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Photograph by Dina Scoppettone
One Big Step for Womankind : Miguel Angel Rodriguez designs slinky cocktail numbers that evoke the glamorous life.

Wrap Star

How the art of the drape inspired a collection

By Jessica Lussenhop

Miguel Angel Rodriguez can make a woman want to wear a tablecloth. It's happened many times at Sockshop & Shoe Company in downtown Santa Cruz, where Rodriguez works as an accessory buyer and visual merchandiser. "People are always asking, 'Where did you get that dress?'" he says. "I say, uh, that's just a tablecloth that I wrapped around a dress form."

Rodriguez had experience dressing the headless, armless ladies for in-store displays at Sockshop, but instead of drawing attention to the shoes or stockings he clustered around the hem of the carefully draped scraps of thrift-store curtains and sheets, the "dress" would sometimes steal the show. "They started asking, 'Can you make that for real?'" he says.

A customer from Los Gatos finally insisted after she was captivated by a mauve tablecloth swept up into a Grecian-inspired asymmetrical backless gown. Rodriguez obliged, with some success, so when friends began pushing him to participate in this year's Michaelangelo Gallery Fashion Show, it didn't sound so crazy. He just had to remember how to sew. "To be honest with it you, I went to YouTube to get my skills back," he says.

The result was the first collection by Michel Ange; 12 sexy vintage-inspired dresses that were stomped down the runway by his friends, their hair whipped high in feathered hats. In shiny satin and silk, and in the Crayola "Bold" family of colors, the cocktail dresses are modern, slinky. A gravity-defying backless dress in turquoise plays with light and space with its plentiful folds, while other looks strike a quieter but more sultry note, like a black lace top with a teardrop window in the back. Some models wore a larger-than-life halo of ruffles around their necks, actually reworked girl's tutus transformed by a coat of spray paint. The pieces often took names from high-powered women like Queen Elizabeth and Jackie O., but the real inspiration came from some other very special ladies.

Rodriguez was born in the Dominican Republic into a family of modish matriarchs. His mother owned an edgy, fashion-forward clothing store, his aunt owned a clothing factory and his grandmother was simply a vintage fashion plate. "I wouldn't be allowed to wear flip-flops, you had to wear appropriate clothes," he says. "It's a more conservative way to dress. In America, people wear T-shirts and flip-flops everywhere." Rodriguez was encouraged to sew alongside his grandmother or to watch and imitate the seamstresses making lingerie in the factory.

That stopped abruptly when his mother married. "My stepfather wasn't really positive about the idea that I was sewing. He thought I'd be influencing my brothers," he says. "What was a man doing sewing dresses? It was typical Latino macho-man."

Rodriguez put aside his needle and thread. The next several years included a move to New York, modeling gigs, retail and buyers jobs before he took a vacation with friends to Santa Cruz. "I really fell in love with this area," he says. "I told my mother, send my clothes. I'm not coming back."

It may seem unfortunate that Rodriguez was rebitten by the designing bug so far from the Big Apple, and in a town where the flip-flop reigns supreme, no less. "I understand that the environment around Santa Cruz is very casual, but I also think there are people who dress up cocktail," he says. "They want to go to the opera in San Francisco. I think those are the people who should wear my clothing."

Rodriguez pulls the collection from his "studio," which is a small walk-in closet off the guest room of the condo he shares with his partner. He spreads the dresses over the guest bed--each has color and details that pop, from a gray and gold silk-striped bubble dress to a strapless fuchsia number with hand-quilted triangles at the hemline. Every fold in the shiny fabric is so purposeful that it's hard to believe Rodriguez had to reteach himself to sew--or that he threw it all together in just three months with $2,000.

The looks inspired by his "glamorous grandma" and "fashionista mother" were causing Rodriguez some serious anxiety as the show approached. As the meager 90 days ticked away, many of the dresses would not shape and fall the way they did when he simply tossed them over a lifeless dress form. "Two weeks closest to the show, I was really in a panic," he says. "There was a moment where I almost said, 'I don't want to do this.' But I had to keep going. I'd rip a dress up and do it again."

