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.