Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings at the Wiltern

Sharon Jones had been singing in church choirs and wedding bands her whole life. She was in her forties when she tried out for a backup singing gig asking for 3 singers in the mid 90s, and told the producer "Why would you need 3 when you have me?" She proceeded to blow everyone away, and has been doing so ever since--on a much larger scale. Hitting her stride at 49, she had been told that she's too short, dark-skinned, and fat to make it. Boy were they wrong! This lady had been working as a prison guard on Rikers Island and drove a Wells Fargo truck in NYC, who is going to tell this lady no???

I love old blues, 40s/50s R&B, 60s soul, etc but you have to be happy with the old recordings most of the time. Her act is not to be missed! If you're into classic soul, funk and R&B, you'll love the songs, and her band is on top of it! They're from Brooklyn, flanked by other unreal NY soul/funk bands like the Budos Band and the Antibalas Afro-Beat orchestra. Sharon's set was a ripping 2 hour performance (I hear that the Budos band plays for upwards of 4!). The 12 member band is polished and stone-faced, focusing all the energy on Miss Lady. They record at Daptone records, using 8 tracks and original 60s equipment for that authentic vibe. I can't believe they've been around for 8 yrs and I hadn't heard about them. The songs send you straight into soul territory, her technique is completely gripping.

When you get to be the ripe old age of 35, hanging around some pretty hip people, you get to seeing a lot of great music. I've been really lucky to see some of the best music ever played. I've also seen some serious stinkers. It's rare when I hear music and think "Ohhhh, THIS is what music should sound like!!!!" It's rare to see really great soul singing these days, devoid of vocal acrobatics and ego. Sharon captures the spirit of the church and combines it with a groove that positively infectious, in the spirit of Ray Charles and Etta James.

It was Etta that brought us to Sharon in the first place, unexpectedly. My boyfriend John were on a long overdue trip to Jazz Fest 2009. I was SUPER psyched to see Etta James, however she was being pretty cranky with her stage help. I understand that she now has dementia and isn't peforming, so I'm grateful to have been able to catch one of her shows. I'm embarrassed to say that we walked away from Ms. James in search of alternatives, grazing on Indian fry bread, alligator gumbo, and oyster po boys...and found some seriously funky sounds which turned out to be Sharon and her band. It's easy to get overwhelmed at Jazz Fest as there are 13 stages of the best music you've ever heard, tons of wonderful folk art, and the food!!!! Unreal.

The Wiltern is one of Los Angeles' art deco gems, built in 1931 in the Zigzag Moderne style. It originally held 2,344 guests (now 1800) and had the largest pipe organ in the region at the time. It is beautifully restored and a total treat to visit! I am nuts for the tiled water fountains. Don't let anyone tell you LA has no architecture left.

I got to break out a wool homesewn 60s shift that I had bought way way back in my scooter days (like 8 yrs ago). I love the mod look! Here's my with my $14 beer (it is LA--thanks John!). After we had our minds completely shorn out of our heads, we hit our favorite local taco truck Tacozone for some meaty treats. Whenever we have friends from Europe visit they FREAK over the taco trucks! Why oh why hasn't Europe discovered tacos? So delicious, cheap and easy to make. I develop salsas at my part-time office job for a living, and still can't figure out how they make these so darned delicious.

I tried my darndest to upload some great video that we took on my little clothes picture camera, but my computer wasn't having it. In any case, check out this band when they come through town, they tour quite a bit!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Clifton's Cafeteria and Michael Levine

Yesterday the lovely Miss Darlene Gold (aka DecoDarling on etsy) and I visited the fashion district downtown to hunt for some satin for some late 20s pj's for her. My apologies for the lack of photos of us, I will get them next time--new to this! Sufficed to say, Miss Darlene is a knockout, wearing her rhinestone encrusted 50s wiggle dress. Me, well let's just say I'm a nice person.

