The Austin Chronicle

After a Fashion: SXSW Friday

By Stephen MacMillan Moser, March 14, 2003, Columns

MAGNIFICENT MADAME DES BARRES "I love velvet, I love Jesus, and I love sex." Although the context of that quote could easily be misconstrued, the fact of the matter is that Pamela Des Barres ("The most famous groupie in the world ...") and I were talking about home décor. I had taken Mme. Des Barres, an avid fan of all things vintage, out shopping. We hit a few of my usual haunts, including the divine Uncommon Objects, but then Madame asked me to take her to a couple places up on Burnet Road. I explained, apologetically, that I get a nosebleed when I go north of Downtown, but she was insistent and immediately supplied me with addresses of where she wanted to go. With more than a little trepidation, I submitted. First off, we went to the Antique Marketplace (5350 Burnet Rd., 452-1000). At 19,000 square feet, it is huge and loaded with incredible pieces. The service, especially from Katrina Takvam, was extremely friendly and knowledgeable, and the merchandise ... sublime. The upscale selection prevents them from being too "junky," and it is well-lit and easy to shop. That made it easy for Madame Des Barres to zip through it, selecting a small set of coasters in a little holder and a framed poem on painted glass. I was dying over a suitcase covered with travel stickers and thought it was a steal at $98. In fact, there were so many things there that I wanted, that I thought, rather than buying everything, I should just move in. We also dropped in on the Bethesda Resale shop across the street. Smaller and definitely more of a thrift store, the shop also had great service ... and dirt-cheap prices. Then we were on to the Austin Antique Mall (8822 McCann, 459-5900). This place is massive -- with an extensive selection of lower-end merchandise intermingled with some absolutely incredible higher-end pieces. This is where Madame Des Barres came alive. We ooohhhed over the fainting couch at $800 and ahhhed over the 1860s bedstead at $1,700, but what we really loved was some of the most exquisite vintage clothing at incredibly reasonable prices. But it was the little trinkets and knickknacks that produced the memorable line quoted above. Clearly, she loved the Twenties eveningwear, the very Catholic art, and items that border on the naughty or bawdy. And we were in heaven. Mme. Des Barres is truly magnificent. With stories to tell that would curl your hair yet with a sweetness of personality unexpected in someone so ... "experienced," she is mesmerizing. Her column on E! Online is insightful, entertaining, and informative. Her dialogue cracks like a whip, and she's as sharp as a tack. Her books are a riot, and her Web site ( is too cool. But most importantly, she made me stretch my shopping horizons. Terrific shopping ... cool enough that I might go north of Downtown more often.

LAID BACK It is no secret that everyone in town is laughing about the sign in Blackmail's window (1202 S. Congress). Everyone with a sense of humor, that is. The sign is part of the fabulous new campaign designed by TKO's James Walker and says, "Blackmail ... because nobody ever got laid wearing mauve." It's part of a wonderful window display that includes a bed with the sheets in disarray, a tray with two champagne glasses, an ashtray with cigarette butts, and a lanyard of SXSW badges. Very stylish, very funny, and very Blackmail. However, Blackmail proprietress Gail Chovan got a call from a concerned gentleman, saying he was a neighborhood resident and was very offended by the sign. (Uh, excuse me, sir; you live in South Austin and this offends you?) He requested that the sign be removed immediately, since he didn't know how to explain it to his 11-year-old daughter. Mme. Chovan replied that she appreciated his concern and would take his request under consideration -- later -- explaining that she was very busy with SXSW and wouldn't have time to think about it until next week. The disgruntled citizen said that until then, he would not be driving his daughter down South Congress. Whatever. But now the e-mail campaign has started, in which Disgruntled Citizen (we'll call him DC) has asked locals to complain bitterly about this offense. The funny thing is that recipients of the e-mails are writing Blackmail in droves, offering support and encouragement. Meanwhile, DC (aka He Who Has Too Much Time on His Hands) stews, planning his next round of attacks. DC is obviously a novice at this and completely unaware that complaints like his backfire and give Blackmail faaabulous publicity. Good work, DC.

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