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NY artist Debra Rapoport turns garbage into high-end fashion

Credit: Reuters Studio
Published 2 weeks ago - Duration: 01:56s

NY artist Debra Rapoport turns garbage into high-end fashion

Calling herself "Debra Debris" or "Residue Rapoport," the artist turns other people's trash and simple materials like paper towels and toilet paper rolls into couture-style fashion.

Rough Cut (no reporter narration).

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NY artist Debra Rapoport turns garbage into high-end fashion

ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: Donning a hat she made out of beach chair fabric and a necklace from disposable Chinese soup spoons, artist Debra Rapoport struts down a West Village sidewalk with purpose, in search of treasure, hidden in a dumpster and piles of garbage.

She grabs a piece of metal off bags of trash, flicks off an old bit of tape stuck to her find and exclaims, "Oh, this is gorgeous.

I love it.

It's going to make a breastplate, of the real sort." Rapoport, 73, turns other people's trash and simple materials like paper towels and toilet paper rolls into high-end fashion.

She calls herself "Debra Debris" or "Residue Rapoport." "Recycled materials speak to me because they just show up in my life and it's like, we have a relationship," Rapoport says.

"So something happens, and they become like a friend.

And it's like, I can't walk away from you, I can't let you go in the landfill, I need to take you home and befriend you.

My eyes are always looking around and stuff just appears, and people say, 'How did you see that?'

Because it was there." Rapoport has been known since the late '60s for her wearable art pieces.

Her work has been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum and more.

After receiving her master's degree at the University of California at Berkeley, she's taught at various universities and given workshops on how to turn recycled materials into creative and beautiful hats, handbags and necklaces.

"You don't have to dress like me, but whatever makes you feel good, you know, play with that," she says.

"You're bringing joy to the environment because people will stop you on the street and give you a smile or make a comment.

And you know, that just sets up a good rapport.

It's community." For the past five years, she's been making hats out of Viva brand paper towels, which she says ranges from $250 to $400.

"The paper towels are just right there on a roll, I could make 10 hats out of a roll of paper and I can manipulate it just like I did with fabric and fiber, which was my background that I've been doing for 50 years," she says.

"Anything looks good on the head if you wear it right.

And then the minute you put it on, you got 'hattitude,' something happens, whether you like it or not." When fellow artist and customer Martina Dietrich tries on one of Rapoport's hats, she can't help but smile.

How does she feel?

"Fantastic," she says.

"I don't even need to say anything more, it's just like, fantastic, and it makes me happy." Running her fingers through cut up toilet paper rolls she put in a hat to mimic a blossom, Rapoport says, "I just love it.

It's just very mundane but it speaks to me." (Production: Hussein al Waaile, Roselle Chen)

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