Thankfully, with the help of a couple of extra sets of hands, including his friend Kim Friedrich, the collection made it down the runway and onto the Santa Cruz fashion scene, which, while modest, does have enough sense to take note of Rodriguez. He has begun working with a couple of local stores in Santa Cruz and Los Gatos to sell limited sizes of his clothing. He's also begun working on a spring line titled La Espaņola, a Spanish-inspired collection of high-end women's wear; a denim collection; and a line of men's wear in the same vintage-with-a-twist style. Rodriguez has high hopes that, yes, include Bryant Park and Europe, but for now are settled here, to help inject a little glamour into the beach bum status quo.

"You don't have to be in New York, you don't have to be in Milan, you don't have to be Paris to do what you want," he says. "I started in my closet in Santa Cruz."


Suited Up

Sarah Palin's learned to dress for the body politic

By Maureen Davidson

She walks across the runway with a confident athleticism: sure-footed even in 3 1/2-inch peekaboo red Naughty Monkey pumps ($89.95), bare legs and black pencil skirt, a boldly sexy choice for Sarah Palin's introduction to the American public as contender for vice president and thereby potentially the leader of the free world.

Characterizing herself as a maverick, Palin does indeed embrace a style beholden to no current fashion, though her ($2,500) Valentino jacket worn at the Republican National Convention and nip-waisted shantung tuxedo suit worn for the vice presidential debates do reveal an appetite for glamour understandable in this cannoned-from-out-of-nowhere former beauty queen. Hockey mom, perhaps, but a hockey mom who has refined and reframed her image during her brief but meteoric political career, as deliberately as her ultramodern clear-rimmed Kazuo Kawasake ($375) glasses frame and flatter her almond-shaped eyes.

Since she walked onto the international stage with John McCain, Palin has created a buzz that floods the pages of every sign-on-here-to-log-your-opinon site on the internet. The American electorate is engaged--more passionately than in any previous post-Internet election--with opinion, questions and commentary on such consequential topics as whether Palin wears tattooed lipliner, really needs to wear glasses or chose her hairdo to look like Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly. OK, then. Wielding discriminatory powers learned from such shows as What Not to Wear, How to Look Good Naked and Project Runway, is the nation prepared to enter the voting booth?

What Not to Wear teaches subjects to use clothing, hairdo and makeup to maximize strengths, minimize weaknesses and project a style that suits their aspirations. A meander through the copious pictorial coverage of Sarah Palin's career reveals a woman whose look has of course evolved on her journey from beauty pageant contestant to television sportscaster to city councilmember, then, six years ago, mayor of an Alaskan town smaller than Freedom, then Alaska governor and now national candidate.

Palin may not have what it takes to be vice president, but she certainly has the skills to be a great candidate. Throughout her brief public career, Palin has been embraced for her likeability and criticized for single-minded pursuit of her personal agenda. She has learned to use her sexy, plain-talkin' "chick with guns" persona to dodge criticism because she's just cute as a button, but she ramped up her dress style in tune with her aspirations.

A 1988 segment of Palin as sports anchor shows that now-familiar square face and those wide-set eyes unadorned by glasses. The recent (1987) communications journalism graduate from University of Idaho was already telegenic--well-trained in the "camera is your friend" likeability essential for a television (or political) career, and skilled in makeup from her beauty pageant days. Her voice is animated as she recites her script with a broad range of tone and emphasis, authoritatively describing a basketball game.

The 24-year-old wears the big hair typical of the '80s. Her face is strong and determined: high forehead and sculpted brows; a broad-bridged nose marching straight to wide-set nostrils framed by high cheekbones; a wide, full, straight-lipped mouth balances her protruding chin and square jaw. She looks a lot like Melanie Griffith's corporate climber, Tess McGill, in Working Girl, which was released that year. She also sounds like Tess, the timbre of her voice higher and more quavery than today, the drawl less nasal.

