¨¨¨°º the adventures of choklit chanteuse º°¨¨¨


The Lovely Robots of Machinarium

I'm not much of a gamer, though I'll admit I've been sucked in more than once by an addictive puzzle game (ahem, Dr. Mario). But sometimes, a rare game comes along that's so lovely to look at, I just want to lose myself in the world of it. Machinarium is such a game.

The blogosphere has been gushing over this one since its mid-October release, so I'm not the first one to fall for it - you can read about it on my beloved Coilhouse, on Boing Boing, and countless game review sites. But the attention is well-deserved ~ it's a worthy play, my friends.

Within the first few moments of the game, I was smitten with my earnest little robot character. The quirky sound design and luminous, eerie soundtrack are enchanting. The point-and-click simplicity belies the game's depth, delightful intrigue, and humor.

But the the real magic of Machinarium is in the way it pulls you in to its entirely hand-drawn, gorgeously detailed, arcane world of decaying metal. You must slow to a snail's pace to enjoy the beauty of your surrounds, pull each lever and touch every gear to solve the sometimes maddening logic puzzles of all varieties...

An interview with Jakub Dvorsky, founder of Amanita, the Czechoslovakian company that makes the game, reveals that the company's fanciful first release, Samarost, was created as his thesis project in 2003. Like Machinarium, Samarost is a whimsical puzzle game, with every small action compelling a chain of Rube Goldberg-esque events.

I haven't even fully explored the rich post-apocalyptic environs of Machinarium, and already I'm feeling sad to finish it, reluctant to go back to the break-neck pace of my own world. For a chronically busy multi-tasker like myself, Machinarium is more than a diversion ~ it's a lovely respite. I highly recommend it.


CoutureLust: Blasphemina's Closet

I'd harbor a guess that many of my readers are familiar with the Lolita style. If not, meet Samantha Rei, proprietress of Blasphemina's Closet. Samantha takes the girlish ruffles and neo-Victorian sensibility of Lolita style and makes it sumptuously couture.

(Image: Photosynthetique)

She curates the annual Schoolgirls and Mobilesuitsfashion show, and her luxe creations can be seen at New York's Dances of Vice. And good news for dandies... she's got a men's line, too.

(Image: Fairytale Vegas)

Samantha is based in Minneapolis, and along with previous CoutureLust featuree Heather Luca of Scoundrelle's Keep and Megan Bishop of Apatico, founded the Libertine Asylum, a "society for the spread of fanciness, hedonism, indulgence and beauty." Ah, ladies after my own heart. Let's see what's behind the flounces in Blasphemina's Closet...

(Image: Photosynthetique)

How would you describe yourself and your style of work?

I generally stick to classic and gothic lolita. Lolita fashion is a style that gained popularity in Japan and has taken hold as a relevant subculture worldwide. It has a lot of basis in Victorian and Rococo fashion as well as certain other influences like stories, sweets and other subcultures.

Two of the best sites for info are Avant Gauche and Lolita Fashion.

(Image: Photosynthetique)

I also tend to do neo-Victorian and aristocrat menswear and for fun and friends, wa-lolita.

Where do you find inspiration?

Books and movies. Usually, whatever I'm reading at the time or movies I've been enthralled with each season inspire my next line. Music, too. I'm not really into sweet style, and since that's what's in right now, I don't tend to be inspired by the Japanese brands as much as I used to.

(Image: Aesthetic Alchemy)

This year, I've been inspired by Snow White as illustrated by Arthur Rackham (he's a HUGE inspiration in my life), Little Red Riding Hood, Josephine Bonaparte, story book villains, the poetry of John Wilmot, the films Gangs of New York and From Hell, Japanese illustrator Mihara Mitsukazu, regency era fashion plates, Valkyries, and as always, Alice in Wonderland.

(Find more links to Samantha's favorites at the end of the post.)

What do you do besides design amazing clothes?

