Shop Around: Atlanta’s Swankiest Retro Couple Jezebel Blue and Nathaniel Self Will Dress You Up 2the9s For the Holidays

Posted on: Nov 22nd, 2013 By:

Jezebel Blue and Nathaniel Self.

Some of Atlanta’s finest burlesque performers will be gracing the stage this Saturday night at Tits for Toys for Tots, the seventh annual holiday fundraiser for charity produced by Syrens of the South. But tassels won’t be the only reason not to miss the show, local artists/vendors Jezebel Blue and 2the9’s Retro, aka Nathaniel Self, will be selling everything you need to dress to the Retro max or wrap up under the tree for your honey this holiday season.

Jezebel crafts jewelry with vintage images from pin-up girls to movie idols to steampunk style. Nathaniel sells men’s vintage shirts, jackets and zoot suits, as well as ties, small suitcases and custom-designed Retro purses. Best of all, the couple’s prices are as sweet as they are. ATLRetro caught up with the dynamic duo to find out more about their way-cool wares, what they have planned for Tits for Toys for Tots and also where else you can find them vending this holiday season.

ATLRetro: You two are one of Atlanta’s swankiest Retro couples, hair and clothes to the 9s. There must be a swell story behind how you met, and don’t lie to me, you do own the actual cat’s pajamas, right? 

Nathaniel: First off, thanks for the compliments. I don’t know about how swank we think we are – pretty sure we consider ourselves to be two of the biggest goofy nerds in Atlanta. And as for owning the cats PJ’s, we don’t own them, but if 2the9’sRetro can find them for you, we will, and Jezebel will make the accessories to match.

How we met is sort of a trip to Jerry Springerville. A couple of years back we met at a great mutual friend’s event, The Rockabilly Lounge, put on by the wonderful Mon Cherie. We were both getting out of relationships, and I was actually sort of flirting with her sister at the time, but that didn’t work out, so I decided to step into the land of Jerry Springer and started chatting up Jezebel. Me being a photographer, I loved her look and her fun attitude, so we hit it off right away. I knew it was a good match on our first date when people at Cafe Intermezzo wouldn’t stop interrupting us to take our photo and to say how lovely she was. By the time we left, it was around the restaurant that we were professional swing dancers. Which is very entertaining, because I have two size 12 1/2 left feet and Jez has arthritis and can’t be on her feet for long periods of time, let alone swing dance.

Jewelry by Jezebel Blue.

How did each of you get started on your path to righteous Retro craftiness? 

Nathaniel: I’ve always been an artist, started out sketching as a kid, drawing fake tattoos on classmates. Then on to photography, which I do part time with my other business, Self Images Photography. After meeting Jez, I started selling clothes and vintage luggage. Her creativity rubbed off on me, so I started designing bags in sort of the same kustom kulture/pin-up vein as some of her jewelry. I’m still getting used to doing it. Jez has the hard job making her jewelry. I’m just her carnival barker. My bread and butter is getting lucky being able to find great Kustom Kulture shirts and suits for resale.

Jezebel: I actually took a beginner jewelry-making class when I was in high school, about 24 year(and now I feel old).  I had learned how to crochet from my grandmother when I was about five and always liked making things, but the minute I laid my hands on pliers, a spool of wire and some mandrels I was thoroughly addicted.

Jezebel, how do you select the images for your pieces?

Jezebel: I really have no rhyme or reason. I have a little over 3000 electronic images and folders full of old books, calendars, postcards and photographs. I look through them and wait for something to ‘strike’ me. It could be the colors or composition. It could be something as simple as I just really like the dog in it or the woman’s expression. I wish I knew myself sometimes.

Nathaniel, what are your top three tips for a man who wants to outfit himself as a true gent.

Nathaniel: If you’re serious about wanting to go all out and make an impression:

1.) Do your homework. There are so many variations on vintage style you can really stand out if you want. Make the style your own, do your own thing with it, but I’ve found if you arent comfortable in your own skin you’ll never be comfortable in a three-piece suit.

