The Graveyard Scene, The Golden Years

Not just for goths: 10 things about Vampira

It’s the mid-’50s, and television is as bland as ever. Mrs. Cleaver and the nuclear family grace the screens of identical idiot boxes across the good, wholesome, U.S. of A.

Then on a dark evening, an image of a curvaceous vamp walking through a mock hallway surrounded by cheap fog machines appears on television screens. She gazes out at audiences, and when she comes face to face with the camera (and viewers) she lets out a blood curdling scream. “I am… Vampira. I hope you all had the good fortune to have a terrible week.”

The woman known as Vampira was really Maila Nurmi—a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood by being hard-working, creative, and daring in any way she knew (or could learn) how. Her persona as Vampira would go on to be remembered by goths, cult film freaks, and the fashion obsessed for years to come.

1 // Birth of a Vampira
Maila Nurmi was born in Finland on December 11, 1922. She moved to the the U.S. with her family, living in both Ohio and Oregon. She later moved to NYC to study acting and finally made it to Los Angeles, where she would begin a career in Hollywood. Maila modeled for Bernard of Hollywood and Man Ray, and supported herself early in her career by working as a pin-up model and a coat-check girl.

2 // Everyday is Halloween
In 1953, Maila attended a masquerade ball dressed in a tight black Morticia-esque dress, inspired by Charles Addams’s New Yorker drawings—the original Addams family. After winning first prize, she was tracked down by a television producer looking for someone to do skits and host a late night horror movie program—The Vampira Show.

3 // A Creature of Her Own Design
While Morticia Addams may have inspired Vampira’s look, she was really a character all of Maila’s own imagination:

“Vampira is a kind of entity, we can call her a woman even though she’s androgynous… who survives in this carnal world. I, Maila Nurmi, am not.”

Vampira lived through the depression; being poor, skinny, and scrawny; wearing second-hand clothes and having very low self-esteem. She needed something to cling to in such pragmatic times, so she created an imaginary image to keep her faith in the world going. The character Maila created was inspired by her fantasies and fascinations with characters such as The Dragon Lady of the Terry and The Pirates comic book series, the Evil Queen from Snow White, and silent movie star Theda Bara, the first “vamp.”

4 // The Lady is a Vamp
Maila was no ghoul, taking the horror genre into her own hands and crafting her Vampira character out of a combination of sex and death. She borrowed Charles Addams’s Morticia, and added elements of fetish attire and general provocativeness—a cinched 17-inch waist, a plunging neckline, fishnets, and voluptuous curves. Accessorized with a phallic cigarette holder and matching long black nails, Vampira was dressed to kill.

5 // Blacklisted (and Dressed in Black)
Maila’s sex appeal was the least of Channel 7’s worries—eventually The Vampira Show was cancelled due to Maila’s tendency to make subversive comments, and according to newspapers at the time, her suspected left-leaning politics. Maila went on to tell the story of how she was blacklisted from television and had a horribly hard time finding work because of it: going from appearing nightly on television to living off of $13 a week.

6 // When All Else Fails, Plan 9
Out of work and desperate to support herself, Maila took a role in a production by the infamous Edward D. Wood Jr. After reading the script for a film called Grave Robbers From Outer Space, and disgusted with the lines Wood had written for her, Maila insisted on a silent role. Dressed as Vampira, and bringing a crowd to the film because of it, an undead Maila would silently walk towards the camera, arms out and ready to frighten. Her role in what would eventually be called Plan 9 From Outer Space and by critics, “the worst movie ever made,” would have this image seared in the minds of cult film fans forever.

7 // Bat Your Lashes
Vampira’s fashion would go on to inspire gothic ladies for years to come. Her bat-eye glasses, created in 1949 by Edward Melcarth, are an accessory (and artifact) of note. The original pair is now owned by tattoo and television star Kat Von D and recently a company created a limited edition pair of sunglasses inspired by the originals. However, vamp was not her only look. Maila played a rat-loving beat poet in the film The Beat Generation, sporting a short cropped cut and a bohemian look. Images of her with a chelsea-like hair cut (a tuft of bangs on a bald head), accessorized with elfish ears and sci-fi accessories can be found in her archives.

8 // Creatures of The Night
More than just a blood sucker, Maila was also an animal lover. Maila spent Christmas of 1956 recovering from first degree burns on her arms and hands after a fire broke out in her apartment one evening. Her cat, Ratface, was said to have helped her escape in time. She posed for pictures after the incident with bandages on her hands while holding the beloved feline.

9 // An Uncanny Resemblance
In the ’80s, Maila was working with a television studio to re-vamp the Vampira character and make a comeback on the small screen. After three months, they stopped calling her to come in to the studio, and the next thing she knew, Elvira appeared. Maila tried to sue actress Cassandra Peterson unsuccessfully for eight years. Peterson gained success and fame with the character, and Maila financially gained nothing. She criticized Peterson’s use of the money on “houses and red limousines,” arguing that when she decided to re-visit the character she wanted to donate the profits to animal welfare.

