Dye Hard

The punk rock origin story of Tish and Snooky's Manic Panic

For many “dye-hards,” Tish and Snooky’s Manic Panic is a way of life. It’s a temporary hair dye that comes in a range of outrageous colours, first popular with punks and goths, and now seen almost everywhere (runways, the drugstore, perhaps on your little brother). For brand founders, radical entrepreneurs, and original punk rock queens Tish and Snooky Bellomo, it’s been more than just a way of living. The sister duo have been through a number of ups and downs over the past 35 years—turning the shop they started in 1977 while in their twenties into an internationally recognized brand with a cult following. It’s no wonder this bright hair colour is so popular with a do it yourself audience—the brand’s DIY story makes it a compelling choice for colour.

You guys are known for your line of hair colour and cosmetics that has this huge following all over the world. But my understanding is that you started your business without any experience, opening a very small (and very legendary) punk boutique on St. Mark’s Place?
Tish > Well there were no punk boutiques in the Americas and we started the first out of necessity. There was nobody selling anything like it.
Snooky > We were always on stage, or out at clubs, and everybody liked our style and wanted to know where they could get something similar. So we thought we could sell stuff as a sideline to our singing career. We had no idea how to do it, but we just decided we would try. We learned how by doing everything, every step of the way. We had no business background, no business experience. We were just singers and we still are singers! When we were kids we were always putting on shows—charging pennies for entry and serving Kool-aid and stuff, you know, selling them refreshments. We had a little monopoly going on. It’s funny how things turned out so similar.

What kinds of things were sold in the original Manic Panic shop?
Snooky > Basically, everything and anything we liked.
Tish > I was sewing clothes and Snooky was knitting. We were selling cosmetics, hair colour, things we picked up in thrift shops.
Snooky > Debbie Harry had turned us on to this great basement full of unused vintage shoes—all these incredible stiletto shoes still in their boxes. It was like this goldmine. We would go there and bring back tons of beautiful ’50s and ’60s stilettos and sold those. My boyfriend at the time, rockabilly singer Robert Gordon, drilled holes in the wall, and we stuck the stilettos into the holes. That’s how we displayed them. When we started Manic Panic, we each had $250, and any money we made we just put back into the business. Luckily we were young (I was 25 and Tish was 23) and living at home with our mother, so we didn’t have a lot of overhead. When we first opened, we hardly had anything to sell. But we got so much coverage from all the media—every newspaper, magazine, and TV station covered our opening because it was the first punk store in America. So we got all this press and people started coming; then we had to get stuff to sell because we didn’t have enough! We just learned by doing and it’s been great.

The cosmetics that you guys were selling, were you importing them or were they your own formula?
Snooky > It was a variety. We were bringing some in from the UK, we were buying some from various local companies. We were putting it all together. None of it had the exact selection we wanted. We wanted to make what we thought was the best cosmetic line in the city—which I think it was, actually—and there was nobody, especially in the downtown area, that sold anything that was the least bit theatrical. You could go to the theatre district and go to some of those makeup stores to find extreme colours or weird stuff, but I think it was our store that had the biggest variety.
Tish > Oh yeah, we definitely did. And we had cornered the market on cosmetics downtown. All the other store owners in the area were mostly men and didn’t know about cosmetics or beauty products, so they couldn’t compete with us. They knocked us off in every other area, in every other category of items we were selling. You know, we would find great stuff in England, great pantyhose or really cool stuff, and the next time we’d go back there, they’d say, “Sorry, we can’t sell to you anymore, we’re selling to your competitor down the street and they asked us not to sell to you.” But we introduced a lot of these lines to America.
Snooky > Our competitors would say to these companies We’ll pay twice as much as them, or three times as much as them, so sell to us. They used to send their employees in to buy stuff. We realized soon realized that we were just giving them all their ideas. But they couldn’t really compete with us in beauty.
Tish > That’s right, we were and are more beautiful.
Snooky > We knew what we sold. We wore what we sold and we loved what we sold. We were walking advertisements. But we still did really well with clothing despite the market. We just had to keep being one step ahead, and find other sources for fashion.

