Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What I Learned from Burning Man

The other day, I was talking with my friends at Dark Garden about why I do what I do and why I love what they do, and Kristin asked me to write it all down. So here goes.

Most of you probably know all about Burning Man, but for those who don't, it's an enormous art and costume event held in the Nevada desert every year. It's impossible to sum up, so if you're not yet acquainted, see their website for more info and countless photos.

Burning Man is not for everyone. Accommodations are primitive, and the environmental conditions are harsh, you definitely can die out there if you don't take care of yourself. But, if you're willing to put up with some inconvenience and can handle a desert environment, it's one of the most incredible places on Earth. Another interesting aspect of Burning Man is that it's a gift economy- people bring lots of stuff to give and share with others, but nobody buys or sells anything (well, almost, you can still buy ice and coffee). And coming from the real world, being in a commerce-free environment for even a short time really effects your mindset and the way you interact with others, more than you'd expect.

My husband John and I went to Burning Man a number of times in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In recent years, we haven't gone because we've been focusing on trying to make our everyday lives more full of art and fun. But, I remember it fondly and would love to go again sometime.

I learned several important things about life, that I still use on a daily basis, from my experience at Burning Man.

No Spectators. Participate. Don't go to a show- BE the show. Don't just expect to sit back and be entertained- be entertaining. Don't just be a passive consumer- if you're not adding to the environment, you're taking away from it. If you go to a costume party, dress up. Play along. Pull your own weight. Add to other people's enjoyment, and you'll find that you end up having more fun also.

Don't interfere with other people's experience. Appreciate geekdom without judgement. Try to help out where and when it's needed, but try not to impose your own preferences on others. You like what you like, but it's not for everyone. Me? I love clothing, but I could care less about sports. For other people, it's the opposite, and that's fine. All really interesting people have some really weird thing that they're totally into- bass fishing, repairing old clocks, tesla coils, 1920s Weimar Republic  cabaret music, whatever. I am less interested in the content of their interest than I am in their enthusiasm for whatever that thing is. I like people who geek out on stuff, and when you allow yourself to see what they love from their point of view, it's all cool.

Ditch the mediocre.  The biggest, most important lesson I learned at Burning Man is to appreciate both ends of the experience spectrum. Think about it this way:
- To stay alive, there are a certain number of well-defined things you HAVE to do or to have, just to stay alive. Shelter, basic nutrients, sleep, lots of water. That's the 'required' end of the spectrum.
- Then there is this big range of things that normally take up most of your time, energy, resources, and attention: web surfing without finding anything really interesting, doing other repetitive tasks to try to stave off boredom (unsuccessfully, because they're also kind of boring), working at some unfulfilling job that doesn't really appreciate you, watching not-so-great TV, spending time with people whose company is not all that fun or inspiring for you, etc. etc. etc. Empty distractions. Busy work. Wasted time.
- Then, at the other end of the spectrum are the things that many people consider 'trivial' or unimportant, but which is actually the truly interesting, good stuff. Art. Fashion. Travel. Really, really good food. Whatever it is that you truly enjoy, that makes you feel happy and alive.
I had an epiphany moment at Burning Man when I realized that the middle, mediocre portion of experience was, in that environment, completely missing. And that by taking that away, and slamming the totally necessary up against the completely frivolous, you realize that the completely frivolous IS totally necessary, and that without it, staying alive just isn't worth it. Since then, I've been trying to reduce the mediocre middle from my life as much as possible.

None of us is guaranteed a 'full' lifespan, nature or accident can pull the plug on us at any time without warning. If you're lucky, 40 years from now, what are you going to remember? 5,000 hours spent in front of the Xbox? I doubt it. A trip to Venice? The joy you feel while building a beautiful piece of art? Playing with a happy, hilarious kid? Making out with the person you love? Definitely.

To sum up: Life is short. Do what you love to do. Make it count.

We Love Fairyland

We had a great time at the Oakland Children's Fairyland's 17th annual gala and dinner.

