Ray Fawley doesn’t subscribe to “normal.” That’s why, one morning in 2017, he staged a robed mannequin in slippers in his Asheville front yard.
“She got a lot of attention,” Fawley says. Her four pet flamingos certainly turned heads, as well. “Neighbors loved her. It was all just for fun.”
After receiving so much fanfare, the mannequin (who goes by Miss Mannikan or Bergita) took on a life of her own. Fawley, who owns a lawn-care company by day, started designing clothes for the doll and dragging her to local landmarks like Buxton Hall Barbecue and Lake Julian to snap a photo or two.
“My intention was to put together a coffee-table book — a loose tourism guide,” he says. But inadvertently, he confirmed his life’s calling: fashion design.
On a whim, in 2018, Fawley entered Condom Couture, an Asheville fashion show in which designers put the unusual medium to work to create wearable art and raise money for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. Fawley created a bright, bold pink dress with a wide-brimmed, condom-adorned hat. The concept won first place.
Fawley competed in four iterations of Costume Drama, a fashion show hosted by Asheville Community Theatre (its biggest fundraiser of the year), winning “Best in Show” two of those times. Last year’s piece was inspired by blue-and-white Chinese porcelain, a dress made from roughly 7,000 puzzle pieces and a glut of Scrabble tiles, checkers, bubble wands, and Barbie parts.
Fawley has also participated in the annual Color Me Goodwill fashion fundraiser benefitting Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina. The exhibit requires that entrants upcycle clothing and materials purchased at local Goodwill stores on a shoestring budget of $200. Each designer must create a five-piece collection based on a preselected color.
Despite his natural propensity for design, Fawley faltered during that show by toning down his over-the-top style, hoping to conform by opting for a more practical aesthetic. He missed out on the prize by two votes.
“I held back,” he says. “I wasn’t true to myself.”
On Friday, April 29, Fawley will have a chance to redeem himself during the sixth annual Color Me Goodwill fashion show. Without revealing too much about his final collection, Fawley says the designs will be gray — his assigned color — and will incorporate packing straps (the plastic strips that bundle boxes together). “It definitely won’t be normal,” he says.
“Not normal” has been Fawley’s unofficial brand since Bergita’s debut in 2017. But his interest in design predates the mannequin.
In 1998, he moved to Asheville from Bristol, Tennessee. He had relocated to the Birthplace of Country Music from Baltimore to be closer to family, but experienced such a culture shock that he “needed to get out of there.” Asheville was the nearest most progressive city, so he packed up and headed due south.
Not long after, he found himself in a deep depression. His best friend was dying of cancer, and he needed a distraction. So, Fawley started designing and selling handbags. Though he abandoned the venture seven years later, it helped him develop his quirky, offbeat style.
“I’m not a psychoanalyst, but I think that I was in such a dark place that resorting to something familiar wasn’t the answer. I needed to explore outside the norm. I still do.”
Ray Fawley, Mannikan Fashion Designs, Asheville. The sixth annual Color Me Goodwill fashion show happens at The Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Friday, April 29, at 7pm. To purchase tickets, see the event’s Facebook page or goodwillnwnc.org. For more information on Mannikan Fashion Designs, visit mannikandesigns.wixsite.com/mannikan-designs (also @mannikan.ray on Instagram).