How have your personal styles evolved over the years?
Snooky > Mine hasn’t really evolved. It’s like I’m stuck in a time warp in the ’70s. I still have all the same clothes—only more of them now—that I did when I was like in high school even! I still have the same things that maybe don’t all fit, but I still have ‘em and love ‘em. My style did evolve from more vintage to a little more punk over the years.
Tish > I think I’m more of a fashion-follower or whatever, maybe a fashion leader. I like to change more than Snooky in general, I think I buy more stuff than she does and I’ve evolved over the years. I was like the kid that had to have pink, I had to have turquoise. I couldn’t bear wearing anything that wasn’t feminine. And when I became older, we had no money, so we took all the hand-me-downs we got, and I liked to sew, so I took the sewing machine and would make all these ’50s outfits into new shiny dresses and revamp everything. I have way too much stuff. My attic is cracking my ceiling. Clearly, I have way too much, but I still keep buying and still keep wearing this stuff. I still have, of course, a punk attitude in most of my clothes.
Snooky > Tish is more tailored.
Tish > That’s right, you know, somebody told us that the way he remembered the difference between Tish and Snooky is that Tish is tailored. T for Tish and T for tailored.
Snooky > So my husband said, “Well I guess that’s S for Snooky and S for sloppy!” Which is about right.

What was the St. Mark’s Place scene like?
Snooky > Well at first it was dead.
Tish > It was a pretty burned out neighbourhood, tons of empty storefronts.
Snooky > There were some vintage stores around the block.
Tish > Yeah, that was the look back then.
Snooky > And then when we opened, we were the wacky punk rock store end no one knew what to make of us.
Tish > As a matter of fact, we tried to sell some of our stuff before we opened to some of the places on St. Marks, and they thought they were disgusting. But then a year later they were opening up their own punk boutiques too.
Snooky > Yeah, they saw all the TV cameras coming into our store, and thought, Hmmm, I guess there is something to that. That looks like a good thing.

Tell me about your careers as singers.
Snooky > We’ve done it all. We were this wacky show at the Bowery Lane theatre called the Palm Casino Revue. That’s kind of where we got our start. Yeah, you know, we were doing stuff before that, but nothing you could call Palm Casino Revue professional, but that was like a different level for us. On a real stage and in an old vaudeville theatre show.
Tish > It was really cool, with all different wacky acts and lots of drag queens. They’d sing a little song, and do a little tap dance or something. So Debbie Harry and Chris Stein (of Blondie) saw us at the show, and asked us to come to one of their rehearsals, and then we were in their band. We were in Blondie for a little while and we’ve been in lots of other bands since then. Right now, we sing with this adorable band called Blue Coupe, which is the founding member of the Alice Cooper group, Dennis Dunnaway, the original bass player. And Albert and Joe Bouchard from Blue Öyster Cult.
Snooky > So we sing with them, and we also still sing with the Sic F*ucks, our old punk rock band that started back in ’77. The same year we started Manic Panic we also joined the S*c Fucks.

What was CBGB like?
Snooky > In the beginning, it was really pretty empty. When we were in the Palm Casino Revue we used to go across the street to CBGB with Eric Emerson, who was in the Magic Tramps; he was like a Warhol character. The place was basically dead, as a biker bar—the Hells Angels used to hang out there. Eventually there was a really small crowd of people in this very tiny bar. But it was this really cool underground club that nobody knew about, just a select few. It was like a secret society. I think everybody found out about it when Lisa Robinson came down to see the Ramones and wrote about it, and then everybody started coming and it became really popular. You could go on a Wednesday night and run into Lester Bangs, or Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith, and if you were in the scene you knew a million different people. And every night you went there, you knew everybody in the place. And it was all the big bands going to see other bands. It was the Dead Boys, Ramones, the Dictators, the Talking Heads, the Cramps. I mean it was just so much fun. You know, I think I used to go almost every night.
Tish > And the owner Hilly was like our father figure—we grew up without a dad.

