Wednesday afternoon, Clockwork Couture, the Burbank boutique dedicated to steampunk and neo-Victorian fashion, celebrated the official grand opening their new Main Street digs. A small crowd of locals dressed in corsets, bustles and exquisite hats was there for the debut. So were Burbank's mayor and the city's Chamber of Commerce. Donna Ricci, known as Captain Donna, posed with a big red ribbon and oversized scissors in front of the store. Behind her was a DIY British-style police box, known to Dr. Who fans as a TARDIS. Her husband had only finished work on the TARDIS that morning.
The store is impeccably packed. In between the rows of bloomers and frock coats are shelves and display cases filled with perfumes and oils, one-of-a-kind hats, stationary and jewelry. A Christmas tree stands in a corner, decked out in cameos, faded photographs and airships. Stockings that resemble old-timey ladies boots hang next to the tree.
But Clockwork Couture is more than a boutique. It's a place to foster community. In the back, there's a meeting room outfitted with props made by performance group The League of S.T.E.A.M. Locals working on arts, education or entertainment projects can book time here for free. People have already used it for fundraisers, classes and script-readings. The room even served as a backdrop for the cover of L.A. Weekly's Best of L.A. 2012 issue. In the front of the store, there's a small kennel where Clockwork Couture houses rescued animals until they can find proper homes.
Ricci started her business simply, with $500 and a storeroom in her garage. When she launched Clockwork Couture at the end of 2008, it was only as a webstore. Back then, steampunk was beginning to move from its literary roots into the pop culture zeitgeist. As the interest in steampunk grew, so did Ricci's store. Around the time her business hit its first anniversary, she moved into a small office/showroom. At only 750 square feet, that space quickly proved to be too small and, two years later, she moved again. This time, though, she was going to need some help.
“I am one of those convicted people that thinks if you believe in yourself and your dream, you put up the money for it,” she says. But building an immersive, multi-purpose space was going to take more than Ricci had in the budget. She turned to Kickstarter last spring. The fundraising goal was $12,000. By the end of the month-long campaign, Clockwork Couture raised $14,117. The help didn't stop there. Friends volunteered time to help get the new shop open. They even turned up with tools in hand to help build the TARDIS, with plans for the small structure provided by Mythbusters' star Grant Imahara.
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“I'm constantly amazed at how good people have been to us,” says Ricci. And she's working to give back ten-fold.
There's a lot going on inside Clockwork Couture that's admirable. Right now, Ricci is working to keep other people working. “We're going to support and promote American jobs,” she says. Currently, the store works with made-in-L.A. brand Shrine, as well as locals like corset company Exquisite Restraint and artist Brian Kesinger. Clockwork Couture's perfumed oils are made in connection with Eye of the Cat in Long Beach. Ricci even hired a full-time milliner to make many of the eye-catching hats that dot the store. Items sold at Clockwork Couture are free of animal products and they do feature a lot of budget-friendly clothing and accessories.
Clockwork Couture started small, but it has blossomed into the Los Angeles area's premiere steampunk spot. They've racked up an impressive list of fans and collaborators, with Comic-Con elite like Felicia Day, Dough Jones and Grant Imahara featured in Clockwork Couture photo shoots. (The company is working on a shoot with Wil Wheaton and his wife, Anne, next.) America's Next Top Model has borrowed their clothes for a recent steampunk photoshoot too. But the Hollywood clientele isn't necessarily the most exciting thing about Clockwork Couture.
“I have grandmas coming in with their granddaughters shopping for clothes,” Ricci remarks. Even better, the grandmothers and granddaughters are agreeing on what clothes to buy. “I know that didn't happen when I was a kid,” Ricci says. “I'm sure it doesn't usually happen, but it does here and that's great.”