There's something about Katy

Katy Gierlach is not your average model, and the fashion and photography worlds love her for it. By Mari Herreras. Cover photo by Danni Valdez of Shutter2Think Photography.

Liora K Photography

Katy Gierlach... or is it katy awful? Photo by Liora K Photography

Looking at the dozens of photographs on katy awful’s Facebook page, it’s hard to figure out what’s so awful about those eyes looking back - even when the Tucson model is playing the role of desert cowgirl pin-up queen, a tough chick from a John Waters movie, or an ethereal pink-haired star child.

©erickroll/ericdavidkroll.blogspot.com

Katy strikes a fun pose in the desert. Photo by Eric Kroll. ©erickroll/ericdavidkroll.blogspot.com

This is 31-year-old Katy Gierlach’s professional page, featuring projects she’s been involved in over the years and photos of the latest shoots she’s done. katy awful (lower case, if you please) is her model name, she explains, something that’s stuck from her past - a boyfriend used Awful as his last name and she decided to borrow the moniker.

Maybe the joke is on us, because once you know Katy, even after an hour’s interview, it’s hard to understand what could ever be awful about her. But it's as simple as this: having the separate identity of katy awful helps keep her worlds separate.

“Right now it works for my dad, so he doesn’t have to see things he doesn’t want to,” she says, smiling wide over coffee at Tucson's Café Passe on Fourth Avenue, quickly adding that her father (known to Tucson radio listeners as KXCI’s Growing Native host Petey Mesquitey), is fully supportive.

That model name is also great for Katy, who seems to create dynamic characters in almost every project she takes on. And probably the only reason it makes anyone think twice is that Katy is completely opposite to what anyone expects from someone who gets into the modeling business.

That's why CandyStrike’s Elizabeth Denneau says she continues to work with Katy and considers her a dear friend and a creative co-conspirator. The Tucson-based fashion designer has used Katy in shows and photo shoots for almost a decade. “In this industry a lot of models think it is cool to be bitchy and will act superficial and mean. It’s what a lot of them see on TV and think it’s what models are supposed to be. Katy has zero of this trait. She’s a joy to work with and she’s willing to do anything. I mean she even put an octopus on her head, c’mon,” Elizabeth says, referring to a video Katy did with Tucson photographer Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli for Glitter Ball 2014.

Photo by Danni Valdez

Photo by Danni Valdez

Katy was covered in gold from head to toe with boyfriend Jared McKinley, a popular Tucson events producer and associate publisher of Edible Baja Arizona magazine. In the video, Katy as Andromeda Katz and Jared as Kitty Quasar are flying through space to visit Tucson in search of tasty hair. While Katy is sticking her head out the window to feel the intergalactic breeze, an octopus lands on her face and eventually the window of their space vehicle.

Obviously Katy is game for anything, which may explain why she’s in demand, not just with Elizabeth but with other designers, photographers and creatives in Tucson. Says Dominic, a guy with photography gigs across the world featuring a fair amount of celebrities: “Katy is one of my favorite models of all time, in any solar system, ever. She’s of course this striking supermodel that cuts a swath of stares strolling down the street, but that’s not why. It’s that she can do über glam or über ludicrous in the same heartbeat. She can do anything. I’ve shot her as a gorgeous Alice in Wonderland, as a nine foot golden alien, as a 75-year-old man and as a Russian male bodyguard from the 1800s,” he says.

Katy filming for the Glitter Ball promo. Photo by Dominic Arizona Bonuccelli

It’s the range she takes on that impresses him most  -  something that makes her not just a model but a brilliant actress, taking on haute couture or slapstick comedy in the same breath. “Every project we’ve tag-teamed, every one, has been pure joy cause she just makes every occasion silly and brilliant,” Dominic says. “For the Glitter Ball movie, we picked up a frozen pulpo at a Mexican seafood store and then flung the octopus, who we named Stinky, at Katy’s face five to eight times until the shot was just right. No one else would endure such torture for something so ludicrous yet so important  - and stinky.”