How do you feel about Manic Panic’s popularity over the years, and the acceptance of “not normal” hair colours? Having your hair dyed a bright colour is something friends of mine used to get beat up for.
Snooky > It was something you got beat up for, it definitely was.
Tish > I did!
Snooky > Oh, we got made such fun of and tortured. And it’s great now they’re using models in all these magazines and on the runway, and you know we just feel like it’s about time the world caught up. It’s so great that young people dress just like we dress. And I love that, you know, I love seeing kids in bright red mohawks. It’s just the coolest thing.

How do you guys come up with the shades and the names for your hair colours?
Snooky > Coming up with oddball names was a fun thing that we did in the very beginning, and then lines like Urban Decay and Hard Candy started coming up with weird names for their products.
Tish > But we were the first!
Snooky > When we were younger we always loved cosmetics and we always thought that we’d have a cosmetic line and make really funny names. I mean I won’t even mention some of the names!
Tish > We might still use ‘em!
Snooky > Save them for other types of shops.
Tish > An X-rated line is coming soon.
Snooky > But we just loved colour and tried to do colours that other people aren’t doing.
Tish > It’s still all about what we like, colours we like, names we like. We like to do what we like!

Do you guys have a best-selling colour?
Tish > It varies throughout the years, I think for a really, really long time, Vampire Red was our biggest colour. Now I’m wondering if it’s still Vampire Red or if it’s Hot Hot Pink?

How did you guys move from importing cosmetics to developing your own formula? When did you move from being a small shop to an international brand?
Tish > We’re kind of, Snooky and I, I won’t say lazy because we work more than anybody on the planet, but we’re so easygoing in a way: ride with the tide and go with the flow. We had our little shop, and to tell you the truth, if we still had that little shop, maybe we wouldn’t have grown so much in the wholesale business. So circumstances have always brought us up to new levels, I feel. It seems to happen organically.
Snooky > What happened was our lease on St. Mark’s Place was up, after like 12 years, and the landlord was quadrupling the rent, and gave us two weeks to get out. So we thought it was the end of our lives, the end of the world. We didn’t know what to do. We had started wholesaling by then, so we just put all the merchandise into storage and just focused on the wholesale for a year, from my boyfriend’s studio apartment. It was like three flights up so we went and received the dye that we were importing and we would roll it up three flights of stair. The two of us would pack all the orders and be on the phone taking in customer calls. And then we’d roll the boxes back down the stairs, put ‘em in my car and race up to UPS every night. But we were focused on wholesale, and if we hadn’t lost our lease and been forced out of the retail business, we probably couldn’t have focused so much on the wholesale. So it was getting bigger and bigger, and the supplier in the UK couldn’t keep up with the demand, they were like three months behind on the shipping.
Tish > Plus they were cheating on us. You know, we had an exclusive deal with them and they were selling behind our backs to our customers. It was another worst time of our lives, ’cause our mother was dying at the same time.
Snooky > So it wasn’t like we could even spend our time fighting, ’cause our mother was dying, and we were at the hospital with her for months, so we ended up saying, “screw this, let’s just make it ourselves!”
Tish > We tracked down the guy who invented it originally, and had him make it to our specifications. And we came up with more colours that we really liked, and it was just an exciting transition, but everything kind of happened because somebody was mean to us, I guess!
Snooky > First the landlord raised our rent and then the supplier was cheating on us, and our mother was dying, but we just kept growing! And you know, that’s the way it’s always been.
Tish > And we always know when things are awful and people are being really mean to us, which some people have been lately, we know it’s just the start of another level for us. A higher level.

