As Butte resident Lindsey Reilly stood in longtime friend Frank Hall’s house, she finally started to see her vision come to life. She watched over many hours as Hall used first spray paint, and then acrylic paint to cover the dress she sewed herself.
The dress, which started its life as an unblemished cream satin fabric, has now spent its fair share of time in Reilly’s house, on Hall’s dining room table, and on an adjustable dress form of Reilly’s. Not to mention the several trips it’s taken to Salt Lake City for fittings with Reilly’s model and other longtime friend, Alyssa Dunstan.
Thousands of brush strokes in ranges of blue, yellow and white paint have gone into this dress, not to mention the hours upon hours of Reilly and Hall’s time. The dress has a halter top, an open-back concept, and then flairs out at the bottom. At the top, there are balls of yellow against a blue background in an imitation of van Gogh’s “The Starry Night.”
The stars and sky continue down the dress, until it runs into a skyline of Reilly’s imagining that includes important Butte landmarks like the M&M Bar and Cafe, Front Street Station, Hotel Finlen, Dumas Brothel, the Berkeley Pit, Columbia Gardens, and Our Lady of the Rockies, to name a few.
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Under the skirt of the dress is boning Reilly sewed in herself, so when the dress is on the model, the bottom of the dress, Butte’s skyline, will fan out.
“Anybody who has been to Butte or lives here will easily be able to pick out our skyline and some of our most notable and famous buildings and iconic places,” Reilly said.
When 42-year-old Reilly found out she was chosen to make a dress for the Circus Couture Cure 4 the Kids show in Las Vegas, her heart dropped.
It was October 2019, and she didn’t tell anyone she applied. That way, if she didn’t get in, no one would know but her.
Now, mere days away from the April 8 show, Reilly is excited to get her shot.
“I said to a couple people, this could really be the start of something. I could be the next Vera Wang,” Reilly said. “Someone could see my hand-painted dresses and all of a sudden, all the celebrities need a hand-painted dress for their kids.”
Although new to the Vegas fashion scene, Reilly is no newbie when it comes to designing dresses. Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she’d been the wardrobe director for the Revolution Productions annual hair show in Butte.
In 2019, she designed three hand-painted dresses based off works of art: van Gogh’s “The Starry Night,” Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” and Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” All three dresses were painted by Hall and modeled at Revolution Production’s RISE show. After the show, they were auctioned off to pay for the headstone of a girl who died and whose mother couldn’t afford one.
Pictures of the hand-painted dresses were included in the application that got Reilly accepted. She was all set to go to Vegas in the spring of 2020, but the onset of the COVID pandemic changed her plans. The show was also canceled in 2021 due to COVID.
Reilly’s Vegas dress is a remake of sorts of the Starry Night dress, but with a Butte twist. She titled it “A Starry Starry Night in Montana.”
To stay in that same vein, the dress includes an accessory in the back that makes the top of the dress adjustable for fitting. The piece is rectangular metal, and has the shape of the state of Montana carved into the empty space. The copper creation was made by Dillon-based coppersmith Jesse Scofield.
Reilly originally had the accessory made by local metals company Hawe Steel, but switched to Scofield because she realized having a copper piece would be a fitting homage to her beloved hometown.
However, “A Starry Starry Night in Montana” isn’t the dress Reilly was originally selected for. When she applied in 2019, it was for a cancer-themed show, and the name of her dress was “When Good Cells Go Bad.”
“It will be two dresses where the first dress is really demure and good and all Vegas style, and then it will come off and be the backdrop underneath,” she said of the cancer-themed dress. “So I took kind of my own artistic twist, whereas I know some of the other designers that got selected for the show are doing leukemia or breast cancer, this is more off-the-cuff, out-of-the-box.”
The theme of this year’s show is “Gallereality,” where all designs are inspired by a famous work of art. “Gallereality” is smaller and only for the top donors, Reilly said. Although Reilly didn’t submit an application for this show, the organization reached out to her and asked if she still has the “Water Lillies,” “The Scream,” and “Starry Starry Night” dresses, because they fit in so well with the show’s theme.
Even though Reilly didn’t have the dresses anymore, she told the organization she’d be happy to make another one, so long as she could take creative license with the dress and add that Butte flair. Her originally selected dress is scheduled to be shown at the cancer-themed show, which was rescheduled for 2023.
“A Starry Starry Night in Montana” will be auctioned off sometime after the show, and its proceeds will go to the Cure 4 the Kids Foundation, Reilly said. She wanted the dress to ultimately do some good, similar to how the painted dresses before it were.
Although Reilly’s daytime job is a banker, she has decades of sewing experience. She sewed all her children’s Halloween costumes, she sewed all the baby blankets they came home from the hospital in, and as a teenager she was a model for her grandmother, who sewed her prom dresses.
“This let me channel my creative side,” she said. She also painted a pair of tan platform heels in “The Starry Night” motif to match the dress.
Similarly, 44-year-old Hall, who is a lifelong artist, works as a small business owner. He owns Limelight Storage, and he used to own the Irish Times Bar on East Galena Street.
“I’ve been doing art all my life,” he said.
One thing Reilly likes to point out about the project is that it isn’t just her, Hall and the dress’ landmarks that are from Butte. Her model, Dunstan, is a “Butte girl,” and her friend, Jeffrey DeBarathy, who has designed pieces for Circus Couture Fashion Shows in the past and posted the open call that prompted Reilly to apply, is from Butte.
“There’s all this stuff from Butte being brought into it,” Reilly said. “You know, taking Butte to Vegas.”