The addition of glasses--even the heavier-rimmed style Palin wore as mayor and governor--accentuates her eyes and distracts attention from her heaviest and widest features. In every photograph during her climb to the top, her eyes have been crisply accentuated in a dark outline, a deep brown-toned shadow above and slightly inside center above her eyelids. A perfectly drawn thin, expressive arch of brow helps the eyes look more open and sincere. Now, her whole face seems to sparkle from reflections in her large glasses. Glasses are a fashion choice in these days of Lasik and contact lenses: they do make a person look more intellectual.

But she hasn't overdone intellectual: her famous Holly Golightly "do" (the "sexy librarian look," according to the Internet) unleashes long loose bangs in a flirty, youthful style that softens her forehead and again draws attention down to the eyes. For the VP debate, where she was under concentrated scrutiny, the usual informal-looking updo was undone to a softer shoulder length, gold streaks in her chestnut hair bursting like a Fourth of July display just over the crown of her head. On debate night she used even heavier-than-usual tawny lipstick and blush--she is rarely photographed without beauty queen blush--all creating a road map to her expressive eyes, making her winks at the camera all the more effective.

Palin has honed her soft, sexy, frank-talkin', moose-huntin' persona in the vast Green Room of small town Alaska gettin' ready for the world stage. Have Tim Gunn and Stacy London taught their viewers well enough to deconstruct a near-perfect package? Only time will tell.


Photograph by Curtis Cartier
Pokey Man : Dane Boberg commits.

Pierce My Tattoo!

Trends in bod mod, straight from the pros

By Curtis Cartier

Dane Boberg sits on the vinyl padded table and nervously rubs his lower lip between his thumb and forefinger, savoring the feel of his virgin flesh before it's deflowered forever by cold steel. With a sturdy pair of surgical vice grips held in her black latex-gloved hands, Amanda Allie of Kalifas Tattoo and Piercing seizes the lip from Boberg's fingers and locks the pliers shut. Next, out comes the spike. With one strong motion from her thumb, Allie drives the barb down through cartilage as a audible "pop" emits from the torn tissue and Broberg formally enters the ranks of the pierced.

And while lip piercing, or any piercing for that matter, is nothing new, body modification and tattooing have become mainstream, changing as fast any trend in jeans or dresses.

So what's hip to mod? Depends on who you ask ...

Fresh Ink
Since tattooing began in the Neolithic period 12,000 years ago, not much has changed. The bird quills, sharp stones and black ash discovered by anthropologists have given way to electric needles, sterile gloves and polycarbonate inks in every color, but as James McDermott of Staircase Tattoo says, "Everything else pretty much stayed the same."

What have changed are trends, and according to most local artists, what's new is what's old.

"What's big right now is traditional-style tattoos," says McDermott, one of Santa Cruz's oldest tattoo artists. "Nautical themes, ships, five-pointed stars, classic World War II-era art and just classic American art is what's really popular."

McDermott has been turning human bodies into canvases for more than 25 years--18 of those in Santa Cruz. He says tattooing has become exponentially more accepted by society but that the popularity has saturated cities with artists and shops and damaged the traditional meanings of the tattoo. Tattoos, he says, would in past times identify a soldier's rank or a nobleman's pedigree. And even recently a tattoo was a sign of an outlaw or outcast. But now, when, according to a recent Harris Interactive poll, 14 percent of American adults have at least one tattoo, McDermott says the tattoo's function has been given up for fashion. Still, as the owner of one of Santa Cruz's busiest parlors, he's not complaining.

And as a testament to the resurgence of classic American art, Wayne Edgin of Hollister sits under the gun of Staircase tattooist Gio Weld and watches as Pegleg Pete--Mickey Mouse's archenemy--takes shape on his forearm.

"I had Mickey here done about three years ago," Edgin says, pointing to the world-famous mouse on his other forearm. "But I think I'm more like Pete--the ornery outlaw."

Jim Fox, manager at Salty Dog Tattoo, agrees that traditional tattoos have been in high demand of late. He also says some other less conventional methods of tattooing are springing up.