Do you guys have advice for young lady entrepreneurs?
Tish > Sure, we’ve got plenty of advice!
Snooky > You know, sometimes we speak to the Girl Scouts, or different organizations.
Tish > And we always tell everybody, if you do something that you love, and it’s your passion, you’re guaranteed to succeed. I mean, everything we do we loved. So, when we were singing, I can’t even tell you how many times I forgot to get paid because I just loved doing it. And it’s the same thing with this business. Well, it’s not like we forget to get paid because we have a bookkeeper.
Snooky > Thank god! You have to love what you do and do what you love. And you also have to never take no for an answer. That’s our other advice. Because we’ve been told so many times, oh no, that’s it, you can’t do that. And we’re like, but wait a minute. What about this way? What about that way? And we always seem to get it done. You know, there are times when you can’t, but in general, where there’s a will there’s a way. You just keep fighting for what you want. Young women are getting better at that. But the one thing that I do see, that I think we have that some younger people don’t have is that people need to have a real passion for something and not think that somebody else is going do it for them. I don’t know what they’re teaching in school nowadays, but some younger people have an attitude that the world owes them something, and I don’t think the world owes anybody anything. I think you have to make your own world. You have to carve it out yourself. And you really have to take the initiative and not sit back.
Tish > Yeah, and you just have to be ready to live and breathe it, 24-hours-a-day.
Snooky > It doesn’t leave you. You know, it’s not like a regular job where you can go home and forget about it. It haunts you in your waking and sleeping hours. And there’s a lot of heartache that goes along with it as well as incredible joy. It’s not really meant for everyone. A lot of people prefer to go home and forget about everything after your eight hours—if that’s you, don’t start your own business. We have a friend, Cleo Rose, who was a movie star in the ’50s. And she started out with nothing. She was like us. She started out dirt poor. She was an actress, and didn’t really like that too much. She got into real estate and dealing art, and all sorts of other endeavours. And now she has a castle in Italy, a townhouse in London, and a chapel in Tunbridge Wells in England, and all sorts of other places. You know, but when she was a little girl, she wanted a castle. And she got her castle! So anything’s possible. She’s our role model. She will just not take no for an answer. And our mother, too. Our mother wouldn’t take no for an answer either. When our father left, she had two little girls. And at that time, it was really difficult. It wasn’t like today where people get help, and it was a shameful thing to have children and no husband around. She went back to school when she was in her fifties. She started a whole new career; she was a greeting card artist, a commercial artist. And that paid so little that she went back to school and became an occupational therapist, one of the first occupational therapists in the country. And then she was asked by the head of visual arts at her school to start a program there and be the chairperson of the visual arts art therapy program. She worked until she passed away when she was in her late seventies.

Can you describe your sister in three words or less?
Snooky > Smart, practical and kind. Kind, she’s very kind.
Tish > I would say smart, determined, and also kind.

art // Katrina Cervoni

Pretty Noisy

Talking Carl Jung and homemade costumes with Vancouver feminist fashion band MYTHS

Don’t let their screeching scare you; MYTHS are the sweethearts of Vancouver’s noise and experimental scene. Quinne Rodgers and Lief Hall comprise the dark electronic duo that mixes performance art with fashion and attack noise assaults with deconstructed pop stardom. For those who checked out the recent Grimes tour, you might recognize them as the beautiful creatures under sheets of opalescent plastic playing back-up for Ms. Boucher.

I first saw MYTHS play at a show in Meaford, Ontario a few years ago. They danced like pixies around a giant homemade prism in elaborate, mirror-covered outfits…with capes. Doused in an amplified rainbow of light, they poured waves of beautiful sound over the crowd and down into the valley of the farm we camped on. Needless to say, I was impressed. Fashion, noise music, and two strong women in one band? I left inspired and still remain nostalgic about that night. I knew I had to see them play again and had to talk to them about fashion, feminism, and their own personal mythologies for WORN.

What do you think the relationship between music and fashion is? Why do people care about what musicians wear?
Leif > My first thought when you say that is that people are always fascinated with the personality behind the creator of an artwork. What drives that creative force? Clothes and people’s personalities are really linked. It’s the way that you express who you are, what you’re into, what you like. People want to know: who is that person? How you dress says something about who you are.
Quinne > Humans are visual creatures. That’s largely how we communicate. Clothing is a language and a code. Being able to see a person and see what they’re wearing—it reads like a novel. I’ve heard other musicians complain about that before but it’s just how it is. You need to accept the visual as part of it; it’s what people are attracted to. It works for us because we’re both visual artists and we love clothes!

