Micheline Pitt, Production Manager for Pinup Girl Clothing, designer of Deadly Dames, pinup hair and makeup artist, and model talks fleeing the South for the big city, bursting glamour bubbles, comics, Wonder Woman and toy-collecting.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You grew up in a small town in Georgia and eventually moved to New York where you started your makeup career. When did you move to Los Angeles and what made you take that leap?
A: I did in fact grow up in a rather small town in Georgia; it was about 22 miles outside the city limits of Atlanta. Both Atlanta and my home town were very different back then. I remember my mom saying the town had one stop light, and we were one of the few houses on the block. We were lucky to have a Goodwill and a Kmart. There wasn’t much but trailer parks and churches. I often visited Atlanta to see family and friends, and I think that is where my real interest of moving to a large city came from. Atlanta was so much bigger than my small town, but it was still a small town in my eyes. The community was a bubble, everyone knew everyone and the thought of having a boyfriend there or any real relationship was frightening. You would always be dating someone else’s ex-boyfriend or husband. The girls did not take kindly to this and there were often fist fights and quarrels among them because of this. The south wasn’t for me anymore, and the only place I could see going was NYC, it was closer than LA which is where I really wanted to be and at 18 NYC seemed a lot less scary.
I didn’t see a future for myself in Atlanta on any level; it was comfortable and easy but I didn’t want easy anymore, I wanted a challenge. So I sold off most of my toy collection from the 1980’s – He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers that sort of stuff, made a few grand and had money saved from one of my many jobs at the time and moved. When I got there it was a rocky start. I was young and lost for the first few months. The only place I found my footing was with MAC Cosmetics. In Atlanta people would have to wait for someone to die to get a job with MAC, since no one ever left, and in NY there were so many opportunities. I remember walking into the MAC store in Long Island and securing an interview for myself. I was so full of energy and passion I must have exuded it because they gave a barely 18 year old a chance. I had practiced on myself and so many of my friends, but I had not honed my skills fully at the time.
I was really lucky to join them while the company was still protected by the original contract before Lauder was able to change things. I was able to be around real artists and fellow creative types, I was a sponge. I soaked up everything they would teach me and pushed myself further. I worked on magazine shoots, fashion shows, photoshoots and anything in-between. It was so surreal. But as glamourous as this all sounds, I was hit by the hard gritty truth that my one job was not enough to survive. In Atlanta I worked several jobs because I wanted to have money to leave one day, not because I had to. With NYC I found myself sleeping on the train between jobs. Doing make-up for go-go dancers and stage performers at clubs, then going and working a full shift at the MAC store.
I had found my first real love working at that first MAC store, someone who made the harsh world of NYC so much more livable. The only downfall of falling in love in NYC is it is often a born and bred NYC type, who lives and dies by the city. NYC was just a pit stop in my life, and not where I saw myself. At the end of the day and over 2 years later I left it all behind. I couldn’t handle the city’s lack of trees, blue skies, stars and affordable rent. To buy a 1 bedroom apartment was 1.2 million dollars when I left… and a poor girl from a small town in Georgia will never be able to afford that. So I knew I needed to find my place elsewhere.
Having done make-up in the fashion industry I decided it was time to try my luck of doing makeup in TV and film, and that was the real reason for me to come to LA.
Q: You work 40-60 hour weeks as the Production Manager for Pinup Girl Clothing, but not many folks realize how much goes into your role behind the scenes. What’s a typical work day in the life of Micheline?
A: You know it is funny, the internet makes my life seem so fun and glamourous… and I hate that. They think everything we do is easy and perfect and it is so far from being that. Being with Pinup Girl for 7 years I think this month (I am like a guy and horrible with remembering anniversaries) I work Monday through Friday from 8 am till 4:30 technically. But I often find myself starting earlier, or staying later till 6:00 when the factory closes. Now my main title as Production Manager means, I am the sole person responsible in the quality, fit, production and product you buy from one of our varied house brands. I have to oversee all the fabric purchases, qualities, dye lots and expenses. I also handle all the trim purchasing, lace, bows, piping, zippers, hangtags and labels. I have to make sure we keep constant stock in all of our current materials inventory, yet keeping us at or under budget by the end of the year.
Now each time we receive fabrics they have varied bolt widths or shrinkages, meaning I have to cut and press blocks for every fabric, run the math and adjust markers and grading properly. If one or two percent is off the entire garment will not fit, leaving thousands of dollars in damages and un-usable product.
I also attend all the fittings for head designer and owner Laura Byrnes, on all the garments that are made. Most designs are tailored to her fit, and I have to ensure that the product produced matches this and that the pattern makers make the correct changes to the patterns before they are digitized and graded.
