Most unusual art auction to benefit Ruth Ellis Center

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

When he retired a couple years ago, Detroit architect Jim Luckey wanted to engage in a little personal reinvention to mark his passage into a new life stage.

So Luckey, who spent a career designing humane office complexes, airports and hospitals, among other building types, turned to pants.

“Being a clothes horse, part of reinvention had to do with what I look like. And I couldn’t find any pants I liked — or at least that I could afford,” he says.

The gold-and-zebra-print pants Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton wore en route to this year’s Super Bowl were Versace, he notes, and cost $849.

So Luckey started creating his own colorful, strongly patterned trousers, 30 of which will be the subject of a most-unusual silent art auction Friday evening at the Simone DeSousa Gallery in Midtown.

Luckey will donate all proceeds to the Ruth Ellis Center, the Highland Park shelter and social-service agency that works with homeless lesbian, gay and transgendered youngsters.

Tickets for the fundraiser are $75, $50 of which can be applied to a purchase.

“This seemed a way to meld a passion of mine with doing good work,” Luckey says, “and Simone’s a good friend of mine.”

She’s contributing, too. Buy any other piece of non-Luckey art in her gallery, and DeSousa will give you a 10-percent discount — which she’ll contribute to the Ruth Ellis Center.

In his epic quest for the perfect slacks, Luckey scoured fabric shops for the coolest patterns and colors, and then constructed all the pants himself.

There was something of a learning curve with the sewing machine.

“I’d made shower curtains before,” Luckey says, “but never any clothing. The first pairs I made were sort of trial and error. I didn’t consult a pattern book, so I didn’t know what to do first.”

The first models took about 12 hours to create, from start to finish, and often had to be ripped up and re-sewn. “Now I’m down to about eight,” he says.

The whole process, Luckey adds, reminded him of the creative problem-solving at the heart of architectural practice.

All in all, he says, he’s sewn 80 pants and 7 pairs of shorts.

And he seems to be riding some kind of wave.

“If you check out design magazines,” Luckey says, “a lot of designers are now wearing more exuberant trousers. And the fact that I’m wearing pants nobody has,” he adds, “is really thrilling to me.”

The pants to be auctioned come in four different waist sizes — 32, 33, 34 and 36 inches.

The architect-turned-pants-designer hopes people will actually wear them. “They're fashion,” Luckey says, “not art.”

(313) 222-6021

‘30 by Jim Luckey: An Auction of 30 Bespoke Pairs of Pants to Benefit the Ruth Ellis Center’

6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday

Simone DeSousa Gallery

444 W. Willis, Detroit

$75 ($50 of which can be applied to a purchase)

(313) 833-9000