10 // Forever Undead
By 1962 Maila’s career in entertainment dwindled and she found herself laying linoleum flooring and cleaning celebrities’ houses for 99 cents an hour. By the ’70s she was selling handmade jewellery and clothing in her antique shop, Vampira’s Attic, on Melrose Avenue.

Maila Nurmi passed from this wretched planet in 2008, leaving the world with memories, style, and a cemetery of artifacts and memorabilia that today are used in exhibits and documentaries about her life and influence.

R.I.P. Vampira.

images // courtesy Official Vampira

A Pattern in Disguise

10 things you never knew you needed to know about camouflage

For a pattern, camouflage carries a loaded history. It was invented to trick enemy eyes and its ability to break up a silhouette, be it human or artillery, made it the difference between life and death. In its early days, camouflage was an emblem of military might.

But like a chameleon, camo took on other identities. Remove it from war and camo is at attention, fit for punks and protesters. Remove the politics and camo is on runways, seen on the designs of Gaultier and Galliano.

For something that’s not meant to be seen, camo is everywhere.

1 // Smoke Gets In Your Eyes
Camouflage takes its name from the French word camouflet, the act of maliciously blowing smoke into someone’s face to distort them.

2 // Sticks And Stones
The first recorded professionals in disguise were hunters. Their outfits were fashioned out of nature’s material: foliage, twigs, and a musky scent to go. Scottish gamekeepers took it up a notch and added burlap and netting to create the Ghillie Suit, turning men into walking shrubs.

3 // For the Birds (And the Rodents, and the…)
Early camouflage enthusiast Abbott Thayer was an American artist and natural historian. While analyzing the animals’ ability to disguise themselves with protective colouration, he came up with this crazy theory that the military should adopt this technique. Governments scoffed at his idea.

4 // Heavy Machinery
The disruptive patterns were eventually put to good use on artillery, tanks, aircrafts and ships during the First World War.

5 // Art Stars
One day, Pablo Picasso strolled the streets of Paris, and he spotted a camouflaged cannon. Upon recognizing the parallels with his Cubist art, he exclaimed, “It is we who created that!” (But, you know, in French.)

6 // Give ‘Em the Old Razzle Dazzle
Camo met costume in 1919 at the famous Dazzle Balls of London’s Chelsea Arts Club. The outlandish costumes featured abstract geometric shapes, bold stripes, and disruptive colours that broke up the silhouette. Created by British marine artist Norman Wilkinson, dazzle’s actual purpose was to cover huge battleships during WWI.

7 // Can You See Me Now?
When camouflage appeared on combat gear in the Second World War, soldiers complained that it exposed them. When the Vietnam War broke out, camo was clearly working for the enemy, and American soldiers came around.

8 // Know Your Stripes

Tiger Stripes > Overlapping horizontals in olive greens and browns. Worn by Americans during the Vietnam War. It evolved from the lizard stripes worn by the French.

U.S. Woodland > Large splotches of brown, green, and black on a khaki background. This is the camouflage we typically think of. Released in 1967, and still used by the U.S. military today.

Desert Storm > Features black and white pebble-like clusters on a beige and brown backdrop. Developed in 1962 and used during the Gulf and Iraq wars. Also called the “chocolate chip.”

Frog Skin > A reversible pattern displaying spots of green colours on one side and tan on the other. Created by Norvell Gillespie, inspired by amphibians.

Digital Camouflage > Pixilated patches in shades of green and tan. Also called the Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP). Marine Patterns (MARPAT) is a variation that incorporates blacks. Adopted by the Canadian military in the late ’90s.

Splittermuster > Composed of green and brown angular shapes on a tan background, with rain-like green lines on top. First issued to the German army in 1931.

9 // For the People
On the political battlefields, camo was a motif of ironic sorts among anti-war protesters in the ’60s, punks in the ’70s, and hip hop artists in the ’80s. Public Enemy made their public image a black and white version of the U.S. Woodland.

10 // Walk, Walk, Fashion Baby
By the 1990s, camo found itself all over fashion week. Gaultier created camo chiffon gowns while Galliano put the print on silk evening dresses. No label utilized the print more than the London brand Maharishi. Its designer Hardy Blechman once said: “[Camouflage] was no longer about concealment, but became a symbol. It has become for many, unconsciously, a first step towards spiritual renewal.”

further reading // Camouflage by Tim Newark

illustration // Andrea Manica

A Checkered Past

Why tartan was banned in 1746, and nine other things you never knew about plaid

Tartan (or plaid in North American speak) is instantly recognizable by its mesmerizing, layered lines. We know it as the swatch of choice for schoolgirls and suburban dads, but long before that it was (and still is) a symbol of all things Scottish. Tartan has transcended tradition, going from a humble cloth of the Scottish Highlands to a timeless print with far-reaching appeal and a place in nearly every Canadian’s closet.

