Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Profiles in Vintage: Swellegant

On top of having the longest-running vintage store, with the BEST name in Orange County, Nicole of Swellegant Vintage Clothing & Accessories in Newport Beach, CA is really cool.  Stop by her shop any day of the week, and you will likely find her steaming clothes, listening to killer music or taking a nap on the sofa.  Ask her a few question and you'll find that she has some crazy stories and is a trained pilot.  We were fortunate enough to walk through the doors of Swellegant and ask Nicole a few questions about life in the vintage clothing business.

Through these doors, one can soak in
 the font of Orange County vintage.

WT: You are a trained aviatrix with a mane of the most brilliant vermillion, may we refer to you as the Red Baron?
Swellegant: Please don't.

Nicole, Ben, and Mary involved in a very serious discussion at Swellegant

WT: Okay, okay.  You have the best name in the business.  How did you come up with the name for your store?
Swellegant: I came up with the store name from the musical High Society written by Cole Porter.  Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby did a number about a "swellegant, elegant party" in the song "Well, Did you Evah?"  I dislike watching musicals but I guess this one changed my life?

"Well, Did you Evah?"
High Society (1956)

WT: How long have you been in the vintage clothing business?
Swellegant: I have had the shop for 15 years but I started selling to other shops almost 20 years ago.

wacky tacky loves Swellegant because the prices are great and it is a real
vintage store.  It is not one of those vintage museums where they act like
they are doing a huge favor to society and where the prices are so high
that the inventory, however beautiful, never moves.

WT: What got you started in the business?
Swellegant: I got started in the business by selling vintage to other shops to pay for college.  In high school I had no desire to be part of the norm.  I found the very best way to express this was through clothing.  This led me to second-hand stores, flea markets, etc.  In my quest for non-verbal self expression I noticed the obvious - fashion repeating itself.  I also realized that any repeat is usually a poor imitation of the original.  There had to be a market for the amazing items I found but had no personal desire to wear.  In need of funds for my education and entertainment I turned to something I enjoyed doing on an almost daily basis (it's like crack) into a profitable venture.

My favorite fixture in the shop is this mini, carousel giraffe turned purse rack!

WT: For what items are you on the hunt?
Swellegant: These days it is all over the place.  At the shop I do not specialize in any one era.  The racks represent a broad spectrum of vintage styles.  I have to keep up with what the mass, vintage-shopping population is looking for.  In the past, I used to only shop for items in near-perfect condition but now things are appreciated for their flaws and wear.  Sadly, sometimes that means eras that I personally love have less of a place at Swellegant.

WT: It seems like the range of eras which you stock must have broadened since you have been in business.
Swellegant: It has definitely broadened further than I could have imagined.  90's is now vintage???!!!  I started wearing vintage in the 90's because I didn't want to wear that stuff.  Now I have to buy it.

WT: What is your favorite era?
Swellegant: I jump from the 30's-50's.  It depends on my mood or the occasion.  I would have to say, if I had to pick, it would be the 40's - IT'S THE SHOES!!!

Shoes currently available at Swellegant

WT: What is the best vintage item that you have ever found/bought/sold?
Swellegant: No one item comes to mind with such eminence.  I am constantly on the hunt and am constantly adding/subtracting wardrobe items.  If I love it, I usually don't sell it.  At one point in my sinking, college financial situation, I sold almost 100 of my best Bakelite bracelets.  That was painful to say the least.  I thought that some day I would buy them back but other priorities and items have taken precedence.

WT: What is your ideal vintage item?  Have you found it yet?
Swellegant: There isn't any one item that I would say is ideal.  To me, getting dressed is synergistic - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I have plenty of single pieces that I wouldn't consider ideal on their own but you don't know if you have found it until you have put it all together.

Modesty hats

WT: You are always dressed perfectly for every occasion, do you have any style icons?
Swellegant: I wouldn't say that I have any real style icons; there are so many great names in fashion.  Idolizing another's style is a substitute for a lack of style.  I may recreate looks I have seen - hopefully with my own flair.  If not, I would hope that the originator would view my interpretation as a form of flattery and think my emulation does their stye justice.  Are there any truly original ideas when it comes to fashion anyway?

WT: Do you have a dollar limit on rare/desirable items?
Swellegant:  Not being of infinite means, of course I have a dollar amount.  I walk away from items all the time due to price.  If I am going to obsess about an item then I would rather pay to have it instead of obsessing. Mental peace is worth more than cash.  I don't really hold money in high regard and I tend to be self-indulgent especially when it comes to clothes.  I would never go into debt for fashion though; I only spend money I have and consider disposable.