After I first saw you play I was left with this overwhelming sensation: I had just seen a mind-blowing performance that I sensed was inherently feminist. After reading up on your work, I wasn’t surprised to find that you cite feminism as an influence on your practice. What kinds of feminist politics drive your work?
Quinne > We were both discovering feminism as MYTHS was created. It was almost like a feminist book club when we were first starting. We read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf and had these long discussions about it, and a result the first album was really influenced by this. When you first discover feminist thought you feel like the wool is being pulled off your eyes and we went through this together as friends and band mates.
Leif > It was our first real experience discovering feminism, and it was great that we also experienced this sudden empowerment because we were doing something creative and productive together. You hear about feminist thought in passing, but when you really start to get into these politics things change; it was an exciting time in that sense. Also, you get a lot of feelings coming up—reactionary feelings. These reactions really came out in our music. But we’re also very much interested in storytelling and fantasy and evoking imagery, so even though we were thinking about and wanted feminism to be a part of our work, we didn’t want it to be preachy—we don’t have the answers. We wanted the project to be evocative of these ideas. Our approach to it was to create stories, worlds, fantasy and poetry and let our views come out as something that wasn’t imposing. So in the way that you said you “sensed something,” that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted to convey a message subconsciously or in a dreamlike landscape.

When you say reactionary anger I think about a video I’ve seen of you performing costume-less at Wyrd Festival in Edmonton.
Lief > There were three dates for that festival: Calgary, Edmonton, and, Lethbridge and we didn’t really wear costumes the whole time. If was our first out of town gig and we were just a little bit nervous, but we’ve come into our own with that. We did a photoshoot the other day that was a series of Vancouver bands and everyone wore the typical band uniform; causal day clothes, the usual. We decided to just go for it. I wore this frightening yellow ballgown with big ruffles and big flowers on my head. Quinne wore her wedding gown with similar flowers on her head. We decided to just say screw it and go with our own thing.

In the video I saw of that show your aggression seems to come across in a totally different way without the clothes. 
Lief > I guess when you strip away the costumes it starts to show a little bit more of the real part of what we’re doing. We enter into fantasy in our work, and the costumes, sets, and visuals are all a part of that. The aggression is different in those settings, it takes on a different meaning. When you strip away all of the costuming you’re left with the rawness of the aggression.
Quinne > Have you ever seen videos of Leif’s old band, Mutators? You could really see the aggression in that band.

Are there characters you play when you perform in MYTHS?
Quinne > There’s the aspect of live shows and being a character, and there’s also the idea of actual reoccurring characters that come up in our work: like the woman with the long white hair. We did an electronic opera and a bunch of characters came out in that. Then there’s also the idea of live performance: how much we are ourselves and how much of it is characters. But it’s really important to us that we’re not some kind of version of something that isn’t ourselves, that we’re not “playing parts.”
Lief >  I guess at the same time, every person has different elements of themselves that they can tap into. That was my experience when I was in the band Mutators. People would meet me offstage and be stunned as if it wasn’t the same person they had just seen get up on stage and perform. Sometimes you transform during a performance, you tap into a part of yourself you don’t usually access. We both like reading about mythology a lot: it’s a big part of what we write about, hence the name MYTHS. Carl Jung talks about personal mythologies, and more or less said that because we don’t believe in mythologies in the same way that we have historically, we create our own characterizations of ourselves and other people as these sort of mythic characters in our psyches. Within MYTHS I do think we tap into these parts of ourselves—it’s still us, but it’s a mythic characterizations of ourselves.