"I've seen a few kids who are getting all-white tattoos," says Fox. "It sort of looks like a burn, where the skin turns white. People think it's a little more subtle."

Both tattooists say some of the more extreme trends, like scarification and branding, have lost some of their appeal but that they could make a comeback any time.

"Tattoos are just like any other fashion," McDermott says. "The trends ebb and flow."

Pins and Needles
When it comes to piercing, like tattoos, there's not much that hasn't already been done. But while ears have continued their reign as the body's favorite pincushion, other nooks and crannies are still popular for mutilation.

"For guys, lips and ears are most common," says Allie. "For girls, Monroe piercing and bellybuttons are still big."

For anyone who didn't know they had a Monroe, much less could pierce it, the Monroe is located high on the upper lip to the left of the nose--right where Marilyn had her mole. Stick a small mole-size stud through and you've officially pierced your Monroe. Allie also said dermal implants, in which spikes, ball bearings or other metal objects are implanted under the skin, have maintained popularity in the extreme body mod crowd.

"Implants may look weird and extreme, but the art goes back hundreds of years to ancient Japan," Allie says. "All the things we see have more or less been done before. People now just take it to new limits."

And while Boberg is content to settle for a simple lip piercing for now, he says he'll always be looking for new ways to express himself.

"We'll see how it looks," he says. "If it's bad, maybe I'll just stick with the ink."


Photograph by Curtis Cartier
Sticks With It : Amanda Allie works on piercing her own lip while Dane Boberg recuperates.

Let Thee Be Warned

Piercing is not for everyone

By Curtis Cartier

The human body instinctively avoids unnecessary injury. Incisions, impalements, stabbings and burnings are all on the brain's no-no list, so consciously skewering one's face with a massive needle can often be more than a caring brain can handle. Dane Boberg, our piercing protagonist, found this out the hard way during his lip-piercing session at Kalifas Tattoo and Piercing.

Though no stranger to the ink gun, the 22-year-old Boberg had, up to that point, never had a piercing.

"My mom is going to kill me. And then my mom is going to kill you," he said, pointing to Amanda Allie of Kalifas as she donned her jet-black sanitary gloves and lubed up her implements with ointment.

Moving quickly, Allie was able to spear the center of Boberg's lip with ease. A slight amount of blood oozed around the needle while Allie prepared the chrome hoop that would soon take its place. But then something went wrong. Boberg accidentally pulled the guide needle out from his lip before Allie could get the hoop in.

"You idiot, now you've done it," Allie scolded. "Hold still. I'll try and get the ring in without the needle."

And try she did. For about 10 minutes Allie poked and prodded the hoop through the bleeding and drooling lip, trying to find the exit wound. But soon the color began to fade from Boberg's face and his eyes started to droop.

"I gotha pasth out," said Boberg, around Allie's questing fingers. "I reely gotha pasth out."

At that point the procedure was halted and a dazed Boberg swayed on the cushioned table while his color changed from pale to green.

Allie, determined to demonstrate a proper lip piercing, assured Boberg, "This happens to a lot of people," and set to work on her own face.

And while an olive-colored Boberg snoozed on the bench behind her, Allie stabbed through her own lip without a flinch and for another 15 minutes worked at getting a piece of jewelry in her face. Metro Santa Cruz escaped before anyone else got stabbed and left Allie to fight her mouth alone.


Photograph by Curtis Cartier
shirts by the truckload : The Krate's Brandon Spector with custom designs by T-Shirt Mafia of Watsonville

Making the Screen

The T-Shirt Mafia means business

By Jessica Lussenhop

Brandon Spector knew, even as a high schooler growing up in Las Vegas, that someday he would open the Krate. He'd turn graffiti into a career and leave his scrappier days behind him, like when he was an attorney's courier, deviating from his route to duck down alleys with his spray paint tucked into a backpack next to the legal briefs. "I never got arrested, thankfully," says Spector.

