The red carpet is always a place to be judged. But at Fashion's Night Out at the rustic and usually sedate Malibu Country Mart last Thursday, while a DJ segued from "Benny and the Jets" to Frank Ocean's on-the-nose "Super Rich Kids," the well-heeled crowd wasn't strutting for cameras, press or online hordes.
Instead, just past the step and repeat, fashionistas and families alike paused for "a fair and honest appraisal" from The Bumbys, aka Jill and Gill, who peered at them through dark glasses and over bandanas, then clicked on typewriters, handing everyone a card with a few sentences, a rating on a scale of 1 to 10 and Sharpie-corrected typos.
The pseudonymous performance artists, who launched in 2006 in Brooklyn and have judged at Art Basel and New York's Fashion Week, made their signature witty and allusive assessments that function as party favors -- and as broader commentary on our love of being seen.
"We live in a culture that forces us to examine ourselves constantly: Social media and dating websites allow you to construct an internet identity that's molded exactly how you want to be seen," said Gill Bumby by email. "But the one question you can't answer is... what do people ACTUALLY think? Well that's where we come in."
It helps that, unlike the snark of anonymous online commenters, the sportive meanness of talent show judges or the gladiatorial yays and nays of HotorNot.com, the Bumbys are actually pretty nice. They rarely score anyone below an eight, and the low scores usually go for behavior -- Bumbys producer Viranda Tantula cites belligerence and profanity as cause for a 5.7, Gill's lowest rating, which came with one sentence: "Dude, You need to slow your roll." (Jill's lowest was a 7.9 and would have been lower, but she said via email that the person in question "was kind of a big deal and I like my job.")
Even the less profane receive an assessment that goes far beyond their clothes -- which Gill called "the tip of the Bumby iceberg" -- to include energy and personality. No one gets a stock assessment.
"I think society is constantly trying to put people in a box. Like saying someone is a 'blogging hipster who only hangs out in Brooklyn' or 'stockbroker who gets his kicks at happy hour' when humans are much more complicated," Jill told the Weekly in an email. "We aren't afraid to talk about your unique complexities."
Jordan Lane, who wore a gold-spiked choker and stopped by Fashion's Night Out after work at a nearby Lanvin store, found Gill's appraisal of her to be just right. "I think he got me," she said. "He told me I'm like Wednesday Adams grown up, but got prettier and less creepy."
Lane's colleague Lindsay Goldfine was slightly less pleased. "I came off as an airhead, apparently," she said, adding that the Bumbys mistook her Hermès bracelet for Dior. "But we'll let it slide, because they're very funny."
At Fashion's Night Out, The Bumbys did their thing for dozens of willing guests, who moved on to eat cotton candy and Coolhaus ice cream, get their faces painted, or, of course, shop. Gill was surprised by the sea of red pants -- "God, there were so many pairs of red pants" -- and Jill by the dogs.
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"I'm not talking like the fashionable old lady with big sunglasses and a Chihuahua. I'm talking people bringing Labs and Golden Retrievers to a fashion event, like it's no big thing," she said. "Where else in the world is that acceptable?"
The Bumbys, accustomed to setting up their booth in New York City, have appeared in Los Angeles only a handful of times. Asked to appraise the city, Gill's take was decidedly mixed: "Sometimes you try too hard, but you're worth it for the pockets of the city that are unabashedly you. You've got a strong identity, even if it's a multiple personality disorder."
Jill showed L.A. a little more love: "There is a lot more to you than you let on. Yeah, you care about your looks, and some may call you 'superficial' or 'anorexic,' but once you get to know you, you actually have a lot of amazing qualities that you can't find anywhere else. You are a dreamer and you aren't afraid to show it."