The Mermaid’s Top

By Louise Irvine

At our Mermaid Tale event on Halloween, Rhanu Mershark wore a glass bikini top designed by Chelsea Rousso. The collaboration was such a success that Chelsea offered to make a customized mermaid top, especially for Rhanu to wear at our Fantasy, Fashion & Fun event on January 16 to launch Fort Lauderdale Art & Design Week.

Rhanu’s magnificent tail was inspired by the starry patterns of the whale shark, the gentle giant of the tropical oceans. Chelsea decided to interpret the unique stripes and spots on the sharkskin for her new glass top and Alex provided information and photographs of whale sharks, including close-ups of the dermal denticles in the shark’s skin.

Fantasy, Art & Science

Studying sharks and ocean conservation is Rhanu’s day job as a marine biologist and she is better known on land as Alexandra Barth. She provided a wealth of information about shark ecology during her talk at WMODA on January 16. It was fascinating to hear about the denticles on the shark’s skin, which resemble shark teeth more than fish scales, and, like armor, they help protect the shark from predators. The molecular structure of sharkskin also makes it difficult for microorganisms to attach and survive on the denticles, and this has inspired a new material for hospital surfaces that mimics the diamond pattern to help fight bacteria and disease.

As an apex predator, the shark is very important for the conservation of our oceans and Alex studies five species that live here in Florida: nurse sharks, sandbar sharks, lemon sharks, tiger sharks, and great hammerhead sharks. Her research involves shark tagging trips to collect small skin samples and gather valuable information about the welfare of the shark population.

Connecting fantasy, art, and science at WMODA with our mermaid in residence is a fun way to create awareness of our natural resources in Florida and support the conservation efforts of organizations such as Ocean Rescue Alliance with the 1000 Mermaids Project. This monumental Eco-Art project led by Evan Snow is helping to enhance marine habitats with its artificial reef installations. The next major deployment of this underwater sculpture garden of mermaids and coral reef will be in Dania Beach, home of WMODA.

Fashion & the Fired Arts

Chelsea immersed herself in the science of sharks and ocean conservation before embarking on her glass project. Living in Lauderdale by the Sea, she finds inspiration from the natural beauty of Florida on a daily basis so this was her ideal commission. As a successful New York fashion designer, Chelsea has had many years of experience in pattern making and she combined this with her knowledge of kiln-formed glass art to create the mermaid’s new top.

Having taken measurements for Alex, Chelsea visualized the bikini top with rough sketches from her swimwear collections. Then she cut the basic shape of the top from sheets of iridized textured glass which changed to sea colors after the first firing. She loved playing with the speckled whale shark patterns using glass stringers and frit. The sharkskin denticles inspired charms to hang from the top.

While the decorated glass top was being fired for the second time, Chelsea worked on the fiberglass mold in the shape of Alex and coated it in kiln wash to fortify it during the firing process. Then the flat top was balanced on the mold for the final slumping process in the kiln when the bikini draped into shape. Rhanu’s top emerged from the kiln in perfect shape and made its debut at the Fantasy, Fashion & Fun in the Fired Arts event.

Watch the process in Chelsea’s video from her studio and see the mermaid’s top on a mannequin at WMODA.

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Chelsea Rousso

Rhanu aka Alex Barth