I juggle all of our fabric vendors, constantly looking for and designing new prints for the collections along with Laura Byrnes’ guidance and input. Luckily we have a quality control person that checks all the garments when they come out of production. I used to have to do this position but we were running smaller productions. Now it is a full time job in itself to ensure you’re shipping a quality product. Just this last year I got a Production Assistant and she is great! When you have Fall production starting at multiple facilities, this year we have 4 and then you have to prep and begin patterns, fittings and fabrics for Spring, and things can get pretty crazy.
Things constantly explode and break in production, things get sewn wrong, fabric comes in damaged and takes weeks to replace making your delivery date 2 to 4 weeks later than expected. Fabric gets stuck in customs and holds your production back by 2 weeks or your fabric doesn’t come in because it was wrong and you missed an entire season of dresses… these things have all happened and will always happen. This is the nature of the beast of production. You can’t control every factor, but you learn to expect the worst and plan to correct every mistake that happens. We stand by creating a quality American-made good and that is what I spend my week doing.
Now as far as other things I do, many things take place at home after work, I make flyers, events and art for any and all projects requested by anyone at the Pinup Girl office. I just spent 3 hours this last Saturday making flyers, posters, postcards and event pages for our new Pinup Girl Store. I also do all the Make-up and some of the hair for all the photoshoots you see on the website, much like Laura Byrnes, the owner who is our main photographer, she has her escape to do her passion of photography and I have my escape doing make-up and hair. The Pinup Girl photoshoots are the most enjoyable, yet often stressful things I get to do. Our huge collection photoshoots are very involved and often take an entire day or several days to complete.
I love my job, and I work really hard for them because they worked hard themselves to start this company and I owe them the same efforts to continue to make it grow and succeed. It all started with Laura in her house making clothes and that is amazing when you think where we have come in the last 12 years.
Q: How did you get started with Pinup Girl?
A: I think this is the part of the story people pay the most attention to. They think it is like a Fairy Tale or a means to an end for themselves, but in reality it is my path and my journey… and that age old saying being at the right place at the right time. I don’t know if history will repeat itself, I think these sort of things only happen once in a lifetime.
I had known of the website since I was a 17 or 16, it was shortly after they had begun the site. A girlfriend at the time showed it to me. It sat there in the back of my mind for several years until I was cast on ANTM [America’s Next Top Model]. It was a brief flash in the pan moment of bad reality TV, but through it I found Pinup Girl again. People were telling us both that I should model for them and we connected that way. I didn’t know Laura that well after only modeling once, but I knew a co-worker and what she had told me of the company. At the time I was working in Animation as a Character Designer and doing Make-up for celebs and music videos. I hadn’t gotten paid in months and I remembered the employee telling me that Halloween season was their busiest time, and I asked if I could send my resume and have an interview with Laura. Laura had to be persuaded to even interview me, and with confidence I told her all the things I was capable of, and what I could do if she would give me a chance. I am sure there was a mental eye-roll of sorts, as so many times people often talk the talk and never walk the walk.
So I began part time, and seasonal help shipping Halloween costumes. I would hand pull all the orders that were placed on the site and Kevin would ship them. There were only 5 employees then and things were so different than you see them now. So much like I promised I did all the things I said I would do, I kept my word in that interview and I made sure to do right by Laura and her company since she went out on a limb to hire me. They are my family and this business means everything to me, and I will stand by it and protect it for as long as I am here to do so.
Q: In late August you posted a blog entry on Pinup Girl Style called, “How to become a Pinup Model – The Truth Behind the Red Lipstick” in which you were, in your own words, “brashly honest” about the expenses and work involved in being a pinup model and/or burlesque performer and the multitude of misconceptions about how some women view pinup as means to becoming rich and famous. I found your honesty very refreshing, and I wanted to know if you care to elaborate on any of the topics discussed in the blog.
A: I think like before in my previous answers, people just see big sparkly photos and think our lives are filled with free rides and hand outs and they are so very wrong. Being a Pinup Model or Burlesque performer is not glamourous. They all have real jobs and lives so very different than the ones portrayed on the internet. Most of them won’t ever tell you about them or pull back the veil and show the ugly truth… but that is something I do and I think it is important to do. For some strange reason this one scene in Beetlejuice keeps playing in my head when I think of this topic, “If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have had my little accident.” The receptionist, Ms. Argentina holds up her slit wrists. I know it may seem a little morbid but I think that quote, just the words she says, not the actions, speak to this. I think all these young girls that write on all the models and burlesque performers walls saying “I want to be like you.” “I want to be you when I grow up.” “How do I become you.”
