Saturday night at Melrose Ave. shop JapanLA, Michelle Nguyen will debut her latest Chubby Bunny accessories collection with "Bunnies and Bows," a combination art show and fashion event that will feature work from well-known artists like Luke Chueh, Jim Mahfood and Shibuya Girls Pop as well as a special announcement involving popular singer Kerli.
"The show 'Bunnies and Bows' happened very organically. It may seem like a smart business move, but at first, it happened a month ago, two months ago because I wanted to have a birthday party," said Nguyen, who is also one half of the party promotion team Bubble Punch. "I wanted to have a birthday party where I could show off my skills."Over the course of the past two years, Chubby Bunny's big and adorable bows have made a splash in certain fashion circles, having turned up on celebrities, Sephora employees and even on young women at raves. Nguyen has also learned a lot during those two years. She went from being unemployed to making the pudgy red bows that became a massive hit at Sanrio's Hello Kitty anniversary events in 2009. She headed back to school and started two of her own businesses. Saturday night, there will be a lot to celebrate.
Nguyen is from Pittsburgh, where she developed an interest in comic books, cosplay and Lolita fashion. While she was studying at Penn State, Nguyen and her friends would scour thrift shops for vintage clothes they could turn into Lolita outfits, a Japanese fashion style that was almost completely unknown in the U.S. at the time. They would travel to conventions across the eastern United States, notably Otakon in Baltimore, where she was part of the first con's first panel dedicated to Lolita. Eventually, she moved to Japan, where she lived for a few years before heading out to Los Angeles to work on Tokyopop's English-language version of the popular Japanese magazine Gothic and Lolita Bible.
Six months after making the move, Nguyen was laid off."I was applying to ten jobs a day. No one was calling me back," Nguyen recalled. "When you're unemployed for that long, especially when it's someone like me-- I'm like borderline OCD, I need to be doing something all the time-- I felt like I had no worth. Nothing I learned in school was helpful. I had no abilities. I thought by not getting called back, I was kind of worthless."
When times seemed worst for Nguyen, her friend Jamie Rivadeneira, owner of JapanLA, offered her part time work at the store.
"Looking back, that was freakin' charity because I wasn't doing much because I didn't know how to do anything. I'm really bad at working retail. I'm terrible," said Nguyen. "But, she would sit me down and talk to me and stuff."
Rivadeneira helped Nguyen assess her skills, figure out what she could do to move forward.
"I ended up making three or four jobs that I wanted for myself," said Nguyen.