Welcome to the sixth installment of our In the Closet series! This week Natasha steps inside the exotic wardrobe of Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 frontwoman Labretta Suede.
Although we’ve been friends for well over a decade, my first memories of Labretta Suede go back to my teenage years in the early to mid-90s.
Even then she still rocked her trademark look which was part Ronnie Spector, part Bettie Page and part Poison Ivy.
There was the same enormous black beehive, winged liquid eyeliner, ripped fishnets and short shorts –and the same raucous laugh that could be heard several blocks down the road!
More than 25 years later and she’s barely changed style-wise. As the diminutive but feisty frontwoman of Labretta Suede and the Motel Six (read our interview with the band here), she’s notorious for appearing on stage in outrageous, barely there ensembles. However what you might not know is that Labretta is a longtime lover of vintage clothing and has amassed an incredible collection thanks to many years touring the USA and the world.
Alongside her hubby Johnny Moondog, they’re also the proprietors of Cockspurs Vintage, a boutique specialising in true Americana vintage (catch them vending on the second floor of the Rebel Roundup markets this weekend).
Read on to find out why she prefers to be a purist, how she developed her signature style– and why you should never leave a good frock on hold at the thrift store!
You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet?
Home invasion much? OK – I’ll give you a sneak peek then. Come on! Down the rabbit hole we go….
What would we find within?
Lingerie and corsetry, feathers, bullet belts, ripped fishnets, leather things with zips, pristine 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s evening dresses. Authentic 60’s dresses and playsuits, Las Vegas show girl sparkly dresses, cowboy boots, 1950s -1970s short-shorts, 1940s – 1970s Westernwear, 1910- 1960’s Hollywood glamour night slips, all the way through to custom-made Spanish flamenco dresses from Barcelona that I bought when I was 19 years of age.
Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?
I am more purist than repro. I tend to not buy newly made items of clothing. The world is over flowing with too much cheaply made, slave labour clothing and junk as it is. Consumption needs to stop!
Not to say that all repro is cheaply made, as much of it is not and I have a few custom made pieces from high-end repro designers. I think many of them are brilliant and it’s nice to see quality fabrics and beautiful styles reproduced again. Especially when I see someone in the mainstream wearing it and I can finally not be offended by bad fashion. Ha!
Growing up as an artist with my love of the bizarre has kept my heart true to indiviual asthetics. I am horrifed by this era of comformity and lack of imagination when it comes to expression, or rather lack there of.
What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection and why?
Hmm.. tricky. I have some amazing pieces that often are too sentimental and valuable to me to ever see the light of day. Although, my go-tos are my old beat up leather jacket which has seen me through many an escapade. However, my short-shorts collection, my on-stage, two-piece outfits and my sparkly dresses have been what I am most famous for.
Then there is my handbag, purse and clutch collection. My love for wicker hand bags is a bit out of control. My fur and velvet handbag/hand warmer muffs. Mmmmm…. Nothing like good accessories.
My sterling vintage Amercian Indian jewelery keeps me grounded and provides endless facination in my day-to-day when meeting people. Again, some never see the light of day as it’s too dear to me and I have lost many a family heirloom at shows/gigs and mosh pits. So, perhaps this punkabilly has learned a few things over her years around the moon.
Any noteworthy recent purchases?
The last trip to Melbourne took the cake. While mincing around in one my favourite stores, I hear my husband say while pointing to a garment hanging on the wall, “check that out! You have to have that and I know that it will fit you”. He then frantically asks the shop attendant to pull it from the wall and the tag said ‘on hold for Sally’.
My husband was adament. “Whose Sally? Has she put a deposit down?” The shop attendant called the owner as I tried on the dress. She hung up with a very unconclusive answer …until, she saw the dress on me and said “WOAH! You said you were playing a show right? Ok, I agree you have to have it” So, I handed over very little- in my opinion- for the dress and boy were we excited. My husband more so.
Here it is!
How did you first become interested in vintage style?
Being that I am vintage in age…teehee… I still own and wear those items I first bought which are now deemed vintage. You could still buy cool punk labels right off the racks with stores like Bluebeat and Vivian Westwood.
I still own them but I always had a very unique style from when I was young and I have pretty much looked the same since I was about 12. Winged eyeliner, pale face, red lipstick with a punk/goth/country style and themes throughout my dress code. I have always been tiny but curvy, so have had to be creative about fashion.
As newly made off-the-shelf clothing never fit nor did it suit me and admittedly still doesn’t. Ever since I was a child I would always go thrifting and op shopping with my mother and I would chop and alter things to fit me. My mother to this very day sits and helps me come up with outfits and creations. She gives me ideas on the best way to sew or cut the fabrics. It’s still some of our favourite bonding time.
What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most?
