Will You Coffee Me? Brooke Ahana Bailey, Carny Couture

era-less

She lives in the now, as if now is from another era. You can find her among the westerly winds of the outdoor markets of Los Angeles, as a purveyor of history through style; dead stock, Edwardian pieces to those with a reformed modernity.

She’s the Yoko Ono of thrift – peace by personal style – bringing art to a storied tradition.

Intrigued by her aura and consumed with knowing her story,  I asked her, “Will You Coffee Me?”

She said, “Yes!”

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Can you tell me what you had for coffee?

My husband makes a wonderful cup in our Cuisinart just enough for a full cup for me, that’s how good he is. It’s my daily ritual, and if not that, I make sure to go somewhere good.

c.: Somewhere good? What’s good?

b.a.b.: Commissary is my favorite.  It makes me think of home, I’m from Salem, Oregon, spent some time in Portland.

c.: Portland, that’s like the coffee mecca in America?

b.a.b.: Portland is friendly but they can be snotty about their coffee.

c.: Well, I’m serous about my coffee. I think that’s okay.

b.a.b.: I use to teach art.

c.: What kind of art?b.a.b.: I’m a painter.

Note to reader. This conversation is non-linear. And, as such it unfolds as it occurred, beautifully all over the place. 

b.a.b.: After coffee, I have no real schedule to be honest. I have a new studio in my home, which we moved into May 1st of this year and I’ve had this store here – a Melrose studio – for two years.

c.: A home studio, a studio store and you sell at markets. How did this begin for you?

b.a.b.: I deal in vintage. I go out and I have an idea. I still buy things in bulk. Some things I’ll take to a laundry mat, but I do a ton of the work at home, the washing, the mending, which happens at night and all by hand, I call it processing.

“Get your hands out of your pocket and start digging,” my mom said.

Every piece that Brooke picks endures a hand cleaning process, which transforms the once worn or purposed item into a meticulously treated well-loved and renewable piece.

c.: With many components to creating your inventory do you have a standard to your days?

b.a.b.: I don’t have typical days; I think that’s born from not having children. Ophelia – her dog – helps me with everything. A walk with Ophelia begins the day. Ophelia isn’t a good breakfast eater; I don’t really do breakfast. So, the day is dictated by coffee and a walk – through the design district.

My first meeting with Brooke is at her studio which is on Melrose and in the vicinity of the Pacific Design Center. My second meeting starts at her home then her home, which is walking distance from the now opened The Assembly and from Alfred in the Alley – we walked to the latter and have iced lattes.

b.a.b.: I treat everyday likes its’ its own entity. And, it morphs into whatever it allows itself to be.

This day she and I are in her West Hollywood studio – palo santo, with its notes of pine and lemon is burning, sage too. From this frankincense, I feel as if her cleansing ritual is hovering over me and I am immersed in a transparent cloud of something holy from deep in the historical past. I look around and that past is present and surrounds me – articles of clothing arranged on hangars as if they were book shelves, placed, one after another and another: hanging treasures among articles of minutiae and artifacts of a different time.

b.a.b.: I can feel when there’s a good energy, that’s important. I have a really good nose so I’m cleaning like crazy when I get new pieces in. And, for my space, I’m trying to make it smell good, that’s a big part of my brand.

c.: Walking into one of your spaces feels highly different than the average stall at a market. Its like walking into an extension of a universe, one that you know exists as something physically bigger than the present moment you’re in. Can you share a bit about creating that space and its value?

b.a.b.: It is a living breathing space, its something though of and intentional. The items are personal. Its something that you can’t reproduce and its something that people can’t get readily. This costs, all of it. When I am at a market people want to bargain prices I say no thank you, its not to shame them or be mean.  If people want, I can give them an education on the items and where they come from and their value. People say business is not personal. But, it couldn’t be more personal, business is personal or it’s not successful.

I’m in the fabulous business where I can offer [clothes] to someone else.

c.: Your brand seems to also be your views on life. Can you share how your views have come to be?

b.a.b.: I’m 41. My views have come over time; it’s about observing things and how I’ve handled life. I haven’t come up against any real hardships but 2004 was difficult.  The kindness of friends helped a lot and that year I also met my [now] husband. I liked my husband so much, I moved in with him.

c.: How does your husband feel about your work?

b.a.b.: My main goal was to find my partner. We met through some friends, they introduced us and we did the rest. We didn’t exchange numbers the first time; I was in the process of moving, he later found me, that’s what a real man does.

When it comes to relationships I talk from my own experience. We are all so much more similar than we are different. The talk of game play, no one really wants to do that – its self-preservation.  It comes to a point where you don’t need to be preserved, you could miss out on amazing life. I was in the midst of doing what I love, working on Rodeo Drive selling shoes and I hated it, but there’s a reality of affording a lifestyle. I met my husband after being at a flea market.

c.: But, of course.

b.a.b.: He told me later that he thought ‘she doesn’t look bad for doing that all day.” I bring home piles and bags of staff – it’s not his favorite stuff in the world. But he supports my work. When I met Johnny, her husband, I was doing this but not really doing it. He named this, ‘Carny Couture’ and I went with it.

I kind of live out of a bag and I make peace with stuff.  I love the ‘perfect thing’ so I buy lots of stuff until I get to the perfect one.  Then I make peace with stuff, and the others are out. I do that in everything except for my relationship with my dog and husband.

c.: The perfect “one.”

b.a.b.:  Maybe because, I’m still growing.

c.: Maybe because, it’s a journey to the one, kind of like how love is.

b.a.b.: When I’m looking at another linen duster coast, I ask myself, ‘Do I need to have four linen duster coats.’  I buy it and I’m in the fabulous business where I can offer it to someone else, people trust you, people trust you’re taste, and my clients become my friends, they are my friends. That’s what makes me happy. If I’ve spent time, finding, laundering, displaying and taking items back and forth to several markets, the joy that one thing can bring to another, that’s what makes me happy.

 

c.: What happiness to experience! Such a constant and conscious state too.

b.a.b.: When we met, I was cobbling it all together and he said focus. I picked the thing to do that’s most independent.  I remember one time I was doing a trunk show in New Orleans, I had an offer to work at Chanel, and I had a tarot card reading saying the offer would be lucrative but wouldn’t feed my soul.

I’ve had my own self-doubt along the way. I had to find a way to develop a business, hone my look. You can’t be static; you always have to be evolving. That’s why I thrift; shop rag houses – I keep up, you have to, to keep current.

c.: Is it hard to keep up?

b.a.b.: I’m constantly pulling images. I have a mood trunk. lots of things are in there. I’m too fickle for slow or fast. My business was born out of a need to afford an ever-changing wardrobe – to try on a lot of personas – that is my persona.

c.: Has this always been part of you? 

b.a.b.: It goes back to high school. I have a chameleon nature, but people seem to always recognize me.  I’m an only child; my mom did this when we were younger, I got it from her.  She’d say, “Get your hands out of your pocket start digging.’ I was like whew, okay start digging. “ I learned. Now, I’m building this brand. I want to support this freedom to dress fun and be creative by the way you costume yourself, it’s never going to be done, there’s no uniform. Dressing is a way to inform people where you’re coming from. Once this gets in your blood you can’t let it go. 

Learn more about Carny Couture and her and her market appearances on Instagram. She’s available by appointment to customers and wholesale accounts.

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