Before neo-burlesque had a front-row seat at Paris runway shows or adulterated beyond soul with made-for-TV Dolls, there was Michelle Carr and the Velvet Hammer. Michelle was among the very first to twirl her tassels in homage to the broads who dared a couple of generations before her, and she rallied her friends to a small stage in a Mexican restaurant in east L.A. to unabashedly celebrate their creativity and femininity. None realized at the time it would spark a revolution, as it has been since that first show in 1995. I had the good fortune of catching them a year later at the El Rey Theater, and have enjoyed dozens of showcases ever since, including featuring them in a museum exhibition complete with film, costumes and artworks which I curated some years later.
Flash forward and a whole cottage industry has emerged, from conventions catering to the fringe, to fringe-trimmed wares offered by conventional lingerie brands.
Throughout it all, a growing legion of cameramen and women chomped at the bit to document the goings-on at Velvet Hammer shows. Why? Because front of house or backstage, this was the wildest circus on Earth, with beautiful freaks fearless of what God, the tattoo artist or good living gave them. Some 100 performers, including comedians, magicians and musicians, participated in all.
Michelle and her marvelous mob are finally chronicled in a luscious coffeetable book, just out by the German art book press Die Gestalten. She spent more than a year in Berlin putting it together, and she’s back in L.A. hosting one party after another for the book. The high priestess and several of the original VH gals will be telling uncensored tales, sharing their elaborate costumes in an exhibition showcase and signing books at Coco de Mer on Melrose Avenue Thursday night, March 27, from 7 to 9 p.m. See you there.
Last night, I cornered Madame Carr with a bottle of Cava for a little chat about the book and the scene she kick started:
RA: What is behind the Velvet Hammer name?
MC: There is more than one meaning. A velvet hammer is a cocktail. We’ll be serving Velvet Hammer cocktails at the Coco de Mer event. It’s vodka, crème de cacao and half and half. And let me tell you, it is like a velvet hammer—smooth going down and then POWWW! Hammered! Another definition is a cunnilingus technique.
To me a Velvet Hammer ultimately describes a
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