Elisa Jimenez made a name for herself as this season's Project Runway contestant most likely to spit on a piece of fabric, rub it in grass to infuse it with the spirit of the earth, and use the word "polymorphic" to describe virtually all of her designs. Early yesterday, the 42-year old performance artist and designer challenged many a blurry-eyed fashionista with a 9 a.m. fashion week presentation/performance piece titled "The Hunger World". Held at Manhattan's Touch nightclub, the show paired real people with puppeteers to present an uneven collection of dresses and robes that would be more suitable for worshiping the moon, perhaps, than hitting the runway. (As devotees of Project Runway know, Jimenez has worked with real puppets in the past, but those, inexplicably, have since been buried in a riverbed.) Confused? We were too. Our morning in the Hunger World — along with a series of images taken by our own Nikola Tamindzic — begins after the jump.

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Jimenez was backstage when we arrived, predictably frazzled —"Right now I know I'm just saying 'Sure, sure, sure, sure' to everything, but I really have no idea what anyone's saying" — and surrounded by a group of performers (most of them friends) getting into "character." One performer's nipples were being carefully painted with green and red body paint; nearby, a woman named Mizuo described her flowy dress with a crepe snake bursting forth from the chest as a "Labia Dream Doll" but was quickly corrected by Jimenez' grade-school daughter Calliope ("No, you're a Lamia Dream Doll"). "I'm the Fallen Star," offered a woman named Soo-Hyuan. "I don't know what my character really is — so many of these characters are Elisa's characters. I've never fallen, even, so I don't even know what that feels like."


Back in the center of the room, Jimenez was trying to rally the troops: "I just want everyone to feel good, happy, and powerful!" She tore at one woman's dress with her teeth in an effort to alter the neckline. "If you're going to have a wound, this is a very pretty wound," she murmured to another ("The Wounded Angel"), splashing red wine onto a white dress and mashing gold leaf into exposed flesh.

Outside in the performance space the seats were arranged in concentric circles, playing cards were strewn on the floor, and latex gloves had been inflated with the words "bliss" and "bless" written on them. The crowd, mainly friends of the designer, nibbled on breakfast pastries and sipped OJ and coffee. Before the show began, Jimenez appeared on the upper level of the space, microphone in hand, explaining that she would be narrating the show with help from a friend, a high soprano, who would be singing "improvisational Puccini" by way of a score. The word "polymorphic" was used.

And the show itself? The 25-minute, 15-look presentation was comprised of models/performers, interpretive dance, and accompanying puppeteers dressed in black. Many of the designs on display were playful and presented with self-aware humor, particularly the woman who came out with her skirt over her head, her cherry patterned underwear exposed. At the show's finale, a smiling Jimenez joined the performers onstage, offering up embraces and sincere thanks. (The word "polymorphic" may have been used again.) The Hunger World was definitely a crazy place, but those on stage, at least, all seemed happy in it.