2.) Find clothing that fits you and the occasion. You don’t need your own personal tailor – it wouldnt hurt –  but you can look ace on a budget, trust me. Don’t step out in a suit that’s all bunched up at the feet and a suit jacket two sizes too large. I’m a hard fit, so I know it’s not always easy, but it can be done if you’re serious about looking ace. Nothing makes you stand taller than a good suit. Dressing for the occasion is a must. You don’t always have to be in a suit. You can look just as ace in a lounge-style button-down and jeans if i’ts a casual night out. It’s all in the details.

3.) If all else fails, go and see a couple of my friends, New Orleans Jon and Chad Sanborn as they perform and take some hints from their style. Those two fellas are the best dressed in Atlanta in my opinion. Jon was really like a mentor and not afraid to tell me what I needed to work on with my gear when I first started out with 2the9s: “Lose the creepers man, find yourself some real shoes.” Haha. He has it pegged down on every detail.

What’s a favorite piece or pieces that you have right now for sale for each of you, and why? 

Nathaniel: Hmmm, that’s a hard one. I can’t even get into all the shirts I have, because I typically like them all so much I want to keep them, but that wouldn’t bode well for my store. I’ve got a couple of pieces of vintage luggage that I have right now that I’ve never seen before. One of my best is a large round blue luggage. Those in such a large size and good condition are becoming hard as hen’s teeth to find. I recently just sold a 1950’s oxblood tuxedo jacket with gold thread throughout. It’s hard to explain, but it got a lot of looks. It was definately one of my favorites just because it was such a great showpiece.

Jezebel: For me, my absolute favorite pieces are the rings I have made with vintage chantons, a fancy word for a pointy-backed rhinestone. The sparkle is unreal; it rivals and, in my opinion, outshines Swarovski. My second favorite piece is an image I use often called “Til Death Do Us Part.”  It is a couple in Day of the Dead makeup done in a school tattoo flash style that I purchased the rights to. To me, it is just a beautiful synthesis of Victorian aesthetics with the couple facing each other but done in a modern rockabilly style – and it talks to my romantic side.

Jezebel, how much time does it take for you to make a piece of jewelry and how do you price your pieces? Always seems to us that your prices are very reasonable, so in other words, how do you do it?

Jezebel: Simple pieces like my $8 anchor earrings take about 20 to 30 mins. Some of the more elaborate pieces can take three to 18 hours depending on the techniques used. The jewellers grade resin I use takes three to four days to fully cur,e and that is after a minimum of three hours work. I try to keep my prices down by not overly marking up the pieces. I know jewelry is a luxury for most of us, as a single mom, even $10 can make a difference and I would rather make a little and make someone happy, than mark up a piece and put it out of reach of someone who would really truly appreciate it. It drives my family and Nathaniel insane. They constantly tell me I am under-pricing based on the amount of work I do.

Nathaniel, vintage luggage is making a comeback. Why do you think that is, and how do you select your pieces? 

Nathaniel: All things pin-up and Burlesque are making a comeback or so I find. Thanks to the tattoo shows, suicide girls and rockabilly hitting the mainstream, everyone is looking for that little something extra to set themselves apart in a group of girls trying to ape the Bettie Page style. For some it’s just nostalgia. I can’t count the number of times I hear “Ohhh my grandmother had one exactly like that!” when I’m vending at shows.

I try to stay away from the plain Jane pieces. I like a lot of character. Sometimes I have to pay more than I want to get them, but it’s worth it when you know that what you have is a cut above the ordinary. Whatever I can do to keep them from being turned into a boombox speakers.

Nathaniel Self and Jezebel Blue.

What can we expect to find at your tables this weekend at Tits for Toys For Tots?

Nathaniel: I’ve gotten a few more shirts and suits, from high-end Valentino suits to vintage double-breasted pinstripe gangster suits and an eclectic mix of shirts from garage, lounge, western and even some Hawaiian and tiki stuff. I still have the great vintage luggage and train cases, as well as a few hand-decorated bags with pin-ups and tattoo graphics and maybe even a couple of new Lux DeVilles if I can find the room.