Who are your favourite fashion designers?
Quinne > Alexander Mcqueen. I cried at my desk at work when I found out he died. Nobody’s really come close for me since, until recently I discovered Iris van Herpen who is a dutch designer whose stuff is so amazing. Bjork has been wearing a bunch of her work. She’s really technical. She did cyborg, skeleton-like designs that were made with lasers. You put a bunch of material in a box and a laser will go in and solidify the material. It’s also not traditional material for clothing—that’s something I get excited about, when clothing is not just fabric draped on a body, and instead it’s a piece of architecture, an object—film, rocks, etc. McQueen really did that. I also used to say Galliano, but now I feel like a dick for saying Galliano. He’s a dirty thing to like now after his behaviour. I’ll just stick with Alexander McQueen and Iris van Herpen.
Leif > I share Quinne’s love of designers, but I also love Victor and Rolf.
Quinne > They all really influence the costumes for our stage shows, even to the point where I’ve tried to copy some of their designs. We’re not fashion designers though, so it turns out differently and we’re not competing with them. But we do get really influenced directly by stuff. It’s transformed by how we make it and how it’s used.

Quinne, I read somewhere that you used to be a fashion designer?
Quinne > Yeah, quite a long time ago. I’ve always been really into clothing and because of my small stature I had to learn how to sew. So for a while I made clothes, had my own label, and sold them in little Vancouver shops. I stopped because I wasn’t really organized enough to really pull it off. I would make one piece and it would be intricate and handmade and then I would go off and do another design—I never made a bunch in different sizes. It’s perfect for the band though; now I can just go nuts and make whatever I want.

photography & video // MYTHS

Processing Perfection

Something to do over the holidays: The Bata Shoe Museum chronicles Roger Vivier's creative process

While we have expressed our love for the beautifully designed shoes of Roger Vivier in our shoe issue, there’s a stark difference between seeing something on the page and seeing something in real life. Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum’s current exhibit Process to Perfection features some of Vivier’s most stunning works. Not only is it a good complement to our article (hint hint), it also acts as an informative look into the life and working process of the renowned shoe designer.

The artifacts in this exhibit come from the Bata Shoe Museum’s holdings, as well as the Roger Vivier Brand, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Deutsches Ledermuseum in Germany, with each institution helping to document the history of Vivier’s rise to mastery of his craft. While the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Roger Vivier Brand may provide elegant examples of Vivier’s distinct aesthetic such as the Pilgrim buckle and the perfection of the stiletto heel, pieces of the process of “becoming” Vivier can be found elsewhere. For example, many sketches, as well as “pullover” prototypes from the archives at the Bata Shoe Museum are included in the display, alongside some of Vivier’s earliest prototypes created while working at a German leather company during the ’30s. These pieces were only recently discovered as a part of Vivier’s material legacy, given the fact they were created prior to his fame as a designer.

Vivier’s work has become so ubiquitous in ’50s cinema that to see his work broken down to its elements is a reminder of all the work that exists behind some of the most iconic shoes.

further information // Roger Vivier film and lecture series, on through April 2013
further reading // Rea McNamara on Vivier in issue 8′s “Belle Pied”
illustration // Solange Yepez

Remember When It Used To Be Warm?

Worn to WORN: Jenna Wornette dressed somewhere between "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" and "Bewitched"

What inspired this outfit?
I was going for loungy, light and dream-like. It was really hot out that day, so I wanted to be comfortable, but still fashionable and a little eccentric. Most of my clothes are second hand – looking like they were made somewhere between the ’60s, and the ’80s. I like the colours, prints and the attitudes associated with those times.

Tell me about one of the items you are wearing.
My dress is from the Salvation Army across the street from the old WORN office. It was under $10, which automatically makes it a great item. I love the quilted panel and the slight point in the seams of the chest – darted busts intrigue me. The colours are amazing and the print is genius – it’s the wings of butterflies.

What is the best book to read in this outfit?
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe. This is a dress to take drugs in, if I’ve ever seen one.

What style icon would wear this outfit?
Endora, Samantha’s mother on Bewitched. It has the retro housedress vibe to it, and my recently dyed black hair has a witchy feel to it.

outfit credits // Dress, earrings and bracelet are thrifted from the Salvation Army, shoes by Betsy Johnson.

photography // Hailey Siracky