Interview with Katherine Gleason

This week we are talking with Katherine Gleason, author of Anatomy of Steampunk.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Katherine, it’s great to have this time to catch up with you.

Katherine Gleason: Hi, there, Kevin and everyone out there. Thanks for having me and thanks for your interest in my work!

Anatomy Steampunk Cover

AA: Before we discuss the gorgeous content within the pages, what is this book about?

KG: Anatomy of Steampunk: The Fashion of Victorian Futurism centers on contemporary fashion artists from all over the world who create within a retro-futurist aesthetic. The book is an inspirational look book—there are more than 200 color photos inside, and a how-to text, as it contains ten DIY projects for readers to try at home.


AA: What was the motivation for creating Anatomy?

KG: My previous book was about fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s runway shows. Delving into his work, I became fascinated with the way that fashion can intersect with contemporary art and performance and with art history. McQueen often used a Victorian or Edwardian silhouette. So, I started looking at neo-Victorian and Edwardian fashions. I was also drawn to the conversation that a lot of steampunks are having about our relationship to machines and technology, about consumerism and throw-away goods.


AA: Aside from that drive for the project, what other personal aspects drove the work or otherwise made their way into it?

KG: Many of the books I’ve written involve spotlighting other people, their projects, and creativity. I love learning about the work of my interview subjects, hearing about their methods, ideas, and working practices. Then I love sharing the cool stuff that I’ve learned with readers. With this particular book, I wanted to make sure to represent the diversity of steampunk and to include steampunk practitioners from all over the world.


AA: With so much variety to choose from, what were your guidelines to choose initial entries? How were you able to whittle it down to the final selections?

KG: It was hard! And I was lucky that I had amazing people to help me. I think the biggest whittling factor was time. We were working with a very tight deadline. Sadly some of the individuals I contacted were not able to work within our time constraints. What’s particularly sad to me is that some of the designers that are not in the book are absent from the book because they had so much of their own design work that they did not have time for interviews and getting us photos.


AA: That’s so often the situation with busy people! What kind of research went into creating Anatomy? How and where did you find all these great people? It’s great that you named the various models, and many of those names will be familiar in the steampunk community.

KG: Very early in my research process, I had tea with Catherine Siemann, who’s an English professor and a member of the steering committee of The New York Nineteenth Century Society. The society has a fashion show every year. So, Catherine gave me a bunch of ideas for designers I should consider, and she suggested that I look at Diana Pho’s blog, Beyond Victoriana, which I did, and then she introduced me to Diana. (If you don’t know Diana and her work, you totally should! In addition to writing and editing the multicultural steampunk blog Beyond Victoriana, she blogs about steampunk on, writes academic articles about steampunk, and presents panels and info sessions at cons nationwide. Also she has some great steampunk outfits!) My editorial team hired Diana as a consultant; she and I worked on lists of designers and sent each other lots of photos. And then we had her write the introduction to the book, which I think does a super job of setting the stage for the reader. With regard to the models, we really wanted to credit everyone who was part of making the images we used—models, makeup artists, photographers, clothing designers. (In the book’s credits, if I left anyone out, please let me know! I’m keeping a list of corrections for when the book goes into reprint.)


AA: Looking at some specific images, what can you tell us about the outfit with the Black Garden corset on page 28 ?

KG: I do love that photo! Black Garden is an online shop based in Poland. They have customers all over the world. Black Garden sells custom made goods, ready-made pieces, and some vintage and second hand items as well. They also carry a lot of Goth and industrial fashions in addition to steampunk. Lady Ardzesz is the seamstress who sews the made-to-order clothes, like the corset, bolero jacket, and skirt that are displayed in the photo you mention. When last I talked to Angelika Jakóbik, who owns and runs Black Garden, she was hoping to open a brick and mortar store as well.


AA: How about Kristi Smart‘s work on pages 48-49 and 124-125? I’m one of the many admirers and collectors of her jackets.

KG: Kristi Smart! Kristi Smart! I love, love her jackets, and I’m so happy that her work is in the book. I have to say the photos of her black coat with the silkscreen design (on pages 48 and 49) are among my favorite images in the book. And we were so luck to get these pictures. I’d seen a small image of this coat on Kristi’s website, and I was intrigued. But she didn’t have any larger pictures of the coat, and she’d already sold it. Lucky for us she’d sold it to a collector of her work who let her borrow the coat back for a quick photo shoot. We were luckier still that her neighbor Lucia Loiso, who is a professional photographer, was available to shoot on such short notice and that Ari Giancaterino, who is another neighbor, modeled for us. I’m so very pleased with how the images turned out! And I want to thank Kristi and Lucia and Ari again for accommodating us and our crazy schedule!


AA: And Maurice Grunbaum‘s work on pages 146-147? I’ve long admired his work and have asked him on occasion how he’s created some of it.

KG: Maurice’s work is fascinating! I keep imagining what his workroom must look like. I picture shelves and shelves of flea market treasures. I’ve spent long periods staring at the photo on 147, trying to figure out what all the elements are made from, trying to count the sea shells on his mask and gauntlet. I’d love to see this outfit in person. I was fortunate to encounter some of Maurice’s work live. He had a different gauntlet and mask in a show that came to New York and was displayed at the Agnès B. gallery and boutique on Howard Street in Manhattan.


AA: I know it’s going to be tough, but which outfit is your favorite and why?

KG: Oh, wow…. that is difficult. I’m going to have to say that my favorite is the Festooned Butterfly ensemble that Diana is modeling on page 21. One reason is that I have seen this outfit in person. And it is swell! I also really love the way it brings together layers of culture and history. Angie Carter, the designer, based this ensemble on an image that she found in Harper’s Magazine from the mid-nineteenth century. The Harper’s illustration is an example of the chinoiserie that was popular starting in the 1850s in Europe. Basically Europeans started imitating Asian designs in this period. They were also importing a lot of goods from Asia. Anyhow, in addition to starting with a nineteenth century chinoiserie design, this Festooned Butterfly dress is made from sari silk, and it incorporates Chinese and Japanese design elements.


We’ll stop here in our chat with Katherine Gleason, author of Anatomy of Steampunk.

Check back for part 2 where Katherine talks about fun times, lessons learned, and next steps.


Published in: on March 16, 2014 at 8:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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