Interview with Laura Shrewsbury, creator of Weapon of Choice NOLA
Okay, so tell me how you get started doing what you do.
Do you mean specifically Weapon of Choice, New Orleans? Or do you mean, like I don't know. What do you mean?
Jewelry and the clothing and accessories design. How did you get started? Not necessarily with Weapon of Choice, but in general.
I come from a theatrical design background. I have a BFA in costume design. And I worked in New York City for 5000 years on lots and lots of things for Broadway, off-Broadway and New York City Ballet. I was with New York City Ballet for seven years. I worked on Broadway for about three. Before those ten years, 15 were spent in, like, doing regional theater, working at a few other downtown theaters in New York City.
I was never a designer. I think a lot of people get confused, because they think that if you work in theater, you must be the designer. In reality, there is usually a large crew of folks who maintain the wardrobe of costumes. That's why in live theater, the people that get actors dressed and maintain all of the costumes that the company wears, they're called wardrobe. They're the wardrobe staff. It's a little bit different in film. In film, everybody's just called a “costumer”. But in theater, there is that differentiation because in live theater there's a costume shop. It's usually not in the theater itself. They are freestanding buildings like a shop, like inside a skyscraper or whatever.
In those, you go to them, and they're like, “what are you doing?” And you're like, “oh, I'm doing a musical. It's 48 costumes split among seven actors, and we have this many core, and we have these two principles.” So the costume shops will give bids to the production company or the designer, and then they get contracted to make everything. There's a lot of building it from scratch, right? Like, when you're building a house, you just have the lot and you build it. When they’ve finished, and the costumes are done, they get brought to the theater. Then once they cross the threshold of the theater door, they become part of the wardrobe.
That's why I'm specifying this, right? That there's a difference between a costume shop and maintaining the wardrobe of costumes. The bulk of my life in New York City was working as a wardrobe professional. Since I can sew and I can do alterations, I would frequently come in during the morning or the afternoon and do alterations and repairs to the costumes scheduled to be in whatever show. I worked a bunch of Broadway shows, and I wasn't necessarily dressing the show at night.
I got to have my eyes and my hands on a lot of Broadway costumes, and they're unbelievably magnificent. They're built to last, you know what I mean? Because it's eight shows a week on Broadway. It's not like they're just doing one show on the weekend. The actors are singing and dancing, and it's really hot on stage. So these things are created to be almost bulletproof. For example, the Elphaba black dress, you would have no idea when you look at it from the audience. From there, it just looks like the Wicked Witches black dress, right? But when you're up close, the amount of detail on that dress is incredible. When I worked on Cinderella: the Musical, that was a William Ivey Long costume design. He's one of the top designers on Broadway, and he's really famous. If you're in that world, then you know who he is.
I would go in every single day, and I would steam or iron and check these gowns that were designed by William IV Long. I'm like, “wow, there's, like, nine layers to this skirt!” There's nine different layers of, you know, different tulle and maybe some sequin fabric, or stuff with rhinestones. Then there's a layer on top of that, and a layer on top of that, At first, you look at it and you're like, “seems kind of excessive, right? Why are there so many layers here?” Then you stand offstage one night watching the show, and you see the women spin in those gowns, and see the way that they move and catch the light, and then you understand. I was like, “Oh, that's why it's incredible!”
In many ways, I was very fortunate to be able to have hands-on experience with the work of great masters. I learned so much from that. For example, at the New York City Ballet, there was this woman who worked with George Balanchine. He was this Russian choreographer. The New York City Ballet was created for him after he came over to America in the late 40s. (I'm not 100% sure on my dates!) He created all of the dances that New York City Ballet are most famous for. He worked with this woman named Barbara Karinska, and she just went by Karinska then. Kinda like Cher. She's just a one word person. Karinska had the most incredible costumes, and the details were just out of this world. She was very cool.
She realized that when you work in dance, specifically, you're sacrificing your entire youth to your art form. While other 19 year olds are out partying or whatever, you're rehearsing all day long. Then you're performing at night. It's a passion. You have to be passionate. You have to be super-dedicated. Your body gets destroyed, and your feet get mangled. Ballerinas work really hard. It only looks effortless because they put countless hours into what they do.
There is this beautiful ballet called Vienna Waltz. It's a bunch of vignettes, and it's all set to the music of Strauss. I believe it was from different composers. Waltz music sounds a bit boring until you actually see it done, and then it's genius. At the finale, these beautiful ballerinas come out in these fitted ivory satin gowns with these really, really long trains. When they lift up the train of their gown, they can put their hand through a loop on that train, and there's all these beautiful crystal-pleated ivory ruffles underneath. Then they're wearing, like, rhinestone necklaces and they've got their hair up in an updo and they've got these long white gloves on. The first thing you see is this couple coming out, and it's a handsome man and this beautiful woman in her white gown. Then, at the back side of the stage, the very back wall that faces the audience suddenly flips and it's nothing but mirrors! Just like in The Hall of Mirrors, in Versailles. It's all mirrors and gold. Then all of a sudden, there's 40 couples all dressed in those ivory satin gowns, dancing with their guys in their black tuxedos. In an instant, the entire stage is filled with these dancing couples that are all moving symbols. It's amazing. A description doesn't do it justice. It's incredible.
