Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Selby

Three things I like about Todd Selby, 33, photographer and blogger extraordinaire:

1. he went to summer camp as a kid
2. he wears plastic framed glasses
3. he chooses to only photograph interesting people that have interesting spaces - not one or the other.

Todd Selby in his space
photo by Robert Wright for the NY Times
This week's Sunday NY Times has a great article about him and if you choose, follow his blog at You'll see amazing photos of really, really interesting spaces and the people who have created them.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Collection: Fall 2011...working on a dream

Oh, the collection...people - both designers and fashionistas alike - become obsessed with the idea. Of course, there is a challenge, a rhyme and a reason for it: a grouping of designs that are connected in some way by technique, shape, form, i.e. les points they would tell us in design school. But the constraints can also be deadening.
To have my atelier filled with disparate pieces simply because I flit from one inspiration to another may be good for me, but does not always make sense to the client. So, I put my head down and charge ahead - like a good Aries ram - and start the inevitable design process of pieces for fall. I live in Texas, I don't participate in Fashion Week, thus I am not showing for Spring 2012. Buyers are not coming to preorder for their stores deliveries in January. I design for the here and now. Fall 2011 will be on my racks for Fall 2011. Leather and linen, various tweeds, mens' suiting for womens' clothing...working on a dream.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A creative (e)state...

Rokeby, a 43 room, 420 acre, 195 year old estate is mired in history, creativity and ghosts? I want to do a summer here and just make stuff: puppets, paintings, clothing and writings in a very old house in the Hudson River Valley. Do you think they'll let me? The room painted with crows from the 1800's is my favorite - watch the slideshow...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blacker than black... gold? Not in this case. The BP oil spill continues to reek havoc on the need for the details as we all know what's going on. They need help on so many levels so please join us tomorrow night at the parking lot of the Hotel San Jose and Jo's coffee for the Gulf Relief Fundraiser. Music, a shrimp boil, and a bit of money headed in the right direction...any little bit helps...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

We love...silhouettes...

...the quintessential black/white juxtaposition. Our friend, artist, collector of oddities and ephemera, Mike Miller of Lo and Behold Antiques, has collaborated with West Elm to share his art of the silhouette. Curious and static yet moving, his pieces recall times past with a careful arrangement of figures against a stark background. Check it out:

Friday, July 16, 2010

The girl in black...

 So, I think that it's funny when parents come into my shop, look at the baby clothes or a toddler tee and proclaim: "My child just isn't ready to wear black." Or I've heard: "His/her parents won't let their baby wear black." I guess I said the same thing about pastels when the twins were infants. But what most people actually don't know is that newborns are really only seeing high contrast black & white for the first 6 weeks to 2 months of their lives. As their sight begins to develop, and their eyes begin to work in conjunction with their brains, they will begin to be able to distinguish between similarly shaded bright colors and possibly (yuk!) pastels at around 5 months.

Here's Zelda (on your left), wearing a dress that I bought for her in Antwerp...and of course, a family remember remarked: "Only you would dress your daughter in black for Easter!" Frankly, it didn't occur to me that it was black - I see it as a beautiful little dress with white stars. But yes, to many people, black evokes emotion when seen on children.  And just for your information, the little girl on the far right is my god-daughter and she recently requested a necklace made from a tooth on a chain. It makes my heart sing to be able to avoid sparkly pink ponies in the lives of our sweet little girls...

                                                         left to right: Zelda, Paloma, & Natalia

Thursday, July 15, 2010


This amazing exhibit premiered at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp a few months back, and I was lucky enough to be there. It was a little treat for myself as I was on my way to Paris for an actual birthday dinner. But I adore Antwerp and was met at the airport by none other than the Belgian Buddy Holly, my dear friend Wannes. What an amazing 24 plus hours all leading up to the opening of this wonderful exhibit...
(who could imagine a poet wearing anything other than black?)