I make fascinators and jewelry. I love that! It's one of those things where I do it in my spare time, then sell it later. I can spend time making one piece pretty. It's like meditation. Also, I love to read. If I'm not working, which is most hours of most days, I'm reading or watching crime shows.

(Image: Scoundrelle's Keep Imagery)

What was the most challenging piece you've designed / made?

I had to make five bridesmaid and one flower girl dress out of bright red dupioni silk. They all needed to look the same, but be made to fit each girl. It was very tough, because half the girls didn't actually live in town. I was working on this while finishing a piece for my best friend to wear at her wedding and her sister's bridesmaid dress, all had to be done that week because they were both getting married on the same day. That was stressful, but everyone was beautiful!

(Image: Photosynthetique)

What are three things that please you the most in the world?

Books, history and family.

How did you get your start making clothes?
My mother taught me to use a sewing machine when I was about 13 (early 1990s). I got into design shortly after that. I used to hand sew clothes for my Barbies for something to do. I didn't really "play Barbies" right. But I really got gung-ho into designing when I was in early high school. I started with my own clothes, then with practice styles, then made prom dresses for friends. The first year I did that, I made two dresses for friends for like $100 each. I was so proud! Shortly after beginning college, I started my Web site :)

(Image: Erin Nicole Johnson)

What piece of work are you most proud of?

It's a tie between showing my collection PULP at Dances of Vice in Spring of 2009 and a black and blue silk wedding dress I made for a Halloween wedding this year. I was so proud of that collection, I hadn't done a gothic line in ages and it looked so cohesive and elegant. And the wedding dress made the bride look radiant. I love creative clients who just let me go! I can't choose...

(Image: Photosynthetique)

Where can we find your line?
On the internet, at conventions (check out my ongoing con schedule for 2010!) and every once in a while in spots around Minneapolis.

List some of the top books, music, and movies that you've enjoyed recently...

Monster Blood Tattoo
Valiant:A Modern Tale of Faerie
Barnaby Grimes
A Lion Among Men
Seeing Redd
A Series of Unfortunate Events

Musical inspiration this year!
World Inferno
Rasputina (My favorite band since high school!)
Circus Contraption
Gogol Bordello
Amanda Palmer
Dr. Steel
Emilie Simon
The Builders and the Butchers

Gangs of New York
From Hell
The Libertine
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
Moulin Rouge

Thanks so much, lovely Samantha! We'll be off down one of those fabulous interwebs rabbit holes now to find more inspiration from your links... just like Alice.

...Read the full interview...


Textured Bliss from Ramona Falls

I have actual hard evidence of the power of social media marketing, and it is this: I just purchased an album from a band I'd never heard of, simply because of their incredible video that was released a mere month ago and has been going around on Facebook. And I am well pleased.

I was completely captivated when I saw the video for the Ramona Falls song I Say Fever. Unlike anything I've ever seen, it's some sort of magic combination of Victorian paper animals and stop-motion animation, and yet feels totally edgy and now. See for yourself ~ and do go full screen.

A side project from Brent Knopf of Menomena, whom I haven't yet heard but will surely pursue, this album, Intuit, is absolutely brilliant. The songs are like complicated blossoms unfolding, opening to expose new treasures with each listen. The epic opening song, Melectric, sends me off to into visceral, textured bliss.

Unexpected percussive elements, shimmering vocals, orchestral arrangements, and sweeping variations in mood (due, in part, to the many guest artists who contributed) ~ the layers keep peeling away to reveal more loveliness. You can watch Brent get wicked with the looping here, as he records the luscious song Going Once, Going Twice.

Just doing my part to virally spread lovely music ~ so go listen.


Things that Please Me: Crankbunny

In need of some whimsy to cheer an otherwise gray day yesterday, I turned to puppet-maker and animator Norma V. Toraya, also known as Crankbunny. In a world of overwhelming technology and frenetic multi-tasking, there's something comforting in the mechanical simplicity of her paper treasures.