Jezebel: I will have a little bit of everything: vintage chanton rings, negligee necklaces, pin-up and steampunk-inspired pieces, locker tag bracelets, honestly you never know.

Where can we expect to see you next, and also where can we find your products online? 

Jezebel: The easiest place to find me online is Facebook.  Single mommy-dom is time-consuming, but I can throw things up on FB and answer any questions as needed and it makes it more personal. I will be at Hayes Elementary on Dec 7 from 9-11 a.m. for a breakfast with Santa. I am not sure of anything after that, but I do post my itinerary on Facebook.

Nathaniel: We’re going to be at the Tits for Toys for Tots obviously. After that I’m looking into being a vendor at some of the East Atlanta Village craft shows and the EAV Santa Parade. After that, the future is unwritten. Matter of fact we’re open to anyone who might want to have us at their concerts, car shows or craft festivals. We don’t discriminate, so feel free to get in touch with us. The best place to find me is on 2the9’s Retro on Etsy.com or 2the9’s Retro on Facebook. We look forward to seeing you out and about. Stop on by our booth and say hello.

All photographs are courtesy of Jezebel Blue and 2the9s Retro and used with permission.

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Shop Around: Sewing It Up with the Creep and Cute Textile Taxidermy in Dingogirl’s Den

Posted on: Apr 23rd, 2012 By:

By Jennifer Belgard
Contributing Editor

The moment I saw the Zagnut pillow, I was in love. I had to meet the genius that came up with it. Happily, I was soon included in a show with the very talented Jolene Wheeler and did just that. If you are not familiar with her wonderfully-weird work at Dingogirl’s Den, today is your lucky day.  Jolene set her needle and thread down long enough to let us sneak a peek through her looking glass.

ATLRetro: Tell me a little about yourself. 

Jolene: I’m a self-taught artist who grew up in North Georgia. My favorite things to create are plush toys, textile taxidermy, and my latest interest is real taxidermy.

What led to the creation of DingoGirls Den? 

Dingogirl is a nickname that was given to me by a group of friends when I was young, and when I created my online store it felt like the appropriate thing to call my shop. It’s something that amuses me and like my creations, I think it’s fitting.

I absolutely love these creatures.  They are sweet and slightly sinister.  Where do you find inspiration?

I am inspired by many things. Nature, music, animals and overall the people I surround myself with. As far as being sweet and sinister…well, I guess that would just be my sense of humor. I want everything I create to be a little cute and a little creepy.

It seems like you’re always working on something new.  What events and projects are on the horizon?

I always like creating new things once I finish a project. I never replicate things; all of my pieces are one of a kind. I never want my work to look manufactured or mass-produced. It keeps things fresh; I would get bored if I created the same things over and over.

My latest project is a life-sized sequined taxidermy buffalo. It’s huge. I am excited to see what the finished piece is going to look like. I am creating the patterns as I go.

The latest thing in the horizon is I will be showing at Doogallery on April 28 for the 1st Art Party, I will also be participating in the Pancake and Booze show May 19 at Gallery 1526, I am also going to be doing a Body show and an Art Box show, but the exact dates have not been confirmed yet.

Where can people find your creepy-cute creatures?

You can find my work at www.dingogirl66.etsy.com, at The Highlander, [and] Libertine.

ATLRetro Contributing Editor Jennifer Belgard is Co-Conspirator at Libertine, Curator of Curios at Diamond*Star*Halo,  Barkeep at Euclid Avenue Yacht Club, and Co-Coordinator of Chaos for the Little 5 Points Halloween Parade & Festival.  In her spare time she enjoys Turnin’ TriXXX and playing Queen of Your Distraction.

 

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Really Retro: Tidings of Comfort and Joy: The Toast of Christmas Past Revives Traditional Caroling in Vintage Victorian Style

Posted on: Dec 13th, 2011 By:

A trio of carolers in The Toast of Christmas Past, including left to right: Rivka Levin, Geoffrey Brown and Fiona Leonard.

