I walked into Dark Garden and introduced myself as a classmate of one of their employees and ask to see the taxidermy jewelry they carry. The sales clerk led me to an ornate display case. Now, let's just say I was hugely relieved... no, let's not. I was absolutely giddy with relief because there was just no comparison.
And why would I care anyway? Well, I've been an artist for 30 years, doing taxidermy has been my passion for 11 years and the market for quality work is relatively small. I've also had more than my fair share of concepts sucked over the years and I do get depressed and dismayed when people tell me that my work reminds them of so and so's (who was a teacher's aid in one of my classes and who got a Guggenheim grant with a very detailed idea of mine) or that they have seen work "just like that". In the past I would just sink into a depression and stop working... sometimes for years. This time I decided to write about it instead.
There was a partially dressed pigeon head that made me suspect that whoever was making this stuff had seen my work/website but this bird looked like it had been scraped off the street and had a rhinestone or synthetic gem glued into the eye cavity and the metal bits on the other stuff were mass-produced, stamped brass victorian reproductions. And that's perfectly okay. I'm sure there is a market for this quality/price point that I would never be able, nor want, to satisfy. I got the name of the company and planned further research online.
Back to the shop experience. Dark Garden is filled with gorgeous clothing. Very romantic and costume-y. Reminiscent of Mrs Haversham's wedding table.
I spot a lovely long coat and say how beautiful I think it is. The sales clerk say's something to the effect of it looking even better on and why don't I try it on. I can feel the covet factor starting to kick in as my hand reaches uncontrollably out for the price tag. $350.00. My hand retracts and I say 'I better not, this is the sort of thing I would get myself as a reward for losing 30lbs.' to which the sales clerk comments 'Well personally, I think people should be comfortable in their bodies,' in a very judgmental, some might say, snotty, tone.
My head started to reel and I wanted to flee. (I've had problems with panic attacks and there have been times when I wouldn't leave my house for months on end. I was once stuck in bed for a month and would vomit and sweat when I tried to get up.) I controlled my breathing and and tried to explain that I was comfortable in my body, (not wanting to go into details like how I unattractive I think I am but am perfectly resigned to the fact or how I prefer to spend my limited resources on art supplies and antique taxidermy) and I'm thinking why should I have to explain myself and for f*ck sake, you work in a CORSET shop, when she adds, 'and besides, what happens when you gain the weight BACK?" WOW! Business must be really good for her to be so insulting and rude!
She then has a light bulb moment: She asks, sweetly this time, if I've ever tried a corset. I tell her that I have a corset and she asks if it's one of theirs. I say no, I have one made by Puimond. And all hell broke loose.
This woman swoops out of the back room (who I later learn is the shop owner) and starts ranting about how awful Puimond's work is, how he doesn't understand women's bodies because he's a man and how much longer she has been making corsets. Mortified, all I could think of to say was 'Well, I like my Puimond corset!' and she flies, just as abruptly, out the room. I think I was just told that I have rotten taste in corsets and as much as I really want to bolt now I was determined that I wasn't going to be intimidated by these frightful women.
I told the sales clerk that Puimond was actually a friend of mine and that, frankly, I did think that his construction was actually better than theirs. Uh. oh. What did I mean by that? I pointed out that the corset that they had on (prominent) display behind the counter had obvious crooked seams. Her answer (excuse?) was that that corset was 10 years old. Okay, whatever. So I stroll around and look at a few newer corsets to satisfy my curiosity (and to force myself to hold some ground). It just so happens that every one I looked at had crooked seams and some loose threads. They were still pretty and I certainly wouldn't mind owning a few of their skirts and that coat (except that I don't think I could bear setting foot in that shop ever again).
Thinking it's finally safe to leave, I go to the counter to say goodbye to the clerk when the owner returns to "apologize" for being so "intense" about her comments about Puimond and that she really just wanted me to know that Puimond had actually approached her at some event and told her what an influence she had been to him. She looked so stricken, like a deer caught in the headlights, that I didn't feel comfortable making eye contact and just mumbled something about Apples and Oranges. And left.
I'm not at all surprised that Puimond would be gracious. His manners are as impeccable as his stitching. I'm not calling Dark Garden corsets rubbish. I think their designs are beautiful but their craftsmanship is only average in my opinion. Puimond's skills are almost supernaturally precise.
BTW, my Puimond corset fits like a glove and some people really can't tell the difference between apples and oranges and I still wish that I could magically lose 30lbs... and then get another Puimond corset.
Stay tuned for the finale, pt 3.