emotions for sure,” Torres says.
The experience will last 20 minutes for each guest, Torres estimates. The exhibition will be fluid so as guests move through the space, more will be allowed to enter.
Disturbance – A Snapshot in a New Reality, a Rulli Torres Fashion Exhibition, is open 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 6, at the Urban Arts Center, 807 Hutchins Road in southern Dallas. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the door day of or through Prekindle.