The reason I'm talking about this is because the principal woman, the prima ballerina? Her gown has this beautiful golden rose embroidered on the bottom side of the hem, and that's where she puts her hand through the loop so that she can lift her train while she's waltzing. It's not something that the audience can see. It's something that Karinska did just for her. Just as a little something for her. Just to say “Thank you”, and make her feel special.
There's countless examples of this kinda thing. There's these beautiful, tiny little details that only the dancer, or her partner sees. It really doesn't translate to the entirety of the audience. It's a 3000 seat theater with a huge stage. Those details, (even though you may not be able to see them the way you could see something in film,) they add a certain, almost painterly, richness to the visuals on stage.
I think that experience was really more of an education for me than anything I ever learned in college. That’s not to say that I'm unhappy with the education I got, or that I didn't value it. I learned lots of stuff in college, especially Costuming history. But getting to see the work of Barbara Karrinska first-hand… And not only what it looks like, but to be able to understand why it looks like that. To learn how she chose the fabrics, and created the structure, and layered those outfits… That was amazing. It was a master-class working there.
For decades, or even centuries, probably, Ballets have been supported by rich old people. Then, as the rich old people started dying off, they didn't have sponsors anymore. They were running out of patrons because they were naturally dying off. New York City Ballet decided to merge with the world of high fashion, and they started inviting famous designers like Valentino, Iris Van Herpen, and Stella McCartney to design ballet for New York City Ballet.
That's always, like, the season kick-off gala, and you get to see these amazing fashion designers putting their spin on ballet. It's been quite successful. Definitely a marketing scheme for the company, and kind of breathed new life into the ballet. It exposed people that maybe wouldn't normally be that into it. People who probably thought that it was, like, stodgy or whatever, but now it's hip and relevant, and it's very beautiful.
I’ll tell you, when Valentino shows up with the gowns for his leading lady, you pay attention to how things are made. You really look closely at the choices that he made. It's just incredible. To me, it's just always so interesting to see the diversity and variety of artistry and how you can take something like dance and essentially change the way it's decorated..
There you have it. That's how I got my start. I had aspirations to become a costume designer, and I got to New York, and then, how do I say this?
The theater world can be great, but I've never really considered myself like a theater nerd. I've always been kind of more into rock and roll, or into things that are gothic or even just goth-friendly. Now, It doesn't always have to be goth for me. I do really like alternative rock and roll, and it doesn't always necessarily have to be gothic music, but I like artists. That and theater tends to be very middle class and white or upper middle class and white. I was always surprised at that.
In New York, I thought, “Okay, I'm working in the provinces.” I was working in Florida, and I worked in Vermont. I worked in Pennsylvania. Then I was just like, all right, I'm just going to go for it, and I moved to New York City. I did that, and I was just like, “Wow, everybody's white here.” It was really weird to me. It wasn't edgy. It wasn't satisfying. Nothing really cool or unique was being done. I didn't care for it or for the personalities I was encountering either.
I just wanted to be doing stuff I wanted to do.
I had a small business called “Underbelly” that started as a catalog company because it was before the Internet. I am one of those people that lived before cell phones and the Internet. If you wanted cool, weird clothes back in those days, and you didn't live in a major city, you would order a catalog for like, three dollars or something, and it would come to your house. Then you would order something from the catalog, and you would put a check in the mail, and mail it to me in New York, and then I'd make an outfit for you and I'd mail it back to you.
Underbelly was a very organic, kind of homegrown thing. I look back on those photos, and I'm quite proud of the work I did when I was 26. It was fun. But when you are creating clothing, and you're not charging a lot of money for unique things, it is very difficult because you can't really compete with offshore manufacturing. It's a very difficult thing to try and compete with Poland or the Far East, or even Morocco. At the time, I didn't really know that. I was just like, “No, I'm going to make the stuff for the scene, and blah, blah, blah.” I was young.
I know what you mean! As a teenager, I was living in Topeka, Kansas. I had a Hot Topic, but that was about it. Even that was out of reach for a lot of people. (They were, like, Abercrombie prices.) I was in that Hot Topic a lot, but I also did order out of catalogs. I ordered a lot of my clothing from those, because this was like the early 2000’s. You couldn't just go to Trash and Vaudeville in Los Angeles. There was nothing like that, so it was like Hot Topic or catalogs, or online if you were desperate. I mean, the websites were around, but they weren't as sophisticated. People used catalogs far more.
Yeah, absolutely. In theater, too, catalogs were everywhere. Before the Internet, what happened was you're either working on a film, or you're doing a play or what have you, and it's the summer, but the piece is set in January, right? So your actors need to be wearing winter clothes, but there's nowhere to go to shop for the stuff that you need. Inevitably, you end up ordering things. That's just kind of how it always was.
I was talking to someone at one of the vampire balls while I was vending. I was explaining to her that headpieces are really popular now. But they didn't exist in the scene in the 90’s. Oh, and black nail polish! You had to wait until Halloween, and then you had to buy, like, 20 bottles and stock up.
Yeah. We had this conversation on Instagram! I remember I used to go and get the black lipstick, and the black nail polish at Halloween and just save it all year. …Or we'd use eyeliner.
Oh, God! And it tastes terrible!
Then everybody would use Sharpie for nail polish.
Oh, my God. Too funny! That's so punk! That's fun, though.
Use shoe dye for your hair!
Or when you had to buy albums? You had to go to a store and buy a physical copy, like a CD or a tape, or a record.
