Houston based fashion designer Amberry Jam sits down to talk petticoats, millinery, bobby pins, Velcro, and her Classic Harlequin line.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka Photos: Compliments of Amberry Jam
Q: You studied fashion design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale and then relocated to Houston to study costume design, right? On your website you state that there’s no reason that fashion and costumes should be kept separate. Tell us more about this philosophy.
Yes! Studying fashion made me feel very boxed in. It’s actually a boring field unless you work in a high end avant-garde fashion house, which very few people do. I started studying costume design as a back up and it changed my life. Entering the theater crowd introduced me to people who wanted to push boundaries on a daily basis and not just special occasions, and it’s contagious! I want to bring that fun ‘it’s my birthday, I’m wearing a tiara and glitter’ attitude to every day, and to help others do the same.
Q: Your website says that you believe that everyone should own at least one petticoat. Please share your ideas on the importance/versatility of the petticoat.
Oh they’re the best! There’s something about the gathering of tulle or lace around your body that is just so pretty. Maybe it’s the way it bounces around you when you walk; it just makes you happy. And they look fantastic with almost any outfit, alone or layered under or over a dress. I even wear them when I go to festivals or camping- they’re cute and I have a cushion no matter where I sit!
Q: You started studying millinery in your work in Houston theaters, correct? How long have you been studying and making hats?
I actually took an intro to millinery class in 2006 and fell in love with it. Those kinds of classes are few and far between though so I bought a few books and taught myself as much as I could. It was working under the craftmaster at the Alley Theater when I really flourished. We worked on Our Town and had to research, design, and create 20-something hats in 2 weeks. It was hard work but really rewarding.
Q: The majority of your work is custom orders, but you actually prefer that, don’t you?
Yes. Whether it’s a hat, pasties, or a full costume, I love being challenged and custom work definitely does that. And it’s always different. It might be bringing to life a customer’s sketch, creating a hat for an existing costume, or just being given a theme and getting to present your ideas for it. It keeps my work fun and introduces me to so many interesting people.
Q: There are tons of local costume designers, burlesque performers, and models who love DIY fashion and making hats and costumes. Given your design experience, what do you consider to be the most common costuming/hat-making errors that you’ve seen in the industry? In your opinion, what makes a bad costume or hat “bad”?
Too many bobby pins! Please attach an inner comb or headband! I once saw a beautiful silk and felt floral cocktail hat with at least 8 pins in holding it down. It completely overwhelmed the hat which is so sad because she clearly put a lot of work into it. For burlesque costumes, if you’re going to use Velcro, I think you should dye it to match the fabric. Even in large theaters, you can see that strip of fuzzy white from the back row. It might just be for a second, but anything that draws the eye away from you is bad.
Q: When did you release your Classic Harlequin line? What are your goals for Classic Harlequin (and beyond, for that matter)?
Classic-Harlequin.com was launched in October as my ‘ready to wear’ line. I wanted to create a line of hats that could be incorporated into your daily wear so that it no longer looks like daily wear. I’m so happy that it’s been well received by the retro and burlesque crowd, including the Pin-Up Society. That’s a group of girls who know how to dress (and drink!). I’m hoping that it continues to be successful and fuels interest in my custom and one-of-a-kind pieces.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
Yes. Custom work is temporarily on hold until July. I’m touring a few art and music festivals in California this summer to sell my hats and spread the word about the south’s growing burlesque scene. But people can still see a gallery of past work, join my mailing list, or request work for when I get back by going to classic-harlequin.com or sending an email to AmberryJam@gmail.com.