I have been to Antwerp several times before and if you know me at all, you know that it's usually a pilgrimmage to worship at the temples of the fashion gods: Demeulemeester, Van Noten, et al...But this time was for a vernissage, a gathering of Noir - Masters of Black in Fashion & Costume. It featured not only contemporary designers who are inspired to design in this preferred 'non-color' but also, a history of black in fashion: dye processes, social connotations, the Victorian era, jewelry, accessories...a extremely rich display for a very specific topic. It was lovely...
Gareth Pugh

Yohji Yamamoto

RIP Lee McQueen

Call or email the Mode Museum and order the catalogue if you are so inclined - you will not be disappointed.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Always a perfect evening. A noir paradise. Justine's: the best little French brasserie between here and Paris... l'Enfant Terrible - my preferred cocktail, haricots verts and steak every evening 'til very late, except Tuesdays. The fare is simple and authentic. The vintage vinyl is unsurpassed. The wine list is well-edited. The walls are dark, the small marble tables and Thonet-like chairs were brought in from France. Pierre, Justine and baby Jude Lightening are the consummate hosts. The mix of people - old friends, new acquaintances: a table outside filled with a celebration for a couple who came from Paris to be married in Austin, girls from Belgium who I met earlier in the week at my shop, our hosts from Pecha Kucha night earlier in the year, guys from the neighborhood who'll be back for their late reservation. We arrive early and stay late with our friends, John &, food, conversation, ambiance.

photo: Lisa Dean

And then for the special evenings...for Halloween: a jazz, goth, eerie selection played as the serveuses in their sharpened teeth, bodices, and paniers served dinner through the mist...blood orange martinis, an ambiance inoubliable...For Valentine's evening: a girl overhead on a swing, corsets, fishnets and the Marquis de Sade. The couple next to us from Houston asked, "We hear there will be naked men in chains and leather...?". And this week: le 14 juillet...le Jour de la Bastille. Tri-color costumes, a guillotine, and who knows what else.

photo: Lisa Dean

Justine's, it's a family, it's a 'scene' in the best sense of the word. It's an environment created to feel the powers, the sensation and souvenir of France...I would say, "Don't miss it" but then again, sometimes we want to keep the secret all to ourselves.

sign by Evan Voyles, The Neon Jungle

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Le noir n'est pas si noir...

If you've been into Blackmail, you've seen this quote on my wall.  It's by Paul Valery - one of my favorite French poets that I read many moons ago in graduate school, before my life as a clothing designer.  "Le noir n'est pas si noir"... directly translated could mean:  the black isn't so black.  But I prefer what I think he was trying to express: "It's not so dark in the dark."  I penned it on the wall of my shop a good ten years ago and the reality is beginning to take hold. 
I have been in this retail business for 13 years now.  I have been designing for over twenty.  The past five years have been a struggle but there is light at the end of the dark tunnel. Personal life has to be included when you're a small, independent business owner - it is intertwined with everyday on the job, with your customers, with your product, with your environment.  So when my kids were born very ill, the economy was tanking, my sister and my mom and I all got breast cancer and my dad died, the time had come to make the change.  Each day I would wake up and ask myself: what makes me happy? What do I value?  How can I be a creative, productive individual in life, give to my family and add to my community? And it hit get back to my create, to sew on a small, still independent scale.  
So, we cleared out half of my shop - the wonderful old 1889 building on South Congress in Austin, Texas - and we moved in the sewing machines, the shredded dress forms, the vintage steel cutting tables, the restored dental cabinets that hold the notions, my collection of old plaster mannequins and doll heads.  We put up our inspiration boards, dusted off our favorite books on design, and unraveled our yards of stored fabric.  Boxes of Victorian beading, pieces of salvaged lace, new yardage carefully selected from Paris: all live together in the Blackmail atelier.  I come to work every morning and am happy to be here.  I flit from one project to the next.  Gillian comes in to help sew and Aaron stops by to hand stitch and learn, Elise toils at the computer designing this blog among other things and tells our story to the clients that wander in off the street. Not everyone gets it, not everyone has my particular sensibility of design or style - and that's ok. But when a customer gets it, there's a celebration.  They walk out with an original, handmade piece, unique in every way.

Welcome to the Blackmail Boutique and Atelier Design Blog - we'll be posting photos, sharing our world of all things "noir", telling stories, and hopefully we'll all learn something. So, sit back and join us on our creative's not so dark in the dark...