1.- The interviewee
Gretchen Jacobsen (aka Wilhelmina Frame) is a freelance producer, award-winning costumer, prolific crafter and frequent convention panelist; her alter-ego, Ms. Frame, Editrix de Mode for Steampunk Chronicle and Part Time Lion Tamer, travels the globe in pursuit of adventure and style. When not in the circus ring with Rajah, her tiger and the rest of her “Kitten Kabal” (seven lions, three cheetahs and a rather droll panther), Ms. Frame can be seen at the most fabulous parties, in the latest fashions, sparkling with wit in conversation. In addition, she is the founder and Tiffin Master of The American Tea Duelling Society.
2.- Steampunk media and fashion
Q.- Gretchen, your Steampunk persona is Wilhelmina Frame (part time Lion Tamer, full time Adventuress). Why did you choose this nom de guerre?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. In the summers when I was young my family would often take day trips up to various places in nearby Wisconsin. One of these was Circus World in Barabo. Circus World is a museum, showplace and historic site at the former winter headquarters of The Ringling Brothers’ Circus. One time when we visiting, the wild animal tamers were mingling with the visitors and carrying a tiger cub. They were quietly going up to select parents and offering a photo opportunity with the tiger. My parents were never the kind of to pay for these kinds of things, but due to the uniqueness of the offer and, most likely, my wide eyes, they agreed to pay for the photo. The trainers sat me down in front of a circus wagon, put a blanket of some sort on my lap, told me to smile and quickly put the dozy tiger cub in my lap. The moment lasted an instant but the memory and the photo will be with me always. This was the inspiration for Part Time Lion Tamer!
When trying to figure out a steampunk persona, I wanted something that could realistically support a variety of places, moods and adventures — and the clothes to go with them. A wild animal tamer seemed to fit that bill. Victorians were all about dressing for the occasion and being a lion tamer — even if part time — gave me ample excuses to vary my dress. I would have performance costumes, safari gear, outfits to mingle with the rough and tumble circus types, gowns for when I would mingle with the rich and powerful since I would obviously be famous and infamous. I would have reasons to travel and meet people from all walks. And I would, obviously, have lots and lots of lovely pets.
As for the actual name, Wilhelmina is very Victorian and has some family history attached. The Germanic derivation of Wilhelmina also reflects back nicely to Gretchen. I liked the idea of being referred to as Wil, although it seems that the more common nickname would have been Billie. Frame? Well it just sounded good. A nice sharp end to an otherwise obtuse name.
Q.- You have been Steampunk Chronicle’s Editrix de Mode for a long time. How did your collaboration with Steampunk Chronicle begin?
I was recommended to Deadline Dan, Steampunk Chronicle’s publisher by our former media editor, DJ Doctor Q. Doctor Q knew me and my fashion sense from various Steampunk events. The Chronicle was in need of a fashion editor so Deadline Dan asked me for a meeting. We met at my favorite bar, talked about our Steampunk philosophies and after a few rounds of delicious brews, I was the new Editrix de Mode of Steampunk Chronicle.
Q.- You have a wide experience as broadcast producer. From your point of view, what role does media play in the growth and development of the Steampunk community in the USA and abroad?
Honestly, not much! Traditional broadcast media — television, radio, film — hasn’t really picked up on Steampunk. While there have been a couple of music videos, Panic! at the Disco being a good example and Justin Beiber being a bad example, we really haven’t seen that much Steampunk representation. A lot of people point to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Firefly. They were released near to each other in 2002 – 2003 so they are little early for me to be representative of what we now call Steampunk. Really, we have yet to see our great magnum opus in cinema or television. Everyone is looking to Lantern City but we don’t have a confirmed release for that.
Where you are seeing Steampunk is in online media and in print. The internet is really what brought Steampunk to prominence. It’s also how Steampunks from around the world are finding out about each other. Steampunk based literature has been popular and many would argue that literature is where Steampunk truly has its roots. To a lesser degree, mainstream news media is picking up on Steampunk through its coverage of art, fashion, and trends in consumer goods.
Q.- In addition, we have to consider the famous Steampunk Chronicle’s Reader’s Choice Awards. We were among the nominees to the 2013 awards thanks to our Sky Captain Series and it was a fantastic experience. Do you think there should be a category for the ‘Best Steampunk Jeweler’?
We are really proud and excited about all the buzz and attention that the SPC RCAs have brought our nominees and readers. The inclusion of a specific jewelry category has been asked for and we plan to add it in the 2014 awards. There is such diversity in Steampunk jewelry. It needs to be recognized separately from other maker categories.
Q.- There is no doubt that your background provides you with a solid insight about Steampunk fashion. What is the relationship between fashion and jewelry?
Ideally, they should complimentary. The fashion and jewelry should support each other to create a stronger visual presentation. Steampunk tends to be very maximalist. There is a desire to add all the things – more guns, more medals, more bling. It creates impact in scale but it lacks subtlety. The most amazing details will be lost if they are overwhelmed. Coco Chanel famously said “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I think most steampunks would benefit from this wisdom.
Q.- How should Steampunk jewelry be from your point of view?
Q.- Would you dare to describe Steampunk jewelry with a single word?
Q.- We know that you have been developing your own brand of historical costuming, commissioned pieces and modelling since 2011. In fact, images of you wearing your creations may be found in books like 1000 Steampunk Creations by Joey Marsocci & Allison DeBlasio with Barbe Saint John, or International Steampunk Fashions by Victoriana Lady Lisa. Would you tell us a bit about Part Time Lion Tamer?
