Raw Interview with Britney Frady-Williams

Twins,” design by Brit­ney Frady-Williams, pho­tographed by Judith Stephens.

Brit­ney Frady-Williams is the mas­ter­mind behind Berít New York, a Steam­punk inspired bou­tique that is tak­ing the cat­walks by storm. Frady-Williams holds a fash­ion design degree from the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy. Her designs have been fea­tured in the New York Times,  Ital­ian Marie Claire, Bust mag­a­zine, Hue mag­a­zine, and Time Out New York.  Her lat­est set of cloth­ing was debuted at the A La Mode Inter­na­tion­al Cat­walk dur­ing Lon­don Fash­ion Week, which you can see here.

The Steam­punk Bible:  What is your per­son­al def­i­n­i­tion of Steam­punk?

Brit­ney Frady-Williams:  Put sim­ply, Steam­punk is Vic­to­ri­an-era sci­ence fic­tion. It’s about explor­ing the world of the 19th cen­tu­ry. Because the genre is root­ed in Vic­to­ri­an and Amer­i­can West­ern cul­tures, I should also men­tion that some spe­cial empha­sis is placed on them. But more than just that, I also see Steam­punk as a kind of rebel­lion against a mod­ernism, and a cri­tique of soci­ety that is addict­ed to tech­nol­o­gy. It’s a way of say­ing “Look, we can live in the present while still hon­or­ing the past; we can use tech­nol­o­gy in a way that is dig­ni­fy­ing, prac­ti­cal and long last­ing instead of life-drain­ing and dis­il­lu­sion­ing. We can bring back mod­esty and man­ners, and look good while we’re at it!’’

SPB:  How long have you been involved/interested in Steam­punk?

BFW:  I have been involved with the Steam­punk cul­ture for over two years now. It was a nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion, and when I came into it, I was just at the right place at the right time. When I began Berít New York, I just cre­at­ed what I liked. More and more peo­ple start­ed telling me my work remind­ed them of Steam­punk. I didn’t have that firm of an idea what it was at the time, but the more I looked into it, the more I real­ized that this is exact­ly where I belonged. I helped put on a Steam­punk fash­ion show with the Brook­lyn Indie Mar­ket, and it pret­ty much took off from there!

SPB:  What dif­fer­ences do you see between now and when you start­ed?

BFW:  When I start­ed the fash­ion aspect was still devel­op­ing. I main­ly saw jew­el­ry being labeled as Steam­punk, but not much cloth­ing. I do think that host­ing Steam­punk fash­ion shows helped to con­nect design­ers with the com­mu­ni­ty; now it is almost expect­ed to see a Steam­punk fash­ion show at any giv­en con or sci-fi event. I have also seen the musi­cal aspect grow a lit­tle as well and I have to give cred­it to Gild­ed Age Records for doing so much to fur­ther Steam­punk as a musi­cal genre. Now there are new Steam­punk bands sprout­ing all over the globe!

SPB:  Steam­punk obvi­ous­ly influ­ences your designs – what is it about Steam­punk fash­ion that keeps design­ing fresh? Basi­cal­ly, the free­dom to make his­tor­i­cal­ly inspired pieces that can still oper­ate out­side his­to­ry and in my imag­i­na­tion. When I began Berít New York, the goal was to bring old world charm into mod­ern liv­ing, and Steam­punk is a near-per­fect real­iza­tion of that goal. Like I said ear­li­er, I always designed with a Steam­punk aes­thet­ic; just now I know that what I was doing has a name.

BFW:  Steam­punk fash­ion has a huge DIY cul­ture.  What ele­vates the fash­ion to cou­ture in your store and on the run­way? In oth­er words, are your cus­tomers Steam­punk kids dress­ing up for Cos­play and Cons, balls, or are you see­ing a more diverse cus­tomer base? Being that my focus has always been to appeal to the high fash­ion com­mu­ni­ty and to the alter­na­tive mar­ket at the same time, I can eas­i­ly say that fus­ing the two is no sim­ple task. I try to incor­po­rate high qual­i­ty fab­rics, tai­lored fit and unique designs to try and stand out among the com­pe­ti­tion and stay rel­e­vant to both mar­kets. Liv­ing in New York City helps to sup­ply me with the best resources pos­si­ble to achieve these goals. As for cus­tomer base, I do have a lot of cus­tomers who like to go to cons and dress up, but I also design for men and women out­side the con-goer crowd who like to stand out, be seen, and express them­selves; peo­ple who aren’t afraid to make a state­ment and who are a bit eccen­tric. My cloth­ing has edge and ele­gance. My tar­get mar­kets, in gen­er­al, are “well-man­nered rebels” and “civ­i­lized psy­chopaths.”

SPB:  I under­stand you have Chero­kee her­itage.  Does this inform your Steam­punk views as well as work at all?  If yes, how so?