Like the red bloom framed above, all of Crankbunny's beautiful pop-up cards are an art-form unto themselves ~ my most lusted-after being the Secret Decoder Card, where she will add a hidden message of your choice to be decoded by the lucky recipient.

But it's her paper puppets that tug my heart-strings. I want to scamper about inside her world of vintage-looking and oddly vulnerable creatures, her sad factory robots and thirsty zebras and winsome monkey-ladies...

Like so many craftistas that inspire me, Crankbunny's devotion to the details is incredible. She says she makes every card with her "tiny little marshmallow fingers" ~ and at over 3,000 sales on Etsy, that's a lot of wee bits of paper to cut out and assemble. And if you're wondering *why* she makes handmade goods, watch this lovely short film she animated.

Now you know! Want more? Visit the Crankbunny Etsy shop, or check out the new book she's just published, Paper Puppet Palooza.

On Etsy, you may even watch one of her puppet-making how-to's, or read her Featured Seller Interview, which is quite sweet and quirky. And of course, check out her Web site and blog.

Now go buy handmade!


All Women Have Secrets in Stiletto Heights

I've been mooning over the work of mixed-media collage artist Jennifer Gordon for ages. Every image she creates makes me flutter with delight. And today, I fell hard for this piece on her blog, and couldn't help but purchase the diminutive original from her shop, Stiletto Heights.

The Apothecary's Daughters

The Apothecary's Daughters

In Jennifer's own words, she is "very inspired by Neo~Victorian and Edwardian themes. Steampunk, vintage belly dance images, Ziegfeld Follies, Ophelia, flappers, and circus girls, to name just a few." Why, those are all the very things that I love, fancy that!

In Her Rebellious Youth

Like dusty pressed flower petals unearthed from a long-forgotten trunk in the attic, Jennifer's collages ache with hidden stories and desires half-met. Her characters are doe-eyed silent era theater beauties, pale gilded fashion icons, and folkloric dreamers, all frozen in time.

Cinderella's Longest Day

Jennifer assembles her pieces from antique letters and old ledgers, found images and ephemera, layering decorative papers with paints and pigments and watercolor crayons. In the end, a window into a secret history is made, and we lucky voyeurs catch a glimpse of the the color-saturated dream-world these wayward men and tender heroines inhabit.

She Does Not Wait For June

A quick interwebs search will turn up a number of lovely interviews with Jennifer ~ I especially enjoyed this in-depth one on Stainless Steel Droppings, which reveals that she has been a magician's assistant and a scenic artist, a comic book writer and a stage actress... her own secret histories, as if she, too, is one of her own characters. As she says in the interview, "Each piece is a self portrait, only the pictures are not me."

Airship Captain

It comes as no surprise that Post Secret tops her list of favorite links, as each of her images, with their titles like shreds of poetry, are ripe with the whispery secrets of ghosts.

I Am Half Sick Of Shadows

You may find art books, prints, stickers, bookmarks, and so many more intriguing art works at Stiletto Heights, Jennifer's Etsy shop.... where All Women Have Secrets.


The Alternative History of Christopher Perez

In celebration of that most lauded of holidays for costume freaks, Halloween, I must share the discovery of the eerily gorgeous photographs of Christopher Perez, from his Flickr set called Alternative History.


In Christopher's own words: "Images gathered from across the Multi-verse. Exceedingly rare and difficult to find, these appear to be from the Ages of Victoria, Punk, Steam, Tribal, and Samurai. How they withstood the stresses of crossing the gaps between Ages in the Multi-verse may never be known, let alone understood."

Ancient Samurai

Perez hails from that bastion of everything wondrous we call Portland, and has the good fortune of a seemingly endless supply of wicked and gorgeous characters for subjects.