Part Time Lion Tamer, obviously came out of my persona. It’s a work in progress and a way for me to brand myself as a costumer, artist and increasingly, a personality. The modelling thing really started last year and is kind of crazy to me because it’s not what I ever thought I would be doing, especially now. I’m not a size 4 and I’m not 20 years old. But I must be OK at it because people ask me to shoot!
I still for the most part costume only for my myself. I am very limited in commissions and I do periodic small runs of hats and accessories. I am about to begin research for a possible future accessory line. You’ll just have to wait and see how that develops.
Q.- Have you ever considered the possibility of designing jewelry?
Of course! I do make jewelry on a small scale. I generally make one off pieces, usually as gifts for friends or to coordinate with a specific outfit. For example, I made earring from black and white checkered buttons and a chatelaine featuring an old matchbox car to go with my Racing Bustle. These were relatively small and easy pieces to execute. I’m ok at hand making jewelry but I’m a lot more comfortable with fabric than jump rings. If I could find the right people to work with I’d definitely give a steampunk jewelry line a shot!
Q.- We have the feeling that you visit a lot of Steampunk conventions every year. Which ones are your favorites and how could artisans like us make the most of their participation in this kind of events?
My favorite American Steampunk convention is TeslaCon in Madison, Wisconsin. It is very unique in that it is an immersion based event. The convention has an overarching storyline and characters who have been a part of all four conventions that have taken place so far. Great attention is paid to atmosphere and detail but it is not so overwhelming that you feel you must speak with a fake accent or role play at all times. I can’t not mention the behemoth that is DragonCon in Atlanta, Georgia. This con is giant and insane. It’s all fandoms put together is a giant hot mess of awesome. Steampunk’s home at DragonCon is with the Alternate History Track. Another event I love is The Weekend at The Asylum in the UK. I met its organizers, Tinker and Lady Elsie, at Steampunk World’s Faire. They were so engaging and inviting, I just had to figure out how to attend their event! I’ve made the trip across the pond for the last four years. I’ve met so many wonderful people and made some lovely friends thanks to the UK Steampunk scene.
As for making the most of an event, it never hurts just to go and enjoy it, if you can. Then you’ll get to know people in the scene, see what their up to and let them know about you without the pressure of sales. If that doesn’t work then do a little research and be sure to eat and take some time to relax and chat with people.
Q.- What do you look for when searching or trying Steampunk jewelry pieces? Is there anything you miss?
I like jewelry that is unique and also has some flexibility. I get tired with the thought that everything has to look like antiqued brass to be Steampunk. It also doesn’t require gears but I’m ok if they are there. Vintage and vintage looking pieces always work with Steampunk also.
Q.- Do you prefer big or small pieces? Do you want people to notice what you are wearing?
I like both! I tend to wear gowns and outfits with lower necklines giving me the “real estate” to wear larger, showier pieces. This usually means a statement necklace but it could also be a unique or longer set of earrings. The only thing I avoid is heavy earrings. I just can’t take them. My skin is very fair so depending on the color and visual weight of a piece it can tend to disappear. And of course I want people to notice! I’m a fashionista!
Q.- When Steampunk jewelry is brought up, do you think quality is receiving attention enough?
Yes and no. There is a lot of talk about maker pieces versus mass produced goods but not a lot of understanding about what that really means. Both mass produced goods and handmade pieces come in varieties of price point and quality. Just because something is handmade doesn’t necessarily mean it is made well or with better materials. Conversely, just because something is mass produced doesn’t make it crap. A consumer of anything needs to know something about what they are buying.
The brits coined the term “chasing the brass pound” for sellers who have seen the popularity of Steampunk and are looking to cash in on it. Not all of these sellers are bad or sell terrible goods but many of them have that reputation. A strength of Steampunk is the emphasis and encouragement of DIY. But the only thing that is a given in DIY is the satisfaction that you “did it yourself”. There is no other moral high ground or justification of quality inherent in it. Just because you can do it yourself, doesn’t mean you can do it well or that you really “should”. Sometimes it’s best to leave it to artisans who have trained or have greater vision than you do. Those people need to make money just as one likes to save money. A balance can be struck.
Q.- Which are going to be hot jewelry trends for 2014 and which direction do you think the future of Steampunk jewelry is moving in?
I’m not sure about hot trends but I’d like to see more color in Steampunk jewelry. Maybe we can make this the trend for 2014!
Q.- Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us, Gretchen, we would like to take this chance to wish you the best of luck for your future projects. Is there anything else you would like to add?
In addition to all of my fashion related endeavours, I am also the founder and tiffin master of The American Tea Duelling Society. Tea Duelling is a highly entertaining and oddly engaging sport! You can visit us and learn more at www.facebook.com/americanteaduelling.
Disclaimer.- The opinions or statements expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Decimononic.
3.- Next interviewee!
Wait a minute! We are not going to announce our next interviewee this time. Are you wondering why? We feel that, after two years publishing a monthly interview, our objective of getting international insight about the concept of Steampunk Jewelry has been accomplished. There is no need to say that we are most thankful because the Steampunks all over the globe have been generous enough to help us to throw light over this issue, assisting us to conceptualize our collection of Steampunk-inspired fine jewelry, the Machinarium Collection. This series of brief interviews starts an indefinite hiatus; however, we have in mind some goodies for 2014, so… stay tunned!
Remember that all the published interviews are available for your delight: ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ the brief interviews series by Decimononic.