Hettie LaBombe, the flame-haired stand-up bassist and singer from Boom! Boom! Deluxe spills her sartorial secrets.
By Natasha Francois
By day, she’s a freelance musician, film maker, photographer and music teacher, but by night, you’ll find Hettie LaBombe (aka Henrieta Tornyai) on stage with her neo-rockabilly band Boom! Boom! Deluxe.
The flame-haired double bassist adores vintage and pinup style, 1950s B-movies, rock’n’roll, jazz, classic cars and cats – tastes which are reflected in her personal style.
Leopard print is a firm favourite, alongside an enchanted world of jumpsuits, leopard print, op shop treasures, 60s mini dresses, more jumpsuits, tartan pants, houndstooth jackets, angora sweaters, swing trousers with braces, New Zealand-made reproduction and more.
Combining elements of traditional rock’ n ’roll, rockabilly, blues, punk, swing and do woopBoom! Boom! Deluxe have become a fixture on the classic car/ hot-rod/ vintage scene.
“At the end of the day we just want to write a catchy song,” says Hettie, who originally hails from Slovakia.
“It’s all a bit tongue in cheek, we try not to take ourselves too seriously and I think our lyrics (like Burger and a Beer) reflect that. Someone even described us as “The Ramones of Rockabilly!”
“I love playing in the band because I get to play with musicians I really respect. It’s pushed my bass playing in new directions. I’ve never had to be so percussive as a jazz player before. It’s fun to watch people dance to our music. And of course I have the perfect excuse to buy cool outfits and dress up!”
Of course, because this column is all about the clothes – let’s admire Hettie’s attention-grabbing stage ensembles and find out how she achieves her everyday glamour!
Read on to discover more!
You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet? What would we find within?
Why, thank you! Of course! My wardrobe is an enchanted world of jumpsuits, leopard print, opshop treasures, 60s mini dresses, more jumpsuits, tartan pants, houndstooth jackets, angora sweaters, swing trousers with braces, New Zealand-made repro and oh and did I mention the jumpsuits?
Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?
I’m definitely not a purist. I would say I probably wear 60/40 repro/vintage. I love the hunt and the satisfaction of finding the real thing but it isn’t always practical or affordable. There’s a finite amount of vintage out there and it isn’t going to last forever. I want to invest into the future by supporting businesses that make quality repro. There is so much talent out there. I especially love to support NZ designers like Vanessa Kelly, Cry Cry Cry and The Dressmaker’s Wardrobe.
What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection and why?
My 60s leopard print faux fur coat I got from Vouz-le-vouz Vintage. It’s a stunner! I had the fortune of meeting her majesty Grace Jones at her recent gig and she approved of it so it must be good.
My sunshine yellow mod a-line dress with matching jacket. It fits like it was made for me and with a pair of go-go boots and oversized round sunnies, I can’t help but boogie to the psychedelic music in my head.
A homemade teal houndstooth late 60s coat with oversize pockets. The big fabric covered buttons on this are just too cute!
A pair of 70s two tone python skin men’s shoes. I’ve got big feet so finding vintage ladies shoes is next to impossible but luckily I love men’s styles. Three hour gigs make wearing heels on stage too hard so these are perfect. They can also compete with my hubby’s crazy boots!
Any noteworthy recent purchases?
A late 50s blue lurex wiggle dress that requires some masterful corsetry to get into but is well worth it and a cream 60s Jackie-O style skirt suit that goes so well with my faux leopard pill box hat.
How did you first become interested in vintage style?
It all started with the music. Unlike all my friends, I was never into the Spice Girls but more along the lines of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Ella Fitzgerald. Just looking at the album covers warped my impressionable young mind and gave me a life-long obsession.
I didn’t really start dressing vintage until my mid 20s though which was partly to do with lack of funds, lack of knowledge on how to find it but mostly lack of confidence. I grew up often being the only girl in the room because I wanted to be a jazz instrumentalist and there weren’t many women doing the same.
Unfortunately, this made me feel I had to downplay my femininity to be taken seriously. I also had body confidence issues having had cystic acne as a teen. Again it was music that helped me overcome this. I spent a couple of years living in the US where I got involved in a few all female bands including the Ladies Must Swing, a big band just like the one from my favourite film, Some Like It Hot. This helped me realise that I could have it all. I can be a great musician and be as feminine as I like!
