By Adrienne Perron
From our May 2023 issue
Dave Gutter found out he’d be attending the Grammy Awards, in Los Angeles, just three weeks before the ceremony. The longtime front man of Portland rock stalwarts Rustic Overtones, Gutter co-wrote the song “Stompin’ Ground” for New Orleans R&B legend Aaron Neville, which was nominated (and won) in the category of Best American Roots Performance. Luckily, he knew right away who his date would be — he’d long ago promised his 16-year-old daughter, Kani, that he’d take her if he were ever nominated.
Kani wanted to wear a Maine-made dress, so Gutter put out a call on Instagram looking for a last-minute couturier. Kelsey Parker, who runs Lewiston’s Garbedge Designs, piped up. Parker, who specializes in custom pieces from repurposed fabric, spent three weeks working with Kani, finishing a dress at 2:30 a.m. the morning the Gutters flew to LA. “Having a garment worn on the red carpet is special for a designer,” Parker says. “The fact that the Gutters were looking to share their moment with a Maine designer was very generous and fun.”
1. The color and style reminded Kani of a dress worn by Disney’s Princess Tiana in a favorite movie, The Princess and the Frog. Gutter’s nominated song was from a documentary on New Orleans music. “And The Princess and the Frog takes place in New Orleans,” Kani says, “so it felt like a good fit.”
2. Parker added removable straps to the originally strapless dress just days before the ceremony. Parker and Kani had just two fittings, so there wasn’t enough time to ensure the weight of the dress would rest on Kani’s hips and prevent it from slipping. The straps buttoned into discrete holes in the lining.
3. Kani sent Parker a pic of a corset top worn by her Bitmoji (that is, an app-designed cartoon emoji of herself). Parker copied the seam lines from digital Kani’s top onto the real-life bodice, which she structured by sewing nylon horse- hair behind satin, so it wouldn’t wrinkle or buckle.
4. The lining has secret pockets. Parker inserted them in the dress’s original ungathered skirt but didn’t love the look of the faux-satin fabric and added another layer of sheer fabric over it, for extra elegance.
5. Given the quick turnaround, Parker bought her materials at Joann Fabric and Craft, in Auburn and South Portland, where the cost came to about $200. Kani’s red-carpet smile? Priceless. “When a garment fits someone right, you can see it in their expression,” Parker says. “And you could see on Kani’s face she was happy.”