None of them tell these people the hardships and money and time that go into creating images or performances, you won’t ever get paid for, or maybe if you’re lucky you might have the venue where you have to change in the bathroom will give you 75.00 bucks for getting down to your pasties. I have heard and seen all these things happen to people I know and yes even myself. Now I am not a burlesque performer but I know what it takes to make a legit costume, props and music and it is so incredibly expensive. There are people setting un-realistic goals for all these other women who think they will get rich or famous from modeling, or doing burlesque. I am not rich or famous, nor do I desire to be either. I find myself to be relevant to my culture of people who I cater to for my job, and I live in an apartment, I don’t own a home, or fancy cars, and I think the most I spend on clothes are the ones I get from work, as the rest comes from Flea Markets and thifting.
Being famous is not something I ever wish upon myself, ever. To lose all privacy and have cameras in your face… it is not worth it. Most of those people are so wrapped up in themselves and they usually crash and burn as they spend most of the money they make letting the world know they have money. If you want to model or do burlesque do it as a hobby, as something you love, knowing you will never get any monetary return it, but you will have memories, photos and experiences you will be able to share for years to come.
Q: Speaking of that blog entry, I was curious what sort of responses you have received from your readers. I read many supportive comments, but I was wondering what kind of feedback you were given.
A: I have had mostly positive, where people thanked me for being so honest with them, and I think I may have convinced a few that this is not a career path, which is great. I did have a few negative responses, where I may have hit a nerve or two. Many girls are very sensitive when it comes to this subject and I kind of burst the glamourous bubble they have up. The truth hurts sometimes, but I think it was worth it.
Q: You’re the designer of the Deadly Dames clothing line, and you’ve said that your “first line was inspired by 1950s Barbie and John Waters’ Cry Baby.” How has the Deadly Dames line evolved since its inception and what’s in store for its future?
A: I think that line describes what the line was when it was first created. It has evolved into many things as I take inspiration from many different places. My last Fall collection was all French and Victorian-inspired color palettes and prints. I tend to air on the more “slutty” side of designing dresses. “I make things for boobs.” My current line takes inspiration from 1950’s bad girls and old Fetish comics. I think the bad girl quality will always be in my line. John Waters was always so good at creating unique and quirky characters, so I think I do that with clothing. I don’t think I push as far as he does, as I need it to be relevant and wearable, but I like to think I push past the basic wiggle dress.
The future will hold many things and ideas, but if I tell you what they are I would have to kill you ;).
Q: It’s known you’re an avid comic book fan. What are your favorite series and why? What made you fall in love with comics?
A: I have been an avid comic lover since I was about 6 years old. I think the comic book store in my town still has a Spiderman I drew when I was 8 hanging on the walls. I also think my mom has Zealot from Wildcats on the fridge from a year or two later. I don’t know, I think Disney movies triggered my interest in comics. Animation and Comics kind of go hand in hand and since I drew as a child I was obsessed with them and the idea I could make that stuff for a living one day. Being an only child and often staying home alone my escape was TV and comics. I wrote and drew my first comic series in 3rd grade, I still have it, it’s pretty awful, yet awesome. My favorite series growing up were; Lady Death, Purgatory, Wildcats, Spiderman, Batman, Swamp Thing and Vampirella. I also had a ton of re-issues of old EC Comics for Tales from the Crypt and anything monster or horror related.
Q: I also hear that you’re a toy collector. What kinds of toys do you collect?
A: I am an avid action figure collector and toy collector. However, I keep things tailored down, as I don’t want my collection to consume my home. I mostly collect all Universal Monster stuff, Frankensteins and the Creatures make up the most of that though. I collect some DC figures, Batman and Wonder Woman mostly and I own most of the Beetlejuice and Ghostbuster toys. As much as I love toys and action figures, I also collect creepy and strange board games. I own three of the rarest games; Green Ghost, Kabala and the Mystic Skull. I have a ton more, but those are my prized pieces. I also collect anything Mars Attacks Martian related. I don’t know why, but I was obsessed with those vintage trading cards when I was younger.
Q: You have an instructional DVD for pinup hair and makeup in the works. How is that progressing? Any idea when it will be released?
A: Oh the DVD, it had to be pushed back as I invested most of my DVD money in the new Pinup Girl Boutique store along with John and Laura of Pinup Girl Clothing. I plan on having it out in time for the next Viva [Las Vegas]. I am writing my edit script and having to plan some re-shoots for some voice over stuff, and eyebrows. It is not a big budget film, by any means, but for what it is, I am proud of it. I am going to make it really affordable for people, and plan to wholesale it.
Q: What’s next for Micheline Pitt?
A: Marriage, a puppy, a kitten… these are all things I don’t have currently. For myself, I look forward to settling down, having a home and vacations… lots of vacations. Pinup Girl will continue on and I know we will have a great joinery together. One day when I retire I plan on writing and drawing children’s books and possibly toys.