I missed that in some capacity. The algorithm can be great, especially if you use a lot of digital. But going and checking out different music in, like, an F.Y.E. or Best Buy, or even a Hot Topic back in the day. Just putting the headphones on and picking up random different CDs with your friends, listening to them. That was an experience.
That was so great!
I was lamenting recently, because I was trying to find a way to get a hold of an American Girl catalog for my daughters. The reason I grew up wanting American Girl dolls so badly was because of catalogs! I still love them, and now I have the money to buy them, and of course, my children don't give a shit. But the AG People took such great care in regards to historical accuracy and representation. They involved the Nez Perce tribe for the Kaya doll. They got permission, and consultants. They had historians on staff! I have that one because it was so cool! Alas, My daughters don't care because they didn't grow up getting the catalog every month in the mail, and circling what they want, and pining over it. That whole experience is completely lost to this generation.
Well, for me, record stores were like a community. You could walk into Tower, and of course you were scoping it out if you were single. Just checking for any hot guys in there that day. Then, you’d be listening to music, and then somebody comes over, and they're like, “Oh have you heard this album?” Then it's a conversation starter, and maybe they lead you down the rabbit hole of bands you might never have discovered on your own if you had just gone in to pick up one album. The streaming services are great, and it’s a wonderful way to discover new artists that maybe would have escaped your notice. Still, I do miss the social aspect of record shops.
So how did you end up in New Orleans?
Good question! Well, I lived and worked in New York for 25 years, then in 2016 I was working as a dresser on Les Misérables, which had been my job for almost two years. There's multiple productions across the globe. There’s one in, like, Japan, and then there was one in Dubai, and there's one in South America somewhere. They rent the theater, they have the show, and it runs for X amount of years, and then their lease is up, and the next show will come in. So the company was closing, and they were very nice about it. They gave us a six month heads up. When I found out that the show was closing in six months, I had been unhappy with New York for quite some time. My priorities had changed. I first got to New York in my early twenties, and I’d loved it! It was the 90’s, and I had the energy for the city. Now, however, it was 2016. Super-hyper-gentrification was going on in New York at that time. There were all these bazillionaire investors moving into the city, and buying up the property left and right, and building all of these little apartments. The character of New York was starting to become very bland and whitewashed. Every single block there was like a CVS. or there was a Walgreens or, there was a Starbucks or a Chase Bank or something, every single block. You'd think, how could that possibly be? Well, it's a city of 8.8 million people, so there's a whole lot of people to patronize those. It's actually like, you can have a CVS right across the street from Walgreens and they'll both be busy all the time because there's just so many people.
My theory is, if all you need to get into the club is money, it doesn't make it a cool club, it just means it's expensive. That's kind of how New York was starting to feel. It was just expensive. There wasn't anything cool about it. All of the cool kids were getting squeezed out. You had lots and lots of trust fund babies that were doing a thing where they go to college, and then they have like a gap year. Everybody just goes to Williamsburg, and hangs out, and they all have sex and get stoned, and then I guess they go back home to wherever and they take over the family business.
At the time, I was making a very decent middle-class income in New York City, and it just wasn't enough. Things were just getting so expensive and uncool, and I was working all the time on Broadway, and I am not a Broadway person. I'm really not. It's not to say that I don’t very much respect the talent, and the discipline that goes into the production of any musical theater. To sing, act, and dance, and do that every week is phenomenal, but it's just not me. It's not my cup of tea. I'm not bashing anybody. I'm just saying I like rock, and it was really hard to meet people that I felt any kind of similar connection with. So I just don't really think I want to do this anymore. Friends of mine had moved down to New Orleans. I came down to visit, and of course, I was like, this is it. I've been wanting to leave New York for a while, but I just didn't know where I wanted to go. Then I came down here, and I was like, Hot diggity, this is it.
This place had the grittiness, and the energy that I felt in New York City, and I loved it. It kind of just was feeling very bloated and boring in the mid-2000’s there, but New Orleans seemed great. Plus, I was really looking forward to just slowing down and having a life. I had absolutely no design on opening Weapon of Choice to be anything other than a curated boutique that was kind of cool. Edgy clothing, jewelry, and accessories. I was not planning on making anything of it. I wanted to relax. I just wanted to move down and chillax for a while and do whatever and open, like, a little boutique and just see how it went. I had very low expectations. All I wanted was to have brunch with friends once in a while, or hang out at night. My life had been so much about just living and breathing in that theater every day, and I was sick of it. I was tired of not seeing friends and not being able to feel like I had a life.
Then I got down here.
I immediately got a job at Carl Mack Presents, which is an entertainment company in town. They do, like, bespoke parties, and corporate parties, and whatnot. They have a costume designer. That was what I was for about a year and a half, and I tried to get into the union down here, but there was a bit of a hold up with my residency. I had to live here for 18 months.
Yeah, that's a long freaking time to not be making a lot of money, because I was used to a certain kind of pay-rate. When you're with the union on Broadway, you're making some good money. Then to go from that to $16 an hour was really brutal, and it was a really large slice of humble pie. Oh, boy. I just had to shift my concept of what I thought looked good versus what was going to be just fine for the party. I didn't leave New York completely debt free, so it was just difficult to reconcile my new income, and lifestyle with New Orleans. There's just so many crazy things that happen here that people don't tell you about. My learning curve was a bit tricky here the first couple of years. I moved on from Carl Mac to working another job. I also had an Etsy store, but I wasn't doing much with it. It was just very simple things, comparatively.