WT:  Do you find that running your own business allows you more or less freedom?
Swellegant: In theory, working for yourself allows you more freedom.  In reality, I have less.  It is probably a personal character trait that denies me this freedom.  I find myself working almost all of the time, at the shop or not.  Vintage is a lot of work; when people come into my store I don't want to let them down.

WT: Is managing this business easier, harder or just as difficult as you imagined?
Swellegant:  It is a bit harder than I imagined.  I think I made it so by doing everything.  It is difficult for me to delegate tasks.  I am trying to let go of the "If I don't do it myself, then it is never done right" mentality, but it is an interpersonal struggle.  It's funny because in my social life I am VERY easy going; the less I have to do to amuse myself, the better.

Dressing rooms at Swellegant

WT: Is this your dream job? Why?
Swellegant: For the most part it is my dream job.  I love treasure hunting and people's appreciation for what I bring to them through my store.  It is very rewarding when you see their excitement as they enter the door and even more so when they find a perfect addition to their wardrobe because of you.  Although at times the store feels like "job," I do feel self-actualization overall.

WT: Can you see yourself in this career forever?
Swellegant: I am pretty sure this is it for me.  At times I get restless and long for the mental stimulation that I found prior to working in retail.  I guess that is what travel and articulate friends are for?

Is she calling us articulate?  I'm not sure, but if you know what's good for you, you'll be sure to visit the Swellegant website and like Swellegant on Facebook!  Better yet, stop by Swellegant in Newport Beach and find yourself some great new threads!

Nicole and Mary carefully examine a pair of neon jogging shorts.

Swellegant Vintage Clothing & Accessories
3409 Newport Blvd
Newport Beach, CA



Mr. Tiny

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Silly Cinema: The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)

The 1930's was a strange time, to be sure.  The world languished in the fallout of the stock market crash as the far-reaching ravages of the Great Depression left everyone wondering if there ever would be "another cup of coffee" and "another piece of pie."  The hopelessness of the Dust Bowl epitomizes the desperation of the era, but I think we forget that the decade cannot be singularly represented by a Dorothea Lange photograph.  When I think of the 1930's, I think of Nick & Nora Charles, Busby Berkeley, Schiaparelli, The World's Fairs, and of course, all-midget, western musicals, like The Terror of Tiny Town. 

The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
"A rollickin', rootin', tootin', shootin' drama of the great outdoors"

The IMDb description for The Terror of Tiny Town reads as follows: "An evil gunslinging midget comes to terrorize the good little people of Tiny Town.  The townspeople organize to defeat him, and zany antics ensue."  Certainly there is more to the plot than that, but in a nutshell, it works.  It may seam a little flippant, but when it comes to a film populated entirely by little people, a nutshell actually seems perfectly proportioned for the job.

Boo!  Hissssss!
Little Billy as "The Terror of Tiny Town."

The Terror of Tiny Town is often referred to as an exploitation movie and I can't say I was entirely unaffected by the title card that read, "Columbia Pictures Corporation presents Jed Buell's Midgets."  But the headquarters of wacky tacky are found at the exact intersection of irreverence and political incorrectness.  Refusing to take oneself or any one subject too seriously is fundamental to the preservation of some true wacky tacky wonders.  As a wise man once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

 A tense moment in The Terror of Tiny Town

Of course, there are moments in the film that employ the use of slapstick and sight-gags that trade on the petite stature of the cast, but at its core, the movie is really just a textbook western musical - white hats, black hats, cowboys, shootouts, horses (in this case, Shetland Ponies), chases, saloons, guitars, a boy and a girl.

Billy Curtis as the good guy, Buck Lawson, and Yvonne Moray as Nancy Preston.

I actually enjoyed this film; the novelty was there, but most of the songs were good especially "Down on the Sunset Trail."  The thing I really loved about this movie was that it was very watchable as it came in short (sorry, I had to) at just about one hour.  Before I looked it up, I was convinced that Terror of Tiny Town was filmed in the early 1940's - post-Wizard of Oz.  Mistakenly, I assumed that The Wizard of Oz set off a "muchkin frenzy" but apparently Jed Buell had already been brainstorming.  His films, mostly westerns, appeared to always be centered around a novelty cast whether all little people or all African-American actors.  He ended up launching the careers of many of his stars and made established vocalist, Herb Jeffries into a film star.

