Nicolas Raso was a typical American kid, in love with rock and roll and comic books. He played guitar and sang in bands and scribbled stories in notebooks, creating his own superheroes.
Except his America was South America.
Raso’s wife, Paulina, grew up in the same neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and taught herself how to design and create beautiful gowns and dresses.
Except she creates them out of gift wrap and toilet paper.
Together, these artists of many palates will be holding a runway fashion show and exhibiting their wares from May 16 through 18 at the North Bergen Players Mini Theater, next to the library on Bergenline Avenue.
Comic books and rock and roll brought them to the U.S.
Growing up in an Italian family in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nicolas Raso fell in love with the pop culture of his northern neighbors.
“I played in a rock and roll band, heavy metal, when I was in Argentina,” he said. “I came here because of rock and roll. The first instrument I played was guitar. I like to play like Van Halen or Eric Clapton, and this is the country of the rock, no?”
“And then I came to this country and I learned how to play bass, and I play in a merengue band. I play all the Caribbean music,” he said, shrugging. What happened to rock and roll? “I stopped because it’s not a big business around here. And I got a big family now.”
Raso has three kids—a daughter and two sons—and found he could earn a living playing in merengue bands up and down Bergenline Avenue. Nowadays he is writing songs on acoustic guitar and preparing to perform his more personal music.
“I see a paper and I just think in my mind, what dress can I do?” –Paulina Raso
Although Argentina has many locally popular comic artists, Raso was more inspired by the superheroes of the U.S. After moving to New Jersey, he took classes at the Art Student League of New York with teacher Jamal Igle, renowned for drawing Supergirl and other characters.
“Oh he’s beautiful. I love him,” said Raso.
Raso’s other talent is caricatures. He specializes in images of—you guessed it—popular American media stars.
His portion of the exhibit will include some of his comic work, including his beloved dinosaurs and an unnamed hero he designed who has sprouted wings and is learning to fly.
Paulina Raso draws and paints, and she does it extremely well. She too creates black and white images of familiar figures from American history, including politicians and pop stars, painting them in oils. But she also paints colorful images in oil and pastel, crafting collages, portraits, and fine art.
“The one who inspired my art is Raphael,” she said. “He caught the spirit of the person. I like to catch that thing, I like to catch that soul they have. When I start to draw and paint I am inside them.”
Speaking of her early art career in Argentina, she said, “Back when I was a little one I always loved drawing. That was my thing. My ma, she used to have a deli. And she put me there and said watch, and if somebody comes in, then call me so I can come in and take care of the customer. So I was there and I was doing comics, drawing stories, like a film, and I started to do dresses like this.”
Why create them out of paper? “I challenge myself,” she explained. “I’m an artist. It’s a material. You can sew other material, but paper, it’s hard to do.”
“You unwrap a present and throw away the paper but I use it to do something like this,” she said. “I use napkins, toilet paper, any paper that I like. I see a paper and I just think in my mind, what dress can I do?”
Among the items at the show is an elaborate wedding gown and accessories made entirely of Charmin toilet paper.
At the event in mid-May, actresses from the theater group will perform a runway show, wearing Paulina Raso’s paper designs.
On the runway
Maurena Luzzi is the founder and director of the North Bergen Players. Formerly a professional opera and jazz singer, she writes most of their plays, teaches acting and singing, and tirelessly promotes the arts in North Bergen.
After the Rasos enrolled their son Nicholas in acting classes at the theater, Paulina gave Luzzi some paper flowers she created, which led to a conversation about the paper dresses.
“I said I’d love to see them and she brings me in two albums with the stuff in them,” said Luzzi. “I just got this idea, we’ll have a fashion show and Terry [Lee King] got on board, he’s one of my students and he’s also a professional actor and choreographer, so he’s going to choreograph the girls coming out with the things.”
The models are all Luzzi’s students and actors at the theater. The fashion show will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, May 16 and at 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, May 17 and 18. Admission is free. Refreshments will be available.
The North Bergen Players Mini-Theater is located at 8411 Bergenline, in the same building as the public library.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.