Michael Levine is the largest fabric store in LA, featuring 60,000 sq ft of insane, heart-palpitating ideas. You like silk? There are about 500 choices. I love the eco-fabric area, grows every time I'm there. They oddly have a ton of art deco prints in silk chiffon that I'm crazy for, along with so so so many other fabrics. It's fun to see the new fashion students in their platform shoes and fauxhawks piling 20 bolts on the tables like they've never seen fabric before, they're so happy.

It's surrounded by hundreds of smaller shops selling trims, beads, upholstery, and the largest array of stretchy sequined day-glo fabrics you never wanted. If you have an ice dancing outfit to make, or a quincinera, you are in luck! LA doesn't get a lot of rain and has the largest homeless population in the US centered in the famous Skid Row nearby. So there is some serious wafting, mixed with the ever-present bacon-wrapped hot dogs sold on the street. If you have a strong stomach and an adventurous spirit, then be sure to check it out. The smaller stores don't have the conveniences we may be used to as far as descriptions, or even prices. The store managers look you up and down and quote you based on your appearance. The inventory, totally random-- bolts piled to the ceiling and stacked all over the sidewalks. I've lost my mind many times looking for just that fabric for a customer, but I always manage to find a dozen I just may need one day. We love it, it's totally LA. A cultural experience. We found a lovely crepe backed lightweight satin that may just do the trick, and tons of other stuff for that "someday" project.

Afterwards, we just had to hit Clifton's Cafeteria, an LA landmark since 1931. It was opened by the Clinton family, who had been running cafeterias in San Francisco since 1888. Clifford Clinton vowed to feed as many people as possible with this new venture, establishing a surprising policy that you don't pay "unless you're delighted". They fed over 10,000 people for free when they first opened, as the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and went on to feed 1,000,000 people a year thereafter. The dining room easily seats 300. The cafeteria is a fantasyland of North Woods tchochke, with animatronic racoons, a fake stone "prayer nook" with Bible recordings (where we met a cute gay couple), and a wonderful second dining floor that has fabulous burgundy flocked wallpaper straight out of The Shining. They serve roasted turkey, meatloaf, fried chicken, and all kinds of pies, puddings, carrot salad, jello out the wazoo and lots of Mexican specialties. The pie cost $1.89 a slice! They had used real sweet potatoes to make the Sweet Potato Pie, with streusely pecans on top! Not even from a can, I'm totally impressed. As cute as it is, in 1939 the decor was the most fabulous Hawaiian themed ever, called the "Pacific Seas", inspired by the family's trips to HI. It would be every retro person's dream if it were intact. The facade featured a waterfall and real palm trees, the inside neon palm trees, a "rain hut" where it rained every 20 minutes, and hula performances. Fake tree stumps and plastic beavers just aren't as wonderful I'm afraid. But a historic gem nonetheless!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Thomas Edison and I, eye to eye

To outfit my pretty spare new blog page, I hunted down my favorite quote which is by Mr. Edison (it's to the right of this page). It goes without saying that he had a genius mind. His efforts crystallized so many different technological concepts into the everyday household. Where would we be without him?

I think this quote illustrates my philosophy about work and life pretty well, and I thought the overalls inclusion was just perfect. I make overalls quite often these days, for work! I'm not sure what the biggest motivation is to dedicate my career to making these wonderful vintage reproduction clothes--is it the style, or that I love a challenge? I was a professional chef (mostly pastry) for so many years; that certainly was a ton of labor, put into a creative outlet that made a lot of people very happy. The clothing business is not so different. My success is reliant upon translating what inspires me as an artist to a commercial medium, successfully joining what my customers are looking for and what I love to tinker around with.