Elizabeth of CandyStrike says this work ethic is something she rarely sees with other models. “If you have this crazy idea for a shoot, or if it’s rainy and 6 a.m., she will be there,” she says. The designer adds: “Not only is she gorgeous, but she’s gorgeous strange, too. She’s like a beautiful alien.” Those looks have attracted modeling scouts “but she’s not charmed by all of that and is just more interested in the creative process,” says Elizabeth.

The fashion designer and model reunite during Tucson Fashion Week on Saturday, October 18, at the Project Runway Showcase and Project Arizona at the Fox Tucson Theatre. Inspired by the Project Runway TV series, the event will also feature an installation by Elizabeth in the lobby of the theater, with Katy among the models.

Katy says the love between model and designer is mutual, and she became part of CandyStrike at a time when she wondered if she could continue modeling or even wanted to continue living in Tucson.

Courtesy of CandyStrike

Katy modeling CandyStrike's Ghost Girl collection. CandyStrike will have an installation at Tucson Fashion Week. Photo by Ken Penner and Deirdre Flannery.

Her interest in modeling began in her teens. She was tall (she stands at 6 feet 2) but not athletic, and modeling seemed like a good fit. She left for New York City where her photographer brother lived. When she wasn’t modeling, she worked for her brother as his assistant, and helped her sister-in-law, who worked as stylist. “It is harsh and I’m glad I didn’t get into it at that point because I wouldn’t have been mentally prepared to handle it,” she says of her time there.

Katy grew up in northwest Tucson, but the family moved out to rural Cochise County when she was 12 years old. While she appreciates the desert and rural upbringing now, at the time it felt like they were in the middle of nowhere. At 17 she was in a major car accident and at one point doctors thought she’d have to lose her left arm. She had to deal with dozens of painful surgeries.

Today that arm is covered in a half-sleeve tattoo - not to cover any scars, but to celebrate luck. The tattoos are by legendary rapper and tattoo artist Isiah Toothtaker. In the center is Lady Luck surrounded by a bunch of other symbols of luck. “It’s a reminder of things that I’ve lived through and that I am lucky,” she says.

After the accident and all those surgeries, Katy found it difficult to hold down a job. She ended up staying with her parents, and wanted to stay in Tucson "because it was where my surgeon was and I was a little afraid to leave.”

She did continue to travel back and forth to New York. Then, at age 20, started working in Tucson doing modeling jobs for the store Hydra. It was the confidence booster she needed at the time. Soon after, Lauren Baker from Razorz Edge asked her to model for her, and that’s when she met Elizabeth Denneau.

At Café Passe, Katy is dressed in her usual casual attire - rolled up jeans, and a tank top showing the tattoos she has on both arms. A stripped headband pulls her short hair back, and her trademark nose ring is in place. She looks at ease. There’s no way anyone would dare call her pretentious, or  hipster or, for that matter, awful.

Fashion was never really part of her personal identity, she says. “I always sort of did my own thing, because I kind of had to. My clothes didn’t really fit because I was so tall. I had to make do with things. At [a young] age it was really awkward. I grew really fast and all of a sudden I had a lot of limbs to take care of,” she says, laughing. “I wasn’t as much into fashion as I was into modeling. Kate Moss was someone I admired. Looking at the clothes, sure it was fun to think about how great it would be wear some giant dress, but it was about something else.”

Katy discovered that modeling, and the clothes, were about being able to become someone else entirely. As a teenager she was shy and always quiet, but it was a special conversation with her father that made her realize she could  be an introvert, but still engage the world as a model. “I remember when my dad told me while I was in high school that he’s a naturally shy person.” She didn’t believe him; after all, he often spoke in front of large crowds. “But then it clicked. I realized you don’t have to be an extrovert to do stuff like that and it made pretending to be somebody else OK and easy,” she says.

