There are certain neighborhoods in East Las Vegas that envelop you at night. You drive in, wind around a few times and suddenly find yourself transported into a different era. Gnarled, ancient trees tower over ranch style homes that have prevailed through seventies chic to the skids and back. They have fabulous kidney-shaped pools with rusty diving boards and lush, overgrown landscape. Some have been given facelifts that required painting over graffiti and covering over an excess of electrical outlets and LED light recesses. Many are now inhabited with artists that make up the creative underbelly of this city.
On a balmy October Eve, I set foot upon on one such doorstep, to meet Cari Byers, designer of Green Tease Clothing and Clique Costumes. She was in the midst of a telephone conversation when she let me in, and I was left vulnerable in her foyer to soak in the surroundings.
After being knocked slightly off kilter, we made our introductions and I followed her into her work room. It was then that I realized that it was going to be an exceptionally interesting night.
It was a tiny room walled with cinderblock that had bucked off its destiny of drabness. Feathers, baubles, beads, rhinestones, cut-out patterns, costume renderings, old T-shirts and vintage clothing were crammed into every inch of space. Her work table housed a sewing machine that she said had been using as long as she could remember. Her mother had been a costume designer as well, and Cari seemed to have that effortless talent that is born to those who have mastered a skill. She had never aspired to sew, she had just always sewed. It’s an edge that some lucky souls are born with, and a few actually realize.
She was preparing for two fashion shows that were coming up. The first would be at LA Fashion Week for her line of recycled clothing called Green Tease. It would be presented at the Sugar Art and Fashion Show. The second was going to be for her costume line at the Raw Artists Fashion Show here in Las Vegas. It looked like she was up to her eyeballs.
“Believe it or not, this room is organized”, laughed Cari. She swore she knew where every scrap of fabric was located. I just stared at the makings of showgirl costumes tossed about in heaps, like piles of old bones. Feeling a bit like the goldfish in the foyer, things began to stretch out of proportion and loom over me.
Then she took me on the tour.
I followed her up past a quirky art collection, up a tikki-inspired stairway and down a hallway covered with showgirl prints from the Folies-Bergere. I think I neglected to mention that she was also a showgirl. She actually danced in the Vegas production of the Folies until it closed at the Tropicana a few years back.
She let me stare at her bedroom, which I did with my mouth open. Then, she let me rifle through all of her jewelry. I asked if she and her boyfriend fit on the bed. She just laughed and said “no, not really”. As I gazed at the print of Edie Sedgewick atop her bureau, Edie’s left eyebrow raised a little as if to say “yes I belong here…. do you”? I glanced away, and then I followed Cari into her closet.
As is the case in most heterosexual relationships, her boyfriend’s things were shoved into a small area to make room for Cari’s massive wardrobe. From what I had seen already, I knew that her collection of clothing would be far from ordinary. She had a vintage leather jacket with fringe for days. It was from Buffalo Exchange, and I think I might have salivated on it a little bit. I pulled out a pair of overalls with a cartoon farm animal print. “Yes, I wear these”, Cari commented. They were hilarious and fabulous all at the same time. I think I was beginning to get her.
After surveying all her hats, fingering her accessories, and leafing through more clothing, we started to head back downstairs. Then, suddenly she stopped. ” I have to show you the feather room “, she said.
THE FEATHER ROOM???
Yes, the feather room. She was the real deal alright. The room was entirely filled with gorgeous showgirl headdresses, backpacks and costumes dripping with sequins and stones. On one wall leaned the largest, tackiest, most fabulous painting I have ever seen. “Oh, yeah, I got that at a trailer park” , Cari laughed. “I have nowhere to hang it in this house so I just keep it in here.” It fit right in.
I can’t tell you how much I wanted to throw on a pair of fishnets, character shoes, and a wig cap so I could try everything on that room. I wanted to be a showgirl. I wanted wanted to bevel and bat false eyelashes at a tipsy audience. I wanted to parade around her house, which in showgirl speak is called “tipping”. I felt at home in that room.
It was clear that Cari did too. She was in her element.
We convened downstairs in the workroom again. I was feeling a bit dazed, as my parameters had been kicked out from under me. Reality had become a quiet mouse that had scurried away. Cari gestured to her Green Tease line and said “take anything you want.” I left with an armful of clothing made from recycled T-shirts and vintage fabrics. As I drove home with a head full of acidic images and new possibilities, I felt validated. As if any creative or weird idea I had was okay.
It would be a night to remember. I had taken my first sip of Green Tease.
You can follow Cari on Facebook @Clique Costumes and @Green Tease.