Extended Play: Marcia Knee (and Norman Lent) of Piranha

As promised, here’s the fourth of a series of longer Q&As with the designers featured in this week’s fashion issue. More to come!

Marcia Knee, 52 (and Norman Lent, 58)
Tell me about what kind of clothes you focus on.
Wrestling wear.

Is that your main focus, or do you do that as part of your job and then there’s the … it seemed like the stuff that Laura was showing me at Redoux was not so much the wrestling wear but maybe some other things that you’re working on?
There was some … well, what I wanted to do was — I’m pretty much housebound because I have panic disorder, but I’ve been in the sewing industry for a really long time. Norman’s boss’s daughter was taking some classes at Redoux, so I went down there to check it out and decided I’d make a few things to put in the store, and the she [Laura Lee Laroux] called me to do the fashion show.

So what kind of stuff will you have in the fashion show?
It ranges from full gown to steampunk to what they call fruits, and ..

What’s fruits?
It’s a Japanese trend. And then Lolita and gothic. So, it’s a little span.

(Read more…)

That’s a pretty broad range of stuff. Can you talk a little bit about the wrestling, your job working on wrestling stuff?
Wrestling’s not a job. Norman used to own the Paradise City Café and he had the swimwear store down at the mall, so there was a lot of Lycra spandex left over. So I’ve been teaching him how to sew and he’s been making tights and we have quite a few pro wrestlers — it’s not the WWE, but they are pro, and we make a lot of stretchy spandex pants.

How did you get into that? Because you had the material left over, or … it seems like kind of an unusual thing to do.
We were selling — we had a few swimsuits left over and were selling them, and a couple people said, Oh, do you have some jammers? Can you make jammers? And so I started making jammers. Then a weightlifting person contacted Norman and asked if they could do tights … and then we made the tights. And that guy sent more guys and then people just started coming.

How long have you been sewing? Making clothing?
Thirty years.

So this is your full job — you don’t have a day job.
No, I don’t have a job. I’m just doing this — it was a hobby thing, and then I wanted to pass on what I know to other people, and so far, the only taker was Norman.

How did you get into the steampunk-Lolita-gothic kind of stuff?
In 1980 I brought the first tattoo art to market with the ASR, the Action Sports Retailer, and they said that it would never take off and there’d never be a thing such as surf punk. I started out with Life’s a Beach, which is No Fear, and I had teamed up with …. his name was Mark Kaufman but, oh — Mad Marc Rude. He did all the original flyers for like the Misfits, the Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and stuff like that. And so we printed up a whole bunch of his art onto fabric and started making surf clothes [under Life’s a Beach]. And then I went up to Los Angeles and worked with my friend for a while that had a label called LAX … and so I’ve been in the surf industry a long time.

How did you get from surf to steampunk? Is it just a natural progression?
Well, I have a lot of years in theater. I can’t even remember my life.

Where do you draw the inspiration for this stuff from?
Um, just in my head. See, everything that’s out now is just regurgitated and changed a little. So, you know, punk has become Lolita, and goth is just a softer, flowing version of punk. So it’s all the same.

How many pieces are you doing for the fashion show?
I’m going to try and do 15. This is my big bang.

Is there a focus, or is it all kinds of different stuff?
It’s all across the board. I figured if it’s going to be a show, I’m going to try to do some big pieces, some fun stuff.

Such as?
Well, I’m one of these people who wait until the last minute. We have some spandex with big boots, some big skirts, there’s gonna be some big, big skirts, and we’re gonna try and do some wings if I can. I’m gonna try. I haven’t done them yet.

Do you do stuff for Faerieworlds, Burning Man, things like that? Do you think your clientele buys for things like that?
On Norman’s internet site they’ve bought heavily for Burning Man.

What’s the site?
It’s Spandex Body. It’s just an eBay thing.

So you sell your stuff on eBay and at Redoux. Is there anywhere else that it’s available?
Kitsch. Because it’s more a hobby, because I’m kind of agoraphobic, so this is major, for me to show up at the show.

Is there anything else that you want to talk about with regards to your stuff? It’s an amazing history, with all kinds of different clothes.
Well, I started out — OK, I started out doing the Del Mar Fair and making side split pants and thse really short hot pants. And then I started doing bikinis. I used to sew them on the boardwalk, with a sewing machine on the boardwalk, while people waited. This was in the ’70s. So they pay their money and then they come back 45 minutes later and they have their swimsuit. Swimsuits were different than they are now. And then I just progressed into learning how to pattern, and I’ve gotten really good at patterning, so I became a patternmaker and I did, I think, six years at the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in Santa Maria, California. And then I just did costuming and different things.

The name of your label is Piranha, is that correct?
I’ve been Piranha since 1979.

Do you do stuff on commission? Do people come to you for specific items?
I have in the past. The most I’ve ever gottn for something was $6,000 for a wedding dress.

You’ve just made the one wedding dress?
I’ve made a few. But… I like to pattern-make.

It’s your one last show?
Yeah. It’s my one and only.

You’ve never done a show like this before?
Oh, back in the old days. Way back, I used to do it all the time.

So why this one particular show?
Because I’ve been housebound and haven’t done anything in years, and it’s a waste of creativity and I was hoping that maybe someone would see that I can make stuff and I could pass on some knowledge to someone that’s interested.

So you’re sort of an ad for an apprentice, it sounds like.
Oh, just young kids who really want to learn.

Piranha is available at Kitsch and the Redoux Parlour.