The quality of the fabrics, the styles, the patterns and cuts. They are feminine and flattering and oddly most vintage fits my slight but shapely physic purr-fectly.
How does it make you feel when you wear it?
Being that I wear it most everyday I guess that is a loaded question. Different outfits give you different super powers. Some can be drop-dead sexy, where others can be wholesome and cute. I do love my dangerous bad girl outfits but the next day could be wearing a gorgeous 1930s evening dress that gives me that same sexy dangerous feeling by with elegance. By in large I like to feel outside of society, as I do like the exotic and other worldly….
What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?
Well, the era’s that truly suit me are the 1910-20s burlesque style, a touch of the 1950s more casual styles, with cuts that are high waist but I feel I can be a bit small for 50s styles and they tend to look a bit matronly on me. The 1960s are super cute on me and late 70s punk are my go-tos.
As a musician and in my early career as a burlesque performer I have had a great affinity with the 1860s- 1930s burlesque styles. I have a big crush on the broken down Hollywood glamour look but for me it’s not about singling out one era.
Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?
Most of mine are sadly not in New Zealand. They are mainly based in the USA with a few in Melbourne, Australia. These shops are eclectic and I get giddy with excitement just knowing we are going to visit. Stopping in to visit these stores are as important as our shows and gigs when we are touring the globe.
Sadly, many are closing down or do not have the calibre of quality anymore, due to the vintage trend spiraling into the mainstream. Although, this is only part of the issue. It is just simply getting harder and harder to source as we move away each year from those finer eras.
What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?
You can definitely find some good finds in New Zealand when it comes to kitsch household items, deco mirrors, retro furniture and curios.
However, New Zealander’s have always been fairly casual when it comes to fashion and design. Thus, the design was never as detailed as clothing or furniture made in the USA or Europe. When my parents first arrived to NZ in the 60s from Greece, they looked like the mafia with their beehives, A-line dresses and three-piece suits.
My parents still giggle about how New Zealander’s would wear stubbies and jandals just about anywhere. One of my fathers friends got sick of seeing him in a suit and cut his tie right off his neck at a party. So, I think I definitely acquired my sense of style from my lineage. My grandfathers were both shoemakers too.
What are your holy grail pieces?
Not telling…. A gal needs some privacy in her long lost search. Ie: back off bitches it’s mine! Teehee!
Fave labels/ fabrics/ outfit types?
Leather is a true love for me. Sorry vegans but for the most part it is vintage. Thus, saved from the landfill by being reglamourised by yours truly. I have never been a label basher, or rather labels have never concerned me. I like what I like and it’s all in the hunt and the find.
Whose closet do you envy and why? Who are some of your style icons and influences?
It would have to be a combined envy of Bettie Page, Siouxsie Sioux, Zsa Zsa Gabor and a little of Daisy Duke.
Bettie Page for her risque, wild but always sweet sensibilities. Siouxsie Sioux for her extreme dark edge and uniquely appropriated fabrics. Zsa Zsa Gabor for that always overly dressed hollywood sparkle and style. Daisy Duke for her sexy hillbilly casual charm.
Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?
Growing up in a immigrant family with four children there were a lot of hand me downs that I appropriated and being the only girl I got my mothers cool hand me downs. I would ritualistically sink them in a boiling pot of black dye. Mmmm…. that smell but they never did come out black, Always charcoal, deep purples and deep blues, which made them more interesting still. I certainly stood out at high school in a sea of Guns & Roses T-shirts.
I remember my high school outfits fondly but as for my first purchased vintage item, it must have been a leather jacket or some kind of undergarment. As I do remember spending years looking for just the right leather jacket. Or maybe it was records? I was and am still a vinyl junkie.
How do members of the public react to your getups?
It’s a swinging pendulum really. I either get complimented all day about my style or people take a wide berth. I prefer the latter. Not good with compliments. Thanks New Zealand for that affliction.
Do you wear vintage to work as well?
How is your style received in the workplace?
Mostly people are intrigued as to what I will wear the next day. I seem to be a bit of a runway model for many and a person of interest. It’s healthy and fun and gets most people out of their workplace modes and opens up some really fun conversations. So, I feel I get to know a lot of my co-workers on a deeper level.
Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections?
Yes, my husband and I are lifers. We have 1950s-built home, decor is broken down Hollywood glamour. I have owned my 1963 Dodge for over 15 years and my husband is a fan of vintage cars and motorbikes too. Complete with two red dingo Kelpies …one is vintage the other a newby. It’s a colourful household!
Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?
Gray marle and sweat pants.
Catch Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 live at the following gigs:
February 17 and 18, Rebel Roundup, Pukekohe Park, Auckland.
March 1st, Stiff Little Fingers, The Powerstation, Auckland
March 17, St Patrick’s Day, Kentish Pub. Waiuku, Auckland.