Age of Steam

Many featured in these images are from a performance troupe called Bogville Creature Features, a mysterious and enthralling host of miscreants who have thoroughly captivated my imagination. A visit to Portland to experience such splendor in the flesh seems imminent.

Maestro Crunk Vaultz

The Bogvillians seem to have been assembled by tribal steam enchantress NagaSita, of Serpentine fame.

NagaSita as Lady Rhinebone Leveaux

Their makeup and costuming is impeccable, but Perez' eye for capturing essence and his meticulous embellishment of the portraits is what makes these brilliant.

Eyelet V. Wayward

He perfectly ensnares the souls of the characters, and as with much of the imagery that appeals to me, implies a fantastical story just beyond the frame.

We hope to lure Christopher down for the next Handcar Regatta, to set up a Photonic Capture Tent for more alluring portraits... but in the meantime ~ content yourself with inspiration from these lovely freaks.

Find out more about Christopher's work on his blog or his Web site. And spookiest of All Hallow's Eves to you, lovely readers...


Aether Lamp: The Sketches of Brigid Ashwood

I cannot think of another word more appropriate than "luminous" to describe the work of Maryland-based artist Brigid Ashwood ~ her mechanical beauties shimmer from the page in a vivid play of shadow and light.

(Yo Yo Bee, May 2009)

Brigid works in a variety of mediums that are categorized quite charmingly on her site: "Illuminations" for digital art, "Pigment Emulsions" for oil paintings and colored pencil sketches, and "Mineral Deposits" for sketches, silverpoint and graphite.

(Repose, February 2009)

Her oil paintings are breathtaking, but it's the Mineral Deposits that captivate me the most ~ they are somehow so very reminiscent of scribbled plans from DaVinci's notebooks, intriguing words combined with rich imagery, hinting at things yet to unfold.

(Unfair Things, Fall 2009)

I had to look up silverpoint to see what it was, and was tickled to find it is "a traditional drawing technique first used by Medieval scribes on manuscripts" that involves dragging a silver rod across a primed surface.

(Implement (Insect Scissors))

How delightfully archaic and appropriate for these beautiful images, the ball-jointed lovelies and strange apparatuses, ripe with possibilities and stories not yet revealed.

(The Creative Engine, May 2008)

I love Brigid's byline of "winged things and improbable machines", which captures the playful combination of invention and mythology in her work. Keep up with Brigid's adventures on her blog, and dig in deeper at her Web site for more of her enchanting work.


The Wild Rumpus!

It's been some time since I've sat through an entire film beaming from ear to ear, but last night I left the theater giddy from the brilliance and purity of Spike Jonze's new interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are.

Not to raise anyone's expectations to unhealthy heights, but set aside all that buzz, rumors of poor test screenings, and the anxiety about the corruption of a classic book, and this is an stunning film in its own right.

Jonze perfectly distills the pathos of childhood, and in particular the challenges of being a creative and intense child, without trivializing it. Though the Arcade Fire song that made the trailer was conspicuously missing from the film, the score by the phenomenal Karen O creates a sublime backdrop of frenzied raw emotion. And the Wild Things themselves, massive monsters made by the legendary Jim Henson's Creature Shop, are surprisingly sympathetic and compelling.

Though the film may not mirror the book exactly, author Maurice Sendak approached Jonze to take on the project and worked closely with him throughout, urging him to "keep it dangerous". I've always been one for the darker themes, scoffing at those who would shield their little ones by offering only sanitized stories, so I love that Jonze preserves the peculiarity and wickedness that earned the book criticism in the first place ~ while making the story his own.

A good article with more making-of back-story can be found here, but I say just go see it. And then let the wild rumpus start...


CoutureLust: Skingraft Designs

Jonny Cota and Katie Kay of Skingraft Designs have roots in the vaudeville circus performing arts scene - Cota as a stilt-walker and Kay as a tribal bellydancer - and that love of theatricality and flair for high drama shows. Their work is an exercise in contrasts - soft feminine ruffles and brawny masculine leather, demure coverings and exposed skin, silks and metals.

