"Wouldn't it be weird," thought Nashville, Tenn. singer Britt Savage, "if I could ask everybody to give me their old Christmas wrapping paper?"
Remember, she goes on, when you were a kid and you had to save the wrapping paper, opening everything super-carefully. "You'd upset the whole family if you just ripped your gift up," she says.
The next step is logical only for someone with a mind like Savage's: make a dress from the resulting amalgam of saved paper, packing tape, velcro and staples ("a bunch of staples!"), and wear it onstage for a holiday season gig.
When I spoke to her a few hours before that gig on Tuesday night, Savage was buzzing with excitement, having just picked up a little more packing tape to secure the dress, a string of lights for her mic stand, and "granny pants. The skirt was already really short, so I went to this dancewear store, and they told me they're called cheerleading pants!" she tells me.
I know, I reply, having worn cheerleading briefs myself for several years in high school. "Well, I didn't!" she drawls, explaining with the shredded paper that makes up the skirt; all different kinds of wrapping paper, some of it decades old; she needed those cheerleading pants to keep the show PG-rated.
SAvage is no stranger to doing what she calls "goofy" stuff. The spunky singer has entered contests and held jobs that redefine the phrase, "odd jobs," from gas station attendant to Playboy Bunny to going on Star Search (and winning, $100,000) to entering a Howard Stern song parody contest (yes, she won that too).
But earlier this year another crazy, goofy, wacky idea set her off on an entirely new trajectory: creating one-of-a-kind paper gowns to wear once, or twice, and then sell on eBay for her "favorite charity," Heifer International. The auction ends the morning of Dec. 17.
Her 1040 dress, made this spring, was a hit. It sold on eBay for $306 to a tax prep guy in Massachusetts. He planned to display it in his office and use it as a conversation piece, she said. It was a moderate success for her name recognition; she got a few more hits to her Myspace page, a few more downloads on iTunes. But then, one day, a call came in from the U.K.
"I mean, my family knows I'm crazy," she said, "and I thought it was one of them goofing on me." But the caller ID said Ripley's, and the man on the other line said he wanted to include her and the dress in an upcoming book: "Ripley's Believe It or Not, Incredibly Strange."
A few signed releases later, and Savage and her dress took their place among a knitted Ferrari and a wedding gown made of cream cakes. The book's real, she says in awe: it's now available for advance order on Amazon.com.
After that phone call, Savage's mind couldn't stop cooking up other cool ideas about unusual dress material. The wrapping paper idea was great, she said, but there was a catch: everyone recycles their wrapping paper now. Her August e-mail to friends that called for saved giftwrap had only sparse reaction; the paper she ended up with, some from a local friend and more from "some guy I dated once in Canada," and lots of ribbon, wasn't enough to make a very big dress. So her skirt is truly mini.
How long did it take her? Well, there are lots of answers to that question; she's been planning and sketching since August, but "how long has the house been a mess of wrapping paper? About two months," she tells me.
This one was a lot harder than the tax form dress, partly because the donated wrapping paper is different weights and ages, partly, she thinks, because the first dress was "beginner's luck." She reinforced the inside with packing tape; the bra, "to give it structure," is made of packing tape, too.
She's selling this one on eBay, too, and has big dreams. She'd like to raise a lot of money for charity, of course. The proceeds from this one, too, are headed toward Heifer International. She'd love to be invited to sing on Conan, or Ellen, wearing the gown.
"You know, I can sing," she tells me. Britt Savage is not just an unusually resourceful paper dress maker (in fact, she tells me, she's considering her next gown: one made of shattered safety glass, with the inside painted, "like a mosaic mirror"); she's also an unusually resourceful musician.
Because I am charmed by her, I log onto iTunes and listen to her high-energy, twangy songs. Indeed, she can sing. I think Conan and Ellen would be charmed, too.
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