©erickroll/ericdavidkroll.blogspot.com

Photo by Eric Kroll. ©erickroll/ericdavidkroll.blogspot.com

She is also thankful for staying in Tucson, and for the friendships and connections she has made through modeling. Through CandyStrike, Katy met blogger and body positive activist Jes Baker, aka The Militant Baker. Their friendship has grown and allowed Katy to explore her own body issues as well as be part of Jes's first annual Body Love conference earlier this year.

Another important friendship is with Tucson photographer Liora Dudar, who has also struck a worldwide nerve with her feminist projects.  Katy has worked with Liora on some of them. “I feel lucky and blessed that I’ve ended up with these friends,” Katy says. “Jes is an inspiring person. Liora and I share a lot of the same feminist ideals and she expresses those in ways that I don’t know how to through her photography. Luckily I get to be part of that.”

©erickroll/ericdavidkroll.blogspot.com

Photo by Eric Kroll. ©erickroll/ericdavidkroll.blogspot.com

Katy says her friendship with Jes allowed her to better understand the difficulty she had with her own body and how people looked at her. People have assumed that being tall and skinny means she should be on top of the world, but it's not always so, says Katy. "I’ve basically had a lot of trouble dressing for my body shape. When people say, ‘You’re beautiful,’ it doesn’t translate. That’s why what Jes is doing is important. She’s brave. I’ve struggled as a skinny person wanting to do that same sort of empowerment but feeling like I can’t because it is so idealized. So I really support what she’s doing and look forward to it become bigger than it is.”

Part of the fun of working with designers like Elizabeth is that they appreciate Katy for who she is. she says. And it has made Katy appreciate the fact that she didn’t go into high fashion modeling.  “I was told ‘You’re going to have to stop dying your hair,’ and no piercing. I didn’t have tattoos at that point, but I knew that I had to express myself. I knew that that wasn’t me,” says Katy.

When asked to describe the Saturday installation at the Tucson Fashion Week event, Katy loyally declines to provide details. But Elizabeth dishes. There will be one-off gowns, jewels and, um, gas masks. It’s a post-apocalyptic cocktail party, says Elizabeth. “It’s an artist’s vision of the future and I think it will be a lot of fun - depending on your sense of humor,” says the designer. Elizabeth, who happens to be the original founder of Tucson Fashion Week, has  been pulling all-nighters keeping up with her online sales, as well as working on a private label for Zappos and possibly expanding to a wholesale market.

As for Katy, her own creative energies recently took her in another direction too. She now works at Edible Baja Arizona as account manager. Part of the food magazine experience means she and boyfriend Jared travel to many parts of the region promoting the publication. For Katy it's like closing a circle that began with the life she had with her parents in Cochise County. "I’m seeing those parts again,” she says. “It’s reconnecting me with Arizona.”

* See Katy Gierlach and CandyStrike at Tucson Fashion Week's Project Runway Showcase at Fox Tucson Theatre, 6pm on October 18th. For more on Tucson Fashion Week, click here.

 

Eat, drink & be retro

In Tucson, there are plenty of food and drink establishments that remain relatively unchanged since the 50's and 60's. Let 3 Story and Tucson Foodie be your guides. By Adam Lehrman and Gillian Drummond.

Photo by Kevin Breutzmann

Photo by Kevin Breutzmann

As Tucsonans and many out-of-towners gather for the third annual Tucson Modernism Week, we thought it was high time we directed all of you to mid-century places to eat and imbibe. And we don't mean '50s and '60s style eateries and bars, with their try-too-hard checkerboard patterns and uber accessorizing. We're talking the real deal: places that have remained relatively unchanged since the middle of last century. The neon signs. The retro fixtures. The kitsch and ephemera. The atmosphere. And, most of all, the reputation for good food and cocktails. All of these things keep people coming back.

The Shelter. Photo courtesy of The Shelter.

The Shelter. Photo courtesy of The Shelter.

