Wednesday, March 18, 2015

An Interview with the Fabulous Cherries Jubilee by Maeve Alpin

Today I have an interview with Cherries Jubilee, who is not only a talented dancer but she also embellishes fabulous Steampunk designs on shoes, transferring them into wearable art, and some of the most gorgeous shoes you will ever see in your life.  "Welcome Cherries Jubilee, it’s so good to have you boarding my airship today. Let me ask you, how did you first get interested in Steampunk?"
Cherries Jubilee
(C) "I have been attending science fiction/fantasy/horror conventions almost since the phenomenon started, but I was finding it difficult to do interesting costumes after a while. I could not really pull off the "green slave girl" any more and I had done every female companion to Dr. Who, so I was looking for something else. I was looking for a more free form kind of costuming - not copying something that had already been done, but creating characters of my own in a style that I could wear into my 90's if I wanted to.
About six years ago, I saw some Steampunk at Norwest Con and fell in love with the idea. They were already talking about creating a local Steampunk convention and I was really excited because I could bring in neo-victorian style and, to some extent, manners into a con culture that had grown more than a little crass. I saw an opportunity to bring couples dancing into the sci-fi culture and I got to wear corsets and really cool granny boots. My only thought was, "Sign me up!"
(M) “I love that, dancing into the sci-fi culture.”  I looked down and saw that big gap where we actually walk onto the ship. “Watch your step there?” I nearly gasped as I peered at her feet. “I love your shoes. Is that one of your most popular designs?” 
(C) "Yes. Designs I do on Victorian granny boots win most popular design hands down. Women love them because they are pretty and can be so easily converted to the steampunk style. They like them even better if they appear to button up the sides rather than lace up the front. Nearly everyone loves the pair called - Gothic Charm School."
(M) "Absolutely exquisite, what inspired you to create Steampunk shoes?"
(C) "Thank you for saying so. I am still surprised by compliments. Well, I dance, as you know, and I wanted a pair of boots that I could wear to conventions that I could teach dance seminars and dance all night. There are lots of pretty ballroom shoes out there, but none of them could be mistaken for steampunk style, and I really wanted something that would make my students look at my feet. New dancers often look down at their own feet, not necessarily at the teacher's feet. So, I painted up my first pair of tan Capezio mary janes with sharpie markers. Sharpies, however, look like what they are, namely markers. I wanted something that looked really professional. Other than that, I found the whole process was really fun. Then I started looking at costumes and realized that the right shoe could make a whole outfit! I searched out the right products and the right techniques and practiced on shoes in my closet and some willing guinea pigs from my friend's closets. It took a while to learn how to create a design that would take the pounding that shoes do without cracking and peeling, but I got a lot of help and advice from people in the shoe industry. It was kind of like an addiction after that. I would wake up at night with these ideas in my head. I started leaving a sketch book next to my bed so I could get things down and go back to sleep."
(M) Now that we are comfortably aboard the airship, and seated on the velvet sofa in the parlor, Cheeries opens her carpet bag and shows me another pair.
Among the Thorns2
(M) "I love that vibrant  hue. What are your favorite colors and materials to work with in creating these fabulous Steampunk shoes?"
(C) "Again, pretty easy...I love working on really well made leather shoes preferably Italian. I don't really design shoes, so much as I use shoes as a canvas for my art work. I like boots best, especially granny boots with buttons, but these are hard to find. I usually upcycle good boots that I find in thrift stores when I am not working on commissions. Commission boots usually come out from the back of my client's closet, which assures fit and comfort. I can work on man made leather, or pleather, but prefer leather."
(M) She showed me another pair as she kept talking and as I poured us each a cup of steaming tea. 
(C) "I love putting together interesting color pairings. And I sort of go through periods where I really want to do a lot on a theme. Right now I just love stripes and I have done a lot of things in shades of blue over the last few months. I fell in love with indigo blue and pale yellow when I was working on the Tesla's . I have done quite a lot in metallic...copper, steel, brass and bronze, but I like to present some surprises along with the metals, like pairing bright copper with brown and plum stripes. I absolutely love working with opalescent paints and glitter paints....and of course Swarovsky crystals. I will find a way to incorporate them on nearly every pair, even on mens boots. Gears and studs are also high on my list of fun things to use on projects."  
(M) Shoes with swarovsky crystals and gears, I’ve got hot shivers just thinking about them. Yummy.  (M) "Have you always loved shoes?"
(C) "Always. I have always loved shoes because I have very small pretty feet. Shoes are great to shop for because you don't have to take your clothes off and you never have to diet to get into that fabulous pair of boots you bought last year but you gained a few pounds since then ....whew that's a run-on sentence if ever I wrote one. I have a good relationship with my feet, so I like to show them off in fancy shoes. I wish the same was true of my tummy, but that is what corsets are for."