When Spector's high school buddy Mike Snyder moved to Santa Cruz, they both decided it was time to get serious about their dream shop, and Spector dropped everything and moved from Portland. "We were seriously influenced by a store in Las Vegas called Da Joint. It was an incredible store," he says. "That was where I first bought my graffiti stuff."

Today, the Krate is a bright space on Pacific Avenue where most mornings Spector can be found reaping his karmic reward by painting over the night's unsolicited artistic contributions. Inside, the shop is filled with skateboard decks, art, records and clothing. But after a year in business, Spector began to realize they were missing out on a niche market.

"People come in and ask, 'Do you have any locally done shirts?' It's a question I hear so often," he says. "We realized how crucial it would be to start doing that and not pay other companies to do it for us."

Snyder and Spector began conceptualizing their own skate-and graffiti-influenced designs on PhotoShop, and while it started out simple with the store's logo, it's now growing in the direction of a Krate line. They recently came out with a series of tees with the word styled to look like the Philadelphia LOVE statue. In a time when money is tight and the rest of their merchandise is moving slowly off the shelves, Spector was pleasantly surprised by the response. "We've sold so many Cruz T-shirts since we put them in the window," he says. "We'd like to essentially fill our stores with as many of our designs as possible."

In order to bring their wholesale price down from $18 a shirt to more like $3, the Krate turned to some friends they made from the store, a few guys they bonded with over their turntables, with the means to the end just a drive away down Highway 1.

Mob Mentality
The T-Shirt Mafia started with a basic screen-printing kit from Palace Art, and its members are a student, an office go-fer and a grocery store employee. Their studio is filled with bees and flies because it's in their back yard in Watsonville. Their darkroom is the bathroom inside the house. They have all the trappings of a genuine grassroots operation, down to proudly showcased fuck-ups--a transparency stuck to the wall reads, "WHS VARISTY CHEER." Rudy Guzman, the student/Walgreen's employee/Mafia godfather, describes it another way. "It's all MacGyver," he says.

The setup is less hilarious when you see what they produce--clean, crisp professional-quality screen-printed designs in vibrant colors, some of which are headed for the Krate. They also do tees for local businesses and high school athletic teams. Guzman flips through their two-year history in T-shirts--the "Soul Stayfresh" tee they did with the Palace kit, the "Own the Road" fixie-tribute designed by Guzman's older brother/grocer/design consultant Alex, and the T-Shirt Mafia logo, imitating the Godfather font with a dripping squeegee in lieu of the puppeteer's strings.

The fashionable brothers know that these days, price points can get pretty ridiculous. "Why am I going to invest in a T-shirt that I don't even like?" says Alex, who thinks most designs from the brand names are "garbage." "Like this," he says, tugging at his worn but artsy T-shirt of a leering crow. "This is a $110 shirt and my brother could duplicate it in 10 seconds." The Krate sells the Cruz T-shirts, which the Mafia produced, for $18. Rudy Guzman took a class at Cabrillo College to learn the tricks and passed them on to his partner Raff Mendoza, a high school buddy/office worker/enforcer, far more formidable in size than his string bean cohorts.

"Who would you be? Luca Brasi?" Rudy asks Raff as he begins the latest order for the Krate--40 T-shirts with Obama's face captured in a most saintly expression and emblazoned in water ink over the words "Always Bet On Black," a Wesley Snipes quote from 1992's Passenger 57.

"What happens when Obama doesn't win?" wonders Alex as he stretches out on a neon pink lawn chair.

"We can do the same thing," says Rudy. "You Should've Bet on Black."

Rudy tinkers with the designs on PhotoShop, prints them on transparency paper and exposes them to an emulsion-coated screen under a halogen lamp. The image is burned onto the screen, opening holes in the mesh that will allow paint to come through. Rudy floods the screen with a grape drink-colored ink, lowers the screen onto a white Gildan T-shirt and swipes a squeegee across the stencil. When he raises the screen, Obama's face appears, minus his ear.

"See, it's pretty much trial and error," says Rudy. "Other print shops are more expensive, because they're charging you for all their mistakes. We're not doing that yet."