Don't know about Fairyland? It's this incredible children's theme park nestled up next to Lake Merritt in Oakland, CA. It's been there since 1948, and it's rumored to have been a major inspiration for Walt Disney's theme parks. The rides and the art that went into creating its storybook themed environment are incredibly cute and inventive, and it's still going strong. Generations of San Francisco Bay Area kids have had good times there! Walking through, you can feel all the happy that's happened in this special place.

Normally, you can't enter Fairyland without a child in tow, and not having any, we were lucky to be able to get in for a rare look around once years ago when our good friends Dave and Simone rented it out for their wedding. It was a spectacular party in a magical atmosphere, and I've loved Fairyland ever since and have just been *waiting* for the chance to go back. Fairyland occasionally holds evening parties for adults, but they're so popular that tickets sell out instantly!

The gala was attended by over 500 guests, most in costume, and catered by dozens of incredible local restaurants. There was fantastic music, dancing, and we ran into a bunch of old friends, not all of whom had met before. They each have their own totally cool projects and interests, so we were excited to make introductions and I'm hoping many fruitful collaborations result. All around, a fantastic evening.

Here's a photo of John and I with our friends Steve and Gabrielle of The Crucible.  John & I are on the right. We were happy to have the chance to wear costumes again that we made for Venice Carnival 2012. I made the hats, of course! (Spectacular yellow linen 18th century-style corset by Dark Garden.)

Photo by Richard Haick

Want to see more photos of the gala? Click here.

More Dandies in Africa: Sapeurs and Swenkas

You may remember the post I made a while back about the Sapeurs, Congolese dandies whose styles are simply mind-blowing. They're super interesting because they don't just believe in dressing well. They bring beauty to the world at great cost to themselves under adverse conditions. Their emphasis on personal style over just following fashion has tuned them into celebrities of the best kind in their community- through standing out for doing something positive, and by setting a good example for and bringing happiness to others. They believe in non-violence and adhere to a high standard of elegance and polished manners as part of an entire way of life that goes way beyond the clothes. These guys are my freaking heroes.

Here's a great short video with lots of photos of them.

There are lots more videos of the Sapeurs on YouTube if you want to search for them there. For more images, also check out a copy of this book, Gentlemen of Bacongo by Daniele Tamagni.

And I'm really excited to have just found out about this totally other group of similar guys in South Africa, the Swenkas, who put on a weekly fashion contest to showcase their styles. Here's a short video profile about them and what they do.

A documentary was made about them a few years ago.

Here is a copy of most or all of it dubbed in French.

And here's the beginning of it with English subtitles (the video is ten minutes long but after the first five minutes or or, it starts over from the beginning, strangely). I'd love to find the full movie with English subtitles, but it's proving elusive so far. The competition scene with music by Henry Mancini is great!

I hope you enjoy seeing these images as much as I did.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Recap: Dandylicious Fashion Show

On June 1st, I participated in the 'Dandy-licious' fashion show, hosted by the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco as part of their popular Friday Nights series, in partnership with the East Bay Express. The show was held in conjunction with the DeYoung's current exhibition, 'The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier, From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk', running until August 18th. The exhibit is astounding and not to be missed!

It was such a pleasure to work with Dark Garden Corsetry (who provided the stunning corsets, of course) and Duchess Clothier (who contributed the snappy suits)!

Here's a video of the show:

Photographs also appeared in the East Bay Express, and on SF Indie Fashion.

Here are some great photos taken by Joel Aron. He's so talented, it's crazy. Except for two vintage top hats (as noted), I made all the hats that appeared in the show, and on the heads of many supporters in the audience.

The following photos show the models and crew getting ready before the show. With such a talented photographer, and such a pretty group of folks, even the candid shots are gorgeous.

Jeffrey (left) wears a lovely vintage top hat. My husband John (right) sports my brand new 'Clive' style hat in Panama straw.

John was a big help in finding the right hat to go with each outfit. Here, he tries a new 'Blake' fedora on a happy model.

