This week in Women in Horror Month, Shannon had the chance to speak with designers Lynh Haaga and Micheline Pitt about their brand new clothing line, La Femme en Noir, working with the Vampira estate, and what being a woman in horror means to them!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Lynh and Micheline! It’s such an honor to speak with you both for Women in Horror Month! To start things off, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and what it is you both do?
Lynh Haaga: I’ve been sewing and designing clothing since I was a small child. I went to art school for fashion design (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), and I’ve spent my entire career designing for big companies like BCBG, Max Azria, Bebe, and Forever 21. My father was a master tailor in Vietnam and I’ve been surrounded by clothing and fashion my entire life. It’s my true passion and I suppose you could say it’s in my blood!
Micheline Pitt: I grew up as a poor scrappy little punk/goth kid in rural Georgia, I could not find nor afford clothing I liked so I made my own. I used my mom’s old Singer sewing machine and designed clothes for my female friends, and as my passion continued, I started a little line called “Beyond the Grave” inspired by my favorite Glamour Ghoul, Vampira, who was the actual logo for my business. I would make monster and horror inspired clothing; this was way before online platforms and I’d vend out of the trunk of my car at shows and events. I kept making clothing for myself and ventured off as an animator, makeup artists and even a tattoo artist until I started working in fashion for a living. I cut my teeth in the industry for over 10 years and then branched off to my own label “Vixen”, a denim line “Bad Girl Denim” and my partnership with Lynh for “La Femme en Noir”. I just love being creative and if that involves making people look and feel good about themselves than that makes me really happy.
Nightmarish Conjurings: La Femme en Noir showcases beautiful clothing for all sizes with a focus on glam gothic. How did La Femme en Noir come to be and how do you come up with the designs?
LH: Micheline and I have known one another for 12 years, but we never considered collaborating until recently. “La Femme en Noir” was our opportunity to work together, create our own business, and be our own bosses, which is what I’ve always wanted to do professionally. It’s stressful to open a new line, but liberating and rewarding to call our own shots.
In regards to the design, we didn’t feel there was a collection out there that appealed to our grownup side. Certainly there are horror t-shirts and Hot Topic-style horror clothing, and that’s great, but we wanted to create something that embraced the love of horror in a more elegant, sexy, and less obvious way. So we looked to our muses – Vampira, Lily Munster, Morticia Addams – and asked what would they wear in the modern world? We wanted to channel the dark elegance found in gothic novels, television shows like Penny Dreadful, etc.
MP: One thing that has always bothered me is how clique-y fashion is, like they often find ways of making women not feel welcome. Lines often don’t go past a size L or XL and if they do they find other less than stellar ways to make people not feel welcome. With the iconic brand Lip Service no longer being what it once was, and with cheap “goth” lines popping up online that are made in China and run by who knows, I thought now is the time for something to rise from the ashes.
There was nothing dark and elegant, there didn’t seem to be brands that made iconic basics in that realm. I went to Lynh and pitched us collaborating, there was no one else I could image doing this with other than her. She, like myself, works her ass off, she literally helps do everything, it is the very definition of a partnership.
Vixen had its sea legs so now I wanted to do more, and I wanted to make the adult goth girls dreams come true. Funny thing, we had a few different names tossed around and were set on one and then had a weird situation come up that caused us to change the name before we made the name and brand public. I am really happy with the name we have now.
Nightmarish Conjurings: You’ve announced that you are going to be doing a modernized Vampira line and have been working with the Vampira estate. What has that process been like? How has Vampira influenced the two of you?
LH: Back in the 50’s when most female archetypes were modeled after beautiful idealized Hollywood starlets, Maila Nurmi created her iconic Vampira character as a direct opposite of what sweetness and demure were. Vampira represents a strong woman with fierce individualism, that’s not afraid to embrace her dark side and her penchant for the dramatics. Nicknames such as The Glamour Ghoul and The Black Marilyn, are quite appropos to describe her.
After the success of our “Vamp” sunglasses (batwing sunglasses with a coffin case!), we had approached the estate of Vampira to see if we could try and recreate a modernized version of her infamous sunglasses that originally were hand-carved in wood by Edward Melcarth for Maila Nurma. They were delighted to collaborate after seeing our collection and thought it was the perfect fit.
MP: I had discovered Vampira in her teens through her love for The Misfits (the song Vampira). She was THE first Goth, if you are going to go by modern terminology, her own personal style was “goth”. And unlike many hosts and people who followed her, she didn’t create a character – she washer character. She is The Vampira. She was an extremely talented artist and did several self portraits and even had her own t-shirt that was made pretty famous by Lux Interior of The Cramps.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Having owned businesses, I know how difficult it can be. What are some struggles you both have faced being business owners and how have you gone about working through those struggles?
LH: The hardest part is the fact that La Femme En Noir is less than a year old, so we are wearing many hats and juggling many responsibilities that don’t pertain to the creative. Micheline and I both work on other projects while we grow this business as well – I am a freelance clothing, handbag, and costume designer and Micheline has her own collection and retail store, Vixen by Micheline Pitt.
A start-up is like having a baby – they’re extremely demanding and there’s little reward for all the initial hard work. Micheline and I are the doting and loving parents of a brand new venture, so we have to put in the time, energy, effort 100% if we want to see it’s success. And when we see how positive it’s impacted the customers that purchase our product, it makes it all worth it. We are growing a very strong following.
MP: Yes, much of what Lynh said is so true, when you start a new business you either need to have a really solid nest egg to pay all your bills for the first year or two or be prepared to still have side hustles. I work 7 days a week and rarely take time off, often committed to 12-18 hour work days. As crazy as all that sounds it is worth it. Being my own boss, having an amazing, freeing, positive work environment; I would never ever give that up again. I think you have to figure out how hard your willing to work and what you are willing to sacrifice to do this and be cool with barely sleeping.