Other Atlanta vocal ensembles may sing carols, but local acapella group The Toast of Christmas Past is reviving the tradition just as it was performed in 19th century England by wandering groups of singing Samaritans dressed in bustles and bonnets, frock coats and top hats. All of which reminds that while some may consider Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL a great ghost story, but one need look no further than the title to see that the popular Victorian storyteller saw music as synonymous with the spirit of the season. Apparently contemporary audiences also long for simpler Dickensian customs as The Toast of Christmas Past tends to be booked almost every night during the holidays.

The Toast of Christmas Past is led by Fiona Leonard, an eclectic and energetic actress, singer, costumer, make-up artist and mistress of many trades well-known for her work with local theatre companies, film productions and attractions such as the Georgia Renaissance Festival where she sang in a rollicking pub band called Wine, Woman and Song. As a costumer, she started sewing and designing as a teenager and has won numerous awards and attained master class status at science fiction and costuming conventions. In recent years, however, Fiona has focused her creative energies more towards recreating the look of past eras than fantasy ones, and her caroling venture seems perfectly suited to a lady increasingly seen dressed in exquisite Victorian attire.

Curious about the origins of caroling, we asked Fiona if she would tell us what she knew about its link to Medieval wassailing and how the practice evolved into a mainstay of Victorian times. She also shared the story behind her own journey into caroling and Victoriana, as well as a bit about how listening to traditional holiday melodies seems to bring “tidings of comfort and joy” in this time of giving.

Geoffrey Brown, Fiona Leonard in red, and two other members of The Toast of Christmas Past.

ATLRetro: How did you first get the idea to start up an acapella caroling group, who are the group’s members, and why keep caroling alive in the 21st century?

Fiona Leonard: My dad [Al Leonard] and I worked at the Georgia Renaissance Festival for a number of years, and someone contacted them one year looking for carolers. They passed that on to my Dad and he put together a little quartet to do it. I replaced someone the next year, and we had several people ask us for cards at the event. So the next year I came up with a name and had cards printed up. We got three more bookings and The Toast of Christmas Past was born. From that point in 1994, we grew and in our best year had 55 bookings!

Each year I have anywhere from 12-24 carolers on call, who sing in trios and quartets. Most of my singers are musical theatre performers, so they have lots of personality and are good at engaging strangers. Although it is a great way to make extra money for the holidays, it is also a really great feeling to have people come up and tell you that your singing has put them in the holiday spirit. Making people feel something is really what performing is all about, and we really do get to spread joy wherever we sing. 

How did Christmas caroling door to door (or in public places) get started? 

Caroling comes out of several traditions, some going back over a thousand years. Religious songs composed for the common man to sing first started appearing around the 10th century, but really caught on as Protestantism began to spread around the world. But I think the most direct ancestor of our style of caroling is wassailing. This was basically legitimate begging. During winter holidays—whether solstice, Christmas or yuletide—groups of peasants or other poor would go from door to door, singing blessings on each house and demanding compensation in return. This was usually in the form of drink (hard cider, mulled wine or spiced ale), food (sweets, figgy puddings, cakes), money or at the very least a spot by the fire to warm up.

Everyone in The Toast of Christmas Past wears Victorian clothes and embraces that era. Why was caroling so popular in Victorian times, who did it, who did they sing for and how did Victorian caroling compare to caroling in previous and later times?

There was a great trend in the Victorian Era to romanticize things of the past and things from other cultures outside the Empire. Christmas trees as we know them became popular at this time, and the beginnings of Christmas as a commercial holiday come from that period as well. What was a fairly small celebration started adopting traditions from older times (wassailers, Morris dancers and pantomimes); strangers with gifts (magi, St Nicholas, Norse gods); sacrifices to older gods of meat, drink and produce (geese, roasts, horns of plenty, trees hung with fruit or even game); and evergreen boughs, holly and mistletoe hung to repel evil spirits in the dark of winter. All of these combined to make Christmas the celebration we know today.