It's an interesting question because I don't know that I have an answer for you. There wasn't one crystallizing moment. Things just grew organically, but whenever I had any little bit of money, I would set it aside, and I was constantly searching and scouring the Internet from Amazon to weird little sites from the Hebridies, which are islands in northern Scotland. They have craftspeople and they make amazing things. They also spin wool there. I was just looking at everything, and I would buy this and I'd buy that, and I kind of squirrel it away, and then I would play with it on the weekends.
When I had some time off, I would just play with stuff on my mannequin. I was like, “oh, that could look good. That could look good.” That's when Killstar was really kind of coming into its own, and it was still doing a line of sort-of grown-up clothing. I feel like they've gone very much corporate goth.
Yeah, I've sort of gone very corporate goth.
When they first started, it was interesting, lots of Egyptian stuff, but I didn't feel like it was specifically just catering to the youth. I think it was kind of across the board. Well, anyway, that look of the harness sort-of things made out of black elastic were suddenly like they were new on the scene, and everybody wanted one. Do you remember what I'm talking about? Those black elastic harnesses. They're still being made, but they look like bras or bralets. It's just like the outline of a bra. People wear them all the time now, but it was kind of new in 2015 and 2016. That look was really the best.
I know what you're talking about.
Yeah, it's like, I guess, new goth. I think that's the kind of aesthetic I'm referencing. It's like the pastel goth.
Goth went through a kind of transition, and honestly, Killstar can be like the uniform of Los Angeles gothing.
When I went to New York City, and we hit Dark Side of the Con last year, I was astonished to see so much diversity. Not just in the people, but the fashion choices in that world. It's like every single goth style in the last 15 years has ever been in fashion, IS still in fashion in New York, and people still wear it. There's so many little fashion factions and individual subgroups within that. You don't see that in Los Angeles. Everything is “dress code”. You have to have a specific look to go to specific clubs. Most of it is the same. Kilstar very much caters to that now, and I think it transitioned around the same time. I love Kilstar. I have a ton of Kilstar. I wear them all the time.
I had the experience with Underbelly, and that was my catalog company. I think I decided that clothing was like too much. I don't have deep enough pockets for that. I don't have a factory to contract out to. I don't even want to deal with it. I don't want to deal with X small to five XL. That's too much. It’s just too much work. I'm like “what fits”. I'm like, well, jewelry fits, and accessories fit. You never have to worry about it. I've always loved that. I love jewelry. I've always loved jewelry, and I've always liked the way that you accessorize something with very much your own stamp on an outfit. Give 20 women the same plain, black dress and tell them to put their favorite whatever with it, they're going to come up with 20 different looks even though it's the same black dress. Everyone's putting their own little unique and individual touches on it. That’s what started developing, and I started thinking to myself over and over again, like, “Okay, what am I doing? What is the point of this?”
I didn't operate from a profit-driven perspective. I operate from a perspective of, “Is this beautiful? Is this something that would broadcast a message to a potential mate, or to a potential group of people that might want to be my friend if they see me wearing this? Does this draw the eye?” Not only because aesthetically, it's very attractive, but also, there are, like, layers of symbols and meanings, and it's a conversation starter, et cetera. I like looking at the things that I make and other people's work as a work of art. You know what I mean? I don't see it as just a commercial item to sell or buy.
I like to layer everything that I do with not only the knowledge that I acquired through my education up until now, and that includes all of the college stuff I've done, and 30 years working in theater. That's the craftsmanship, the honing of your skills, and the artistry. You can take a class and learn how to do a certain skill, but it's not until you practice it over, and over, and over, and over, and over again do you actually master anything.
So then, finally, you've got the skill level down, right? Then you move on to how to create your world? How do you create your brand? How do you create and how do you communicate? To me, that's kind of what I started trying to do, and I keep attempting to do that with every piece that I make. I just want to communicate through my work, or I don't want to communicate.
What I want to do is allow someone to have an opportunity for them to communicate who they are to the world via wearing something. It could be my product. That's great. Regardless, I'm fascinated by how people choose to show their privilege,right? I mean animals attract one another with their coats, their fur, their feathers, and their little rituals and whatnot. We do the same thing. You're talking about the different goth scenes in New York, and people wearing crushed velvet, hanging out with someone who's wearing a total head-to-toe Killstar with somebody who's still doing the 90’s raver pants or whatever, but it's all the same group.
I want people to have a vehicle, especially men. That's really important for me because I find that men are so constricted in Western society, and especially in America. You're allowed to wear this, but not this. You can talk about this, but not that. We don't talk about these things ever. When you get out of subcultures, you get this mainstream culture of America and then are stifled. They have no way to be creative or be cool, like in the way they dress. Honestly, you leave, like, a major metropolitan city, and you drive anywhere into the burbs or even further out from the burbs into the country. Then it's just this uniform of masculinity that's completely dull. It’s why it's completely acceptable. I feel like men are just terribly afraid of ever standing out or being anything, except this cookie-cutter that society is allowing you. It’s like, “Here's this line, and here's this line. You can draw from both. You can color in between these two lines, but don't dare go outside that line!” That's so sad to me. I'm just like, “Guys, it's life! Just clothes. It's just clothing!”
It's also everything. It's how we communicate who we are to ourselves, to one another, and to society. It's a pleasure. In fact, it's a necessity. Right? We have to cover our mention of that.