 My new ladies 'Dee' fedora went well with a 'Dollymop' brand corset from Dark Garden.

 Something great (among many great things) about Dark Garden corsets is they look just as beautiful from the back!

This vest-fronted corset, made by Sarah of Dark Garden for her beau Erik, was the stunner of the show for me. I'm still floored by it.

Christopher wears a black 'Neville' bowler hat. He liked it so much, he wants to buy one to keep.

 Pre-show rehearsal. I brought a variety of 'Neville' bowlers and 'Drake' fedoras for the show.

Autumn Adamme, Proprietress of Dark Garden, wears a vintage top hat and white pique tuxedo vest corset. Her chic and inventiveness know no bounds.

The classic styling of Duchess suits were great in combination with the corsets and hats. 

The following photos are from the stage show itself. It was so much fun to see everything come together, and really exciting to see so many of my hats on heads in one place!

I haven't named this wide-brimmed Cab Calloway style fedora yet, worn by Raymond (2nd from right). I made it especially for the show with Raymond in mind, but I like it so much I'm thinking about adding it to my Spring/Summer 2013 collection.

Daniel (far right) models a 'Kingston' fedora. Watch out for those in Fall/Winter 2012. And I can't get over how cute Ben was with that fan.

And finally, a portrait that Joel took that night of one of the MCs from the show, wearing a 'Maman Brigitte' top hat.

There were hundreds and hundreds of people in the audience, and everyone involved with putting the show together was delighted with the result. Thanks again to all of our gorgeous models, and to the DeYoung Museum and the East Bay Express for helping make this great event happen!

Why We Need Another Hat Store in SF : Vote to Help

Hats have been gaining in popularity in fashion over the last few years and hat sales are just getting better and better. But the number of hat stores in San Francisco that sell work from high end local designers is dwindling. People really do need and want hats and more places to buy them, and San Francisco can easily support another store to replace those that are closing.

Will you please help me open my own hat shop by voting for me in this grant competition? It's easy, fast & free.

Chase and Living Social have teamed up to provide grants of $250,000 each to 12 small businesses. That's right, these are grants, not loans.  There are over 40,000 entries in the contest, so the more votes I can get, the better. The deadline is coming up fast, though, so if you haven't voted yet I REALLY NEED YOUR HELP.

Here's a summary of why I need the money and what I would do with it.

- Hire more staff to help promote and produce my products. Jobs!
- Open my own store in SF and build a better business website for the convenience of my customers.
- Expand my market by gaining wholesale accounts and making trips for trunk shows and personal consultations all over the place. That's right, I'll be coming to *you*, non-SF customers.
- Continuing to source tools and materials from other small businesses. More jobs!
- Expand my offering of styles. I need more tools and equipment to do this. How about that foxy full size top hat you've always wanted? More fedoras? They're on the list.
- Make and sell more hats so I can achieve long-term stability. Want to see House of Nines go the distance? You can help me get there.
-  Build a website all about custom clothing to explain the process and promote craftspeople working in the industry. You like custom stuff, let's expand the market.

Want to help me do this? Have a Facebook account? It's free, fast and easy.
1) Just click on this link
2) Scroll down, and clock on the 'LOG IN & SUPPORT BUTTON.' Log in as instructed.
3) Scroll down, and in the field marked "business name," type "House of Nines Design". Click the "SEARCH" button.
4) On the next page, to the right of the entry shown for House of Nines, click the "VOTE" button.

That's it.

If you decide to support me, I would really appreciate it!

My friends at Dark Garden Corsetry have entered as well, and would also really appreciate your support. You can vote for both of us, so please do! Just follow the same instructions as given above to vote for them, substituting 'Dark Garden Corsetry' in the "business name" field in step 3.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

My New Look

I love this video on how to wear hats, especially when they show hat #3 that starts around 1:30. It's a  tip for making an easy 40s style hairdo by tucking your hair up into the hat elastic in the back. Brilliant! If I had long hair, it would be my new look.