Friday, June 16, 2006

The teddy bears have flower heads; a series on the fun to be had at trade shows!

By now you now know that Laura is the founder of It says so right here. She founded the company about 7 years ago and has worked like a woman possessed to make it into what it is today: a standard bearer for all things pinup, the kawaii and the kakooii.

Laura started by making dance wear at clubs. As she expanded her designs and scope with PUG, she decided to specialize in something that she loved; the pin-up.

We heart pin ups. We’ve been collecting them and emulating them for years. I purchased my first one in 1984, an Elvgren print, when I was still in high school. Back thenI ran around in angora sweaters and patterned capri pants with vintage purses and neon earrings and cellophaned hair. Laura had a skinhead’s crew and danced on stage at CBGB’s with ska bands. Her vintage style came later when she worked as an artist’s model and posed and performed burlesque with tassels and wigs and big feather boas. We met in 1988 and had sympatico styles from the start; people often mistook us for sisters. We ran around NYC in vintage dresses, tatty bowling shirts, big shoes and fishnets and generally enjoyed the hell out of ourselves.

Our shared style eventually led us to share a business. About 12 years ago, we had the precursor to the alt-chick strippers and pinups of today. Our LA based company was Girl’s Night Out. Our dancers wore vintage lingerie and clothing, were tattooed and edgier looking overall than the dancers of the time. We would get it if you asked up for Louise Brooks as Lulu or wanted a Russ Meyers vixen. We catered specifically to a gay and alternative clientle and they loved how the dancers looked.

Flash forward to 2003 GNO is gone, too far ahead of its time, gone before lesbian chic hit the world like a ton of hot pink bricks. Laura and I had been out of touch for a few years. I am on-line looking for thigh high garter belt stockings and I come on to an excellent website, a website that feels oddly familiar. I notice dresses named after people I used to know and I see things that hook me visually. I look for a name. I find it and see that is my long lost girl. I e-mail her and we fall into a conversation about design as soon as we catch up with the missing years.

I went to her store and I saw the pin-ups we bought together a decade earlier, the autographed Tempest Storm photo from a long ago Eroticon. I see her work with an excellent photographer, Octavio Arizala of Winky Tiki Pin-Ups, to create modern twists on old ideas. Ideas began flooding my head and we began to talk using a shorthand of shared experience and design knowledge.

Shortly after, I attend my first trade show.

Until you go to a trade show, any trade show, you really have no idea how much crap there is avaible to the average American consumer. I see you disagreeing. You say “I’ve been in malls. I shop teh internets. I know.”

You do not.

I have used up easily a week’s worth of vacationeach year for the past 3 years attending these things, slogging down aisles full of some of the most hideous things you have ever seen to help bring you the gems. It is a cross I bear gladly and stylishly.

My first show was the LA gift show held at the LA convention center. It is utterly massive, with several halls packed with things.

We get our ID badges, after a grueling line and interaggation process. Many shows have the public trying to get in, often by using a friend’s resale number. This is often a waste of time for the vendors. These people are not looking to buy for a store; they just want wholesale prices. They can actually cause something of a log jam in the halls. They are unfamiliar with the process and try to buy this and that, often creating minor scenes when they are told of minimums or the need to buy a case of a thing. Show organizers attempt to keep this element, this riff raff, out by asking for pay stubs and business cards. We talk my way in there and take the escaltor to the main hall.

Picture the warehouse from the end of the first Indiana Jones movie but fill it with rhinestones, bobble heads, art glass and logos as far as the eye can see.
Now imagine 5 halls like this and you get an idea of the size of it. The first hall dazzles me. I see the stunning art glass of Correia art glass next to a booth specailizing in fancy menorahs and mezzuzahs; they both face a wall of rhinestone encrusted purses. Laura looks at me and smirks “Yeah. It is amazing isn’t it?” I nod, already raring to go and see it all.

We decide to be orderly and start on one side and work to the far side. As a rule of thumb,you do not have to do the entire show because you might not really sell a certain thing as a rule. The flip side of this is that you might miss the perfect thing for your customer base because someone might be in the wrong area. We opt for thorough.

We start to walk the show and it settles into a fast routine.
We both look ahead and scan booths and suddenly tug at each other.

“3rd booth up, the earrings. The pink ones!”

“Left side. The purses shaped like voodoo drums with grass fringes.”

I quickly pick up Laura’s lead. She goes in and looks and I answer all the annoying sales questions and try to keep the sales people from annoying her. This is easier said than done, even for me.

“Hi. Where are you ladies from? Have you been in business long? What do you sell? Have you seen this; it’s our top seller.” Repeat this several dozen times and you begin to understand why buyers do not make eye contact with the sales people. I have a better ability to deal with the annoying sales patter from my job. I let Laura focus but occasionally pick a thing up and hand it to her or point while I schmooze.

The best part happens when a booth is spot on, perfect in aesthetics and style. Lucky Loo Loo is one such booth. We see them and squeal like idiots and run over. We begin to pass things back and forth, while throwing compliments to the startled owners.

“This! With the polka-dotted dress!”

“Totally. Shoot it on a blonde with an updo, so you get the detail.”

“Look. She’s got it displayed on a vintage turntable like mine. So cute!”

Laura orders pretty much everything they have. The owners are beaming. They have an order that will pay for much of their show costs and heaps of praise for their merchandise. Show vendors may be using all their energy and capital to get to these shows. If they fail to sell, they may not get another chance. This is one of their first shows and their vision is confirmed, backed up with a signed business deal that is the kiss of fortune

We might walk past a booth and be appalled at the contents only to hear the same squeals we just made at Lucky Loo Loo as a delighted buyer descends. There is truly something for everything. I admire some purses and Laura tells me that the supplier has shafted her before, taking her order and then not delivering or even calling to explain why they are not filling the order. We take the chance and place an order; months will go by and they will repeat their error.

We walk and buy, walk and buy. We stop for overpriced sandwiches with wilted lettuce. We gripe about the cost but have no problem paying for the equally pricey beer. We know the fuel we need. We organize paperwork into gimme swag bags and discuss what we still need to find. Laura cannot believe how much she has bought but I am convinced it is all good. It all clicked with us.

The orders will begin to arrive over the next few weeks and prove us right. Lucky Loo Loo is hugely popular. The art stationary flies out of the store. My taste is confirmed as being road trip worthy enough to go to the lingerie show in Las Vegas.

Next week: lingerie show in Vegas, baby.

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