We have to always ask why, when you can wear anything? Why, when you have to adore your body, why would you do it with just whatever? You literally have limitless options! But let’s talk a little about Vampires. What are some of your favourite movies or tv shows about Vampires?
Do you know? It's not the greatest movie ever made, but I really like it. It's called We Are the Night, and it's a German movie. I's about three lady vampires and a young human girl that they want to bring into the fold. What an opening scene! If you've never seen it, it's really, really good. And it's really fun! The nightclub scenes are great. It makes me just want to go to a huge rave. I love that film.
It's not necessarily a vampire movie, but I absolutely adore The Brotherhood of the Wolf. There are some sort of mystical elements in that. It's also just a great action movie with great costumes. It's a historical action film. I love it, love it, love it! Honestly, I can forgive a movie a lot if it's either really well done, or if the costumes, and the whole production design of it is really beautiful. Again.
Like, if it’s done by Colleen Atwood! Man, she's so fucking great. I love her so much. She did the Snow White and the Huntsman films. All of those designs of the Charlize Theron? Like, those unbelievable, jaw-droppingly, amazing gowns? Those gowns that Queen Ravenna wore? I think it was in the second one, where it was Charlize Theron, and her sister, who was played by Emily Blunt, who is like the snow and Ice queen. That was her magical power, that she created Snow and Ice. I mean, those movies are kind of garbage. But they’re visually unbelievable!
There's a bunch of movies that, if I ever own a bar and I have TVs over it, I'm going to have visually beautiful films, but they're going to be on silent, because they're not the greatest movies ever. So we’ll just have the imagery! Those movies will definitely be a part of that. There's a lot of films that are just beautiful to watch. They're gorgeous to look at. But they're just awful movies. For whatever reason, their direction, or the writing is just crap, but they look great.
Trying to think of other vampire films that I've seen that I just really love. When I created the Nosferotica collection, I started watching a lot of vampire movies and kind of trying to do a deep dive.
Honestly, it might be a bit boring, but Bram Stoker's Dracula still always comes up as a top-five vampire films of all time for me, just because it's so beautiful. They had some really cool ideas, like the look of the Old Dracula. I mean, we know what it looks like now because it's been part of our collective consciousness as a society for a long time. But the shock of seeing Gary Olman with this crazy white, kabuki hair, and that long red satin, with the long slithery train? Or when we see the gorey elements for the first time? It was stunning! It's still stunning, but it was shocking then. It was so weird and so different. God, there just so many visual elements of that film, and it's just glorious. So, so beautiful. I'm so very grateful that Francis Ford Coppola had decided to do that project and do it in the way that he did it, where he used, like, old-fashioned, 1930’s style movie tricks to create the special effects rather than, you know, the current technology that they had with the movie come out. It was like 1992, I want to say. Right?
Also, the original Interview with the Vampire with Tom Cruise. Fucking stunning. Beautiful film. I mean, that movie actually set me on the course to become a costume designer. It was that film. I love just everything about it. Production. Design. It’s all fucking amazing. The costumes are stunning. It's just beautiful. I mean, I'm not a Tom Cruise fan, but everybody was flipping out. I think it's one of those films that you would just enjoy when you're a little bit older than a seven year old. Everything about that movie blew me away. Kirsten Dunst. My God, What a child actor performance! Holy shit! She still blows the walls off every time I watch it! I'm like, god damn, that kid can act! She is amazing. Everything about that film just made me go, “yes, this is what I want to do!” I want to make clothing that's as beautiful as that. I realized that that's not clothing, that's a costume. So I went kind of more I'm like, well, fashion isn't going to cut it for me then, so I'm going to go into theater. I did theater for a while. Like I said, it was kind of a personality thing. I kind of haven't really found a place where I can connect with live theater. Although I did work for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and they were fucking fantastic. So I think it's just maybe getting me out of musical theater and getting into, like, proper theater, maybe I could connect better there.
I was just saying it's kind of not been my scene, personality wise, but I still love and have an enduring passion for live theater. Again, it's one of those transformational things where the actors feed off of the energy of the audience. The audience feeds the actors. That can be really electric. It depends on the crowd that's in there. It's fascinating to me how that can be a thing. At any rate, I don't know. Visually, there's just a lot of things I've always loved and I find I return to over and over and over again.
Anyway, when I was figuring out Noferotica, when I was first experimenting and playing with things, I was watching a bunch of vampire films. It's hard because the genre doesn't always lend itself to people who want to set the bar really high with intellectual stuff. They're just like, yeah, fangs and show some boobs. It's honestly just kind of low brow at times, It's either super-romantic, or it's just over the top gore, neither of which are appealing to me. I like more of a cerebral view on things. There is a new film out called The Invitation.
I just watched it! To review for the magazine. The plot was very slow, and that's my biggest complaint. But I really do like that they use a light skinned black woman as the main character, and how she handled it when she found out. “Oh, shit. I'm about to be Dracula's bride. Fuck that! It just came off as empowering, and a different take. Whereas normally they do succumb, and she did not. And the history of her grandmother in that lineage and being the sort of generational curses breaking sort of metaphor.
