I discovered Hell Couture last year, and since my first sightings of Rebecca Conrad’s extreme metal inspired garments, I’ve been building up the courage to learn how to sew and make my own clothes. Catching sight of her Windir hooded top the other day was the good shove I needed to make a start on my dressmaking education. Hell Couture is a Must-See-Etsy-Shop for any dedicated female metal head (or bloke looking for a gift for his lass). I’m infatuated with the flared, drape sleeves and enormous hoods that feature on many of Conrad’s pieces, and the stretchy cotton fabrics which look so god damn comfy.
You are an entirely self-taught seamstress, who has sold thousands of handcrafted extreme metal garments to female metal fans across the world. How long did it take you to go from adapting your own metal shirts, to creating saleable clothing and earning from your work?
A pretty long time – when I was young I would cut shirts up and make them smaller, but I was so bad at it and so impatient about learning how to do anything the right way that I essentially turned most of them into unwearable rags. It was probably ten years later that I got the idea to try and sell things online, and once I set that as a goal I buckled down and started actually learning.
My shop really used to thrive on custom orders, as did my skill; I would agree to do anything a customer wanted and if I didn’t already know how it would force me to learn, so taking custom orders was great in that respect. After a couple years of selling on Etsy I realized I could really turn this into a livelihood so I quit my job and just threw myself into it completely. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to be able to do this for a living.
What was life like as a young, female metal head before the rise of the internet? How did you keep up to date with the latest music releases? Would you say you were a lone wolf as a youngster, or did you celebrate your metal obsession with a crowd of like-minded people?
I’m so glad I got to grow up without the convenience of 2015’s internet – maybe I’m just old and cranky, but there’s something to be said for searching out information and finding it, rather than just having it handed to you in 2 seconds by Google. The excitement of waiting for the release date of a new album or for my special order to arrive from the local record store was something really special, and it can’t be replicated by streaming a preview on YouTube.
We did have the internet (but dial-up, so it took 4 hours to download one song, hah) when I was in high school, so I found out about some music that way, but also from magazines (notably, Kerrang, whose infamous exposure about Norwegian black metal turned me on to that whole scene). My older brothers got me into plenty of metal when I was younger, and while I have always loved to be alone, I had lots of friends who all happened to be boys, plenty of whom were also looking for the scariest and heaviest thing they could find. There was no shortage of mix tapes being passed around, everyone trying to one up the last thing one of us had just discovered.
I would really like to envisage the space where you work. What do you have on the walls? Are you cocooned in with CD’s, vinyl and tapes?
Most of my music is kept in a different room, but I do have my cassette collection on the wall in my office and there are hundreds, so that takes up a fair amount of space. There’s a wall devoted entirely to W.A.S.P. with posters and LPs, and the other walls are papered with posters from inside of records, mostly black metal. Aside from the walls, the rest of the room is in a permanent state of disarray and as long as I am in the room there are at least 4 out of 6 cats in here, as well.
Which designers do you look to for inspiration? Who never fails to amaze you with their creations?
Ovate is one designer who always floors me. I’m always excited to see what she does next – her vision is really unique and her execution is just flawless. I can’t recommend her enough. I almost never buy clothes for myself, but I own several of her pieces and they’re all beautiful and perfectly hand crafted.
From what I gather, you recently worked with Mortuary Drape. How was this experience, and is there a band who you would kill to work with?
Wildness Perversion was so generous and kind – that collaboration came out of the blue and I couldn’t have been more excited about it. To work with a band that I have so long respected on all levels was a true honor. If Blackie Lawless ever wanted to collaborate I might die of happiness before I got the chance to make him anything!
I expect that you have music playing from the moment you start working, to the time you finish. Which releases have you recently been playing to death?
The new albums I’ve been hooked on are the latest Mortuary Drape and Satanic Warmaster. Very recently the other things that aren’t new but have been in heavy rotation have been Cosmic Church, Funeral Elegy, Pagan Hellfire, Satyricon’s The Shadowthrone, which was one of those albums I put on having not heard it in so long it was almost new to my ears, and I think I listened to it a billion times in the last few weeks.
Your productiveness never ceases to amaze me. What goes on during a normal working day?
That’s very nice to hear, and very difficult to accept – I feel like I can never get as much as I would like accomplished! I would be lying if I said “I wake up at 7, get straight to work and don’t come out of my office until midnight.” That is absolutely my preferred method of working, but it’s impossible to maintain that kind of schedule. I used to try to put 5 things up a day, but I was never able to get ahead, and ultimately that system always collapsed and I’d have to go a week without listing one new piece.
I’ve limited myself to 3, now, which is easier for me to manage. I always have tons of stuff that’s barely started or half finished, and I also have a terrible habit of just stopping whatever I’m working on to cut pieces for a new idea. I’d love to say I am organized enough to have a day of cutting fabric, a couple days of putting the pieces together, a day for embellishments and a day for photographing items. In reality I scramble every day to finish, photograph and list three things while juggling all the other aspects of maintaining a business like bookkeeping, shipping, answering emails, etc.
You have some mightily impressive ink work. Can you talk us through your tattoos and their stories?
The stories are really not very in depth – in a nutshell, I’m just covered in stuff that I love. There’s an arm devoted to my most beloved cat, Gypsy; an arm mostly devoted to Lord of the Rings, with a portrait of the Incredible Melting Man and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 silhouette thrown in (the silhouette was one of my first tattoos; still my personal favorite), and Joel from Mystery Science Theater’s signature. There are two portraits of my parents when they were young on my shoulders; a leg with a giant tree in progress; a leg with a bunch of goofy garbage I got when I was really young and have had no motivation to get covered. And then there are a few band tattoos – Satanic Warmaster and Goatmoon on my stomach; Mercyful Fate on my neck, Burzum on my hand. My knuckles say Uruk-Hai, which is my other favorite.
Nowadays, the majority of the garments you put out there are black metal themed. Can you talk about your decision to concentrate on this branch of metal, and the personal relationship that you have with the genre?
I’m not sure there was ever a moment when I said “I’ll concentrate on black metal, now”, but it has sort of evolved that way. Obviously I would not make items for bands I don’t like, and though I love all different kinds of metal, black metal was the last genre that I fell in love with and the one which I am still most actively interested. I’ll forever love the same old stuff I always have, from all different sub-genres of metal. But when I am looking for new music I certainly don’t go searching for new thrash bands, for example, let alone blindly buy their albums. I can say with confidence I would be let down most of the time if I did that; with black metal it’s the opposite. I love buying a ton of random black metal tapes I’ve never heard or even heard OF – there’s ALWAYS a few gems in there that I don’t know how I’d have found otherwise.
What does 2015 hold in store for Hell Couture and can you reveal what you are currently working on?
I don’t want to give away much, but I’ll have plenty of new printed designs up this year and plenty of original one of a kinds with no print at all. I would like to gravitate more towards certain aesthetics than altered t-shirts, at this point. In 2015, and every year after, I simply aim to improve, grow, and outdo myself.
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