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Can you form a meaningful relationship with your purse? Meet the Howdys — a collection of small vinyl bags to hold your iPod and cell phone, along with essential cash, cards and ID. Like Ugly Dolls and other vinyl-toy collectibles, each Howdy has its own personality and back story. There’s Captain Shivers, with a silver metallic vinyl body and black eye patch; his first mate, Mr. Two Sloops, with a hand-embroidered anchor tattoo on his red vinyl chest; Howdi-Culture, a horticulturist made out of vintage floral vinyl (they all have vintage buttons for eyes); Howd-Oui, who dreams of finding love in Paris and is dressed head to toe in bohemian black with a bright-red heart on his chest; and Roadie Howdy, with a Kermit-green vinyl body and a pocket specially designed to hold a guitar pick.
According to legend — as handed down by Howdy creator Missy Broome — they are all descended from party monsters who dwelled in caves under the Hollywood sign. Which is why, Broome says, Howdys love hanging out with you at bars and nightclubs.
Since they’ve hit the party scene, the Howdy crew has traveled to Japan, China, New York and London. They’ve hung out with artists like Mark Ryden and Gary Basemen, and bands like the Eagles of Death Metal and Avenged Sevenfold. One was even seen getting some Foo Fighter tongue from Dave Grohl.
It’s no wonder the Howdy kids are such groupies — Broome herself is an admitted band-aid, a lover of music (and musicians; she married one). When she saw Loretta Lynn’s story as a child in Coal Miner’s Daughter, it changed her life. She decided at that moment that she was going to be a huge country music singer. Until, that is, she discovered her voice “sounded like a raccoon.” She couldn’t master power chords on the guitar either. Now she jokingly lists Butcher Holler (Lynn’s birthplace) as her hometown (she’s really from L.A.) on her MySpace page, where of course both Howdy and Pamela Des Barres are in her top eight.
But Broome always did love to sew. She started making clothes for her pets and then her friends before eventually studying visual presentation and space design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and, later, fashion at Orange Coast College (OCC). She interned at Paul Frank Industries, and they hired her full time, with barely a diploma in her hand, as head accessories designer. She stayed until 2003. Now she designs accessories for Roxy and teaches design part time at OCC. Her own Missy Broome line features guitar straps (naturally), tote bags, coin purses and pins bearing the usual rock iconography — silver metallics, leopard prints, skull and crossbones, broken hearts with anchors.
Her husband, Jeff Watson, a bass player who now handles new media for a major record label, is vice president of Missy Broome Enterprises.
“He was playing in a band,” Broome says of the night she met Watson, “and I told my friend, ‘I don’t care what happens, the bass player is mine.’?” Not long after, she made a custom guitar strap for Watson, and the rest is history.
“If you live your life in a way that’s true to who you are,” says a beaming Broome, “opportunity will come.”
When Broome tried her hand at Wheel of Fortune, she not only won, she got to meet Vanna White, and a photo of the celebrity letter-turner clutching one of Broome’s custom bags showed up in a tabloid months later. Recently, Broome was asked to customize a Guitar Hero II game controller, and she’s designed guitar straps for My Chemical Romance — she’s even thanked in the liner notes on their last release.
“I love that band,” she says. “They are so theatrical and so fun to watch. I’m really influenced by musicians. For me it’s a bolt of fabric, for them it’s six metal strings, but we both create things that never existed before.”
Like the Howdys. It all started because Broome was sick of losing her phone in her bag.
“I always have these huge bags,” she says. “I’d have a suitcase as a purse if I could.”
She knew she wanted the little carriers to have a clip so they could be attached to a zipper or a key chain. When she was designing the bags, she was reading Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park, and Terby, the little birdlike doll in the book, made its way into her subconscious until the Howdy characters emerged. The name was borrowed from a cat Broome had and also from her father, a Texas-drawling oil rigger who often greeted folks with a “howdy.” Broome was really close to her dad — her love of country music came from him — and when he passed away last October, the first-ever Howdy was buried with him as a companion in the afterlife.
Nowadays Howdys are everywhere. There’s even a fan site devoted to the little guys, and Howdy owners have started snapping pictures of Howdys in foreign lands and posting them on the Howdy MySpace page, kind of like the traveling garden gnome.