What did we do before youTube?
Here, you can watch the entire film.

If you have a free hour, I would heartily recommend the "Little Guys with Big Guns" in The Terror of Tiny Town.



Mr. Tiny (yep)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Bowl-O-Rama: Rim Bowling

Vintage bowling cake toppers
Image courtesy of A. Foxx (Europeans will know who I am talking about).

I'm not a bowler.  It may seem odd because bowling is the penultimate mid-20th Century leisure activity.  The shirts, the shoes, the leagues, and the snacks all scream wacky tacky.  Is there is a sport more suited to the wacky tacky lifestyle than bowling?  Probably not.  If there is, let's hope that it does not include the heaving of leaden spheres down a wooden alley polished to a retina-burning glare.  Seriously, why do the really lightweight, bowling balls come in pink and have holes drilled far too small for my sausage fingers?

The real reason I am not a fan of bowling is because I have never been very gifted in the bowling arts.  Essentially, every game I play consists of nine frames of gutter balls and strangely enough, one strike.  Yep, every game I have ever played, I get one strike.  Just because I am not a fan of my own personal participation, does not mean that I don't appreciate the spirit of the game and all of it's merchandise.   The following images represent what bowling means to me.

Get a load of those pins!

Vintage Bowling Salt & Pepper Shakers

If that kangaroo can teach her how to bowl,
I should be able to learn too.

Vintage Bowling Charm Necklace
Available for purchase at socaljewelbox on etsy

Nice form...and a pretty good stance too!

Vintage Bowling Shoes
Available for purchase at joolaholic on etsy

Which is harder and more aerodynamic, the bowling balls or the hair?

On a relatively-recent trip, our local mountains provided a nightlife so boring that I broke my non-bowling cardinal rule, "Never go bowling."  I went bowling.

Rim Bowling & Entertainment Center.
How could I not go bowling with a directive so clearly lit?
This was my favorite part of the evening - the sign!

You had me at "bowling shoes."

They saw us coming and almost immediately installed the bumpers, but we decided to play like grown-ups and let the pins fall where (if) they may.  Here is the gang each displaying their best bowling stance.

Erika & Mary

Mr. Tiny

Ben & Lisa

I think our combined scores would make a real bowler chuckle,
but I, in fact, had the last laugh.  The non-bowler won!

Our little bowling league may have lasted only one night, but it taught me that I like bowling more than I thought.  My problem is that I am the type who will dive headlong into bowling, not by practicing, joining a league or even visiting an alley; I would be satisfied just buying the perfect shirt, shoes, ball, and bowling bag.  The clothes make the bowler, right?

Everyone's favorite bowler, Fred Flinstone, conquers 
the raspberry seed stuck in the wisdom tooth of every
bowler, the 7-10 split!

Rim Bowling & Entertainment Center

23991 Lake Dr
Crestline, CA


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sew What?! Letting the Cat Out of the Bag!

I am not a cat person.  Truth be told, I am not an anything person as I am allergic to just about everything.  Whatever gene it is that makes people melt at the sight of sweet, little kittens playing with an over-sized ball of yarn is the same one that was replaced in me by the gene that makes my eyes swell shut so I can't even see those precious, little kittens.  I have nothing against animals, or a person's deep bond with them; I only mention it because as I was browsing through some vintage issues of Better Living, I found a cat that changed my thinking and my life. 

Better Living - October 1951

The Cat's Whiskers Bag on the cover of the October 1951 issue of Better Living seemed like an ideal wacky tacky project.  It became even wackier seeing as it is February 21 and the purse is described as an "Amusing Handbag for Fall."  Leave it to me to disobey the better thinking of the editors at Better Living.  Anyhow, despite my hyper-histamine reaction to all things feline, I set out to make the cat's whiskers bag.  Below are the materials list and the instructions from the magazine should you choose to make a Cat's Whiskers Bag of your own.


* 1/4 yd. of felt
* A bit of contrasting felt (I used vinyl)
* 2 Buttons for eyes
* 5 Pipe cleaners
* Zipper
* Embroidery floss

The instructions for this "Better Living original."