(M) "Well said. Let’s hear it for shoes and how did you learn this wonderful wearable art, were you self taught, went to design school, had a mentor?"
(C) "The short answer is yes, yes, and yes. Many years ago I took a nine month course in commercial art which grounded me in good design principles. I also spent much of my childhood playing around in theatrical costume shops. My mother was doing a lot of directing and producing in little theaters and she often had to take me with her to rehearsals. I NEVER got over playing dress up and the costumers taught me how to sew and design using my Barbie dolls and scrap materials around the shop."
Cherries took a sip of tea. "When I moved on to shoes, I simply got on line to see if anyone was embellishing shoes. I found dozens but most were not producing the quality I was interested in. Then I discovered Margo Silk Forest of Sassyfeet. She had been using some very interesting paints and she was actually painting shoes and teaching others how to do this too. I bought her book and a starter kit and never looked back! For anyone who would like to try, they can get her starter kit for about $35 from"
(M) "Wonderful and what do you find to be the most challenging aspect of designing Steampunk shoes?"
(C) "The most challenging thing is finding well made, affordable, shoes and boots that fit the aesthetic. This is why I haunt the thrift stores and garage sales and especially estate sales. Finding shoes with an interesting heel that a human can walk around in for several hours without being crippled in the process is sometimes difficult.
Another difficulty, of course, is size. My shoes are wearable art and when I am working on a pair it is always questionable as to whether they will fit someone who would want to buy them. This is why I like to do commissions. The client knows that the shoe fits and they give me great ideas by letting me know what they plan to wear with them. I am currently working on a commission for a lady in a wheel chair. She sent me an amazing pair of high heeled boots and I can go crazy embellishing the heels because she will never walk on them!"
Bunished Bronze Beauties heels
(M) "I can’t wait to see the heels of those boots. Let me ask, what advice would you give to help people pick out the best shoes to compliment their Steampunk costumes?"
(C) "Other than a corset, the most expensive part of your costume may well be your shoes. If you don't have someone like me around who can alter them, consider buying the shoes first and building the outfit around them. Be sure that they are a good fit and that you can do everything in them that you want to do. That may mean standing for hours at a concert or strolling through a garden to dancing or playing croquette. Then remember you can always change out the laces for matching ribbons, or sew brass buttons up the sides to steam or punk them up a bit.
The most important thing to remember about all fashion is; you can get away with almost anything as long as there are repeats in your costume. That means you can get away with green boots if there is even the tiniest degree of green in your skirt or bodice. If your costume sports brass or copper elements, add some interesting brass gears or buttons to your shoes or boots. Black does NOT go with everything (even other blacks) and not all browns complement each other so, when you are trying on footwear, bring a piece of your costume with you. Lay the shoes you are considering next to the fabric and step back six feet. If they don't look right together, don't waste your money."
(M) "Marvelous advice and what about flats, is it possible to wear a comfortable style of Steampunk shoe and still look chic?"
(C) "Absolutely YES! Now we all know that heels are sexy. I recently came across a photo of a pair of white lambskin fetish boots with 12 inch platform heels made around 1880. Men just love heels, but short heels and no heels can be just as flattering. 
I recently completed a commission on a pair of boots with a 1/4 inch heel called Miss Copperpot's Fancy. These little ankle boots prove that one can be supremely chic regardless of the heel. I tend to like some heel, but I am only a smidgen above 5 ft tall. I can certainly appreciate the charm of a spike heel, however I favor a curved french heel, or a spindle heel which is steady enough to walk on all day. Wedges are also fantastic, since they have a lot of room to embellish and they are a steady platform for walking while giving one height.
Miss Copperpot's Fancy
Miss Copperpot's Fancy
In shoes as in everything else, fashion is fleeting but style...personal style can be worn for the rest of your life. If your style is street steampunk, invest in a good pair of Doc Martins that appeal to your steampunk self. You will wear them with everything, for years. I have some beautiful black ankle boots that I have been wearing for years. They are excellent quality,I take good care of them because I love the radically curved french heels and I may never find another pair.
"Chic" is putting on your personal style and wearing it effortlessly. There is nothing quite the antithesis of chic as some beautifully dressed steampunk tottering along on heels so high that a pretty girl is turned into a graceless marionette. Those shoes were never meant to become acquainted with the floor. It is best to leave them in the bedroom where they belong.
Beautifully embellished ballet flats can make a large foot look petite and have the added advantage of imparting a graceful walk to the costume. A graceful walk will reflect more chic than anything you wear."
(M) I then noticed she’d taken out some of her Steampunk styles for men. "Those are nice, quite dapper. Do you have a preference between designing men's shoes or women's?"