I found it a fun and fresh take. I like that they featured an African American woman. I mean, I think she's a British actress, actually, but she plays an African American woman. It was all designed to seduce, but she just didn't fall for it. I feel like the movie was really exciting and interesting in the opening bits of it. Then, once the reveal was revealed, it was kind of like, “oh, okay, I see where they're going with this,” but it looked great. It was fun, they pushed the boundaries of the genre a little bit. They didn't cave to the tropes of the genre, which I enjoyed.
I think the scariest vampire movie I've ever seen is 30 Days of Night. It was chilling to me. The idea that you suddenly found yourself in this vampire playground, where they can be out all the time, and they can do whatever they want. I found the way that the vampires were visually what they look like, but there was nothing romantic about them at all. They were completely predatory. They were like sharks. Their eyes were just dead. They were cool, and very scary to me, and I liked it a lot! I've never read the graphic novel, but I know that the movie was based on one. I really like 30 Days of Night, and it still freaks me out a little bit. I'm sure there's a lot more.
I've never read the Twilight books, for example. I watched the movie and I was like, “Why? Everybody?” I don't get it. My ex husband and I were watching it in the theaters because it was THE vampire movie at the time, right? We were just sitting there, and I didn't get it. He's like, “I don't get it either.” We were just like I don't understand. I guess you have to read the novels. You know what I mean? But even reading the novels-
They are a product of their time and the target audience for them. But Stephanie Meyer was like a Mormon, and inserting her weird, religious ideology into the books. Not to mention they did not age well at all with the whole age-gap situation.
Yeah, it was just the whole “vampire teenager thing.” I'm just like, what the fuck? Why are you still in the mentality of a teenager? Aren't you 200 years old? I'm 53 and even I'm like, “yeah, I don't have time for any of that shit!” How are you over 100 years old, wanting to hang out with teenagers?
I'm only 53, which is not that old if you're looking at the vast span of life for an immortal. I could NEVER in a million years put up with the 27 year old as a lover. That would drive me crazy! I don't care how pretty they are, but someone that's more than half my age? No, thank you! I want someone in my own age group with shared experiences, or maybe even more experience than me. I'm not interested in being a teacher. That's never been my jam. I don't want to have to teach or train my lovers. I just want power and balance. Honestly, I've never understood why any Immortal would find a human being interesting or fascinating. To them, we're all children, and it's just not viable.
It's like, absolutely creepy, and not cool. I guess they're kind of socially isolated and stunted because most of them get turned when they’re just teenagers, and so they never grew up around most people. And they’re okay with eating them! So I don't get it
Also, like, in True Blood, Eric Northman has been alive for, what, a thousand years? And he owns a club in some shitty little place in Louisiana. It's just like, dude, what have you been doing for a thousand years? You know what I mean? Why are you not a scientist!? Don't you want to know the origins of where you come from, and why you're a vampire, and what this stuff is? What about the magic? There's so much more to explore! Yet that series is just all about fucking all the time. I guess that's why it was popular, because you had some very good-looking people wearing very little clothing, and everybody was having sex with everybody, and blah, blah, blah.
I think the way most people think about vampires, especially in the modern era of literature, movies, and TV is more from the human side. It appeals to us, I think, because of the power fantasy. You can do things sort of with impunity. You can access a different world that's sort of magical. You sort of have this other side to it. I think people are looking at it from the human side, not from how the vampire would feel, and what they would actually be doing with their lives.
Eternity either starts feeling like seconds passing, is, I think, how they explain it in the Anne Rice novels. The time is the same if you're a turtle, or a person, but it's all subject to how long you live. So years end up feeling like seconds, and you just fly by when you live for so long. At a certain point, it’s actually just going to get boring.
What are you going to do for that long?
Well, I mean, there is a lot to learn, you know what I mean? There's a lot out there..
Like with Marius. For a few hundred years it’s gonna be fun for sure. But at a certain point, you've got to reach the limits.
Yeah, I suppose. Marius was always the most interesting character in The Vampire Chronicles because I was like, yeah, “I want to meet that guy”. He's the guy, of all of them, that I actually want to talk to. I mean they're all great characters and I love them, but Marius always struck me as very interesting. Maybe because he was an artist? Maybe because he just didn't seem to be stuck in the “same-old, same-old”? As a creative, I guess you could say I'm a bit of a snob in that I don't get bored very often. Yeah, there's just always something I want to do or I want to be working on.
If you're bored, then you're boring.
Yeah, exactly. And I feel like if your entire existence is nothing more than eating and drinking, that would be boring. But then again, I'm a human, right?
We still got to eat.
Maybe the blood is all you need. Maybe if you've been transformed into this vampiric being, maybe then blood is all you need to feel sustained. Then maybe that is all you ever want or need. So every day and every night becomes about that. In that way, it’s kind of transcendent. Like we, as humans, wouldn't be able to comprehend what that is or what that's like. They're no longer human, are they? They're vampires. They've transcended the boundaries of human society. They can't be judged by our expectations of right and wrong, and this and that. You know what I mean? They're operating on a different plane.
We eat animals, and they eat us. It's a few things as well. Like, as Buffy put it, during a scene in season one, I think, Buffy's mom turns to her and says “I think there's a biological imperative to where I can't understand you because I'm not 16 years old anymore.”
