Purveyors of Steampunk crowd in among the carousel horses

By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITOR
The Steampunk universe landed among the antique carousel horses in Bristol on a recent weekend when the Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret arrived for an afternoon and evening of Victorian-styled science fiction activities.
And the gathering of this pop subculture offered an opportunity for its aficionados to strut about in their favorite Steampunk fashions and add to their gear at some of the local vendors on hand at the event held inside the New England Carousel Museum on Riverside Avenue.
Visitors could pick up some Steampunk inspired hats from East Windsor’s SDParent Designs (ww.HatsbyStevenP.com). They could outfit their Steampunk dreams from head to toe with Lady Heathers Fashions (www.LadyHeathersFashions.com) out of Ohio. They could add to their look with rayguns, respirators, headgear, and masks from AirShipDarkLords. And they could check out some of the famous corsetry work by Thomas Willeford of Brute Force Studios (www.bruteforcestudios.com) out of Pennsylvania.
While the Steampunk vendors were in Bristol, they were asked about their affinity for the subculture, which has been described as what would happen if the future happened in the 19th century.
Willeford said the seeds for his foray into Steampunk were planted in his early days as a gamer playing “Dungeon and Dragons.” He came across a game called, “Space 1889,” which was science fiction gaming in the age of Queen Victoria. “I was hooked.”
Willeford, who has written a book for the Steampunk and is working on a television series, said he began playing other Steampunk games. Fifteen years in, he saw the genre explode. “I was like, welcome to the party.”
At the Brass Ring Academy, Willeford displayed some of the leather corset work he has created, including what he dubbed one of his most famous of his pieces, decorated with clockwork gears. “I mold the leather myself,” said Willeford. “Some of the more famous pieces (aside from the corsets) are upcycled from old parts.”
“My pieces seem to do really well because of my background in physics… It fools the eye. If I make you a mechanical arm, it looks like what a mechanical arm would look like, if it were functional. That’s part of the upcycling, using pistons that were old grease guns from Model T Fords and stuff like that.”
Willeford has been building a reputation in the world of television when art directors and costumers want to create a Steampunk-inspired look. Most notably, his pieces have appeared on the show “Castle.”
“I was at San Diego ComicCon and the costume designers for ‘Castle’ were looking for Steampunk wear. And they found my booth and all of these other booths. They decided my booth had stuff that looked really good. They bought, stole, coerced me into giving them all kinds of stuff, and I got to be on the show. It was absolutely one of the best experiences.”
Heather Wells of Lady Heathers Fashion said she found her way to the world of Steampunk via her time spent as a Cyber Goth Punk. “I went to the club every week and I would make my outfits head to toe…so then I started selling them and it built from there.”
Wells said she eventually teamed up with a partner who worked in the Lolita subculture. “And we worked really well together. She was already good with the leather and she was teaching me and everything. So we just collaborated and it’s gone from there.”
Some of Lady Heathers Fashion’s Steampunk pieces are upcycled from other items. But that’s only when Wells has time to play around “Most of our stock is from scratch,” said Wells.
The accessories designs are pretty much created as Wells and her partner go along. “We’re more hands-on people, we just jump in and try to figure it out… With the clothing, there’s a little sketching but most of the time it’s play with it till it’s right.”
Enrique Camacho of AirShipDarkLords said he was drawn to Steampunk because “I’ve always been a fan of the 1880s and I saw Will Smith in ‘Wild Wild West’ and I remember the Spider (an arachnid-inspired vehicle used by the villain) so I started looking for mechanical spiders and it went from there. I then heard the term Steampunk. Being a fan of the era, Jules Verne, ‘Jekyll and Hyde,’ I was like Oh My God, I could be own Van Gogh (in that subculture genre) so I started doing more and more.”
“Some (pieces) I mold,” said Camacho, who considers himself to be more artist than vendor. “Some of them, I cut the leather. Some of the Nerf guns… I cut them up and put them together. I buy lamps (for parts). I do costumes…. I do leather bras for my fiancé. There’s no stopping (the creativity).”
Although he makes the rounds of conventions selling his gear, Camacho (who can be reached at AngelHawkC@live.com) said his goal is more to create the gear rather than make a profit. He said he essentially sells his gear at cost.
For more information about the Brass Ring Academy and Cabaret, go to BrassRingCT.com
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.

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