In true wacky tacky fashion, I abandoned the instructions rather early on.  The finished bag is supposed to measure 7.25" in diameter.  That seemed rather petite to me, so I just used a dinner plate for the circle template and kind of free-handed everything else.  The instructions indicate felt as the material to use, when it is clear from the photograph that the cover girl's purse is made from the same corduroy as her smart hat and coat.  Clearly, the actual purse is only inspired by the cover photo.  In turn, the wacky tacky version is also not an exact replica.  Because I increased the scale of the bag, I had to size-up the eyes and ears as well.  The bag went together very easily but it should be noted that I was rather careless and didn't employ expert techniques (read - hello, hot glue).

I used gray craft felt because it was on sale and it seemed to me that
a cat face bag wouldn't get a lot of use.  I really just intended the bag
 for blog purposes only.  When I showed it to Mary, however, she (also
not a cat lover) squealed and said that it was cool.  I explained that it
 would probably last through only one or two uses.  I am not sure of the
 lifespan of craft felt and pipe cleaners.

Resources from the back of Better Living.
I looked up Bates Fabrics and the only mention I could find
was in a blog post from What I Found.

The finished Cat's Whiskers Bag.
Aside from the felt and pipe cleaners, I used only what was in the
stash including the zipper, iridescent, aqua vinyl, and vintage,
faceted lucite buttons.  MEOW!!!

I am still deathly allergic to cats, but I will "let the cat out of the bag" and admit that there may be a little room for a cat-lover in all of us.


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Just SLIDE Over Here and Give Me a Moment!

Yesterday we had the wonderful opportunity to go out to Palm Springs for a little taste of Palm Srings Modernism Week.  We woke early and motored out to the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum for a special slideshow presentation by Charles Phoenix.

Mr. Tiny & Mary around the book stalls.
We were there as audience members and active participants.  I've always been told that I have a great face
for radio and I was afraid that I would scare people off,  but I think we actually drew a pretty good crowd.
Okay, okay...Mary and the books didn't hurt either.

The beach ball (one of many) was representative of the show's theme,
"Pools, Patios, & Barbecues" - a celebration of American backyard culture
and an extension of the larger museum exhibit entitled "Backyard Oasis."

Speaking of beach balls, they were flying before the show!

The star of the show, Charles Phoenix, King of Kodachrome,
Ambassador of Americana, Keeper of the Kitsch, Retro Slideshow Showman
Extraordinaire,and dare I say, connoisseur of wacky tacky, standing in front 
of the first slide of the series - a kid caught mid-air as he dives into his 
backyard swimming pool from one of those great, old, springy, diving boards
 that have been banished from existence.

Each image in the show was thoughtfully culled from a collection of over
70,000 slides.  The shrieks of delight from the audience that accompanied
the advance of every frame cemented the fact that it was going to be a
crowd-pleasing show.  There were so many slides that I told myself that I was
going to remember and use as inspiration for design projects that, unfortunately,
have already been lost to age and ADD.  One that really stuck with
me, however, was a slide of people at a backyard luau laying on their stomachs
in a ring around a watermelon spiked with booze and straws.  Each person
claimed a straw and drank from the melon!  I loved it not just for the sheer genius and
novelty of the idea, but also because it showed a group of people actually having fun
at a party.  I think we get caught up in being so sophisticated and taking ourselves so
seriously that we forget to drop the facade and enjoy the party!

Mary, Charles, and Mr. Tiny.
What a colorful bunch of bananas!
Dig Mary's rattan, turtle, basket purse.

After the show, we adjourned to King's Highway
at the Ace Hotel for lunch.

This is what happens when you hand over
camera duties to someone else.

David & Susan, the reigning King & Queen of 3D! 
You can see the 3D camera that David holds has a viewer
attached that really makes the images come to life!
Cool!  Cool!  Cool!

The only way we were able to get a group shot was in the mirror.
It's a modernist take on the last supper.

No trip to the desert is complete without a trip to the date farm.
But which way do we go?

Overall, it was a most marvelous kind of day in our local desert.  If you have never seen a Charles Phoenix retro slideshow or if you are not yet a fan, do yourself a favor and get with it!!!  His surname is no accident, like a phoenix from the ashes, he resurrects not just long-forgotten images, but a pastime once doomed to obsolescence, and turns them into performance art.  His shows are delightful and as a showman, he takes the notion of a "boring family slideshow" and turns it on its ear!  Make a point of signing up for the "Slide of the Week" emails at charlesphoenix.com where you can also see a list of upcoming shows, purchase books, and view videos of his test kitchen and appearances on Martha Stewart and Conan O'Brien.  Also, be sure to like Charles Phoenix on Facebook.  What are you waiting for?


Mr. Tiny