(C)"I enjoy doing shoes for men, because they really don't get to wear fancy shoes. But men are conservative and really picky about the image they project. Mostly they find straps and chains and studs in brown and black acceptable, but little else. The shapes in men's shoes are pretty limited and heels are uninspired. Sadly, elegance has fallen almost entirely out of fashion for men, for the most part. I am starting to see an improvement among Steampunk gentlemen though, which gives me hope. A kilted man in a waistcoat, and a bowler simply sets my heart aflutter. (Oh and boys, wearing your pants so low we can see your unmentionables, or shudder, other parts, is not attractive.)
With women's shoes though, there are absolutely no limits. If I can think it up, someone will love it. Though many women only wear black and brown and maybe white shoes, they still lust after that red Ferregamo, or teal Tommy Choos. This leaves me so much room to design something unique that I have to say I enjoy designing for women more than men."
(M) I droped two cubes in my tea and stirred while I thought of my next question. "I have to ask, what is the strangest or funniest thing that has happened to you regarding designing and selling Steampunk shoes?"
(C) "I think one of the funniest things that has ever happened is when a young woman on the street stopped dead in her tracks and looking down said, "OMG! where did you get those shooooooes?!!! They are HOT!" At which I replied, that they were my own work. By this point the woman was practically on her knees in front of me on the public sidewalk staring at my shoes. I felt a little like the high priestess of the shoe goddess receiving obeisance from a worshipper. When I told her that the work was freehand, she gushed some more and even reached for my ankle. Well that was quite enough and I helped her up and handed her a card letting her know, yes I do do wedding shoes and boots too."
(M) "I know that when you are not designing shoes or teaching dance, you edit novels for your beloved beau and write articles on Steampunk culture. What differences do you find between the art of shoe design and the art of writing?"
(C) "Well, writing doesn't involve paint. But really the biggest difference is that you see a finished result pretty quickly. Writing is hard - I don't care what anyone says, for me, its a slog. I often don't know if what I have written is any good.
Designing is easy. I know when something works and when it's dreck and I can always paint over mistakes. While I might have to look at a pair of shoes for several weeks, I can usually complete the project in a week or two. There is something very satisfying about looking at something and knowing it is finished and it is good.
But in one way at least, the two things are very similar. Each design is essentially a character sketch. They each describe a steampunk character and they are not stereotypical at all. They have unique histories and personalities. I have designed for steampunk goths, for Lolitas, for dandies and aristos, for mad scientists and airship captains, all in my imagination. But the majick happens when someone else takes them and wears them, because often people transform before my eyes. Usually footwear is that last little detail that takes them from being someone "dressing up" and playing pretend to someone who is literally walking in that character's shoes. Sometimes, I see a whole new character emerge when I see them on someone completely costumed for the first time. Hummm...I feel a short story coming on."
(M) "I know exactly what you mean about that feeling of a story coming on. You must like to read then? What are your favorite Steampunk books or authors?"
(C) "I like to read so much that I don't own a tv and haven't owned one in more than a decade. I guess my first steampunk fiction was Tim Powers "Anubis Gates" which I read as a teenager. I think Tim Powers was the first author I really became attached to and I have read every book he has written since then. I read everything from light romantic comedy like Gail Carriger's "Parasol Protectorate"(I was very sad to see this series end and I am even doing a couple of pairs of boots in honor of the characters) to the quite literary kind of steam punk such as Neil Stephenson's Diamond Age, and the very dystopian Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. I enjoyed Mark Hodder's "The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man" and I am really enjoying a series set on another planet, Tim Akers' " Veradon books. I am currently reading a series called The Ministry of Peculiar Events by a team, Pip Ballentine and Tee Morris. These are amusing in an "Odd Couple" sort of way. I also read a lot of non-fiction, primarily history and science, which informs both my writing and my artwork.
(M) "I have to say I'm crazy about Anubis Gates, loved it." As crew members are rushing to and fro, I noticed the airship is landing once more. "Well it looks like we are ready, but Cherries, before you go, one last question, what are some things you'd like to say to your fans/customers and future fan/customers?"
(C) "In the spirit of a steampunk maker, you could do this too. Try new things, it doesn't have to be brown and black and gray. Let your shoes and your clothes express who you are, or who you want to be. But be fearless and play. Get dressed every day in a way that makes you smile and that will make others smile too. This is a trick I learned years ago a well dressed person of any age or any size can make the world a little bit better just by causing another person to smile. This is what my art work is all about, small witticisms and a big does of whimsy. Making people smile without ever saying a word."
With a contagious smile that lit up her whole face, Cherries Jubilee departed my airship, but before she left she invited everyone to visit her showroom for more of her Steampunk shoe designs. Also you can leave your calling card with Cherries Jubilee at and if you want to commission shoes please write – I have a pair of shoes for you  – in the subject line.
Feel free to post questions and comments below.

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