Like it or not, the Christmas shopping season is upon us. For those who prefer not to get pepper-sprayed by kamikaze shoppers at big box stores, however, there are thankfully other options. Even better — there are options that allow you to support local L.A. artists and have some wacky fun at the same time, such as the new Mofones line of iPhone holders.

Mofones, funky objects that attach to iPhones and give them a larger grip area, are artist-designed and artist-made. The first mass-produced Mofones, which recycle old rotary phone parts to give the iPhone a retro look, are available now at Urban Outfitters and select Nordstrom locations. Beginning next year, however, Mofones will begin to roll out even funkier designs that border on fine art sculpture. These include holders made out of animal skulls, deer antlers, two-by-fours, and Lego parts.

The Mofones company was founded by Morrisa Maltz, a video and performance artist who moved to L.A. in 2007 after getting her BFA from Columbia University. For a while, she had a day job at an Apple store, where she noticed a lack of creative accessories for the ubiquitous iPhone. It seemed odd, given the number of creative types who like to sport iPhones.

Maltz started playing around and making her own holders, using old phone parts, duct tape, ribbons, baubles, and a variety of other colorful, precarious materials. She became known around town as the girl with the crazy phones. One day, while shopping in a store, a clerk told her that she should sell her phones, and a light went on in Maltz's head. She took her phone to stores around town to gauge interest, and found that it was there — the nonprofit community store Echo Park Time Travel Mart was the first to carry her handmade designs.

The store then referred her to a manufacturer called Case-Mate, who gave her 50 iPhone cases to see if she could make a workable, mass-market prototype. She did, and the next thing she knew, she had an order for 2,000 holders from Urban Outfitters.

Maltz is now in the startup phase with Mofones, but her company philosophy is already crystal clear: employ local artists only, and give them free range to make distinctive products and help her to create a distinctive brand.

“There are a lot of small companies in L.A that are by artists and supportive of artists,” says Maltz. “We are a close community and we have to use what we have to support each other, especially in this economy. Maybe I'm a bit utopian, but I think it's possible for artists to be as creative as they like and make a decent living at the same time!”

Maltz plans to create several different pricing points to give both designers and shoppers an array of options. The top tier would be one-of-a-kind artist sculptures; next would be limited edition works; and finally, more affordable but still unique mass-produced models.

One of many creative Mofone prototypes now being considered for mass production.; Credit: Courtesy of Mofones

One of many creative Mofone prototypes now being considered for mass production.; Credit: Courtesy of Mofones

Brian Bress, a noted video artist who has a solo show coming up at Cherry and Martin in January, was tapped to do much of the graphic design and branding for the company. Jon Johnson, a well-known fashion photographer, came up with the woodsy Walterfone, which will be the next model to go into mass production in January. And Tommy Heitkamp, a friend of Maltz's who used to work in the natural history department of Bonhams & Butterfields auction house, came up with this writer's favorite design, the Fossilfishfone (not yet in production), inspired by a 51-million-year-old Priscacara fish fossil. Eventually, Maltz and Heitkamp hope to launch a whole series of natural history-themed iPhone holders.

When asked which Mofone she's rocking today, Maltz had this to say: “Right now I'm using the black Tom and Mary 2000 — this is one of the models currently available at Urban Outfitters, and it was named after characters from the movie Babes in Toyland. Honestly though, I change my holder every day to match my outfit. I have a whole rack of them!”

Carol Cheh blogs about LA's performance art scene at Another Righteous Transfer!. Follow her on Twitter at @righteoustrans and for more arts news follow @LAWeeklyArts.

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