Even with the age gap you mentioned between 27 to 53, there's such a chasm of experience. Especially when you’re a teenager, to everyone else! That's such a formative, different time where your brain is not fully developed, and you're going through all these hormonal changes. You're growing up in front of your own eyes. It's really isolating from the rest of society. I think that's why people stick with that time period a lot in movies, because it's so transformative. There's definitely the predatory vibes of a lot of things that focus on that age group as well, because these kids are not grown-up enough to know better. I know it was definitely a problem for us where older guys would hit on us, or some of my friends would date guys who were 25, and 30 years old when we were 16. Most of these girls eventually figured out, “oh, something is wrong.” Like, I'm past that age now, and I wouldn't date someone that age! Something was definitely wrong there. On the other side, people didn’t always see it.
But tell me a little about your writing. What kind of writing do you do?
I have a half-written novel that's been shelved for about six years now. When I first moved down here, I was so busy, that I just didn't have the energy to get back to it. What I write is literary fiction, and the novel is not autobiographical, or biographical, but it set is the world of the New York City Ballet. I mean, I call it something else, but it's the world that I worked in in New York City Ballet. In a nutshell, think Black Swan meets Sex in the City meets, I don't know, 50 Shades of Gray or so. The novel is a two-year period piece, set between 2009 to 2011. Hopefully I'll get back to it soon!
It's interesting, though, because when I was writing that, I had to constantly check to see what technology existed. What were people listening to music on in those days? What kind of phones were available? Was it a flip-phone? Were there iPads or something else? I had to keep going back and checking to see because technologies evolved so much in the past 20 odd years. 30, now, I guess.
Like, the first text was sent almost yeah, the first text just celebrated its 30 year anniversary a couple of weeks ago, actually. Isn't that nuts? 30 years we've been texting. It's bananas! It's literary fiction. It's not fantastical, or horror, or anything like that. It's a story, ultimately, about self-love, finding your worth, and against all odds, learning to love yourself. It's uplifting, but there's some very dark shit that goes on, just because the main character is a hot mess until she finds herself. It’s not unlike myself, but she's a younger, and more interesting character.
I like stories that are kind of like, you enter a picket fence around a house, and you can just put your eye up to the keyhole and peep into somebody else's world. I like novels that take you into worlds that exist, but are very rarefied and you don't get to experience them very often.
I imagine, if somebody wrote a novel about life on an oil rig, it'd be the same sort of thing. It's like, we know that guys live and work on oil rigs, but very few people have ever really been on one, you know what I mean? So it’s kind of interesting. Like, if you read about a real spaceship. I don't mean like a Sci-Fi spaceship. I mean, if you went up on some NASA project, and wrote a novel and featured that location in it, it would be kind of cool.
I had a writing group in New York, and I think we were all kind of doing that, sort of bringing people into our own little world. One of the people in my writing group was very into tennis, and when tennis became an Olympic sport, her father actually was involved in that, and she wrote a lot of short stories around her dad, and that time. That was more autobiographical, but I was like, “Wow, I'm so not into sports”.
Still, it was really interesting! She wrote a lot about Arthur Ash and I was like, I never knew anything about this guy. Like, this is cool. I think that’s the beauty of good writing. If it's well written, and it connects with you on an emotional level, it really doesn't matter what the milieu is, or where they choose to set it. Good writing is good writing. It's engaging stories. It's engaging characters.
Now I'm warmed up a little bit. Can we talk about Nosferotica? Because that is the vampire collection and your vampire magazine. Okay. As an artist, I gave myself the challenge of creating a collection of jewelry and accessories that I thought would encapsulate the things that I've always loved and admired about vampire lore and legends. I don't like cute. I've never liked kids stuff. I've always kind of gone for hardcore glamour, and antiques, and things that are beautiful, and have a history or story behind them. I'm not bashing Hot Topic, but I'm saying a lot of the jewelry and accessories Hot Topic tend to be very youthful.
Their target market is preteens and teenagers.
I've always made things for adults, and specifically for glamorous grown ups, people that enjoy dressing up. The goth guys that show up with the band T-shirt tucked into their black jeans that are tucked into their combat boots? Those aren't my guys. I like people that actually take the time to dress, and accessorize, and pay attention to what they're wearing, and they don't have to be a goth to like my stuff, (but it doesn't hurt!)
I wanted to include things we think about when we think about vampires. We think about bats and coffins and this and that, but it's like, how can I take on those genres? Specific tropes, right? How can I breathe some new life into them? How can I make them not stereotypical? How can I make it new and somewhat fresh? I tried to do that, and I had these great little coffin charms. They're enameled, and they're very subtle, especially the black and black one. It's a jet black coffin, but they're tiny, and I use them on all my jewelry. Everybody got the little coffin hanging off the back, and I tried to use red aluminum, or other metallics. Especially for jump rings on a lot of the jewelry. I liked mixing metal colors on that collection. The color palette that I chose was, like, lots and lots of red, gold, black, and silver. Those colors figure very prominently, with lots of pearls, which are troubling for a lot of people that are goth. I think gold is really troubling for a lot of people who have been goth for years. But for me, I'm like, I've been fucking wearing black and silver since the early 90’s. I'm tired of it.
When black and gold started showing up on Instagram feed and stuff, I was like, fuck yeah. Finally! I mean, Copper? Are you kidding me? I'm so excited. I also really love all of the black metal jewelry. The metal that's been painted or enameled jet black. That's been an exciting thing to find. And I really loved mixing and matching all of that, because I'm thinking, if you are an immortal and you've been living for centuries, I don't know that you would lose the delight in certain precious metals, or precious stones. I don't know that you would always be wearing black.