Nightmarish Conjurings: How has the horror genre influenced not only your work but your personal life as well?
LH: I met this crazy film school boy (Trent Haaga) that was really into all the genre movies that I’ve never heard of before, like deep cuts, so of course I married him! We met in the 90s, before movies were easily obtainable via DVD and streaming. We would watch cruddy VHS bootlegs of Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS, MEET THE FEEBLES, BASKETCASE, anything Romero, Fulci, Carpenter, and the slashers of course. I think he seriously was testing my acceptance of his weird taste in movies when he showed me NEKROMANTIK on our first dorm hang-outs. Now we’re good friends with Jörg Buttgereit!
I’ve watched so many movies, slogging through awful low budget schlock and gore such as GUINEA PIG, but also discovered incredible movies that still influence me. Italian giallo movies from Mario Bava and Dario Argento are influential and the gothic ones I was totally into such as Andy Warhol’s DRACULA. The women in giallo movies were so beautiful, but haunting. They were strong European women that had a very innate sensuality to them. I’m very drawn to Bava’s Italian gothic movies as the women were always central to the movie’s story, as in BLACK SUNDAY.
MP: I came out into this world being a monster-kid, thanks to late night movies, horror hosts and toys like “My Pet Monster”. I knew what I liked early on. I got turned onto the classics first unlike a lot of 80s babies who are more into modern slasher flicks. My first horror film was Universal’s DRACULA and then of course FRANKENSTEIN. Horror and sci-fi have always been more of a men’s game but thanks to Hammer films and Argento I got my fill of femme fatales. I think Morticia Addams and Lily Munster were the first women I really wanted to look and dress like when I was younger. I still to this day try to embody those two women as much as possible. I wonder if guys are like us at all in that way, like do they want to be Bruce Campbell in ARMY OF DARKNESS or maybe they find themselves inspired by Vincent Price’s sleek style.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What does being a “Woman in Horror” mean to both of you and what advice would you give women who want to get involved in the genre?
LH: The film industry is like my second career. I’m so close to the people in the industry, we’re all a big circle of friends that help each other. Whenever I get the chance, or time, I costume design for Trent’s movies (DEADGIRL, CHOP, 68 KILL).
Trent and I were judges in the previous year’s Etheria shorts and they were outstanding. There was a lot of good story-telling coming from women in the genre and we were just excited to see opportunities opening up more for women directors in the current climate. The horror genre has changed so much since my first horror convention, the very first Chiller convention in New Jersey, or the early Fangoria conventions. There was barely any women there unless they were the scream queens or actresses at the booths selling there “personalized” fetishes. I used to think only men got into these movies, but now at cons, you see equal parts women to men, so I know women make up a huge market share in the genre. More so than ever.
I would say for any women getting involved in the industry, here’s some tips that I’ve observed through years of being in the industry by proxy:
- Find what you want to do, then find like-minded peers that can be your support network. It’s easier for you to hear of new job leads if you have a network of friends and industry people that you regularly see, but definitely don’t rely on that exclusively. Go to social events, go to the genre film fests, you’ll start bumping into the same people, but people that are getting things made. It’s inspirational to be around people that are making movies. Mix with everyone, men, women, actors, producers, executives, set designers, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to try other aspects of the industry that might have not been your first choice. It could lead you back to your first love.
- Find a mentor – someone that could give you inside knowledge
- Movie making can mean waiting around for years before you see your project get financed and made into a final product. Try to have a lot of pots boiling at the same time, and in different development stages. That way you keep moving forward and not stop and wait for things to come to you. if you’re not getting that directing gig you’ve been promised a year ago, maybe this short can keep you creatively occupied while you are waiting for that gig to be greenlit.
- Do the work, just don’t talk about it nonstop. That goes for anything – fashion, film, etc.
I know it’s hard in this social media heavy world, where it seems like everyone around you is succeeding and you want that so badly and right away. Careers and success take a lifetime to achieve. There is no such thing as an overnight success.
MP: I think Lynh touched on so much on a professional level. I will be the Devil’s advocate and talk about more things I would love to see as a female fan. I would love for there to be more women taking active roles in horror and the genre, I have really watched it change a lot from going to cons and conventions for the last 17 years. I can say one thing I wish, for female directors and story-tellers to give me other stories about women that aren’t based around being pregnant or a mom. I want more Ripley’s, I want more interesting, complex, strange leads and yes, female MONSTERS. I would love to see more makeup demos with female artists and creators on women that aren’t just a girl in pasties with stuff stuck on. We have worked past girls being just topless counterparts in the genre, I want to see more dynamic viewpoints, storytelling and design. I think the genre has always had a female fanbase and that fanbase is growing!
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last but not least, what projects should we be on the lookout for in the future from both of you?
LH: For La Femme, we are always on the lookout to collaborate with companies that align with our collection, but our main concentration is to keep designing beautiful clothes for all women that want to add that extra gothic edge to their wardrobe. In film, I’ll be costuming Trent’s next project (TBA) very soon.
MP: You may see more interesting, personal projects that are genre related coming from us in the next year or two, because if we want to see change, sometimes we have to be that change. With all that said, I am co-creating a genre horror film with my husband who is a writer and director, RH Norman. We have some really talented people attached and I cannot wait to see this project come to life. I also am working on an original creature project with the incredibly talented makeup artist Carliegh Herbert of “Teen Wolf”, “American Horror Story”, and INSIDIOUS that will be premiered later this year.