Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Holly Bass on Vintage

I had the good fortune to have lunch with Holly Bass at Mark's Kitchen recently to ask her about  vintage dressing in DC.  For those of you who do not know Holly, she was voted “Best Performance Artist” in 2012 by the Washington City Paper.  She is also the founder of The Seersucker Social, which happens every year in June at the Hillwood Mansion.  In addition, she's a dancer, a poet and a journalist, and a very warm, thoughtful and humorous person with a great sense of style.  So  who better to talk about vintage with?

Katy: I noticed in the transfixing video you did with Gregory Porter for his song "Be Good"  (  that you wore a lovely vintage outfit.  Why did you choose that look? 

Holly: I wanted it to be classic and timeless and not specific to 2012.  Also the skirt needed to flow.  It needed twirlability.  I also find it easier to find what I'm looking for at thrift stores and on E-bay, so it's largely for lack of time.

K: How did the Tweed Ride and Seersucker Social start? 

H: Eric Brewer organized the first Tweed Ride in 2009 after hearing about a similar event in London, and I think it created a fashion shift here.  It reminded me how pleasurable it is to walk around looking put-together or wearing a hat.  It harks back to another era with different rules of etiquette.  I had an older gentleman hail me a cab once when I was wearing a vintage outfit.

The Tweed Ride was such a success that it seemed a shame to have to wait a whole year for another one, so I said, "How about seersucker in summer?"  Eric was thinking the same thing so the Seersucker Social was born.  Hillwood Mansion seemed like the perfect site, and they were very welcoming of the event.  That first year, we put the whole thing together in three weeks.  Now we start 6 months in advance.

K: I have been struck that the people who come seem relaxed,  joyful and improvisational in their dressing.  It isn't stuffy at all to my thinking.

H:  There is a similar event on Governor's Island in New York where they are more precise and historically accurate, but I think we have higher attendance numbers.

K:  Where do you like to shop for vintage clothing?

H:  There are lots of great vintage stores in town.  I love the sale they have at Polly Sue's where you get to fill up a paper bag.  Sometimes I go to pop-up shops like those put together by Butler + Claypool.  I liked the store Annie Creamcheese, but it's closed.

K: And on-line?

H:  I enjoy the blog, The President Wears Prada, and I like Modcloth.  I also like to browse on E-bay for certain timeless designers like Calvin Klein, Diane Von Furstenberg and Givenchy.

K: Do you make your costumes for your performance pieces?  Tell me a bit about your process.

 H: Well, I tend to have an idea of what I want.  First I go to my costume box and work with what I have.  I have four under-the-bed storage boxes full of stuff.  Then I look on-line and in thrift stores for other things I need.  For the Money Maker piece at the Corcoran I wanted a 70's polyester pantsuit.  I worked with artist Sarada Conaway to bedazzle the belt and get that James Brown look.  And I added the gold booty balls. 

For the recent piece, "Girls in White Dresses"  I used curtain panels, a slip and a dress that I had.  I worked with Lisa Markuson on that costume.

K: Tell me about the super-high platforms you wore in that:

H: A friend gave me the shoes and I looked on-line for how to make platforms.  You use foam core insulation because it's hard and light.  I cut it to the shape I wanted with a steak knife and sanded it.  There was duck tape involved too.

K:  What's up next for you?  I see on your website that you're hosting  the Wednesday Open Mic Night February 6 at the 5th & K Busboys and Poets.  And I know you're working on a video of a performance piece called  "Race: Talc and Ash"....

H: I'll be doing a new work at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art on Saturday March 9th, in honor of International Women's Day. That show is free to the public. And I'll be presenting Keepin It Moving at the Reston CenterStage on April 13th.
K:  Well, I love what you do and can't wait to see what you have in store for us in 2013.

1 comment:

  1. "booty balls." I always wanted to know what they were called. Great interview!