Back to school bonus point: there were fifty-three different kinds of plaid used in Clueless. See how many you can count on Cher in one of our favorite WORN supercuts here.

1 // Crisscrossing Languages
Tartan’s linguistic roots come from more than one language. Tiretaine (French) and tiritana (Spanish) both mean a blend of linen and wool. It’s also rooted in the Gaelic word breacan, which means plaid, speckled, or checkered.

2 // Strength in Number (of Fabrics)
Tartan is traditionally made out of two fibers – linen and wool. When woven with warp and weft, this binary composition gives tartan its supreme resistance. This material also goes by (fun word alert) “linsey-woolsey.”

3 // We are Family
Among Scottish clans, the lines of tartan run deeper than wool. Members of a family would wear a specific pattern to show others who their allegiance was to. The pattern could appear on a traditional Highland dress, a kilt, or a scarf. Consider it the classier answer to wearing an “I’m with them” shirt.

4 // Rebel Rebel
Thanks to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his Scottish clansmen, tartan was banned in 1746 after they unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the British throne. Under the Act of Proscription, authorities believed tartan was an uncontrollable force of rebellion. Luckily for Scots and the fashion world alike, tartan returned from exile in 1782.

5 // Highland High
Ever wonder why tartan is ubiquitous on school uniforms? It goes back to 1851, when Queen Victoria brought her fashionable sons to the opening of the Great Exhibition. Her boys were clad in full Highland dress and it caused a sensation of Bieber proportions. Ever since, tartan has become a staple for private school dress.

6 // Slash and Burn
The British had it right. Tartan is a rebel. In the late ’70s, it became a staple among punks, thanks (in large part) to Vivienne Westwood. She and Malcolm McLaren of the Sex Pistols launched a London boutique called Seditionaries, specializing in punk clothes that defied the status quo. And it sure did. Westwood took scissors, chains, safety pins, and bin liners to the Scot’s swatch, turning tradition on its head.

7 // Springsteen Approves
Tartan is the unofficial fabric of American blue-collar worker. Paired with jeans, it has become synonymous with the hard working American. It became popular in the ’50s and ’60s after the manufacturing company Pendleton introduced the world to the plaid shirt, now a staple at stores like Mark’s Work Warehouse.

8 // Beauty is Only Skin Deep…
Designers the world over are intrigued by the criss-crossing lines – Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen, and Jean-Paul Gaultier have all tackled tartan, as have Japanese designers Rei Kawakubo and Jun Takahashi. The latter once had his models painted plaid from head to toe for a runway show.

9 // Cunningham Reports:
Following September 11, fashion photographer Bill Cunningham saw a surge in tartan among New Yorkers. He wrote in The New York Times: “Scottish tartans, plaid, checks, and tattersalls are a sign of fashion’s change of mood since September 11, a time when exaggerated silhouettes and theatrical flourishes have seemed out of touch. Many women reached into their closets for the toned-down style of plaids, which suggest the security of tradition.”

10 // Check Your Checks
It’s getting hard to keep up with the endless variations of tartan, so in 2008 the Scottish Parliament established the Register of Tartans, an online database that tracks every tartan ever registered. Just about everything has a tartan, from provinces (all but Nunavut have one) to organizations (Canadian Dental Association), from royalty (Princess Diana) to cute felines (Hello Kitty).

further reading // Tartan by Jonathan Faiers

illustration // Andrea Manica

9 Things About: Hattie Carnegie

Every time I hear the name “Carnegie,” the famous hall in New York City comes to mind. Andrew Carnegie was like the Paul McCartney of the steel industry, dominating it in the late 19th century in North America, tattooing his name on many decadent buildings, schools, and libraries. Shamefully, when I first heard of Hattie Carnegie I automatically assumed she must have been related to him, since everything else famous with that name seemed to be.

Off to Google I went, anticipating that Hattie was a fancy heiress gone fashion designer à la Stella McCartney, only to be proven I had it all wrong. Hattie Carnegie wasn’t related to Andrew Carnegie; in fact, not only was that not her real name, but she wasn’t even American. Henriette Kanengeiser emigrated from Austria to New York in 1886. En route, she asked around to find out who the most successful person in America was, and upon arrival started her own fashion line under a new name. She morphed into the pseudonym in order to tap into the power and success of the Carnegie name. Whether or not the name gifted her with special powers I’m not sure, but either way Hattie Carnegie was pretty magical. Here is why:

1. Carnegie was a wonderful fashion designer without actually sewing anything. In 1909 she opened a little hat shop in New York, and her first clothing collection was established in 1918. Carnegie was the first fashion house to sell ready-to-wear lines as a high-end luxury. Although unable to even hem a dress, she was brilliant at envisioning clothing and accessories and would work together with others to create her pieces.

2. By the 1920s, Hattie Carnegie Inc. branched quickly with hats, accessories, and jewelry, selling pieces that were directly bought from Paris couturiers. Americans could buy Chanel in New York rather than having to travel halfway across the globe.
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