(Photo by Tiny Dragon Productions)

What started in 2005 as custom-wear for sideshow performers and musicians has grown ~ into a full label that's rapidly gaining ground, with a show in L.A.'s Fashion Week tomorrow. I was completely transfixed the first time I saw an image of their designs. Shot at the legendary Los Angeles bar The Edison, the model leapt from the page, stark and raw, and yet so elegant, luminous against the industrial background.

(Photo by Allen Amato)

On one of my favorite fashion blogs, Haute Macabre, Jonny described the style as “victorian punk rocker riding a regal horse to her gothic wedding.” You can see why I'm drooling. I'm thrilled to feature Jonny speaking up about Skingraft's astonishingly gorgeous work here. Click the images for more incredible detail.

(Photo by Brion Topolski)

How would you describe your style of work?

I would describe my work as a constant juxtaposition of dark and light, hard and soft, and natural and synthetic. Skingraft is a dark Victorian dreamer living in a city of concrete and noise and somehow finding comfort in it. The work is very detailed and very meticulous, as each piece starts as a story that almost writes itself.

(Photo by Allen Amato)

Where do you find inspiration?

I think that Skingraft's greatest inspiration is the animal kingdom, beasts, birds and the natural world in general. No matter how dark or metropolitan any of the designs can be, they always somehow relate back to the shapes and imagery of animals and plants. We are also often inspired by silhouettes and techniques that are ancient, classical or even just a few decades old. From Victorian corsetry to classic millinery, we are easily excited by old techniques and craftsmanship.

(Photo by Brion Topolski)

What do you do besides design amazing clothes?

Skingraft can be a bit consuming at times, so my life outside designing clothing seems to be shrinking more and more. Outside of Skingraft I spend my time collecting and altering taxidermy, producing electronic music for my DJ sets and spending time with my partner and pit bulls.

(Tattoo artist Kat Von D, Photo by Sheryl Nields for Latina Magazine)

Outside of designing clothing, my partner Katie Kay collects vintage clothing, spends time with her partner and their pit bull and has spent quite some time on tour as a tour manager for Amanda Palmer and the Dresden Dolls.

What are three things that please you the most in the world?

Fog, coffee and leather

How did you get your start making clothes?

We started out as circus performers creating costumes for ourselves for our stilt acts and dancing acts. That costuming grew into a business of making costumes for other performers as well, and the next thing we knew we were transitioning more into fashion and creating clothing for everyday wear. None of us were trained in what we do, it just happened naturally.

(Photo by Saryn Christina)

What was the most challenging piece you've designed or made?

Every wedding gown that we make is always a huge challenge, but fortunately each project has run smoothly and has turned out really beautiful. One of my first gowns I ever made was my greatest challenge, because it was made primarily of leather and burned silk, two materials that are very difficult to work with. The gown was topped with a leather Victorian jacket covered in thousands of small metal studs that I put in each by hand. The shoulders were decorated with fur fox faces dripping in chain and metal, and the detail was done by hand.

(Photo by Tiny Dragon Productions)

What piece of work are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the new gowns I am working on right now for our runway show this October. The lines are much cleaner than before and the details are extremely meticulous. The dresses are constructed with a lot of hand-sewn feathers, metal studs and extremely form fitting corsets. I am terribly excited to see them on the runway, I feel that they are the true evolution of Skingraft.

(Photo by Brion Topolski)

Where can we find your line?

We just opened up our first store in downtown Los Angeles and we carry our entire line here including our couture fashion show pieces. We are also are carried in stores around the country in such cities as New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta.

Thank you, Jonny, for the interview, and for your brilliant vision in collaboration with Katie. You may find Skingraft ready-to-wear designs for both men and women online, at Hunters and Gatherers and Five and Diamond, among others.

...Read the full interview...