It's time-consuming work, but the Mafia members enjoy it, and they charge far less than the going rate. They are almost at the point where they can't keep up with demand from local businesses and hope to open their own one-hour custom T-shirt business in downtown Santa Cruz someday.

"Hopefully I can quit my job in a few months," says Rudy, pushing down hard as he wipes the squeegee down over the screen again. The goal? "A shop. Doing this for a living. Spinning records."

"Buying Rolexes," says Ale.x

"So this is the big pay-off, hopefully," says Rudy, as he lifts the screen. There it is, the blue type across the purple image of Obama's face, creating a third tone where they overlap. It's pretty much perfect. "So there you go, it's a MacGyver production T-shirt."

THE KRATE is at 803 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz; 831.466.0605.


Photograph by Traci Hukill
Forward-Facing Togs : This style-conscious mannequin is rocking the Mackerilla Shrugee and yoga pants by Brooke's Beach. Bag is the Mackerilla Patrice.

The Big Stretch

The designers at Studio 5 get into the loungewear business

By Traci Hukill

Janice Serilla was fated to sew. Between the grandmother who worked as a seamstress, a lifelong artistic inclination and the award-winning Halloween costumes she and her twin sister would concoct (slice of pizza, pile of poop), it appears she just didn't have much choice. When, in 2000, she found some scraps doomed to the dustbin at the interior design firm where she was working, it was no big thing to take them home and make a bag that she could wear when riding her cruiser bike. And when people stopped her and asked where she got the bag and if they could buy one, something clicked. "I thought, 'I'm onto something here,'" she says.

Today, Serilla has almost more work than she can handle making stylish backpacks and purses for her business, Mackerilla Design. Her bags--custom designs in sleek, modern patterns (and always in upholstery material for durability)--are found online, at Best of Everything in downtown Santa Cruz, at Community Chest Treasures at Pleasure Point and at the Westside studio where Serilla shares space with sculptor Stephanie Schriver and seamstress Brooke Dickerson, owner of Brooke's Beach custom swimwear. They range in price from the $92 Patrice, a cute little number with optional short or long straps, to the bestselling $225 Big-Ass Bag, a generous tote with classic lines.

Studio 5 Art and Design is a warm, bustling, creative space. Bright bolts of fabric line one wall, while wry graphic prints in the comic-book tradition crowd much of the rest of the vertical space, courtesy of Serilla's twin, Janet Allinger. Serilla's pet Papillon holds court on a cushion in an alcove stuffed with fabric swatches. On a fall afternoon, right in the middle of the busy season, it's a nexus of activity.

And now something new is brewing at Studio 5. Between them, Serilla and Dickerson have come up with the makings of a yoga outfit. Dickerson, who started sewing custom bikinis while still a student at Santa Cruz High, has been perfecting a design for yoga pants. What makes them different--besides the fact that Dickerson will measure the customer and thereby give her a pair of pants bound to fit--is that she combines bright stretchy fabric for the main panels with tropical or animal prints at the waistband or in stripes running down the side. Since each pair is custom-made, with customers picking out their combos, no two are alike. Dickerson says she's taking orders now; the pants are $50 per pair or $35 for capris or shorts.

Serilla, meanwhile, has come up with a design for an after-class cover-up that's just warm enough. The Shrugee, designed to wear over a T-shirt, is basically a pair of long sleeves and a generous hood joined by a yoke, fashioned from soft, fuzzy recycled cotton. Serilla has included some fetching details, including a strip of patterned fabric on the edge of the hood and a clever zippered pocket in one sleeve, perfect for holding an ATM card, cash or even a car key. Serilla says the Shrugee will be available Nov. 1 at $89--a good reason, in our opinion, to get off the couch and go to yoga.

STUDIO 5 ART AND DESIGN is at 402 Ingalls St., Suite 5, Santa Cruz; 831.325.3905 (Mackerilla Design) and 831.466.9747 (Brooke's Beach).

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