BFW:  Yes, my her­itage very much informs my design! It’s always been a huge part of my life. I owe a lot of my craft to my tribe and my native grand­par­ents. My grand­moth­er was a very skilled craftswoman and would teach me things as a kid. I grew up close to my trib­al roots and would reg­u­lar­ly vis­it my fam­i­ly near Chero­kee Nation in North Car­oli­na. Dur­ing my vis­its to the reser­va­tion, I would study the crafts and jew­el­ry for sale and that was how I learned to do bead­work and make oth­er native crafts like head­dress­es, pot­tery, jew­el­ry, and dream catch­ers. I don’t think that influ­ence will ever leave me. I like to veer to the “Wild West” direc­tion in Steam­punk, incor­po­rat­ing Native Amer­i­can tex­tiles, cow­boy fash­ions and, nat­u­ral­ly, exot­ic tech­nol­o­gy.

SPB:  Do you feel Steam­punk is lack­ing in mul­ti-cul­tur­al par­tic­i­pants?

BFW:  Not more so than any oth­er west­ern­ized cul­ture. It may be true that the major­i­ty of peo­ple who iden­ti­fy with Steam­punk are Cau­casian, but I’ve seen peo­ple from all types of dif­fer­ent eth­nic and racial back­grounds at Steam­punk events. I think the Steam­punk com­mu­ni­ty as a whole is very wel­com­ing, and it embraces mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. I also think that the more we incor­po­rate oth­er cul­tures from the 19th cen­tu­ry out­side Wild West Amer­i­ca and Upper-Class Britain, the bet­ter and more imag­i­na­tive the move­ment will be.

SPB:  If so to the above, do you feel Steam­punk – because of its Brit impe­ri­al­is­tic his­to­ry – intim­i­dates Peo­ple of Col­or and coun­tries and cul­tures that were not Angli­can, includ­ing Amer­i­ca?

BFW:  If there’s an intim­i­da­tion fac­tor any­where, I think it comes from peo­ple wor­ried that their cos­tumes won’t be as bril­liant or well-made as some­one elses. There’s also a degree to which some peo­ple involved in the move­ment can’t see beyond sim­ply repli­cat­ing Vic­to­ri­an Eng­land with some brass gad­gets on top, but they’re the ones who are miss­ing out, and ulti­mate­ly I think the genre itself will leave them behind. Steam­punk is about the era of steam tech­nol­o­gy, and the pos­si­bil­i­ties that tech­nol­o­gy opened up to peo­ples around the world. It can­not, and I also think will not, be defined by a sin­gle group with­in a sin­gle cul­ture from a sin­gle coun­try. Steam­punk is still a coun­ter­cul­tur­al move­ment, and not just the lit­er­al re-liv­ing of the Vic­to­ri­an era. We’re priv­i­leged now in that instead of stamp­ing out mul­ti­cul­tur­al influ­ences, we’re able to see their val­ue and wel­come them with open arms.

SPB:  Who and where are you see­ing this con­flict in Steam­punk being resolved?

BFW:  This is hard to answer, because I see a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple try­ing to address this in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways. The Steam­fash­ion Live­Jour­nal com­mu­ni­ty is very pos­i­tive about peo­ple pro­mot­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al inter­pre­ta­tions of Steam­punk, and a lot of the grass­roots lev­el pub­li­ca­tions and events are also doing a lot to push for wider diver­si­ty. G.D. Falk­sen and a lot of oth­er writ­ers in Steam­punk Tales have made it a point to incor­po­rate eth­ni­cal­ly diverse char­ac­ters, and my own hus­band, Austin H. Williams, is work­ing on sto­ries that focus more on work­ing class life and also on Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties in 19th cen­tu­ry Europe, rather than focus­ing on the usu­al tropes of the upper-crust. These are just a few of the things let­ting Steam­punk diver­si­ty flour­ish, and there are so many of them, I’d ques­tion whether there’s any real “con­flict” at all.

SPB:  Future of Steam­punk fash­ion?  Do you see it evolv­ing and becom­ing main­stream?

BFW:  Some of the more “stereo­typ­i­cal” Steam­punk styles will prob­a­bly get the most atten­tion: gog­gles, gears, brass, browns, long flow­ing dress­es. I think that, as with most sub­cu­lu­tral styles, Steam­punk will turn into a main­stream trend and gath­er some hype, but it won’t stick, except with the peo­ple who have real­ly opened their hearts and minds to the cul­ture as a whole and embraced it. Any­thing that sep­a­rates itself from the de fac­to pop­u­lar cul­ture will almost by def­i­n­i­tion not be ful­ly under­stood in the main­stream. Either you get it or you don’t. The his­tor­i­cal aspect will nev­er go com­plete­ly out of style sim­ply because it looks good, but I do not fore­see any main­stream mar­ket going – and stay­ing – strict­ly Steam­punk.

“Raw Interview with Britney Frady-Williams” was published in Fashion, Interviews and tagged , , .

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