I know I wouldn't if I was an immortal! I'd want to look nice, or I'd want to wear just whatever I want to wear. I wouldn't just wear the dark and black. I’d mix it up and throw some color in there. It's challenging for a lot of people, for sure, but that's okay. I'll keep pushing your boundaries. I don't mind. But lots and lots of gems and just very rich, very elegant, baroque. But also I was looking at centuries.
Like, there's lots of Victoriana in the whole goth and vampire aesthetic. I'm just like, let's look at all of them? Let's go back to Minoan, even ancient Egypt, but Egypt is also kind of used a lot in vampire mythology.
OH! I thought of another movie! The Hunger! There is a movie. Holy shit. I can't believe I almost forgot. There's another really stylish, beautiful movie that was not super obvious and definitely blended some ancient cultures in there, and also like, “Hi, David Bowie”. “Hi, Catherine Deneuve” You can't really go wrong with those two! That was an amazingly influential movie in my life as well. That was gigantic. I love it, love it, love it. It's so good.
Anyway, with Nosferotica, I was like, okay, I want to play around with this. I'm going to do it my way. Let's see if people respond. So far, so good! It's been nice. There's some bats in there, too, but like I said, I was trying to take the imagery that we always associate and put a sort of fresh spin on things. And I hope I have been successful.
It has been fairly popular, and I'm really happy about that. I got a lot of positive feedback at the New Orleans Endless Night Vampire Ball, especially from the men. I was thrilled because when the guys saw the chest plates, they were like, what is that? I've learned you have to put it on a mannequin that's wearing a button down shirt and a jacket, because then they understand what it is. Otherwise, they’ll see it on a table or hanging on a hanger, and they don't have a clue. But a chest plate is basically my invention. It's like a big necklace, essentially, that you put on that goes either over your collar, or under your collar if you're wearing a button down shirt. It’s a new neckwear alternative. It's not a bow tie. It's not a regular tie. It's not an ascot. It's not a bolo. It is re-embroidered lace, and then that's layered with multiple different other pieces of either embroidery, lace or, like, brocade fabric. Then there's usually a jeweled medallion of some kind or other fabrics or embroideries that I've, like, hand-tinted. Or it's like gold-wire that's been created to make bullion.
I don't mean like the soup. I mean like gold bullion. Like an old military epaulet or whatever. They're all made out of this gold metal sort of stuff. It's like really, really thin metallic wire, and it's wrapped a million times around. It makes a tube. It just brings texture and depth and attention to the wearer's chest and face because that's what you're looking at, and it can really breathe life into your appearance. I mean, you're a guy, you're wearing a plain suit, right? Probably black, maybe dark blue, maybe gray, but you can change your button down shirt color and you can change your tie, or your bow tie and those are your dress options.
It's not very exciting. So here, try this. My chest plates are a way for a man to, on the most surface level, just dress up. It's something brand new. It fits into a sandwich bag, which can slide into your briefcase, or your messenger bag or whatever. Then, if you don't have time to go home after work to change, you just put on your chest plate, and boom! You're done.
It's the same with a lot of Weapon of Choice New Orleans pieces in that they are extremely dramatic and transformative, but they're really easy. It was really important for me to make Glamour easy because I love Glamour. I love it. I'm a maximalist, not a minimalist. People don't have the time, right? We don't have time to go home and change, and this, and that, and the next. So it's like, okay, you're going out to your vet, bring your high heels, bring high heels with you, bring some red lipstick with you and bring a harness and wear a plain dress, a plain pantsuit, what have you. Put your harness on and boom, you're done. You're dressed. It's the easiest thing you can possibly do. It's like putting on a big necklace, put on your high heels and go, that's it, it's done. You don't have to worry about anything. So it's nice. Men were like, whoa! They were so excited! They were just like, Wow, this is for me? They couldn't believe it. I'm like, “Yes, you just put it on.” Then they're like, oh my God, it's amazing.
I'm like, you know what, you guys? I had eleven chest plates that I specifically made for the Endless Night Vampire Ball. It was just me having fun, being artistic. I was just winging it. I was literally just making stuff, and having fun. But they were one of a kind. I told everybody, I'm like, I'm never going to make one of these again! They were like, “Really?” and I told them “yeah,” and it was so cute! They were really excited and it made me feel great. I was like, “wow, I've hit a nerve.” I'm so glad that I went with my instinct on this because it's true. If you give people an opportunity to wear something where they can feel empowered and seen, you know what I mean, they can feel seen as people like, this is me, this is my statement, this is how I'm dressing. This is my piece, this is my talisman. The response has been really good, and to me that's very encouraging. I'm really happy about it. I definitely feel like the pandemic was a big Awakener on so many levels, but I really do think people were like, “oh shit, maybe there won't be time! I need to focus on what's going to make me happy, Now!”
That shift has been so interesting in the way it's manifested down the line, and the tears that have come out from it. It's like, “Wow, so many different life choices have been made now.” I hope for the better, I really do. I mean, I hope we don't eventually slide back to pre-pandemic work and expectations of life because they were kind of boring. Anyway, I'm really hoping that that message kind of gets out to people and they can find a way to keep going with figuring out who you are, what you want to be when you grow up, and being that person fully and not worrying about what anybody else has to say about it. It's your life. This is your shot on this planet. Everybody has an opinion, but it's just an opinion. Who cares? You do. You do. You can be happy with yourself. I think if more people do that, the world will be a much better place!
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