As for the style, I know when I like something when I see it, and spontaneously stop breathing--as I did when I first ran across the 1930s patterns for sale on ebay. Thus began my obsession with hunting down the vintage patterns and fabrics to create the versions of the clothes that didn't exist for a 6' tall Amazonian like me. At the expense of sounding totally self-important, I am a chronic finisher. My friends know that I don't flake out on anything, I have to see it through til the bitter end. Thank God sewing these clothes using these cryptic patterns is a fun ride. It's kind of like an anthropologic study, they were written in the context that every woman knew how to construct these dresses, aprons, blouses. I feel like I'm connecting with our savvvy sisters from another era while I make it, and afterwards while the garment is on either myself or one of my customers. With all of my efforts, I hope to inspire others to pursue their unique creative voice and enjoy the wondrous variety that the world has to offer, namely artisanally made handicrafts!

I've read a lot of books about finding your passion in life, and one idea resonates with me: you should pursue what is nagging you to change about the world. Yes, there are so many ways to interpret this, and I have a lot of issues with how the world works. Making these clothes is an extension of me being completely bothered that no one else is doing what I'd like to see. I'm no expert, but I thought I'd get my work out there and see what happens!

As I was perusing, there were so many other fabulous quotes by him that I thought were so perfect. Here's a few!

Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.

Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.

I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun.

Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
One might think that the money value of an invention constitutes its reward to the man who loves his work. But... I continue to find my greatest pleasure, and so my reward, in the work that precedes what the world calls success.

I start where the last man left off.

and a non-work related topic:

Non-violence leads to the highest ethics, which is the goal of all evolution. Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Charles Rohlfs

Another wonderful surprise at the Huntington was a fan-freaking tastic exhibit of Charles Rohlfs. He was a very unique and talented furniture maker at the turn of the century, influencing Gustav Stickley among other Arts and Crafts furniture makers. He claimed that his only influence was the lines in the wood itself, although there are tidbits of Chinese, Art Nouveau, and Gothic elements in his work. He disapproved of his style being labelled, and preferred to call his furniture "the Rohlfs style" or "artistic furniture".

Why can't every artist be so dedicated to cultivating their unique artistic voice?

“My designs are my own. I evolve them. They are like those of no other period nor people...I do not read Ruskin nor anybody nor anything that might influence my ideas. I never get them from books...They are mine and into their execution I put all my heart and force and that is why they appeal.” —Charles Rohlfs (1853–1936), House Beautiful, January 1900

I am a huge fan of the Craftsmen and Arts and Crafts style, so this also was a fabulous find at the Huntington. All of these famous pieces were there on display. Fully rotating desks with the most intricately carved faces, stocky supple rockers, dark, brooding grandfather clocks....delicate shell shaded candleabras...ooo la la!!

Japanese and Chinese gardens at the Huntington

OK, I have to include these photos also! The Japanese and Chinese gardens at the Huntington are not to be missed! And if you get a little hungry, you can enoy Chinese sweets buns, freshly brewed tea, and dim sum while you contemplate beside the reflecting pools. I took my family here on their visit from Chicago, they totally loved it. My little nephew Jack had himself a time splashing around in the children's garden of course. Is he wearing a nudeedudee original? I think he is!!!

Huntington Library Museum and Gardens

Oh, if I had to choose one inspirational haven for me, it might just be the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, CA, near Pasadena. This dream-like property includes a rare book collection, grand museums of fine art, a museum of science history, and my favorite, the 120 acre botanical gardens. Established in 1919, these gardens include the largest collection of cacti in the country, an Australian outback, fantastic Japanese and Chinese gardens, a rose garden, the best camellia collection in the country, fabulous lily ponds, and tropical and subtropical collections. It is a magical wonderland that I recommend everyone visit at least once. It just makes you feel all "ahhhhh". The cactus garden is my absolute favorite. You feel like you're on Mars, these rare specimens are incredibly interesting with so many wonderful textures and shapes, and they are mature and well established. Here are some photos. I think there's a correlation between these lovely things and the fabrics and designs I like to create, especially my fascination with the 30s/40s Southwest novelty print fabrics!