|Photo by Wild Don Lewis|
“If you are not intrigued by both the beautiful and the grotesque,” reads the handwritten sign near the front door, “and you do not have a sense of humor, then you may not like our store/gallery. However, if you have all of the above . . . come in.”
Go on, have a look. Preserved fetal pigs don’t bite.
One might wonder what deformed guinea pigs, antique medical instruments and flowing, black silk “kimono-like” dresses could possibly have in common. The answer is Dominique Griffin. Her new Silver Lake boutique, Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom, carries the most disparate and yet oddly cohesive collection of horror and beauty, and it is a showcase for Griffin’s various obsessions, which range from antique jewelry to armadillos. “Basically, anything surrealist-oriented, natural history, body horror, antique clothing . . . I find it fascinating, beautiful and amazing.”
So too, one imagines, would an eighth-grade science teacher. Just inside the entrance of the store is an entire wall of dead mammals and sea creatures — exotic snakes, baby pigs, even Griffin’s own post-hysterectomy uterus — floating in formalin and alcohol and tightly sealed in glass jars. Elsewhere: antique polio leg braces, old syringes, forceps, specula and a massive, $200 Albertus Seba tome with drawings of three-headed dragons from the 1700s. And Griffin crafted a series of night-lights out of 1930s and 1940s Magic Lantern slides (precursor to the View-Master) that picture, among other things, deformed skulls and throat tumors.
Despite Griffin’s flair for the macabre, Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom is also a neighborhood shop that you could wander into with your visiting mother, because there are plenty of traditional, exquisite objects of desire strewn about: a vintage Italian damask bedspread, beaded silk purses, Louise Green hats, a smattering of limited-edition kelly-green flats by Canadian designer John Fluevog. All the antique furniture in the store is for sale, including 28 vintage chandeliers.
At the heart of the shop are the striking, elegant silk tops and dresses from New Orleans designers Robyn Lewis and Candice Gwinn, who formed the (unfortunately adolescent-sounding) line Trashy Diva. Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom is the only place in Los Angeles that carries their clothing. The Trashy Diva collection isn’t old per se, but Lewis and Gwinn scan vintage fabrics, then reproduce the bygone designs on 100 percent silk using 1930s-inspired patterns. With their fluttering butterfly sleeves and plunging necklines, and draped over bodices throughout the shop, the dresses command the space, each with the regal authority of a 1920s silent-film star or a voluptuous, smoking Moulin Rouge madam.
Griffin, who is the daughter of a Southern Baptist marine colonel, sees the concept of her store and the incongruous nature of her inventory as liberating, a sort of feminist statement. “Only in this moment in time could a woman have the freedom to own a store like this and stuff it with dresses, snakes, a dead pigeon . . . and her own uterus in a jar. I’ve lived all over the world and L.A., right here, right now — there’s nowhere like it on Earth.”
Robyn Lewis and Candice Gwinn will make an in-store appearance to showcase their spring collection on Thursday, May 12, 7-10 p.m., at Sometimes Madness Is Wisdom, 3208 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake.(323) 660-5020.