Caroling or wassailing is fun, it’s something the whole family can do, [and] it’s much more acceptable than straight begging, since you at least offer entertainment. Victorians did it for all those reasons, and Dickens set the practice in the public mind with his caroling urchins in A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The story itself has become such a classic that we tend to think of Christmas as described by Dickens to be “classic” Christmas, something to hark back to and try to achieve. Really, this era has just as much tendency to romanticize the past as the Victorians.

Fiona Leonard dressed to carol.

What were some of the greatest hits of Victorian caroling, and do you limit yourself to songs dating from that era or do you throw in some more recent seasonal favorites, too?

We do not limit ourselves to Victorian carols, but some of the songs we sing that were popular then include: “Good King Wenceslas,” “Here We Come A-Wassailing,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “We Three Kings,” “Twelve Days of Christmas” and “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas.”

When you were interviewed for PBS Radio [listen to it here], you talked about one of the reasons you enjoy caroling being actually turning around someone’s mood. Do you think caroling has a therapeutic effect on either the listener or the caroler or both?

I have always found singing to be therapeutic and cathartic. I think live carolers invite listeners to feel the music in a way that recorded music can never truly achieve, which makes the emotional impact very intense.

How do children react to your caroling in costume?

I get called a princess a lot! Kids really seem to like us and often want to join us, which we encourage.

Who hires a Victorian caroling group and at what kind of events do you perform? How can we hire you?

You can hire us by going through our website: www.toastofchristmaspast.com. We have been hired by malls, entertainment venues, museums, townships, business associations, property management, the airport and, of course, for plenty of private holiday parties. If you are traveling through [Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport] Monday Dec. 19 or Tues. Dec. 20, look for us between 2:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.

Is it correct that you made your Victorian caroling dress? Did you make all the costumes for the group? If yes, how far did you go to ensure the clothes were period-accurate, and can you recommend a few online resources for Victorian costumers?

I do make my dresses and many of the other costumes we wear. Some of the other ladies have made their own dresses, and even one or two of the gentlemen have put together their outfits. My preferred period is 1878-1882, a brief window when the bustle was still present but very small. I just think the dresses from that period are very pretty and graceful. You can get away with a little lower neckline and 3/4 sleeves for that period as well, which I find more comfortable. Most of the ladies do wear corsets and petticoats with their costumes. There are all kinds of resources online, but mostly I just order corset supplies online, usually from Farthingales or dealers on etsy.com.

The Toast of Christmas Past performs at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

You’ve done a lot of Victorian costuming and performing. You’ve won awards for your work and regularly are a costume judge at Oakland Cemetery‘s Sunday in the Park annual event in October. In broad terms, what appeals to you personally about the Victorian era, and if there was one aspects of it that you wish had survived to the 21st century, what would it be?

Honestly, I just love how decorative things were. I love ruffles and fringe, and curlicues and flowers, and men in well-tailored clothing. Also I read way too much Barbara Cartland, and I am just sure some tail-coated dandy is going to sweep me off my feet if I have enough ringlets in my hair! If there was one aspect of the era I wish had survived, it would be the practice of giving dances and balls as standard social gatherings. I love a good waltz!

What’s up with Wine, Woman and Song?

We retired from the Georgia Renaissance Festival in 2002. We still perform together occasionally, usually for St. Patrick’s Day or historical re-enactments. We can still be booked through the Toast website.

What else are you up to performance and costuming-wise when it’s not the caroling season? Anything exciting coming up in 2012? 

I work full-time at Costumes, Etc…, which is a family owned business in Midtown off Cheshire Bridge Rd.They do rentals and retail, but they also take on a certain number of special commissions which I get to make a lot of. I will be costuming GUYS AND DOLLS for Habima Theatre at the MJCCA at the beginning of the year. I am hoping to actually get out and perform in a show or two next year, time permitting.

In 2012 I  hope to record a CD of The Toast of Christmas Past to make available for purchase. I am also considering putting on a Toast concert early in the season next year for the public.

Editor’s Note: All photographs are courtesy of The Toast of Christmas Past and Fiona Leonard.

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