What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most?
The creativity, the classiness, the sex appeal, the quality and craftsmanship… everything really. It’s so much easier to put together an outfit because everything is so flattering. You can go from comfortable and causal to glamourous with just a coat of red lipstick.
How does it make you feel when you wear it?
There’s nothing else quite like it. It makes me feel like a woman but also empowered. I don’t understand the criticism that wanting to dress as women did in bygone eras is somehow anti-feminist. I think it’s the complete opposite.
Just because I dress like a 50s housewife doesn’t mean I can’t run a business or be as independent as I like. Over the years, women have been made to feel that to be equal to men they have to be more like men.
True feminism is being as feminine as you want while doing what you want regardless of your gender. Wearing vintage makes me feel like I am sticking it to the man!
What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes?
I love something from every era but I would say my favourites are probably the 40s with swing trousers and feminine blouses, the more casual side of the 50s and just the sheer arty madness of the 60s.
Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?
These days I probably find most of my things through Facebook groups. I love how social media has enabled us to come together and share our passions globally. I can’t say it’s been good for my wallet though! I still can’t go past my local opshops without having a peek with regular success. I also love a good vintage market for the atmosphere.
What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?
Op shops are always a lottery but I think there are still a lot of treasures to be found and I like supporting a good cause. Small towns and out of the way places are the best for true vintage.
Many designated ‘vintage’ shops don’t have much from before the 80s and the prices are over inflated in my opinion. There are a few notable exceptions though like Retro Addiction.
I do often walk away with something nice and reasonably priced from vintage markets. All the best stuff is online, overseas and expensive. That is why I don’t shy away from wearing quality repro.
What are your holy grail pieces? Fave labels/ fabrics/ outfit types?
A houndstooth skirt suit a la Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep. Leopard or houndstooth everything! Jumpsuits!
Whose closet do you envy and why?
There are too many to mention! Instagram is full of them. I especially adore the many kiwi ladies around who just flaunt it. I’m so glad to be part of such a rich and vibrant community.
Who are some of your style icons and influences?
I look at Lauren Bacall for the ultimate femme fatale and Eartha Kitt for sass with class, then Diana Rigg’s outfits in The Avengers for my more eccentric side. For day to day looks I draw most inspiration from candid photos of Marilyn Monroe being girl next door, Norma Jean. I love the beatnik style for winter. It’s just so comfortable!
Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?
When I first graduated from uni, I joined a motown/soul band on electric bass. I wanted to dress the part so I found a floral red a-line mini dress from the early 70s on Ebay. I still have it and occasionally pair it with my white go-go boots.
How do members of the public react to your getups?
It’s never been anything but positive. I’m used to being stared at as a musician, especially when I walk around with my double bass, so that never bothers me. I like to think it brightens up people’s day.
I feel most accomplished when I make the older ladies smile because I know they ‘get it.’ They actually remember a time when the standard of dress was much higher than it is today and truly appreciate it.
Do you wear vintage to work as well? What do you do and how is your style received in the workplace?
I’m a full time musician so luckily yes! I can wear whatever I like. The more extreme the better it looks on stage! One of the reasons I wanted to play in Boom! Boom! Deluxe was so I’d have an excuse to wear all my crazy stuff out more.
Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home décor, car, accessories and other collections?
As a music buff, a vinyl record collection is obligatory and ours is growing fast. My hubby and I love old b-movies so we’ve got a small collection of posters too.
The house is a lovely 20s villa so it has much potential but we are practical people first. I did recently acquire a mid-century dresser which is something I have wanted for a long time.
I also collect old and strange musical instruments. I’ve even got a theremin!
We would love a classic car, especially something like a hearse or an ambulance that we could fit all the band gear in but we are starving artists so it’s not currently on the cards.
Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing?
No. It’s not what you wear, it’s how you wear it!
When’s the next Boom Boom Deluxe gig?
We are playing all the time. I guess it depends when this will be published. We are playing the Very Vintage Day Out later in the year. Best bet is to follow us on Facebook as we travel all over the country and play most weekends.
What’s your favourite outfit of Hettie’s? Have you seen her band play live? Let me know in the comments!