Asked what makes a restaurant still popular close to six decades on, Michael Elefante, co-owner of Mama Louisa's on South Craycroft, says simply: "Consistency." Mama Louisa's still gets visits from its original customers, some of whom are turning 90. Having one foot in the past and another in the future is a conundrum, though. Michael's family has owned the restaurant since 1973, and Michael recently became joint owner along with his brother Joey and friend Michael Press. (Until recently the two Michaels worked together as chefs at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain.) They have plans for a new menu (fresh mozzarella and Margarita pizza are on their way) and they're gently tweaking the interior. But Michael Elefante knows he can't change things up too much. "I call her a fisherman," he says of the restaurant he grew up in, washing dishes at the age of eight. "She reels us in. You start going too far out and she reels us in and reminds us of where we are." Here, in no particular order, are the ones that reel us customers in:

1. Mama Louisa's, 2041 S. Craycroft Rd

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Photo by Gillian Drummond

The style: Your baritone-voiced, chain-smoking Italian grandmother's restaurant (although she quit smoking years ago.) It's checked tablecloths, hand painted mural walls of Italy's shore, formica, and vinyl.

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Michael Press, left, and Michael Elefante, the new chef-owners of Mama Louisa's. Photo by Gillian Drummond

The story: Opened in 1956 on south Craycroft when it was still a young dirt road, Mama Louisa's has been in the Elefante family since 1973. In August it came under the joint ownership of brothers Joey and Michael Elefante and friend Michael Press. All of the murals on the walls are the original paintings from artist Jose de la Flora, save for one added in the 1970s by artist Paul Sheldon. All pasta is made fresh daily. Expect new dishes and decor tweaks soon. Don't miss: Joe's Special. Hands down. Whatever you end up with at Mama Louisa's, make sure it includes Joe's Special - linguine with hot pepper seeds, garlic and sauce - in some way, shape, or form.

2. The Shelter, 4155 E. Grant Rd

Photo by Kevin Breutzmann

Photo by Kevin Breutzmann

Photo courtesy of The Shelter

Photo courtesy of The Shelter

The style: Cold-war era 1960s retro lounge. Think Austin Powers meets Hanna Barbera. Kitsch-filled from floor to ceiling with expertly curated Elvis and JFK memorabilia, lava lamps, velvet, and lavish lighting. If you're lucky, the original Flash Gordon will be playing on the tele. The story: Though the rumors abound regarding The Shelter's history as a 60's era fallout shelter, the joint was originally built in 1961 by one of Arizona's first female architects, Ruby Wren. Interesting enough, Wren's grandson will open a brewery in downtown Tucson named Pueblo Vida. Don't miss: Martini, White Russian, or Bloody Mary. Ideally, not in a row.

3. Mi Nidito, 1813 S 4th Ave

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Photo by Gillian Drummond

The style: Vivid. Very. There's no subtlety here. It's shameless south-of-the-border kitsch with no prizes for sleek MCM-ness. But talk to any of the patrons and they'll tell you they come not for decor, but great Mexican food. The lines are out the door at peak times, when you can expect a wait of an hour or even two. The story: Ernesto and Alicia Lopez opened the restaurant in 1952 and named it Mi Nidito ("my little nest") because of its small size. Additions and remodels have increased the number of tables since (it's hard to think that what serves as a waiting area now was once the kitchen), but the atmosphere remains the same. Ownership has passed on to the Lopezes' son Ernesto, his wife Yolanda and their son Jimmy Lopez.

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Don't miss: The most popular dishes are the President's Plate (the spread Bill Clinton had when he came here in '99), Birria (shredded beef) and Carne Seca. The latter is made with beef that's hung to dry for four-and-a-half days, then deep fried, boiled and finally mixed with green peppers, crushed tomatoes, cilantro and green onions. We say anything that's labored over that much is worth it.

4. Lucky Wishbone, 4701 E. Broadway Blvd 85711

Photo by fotovitamina

Photo by fotovitamina

The style: (Was) 1950s drive-in restaurant-meets-diner, sans the drive-in. Sadly, the historic, iconic neon starburst sign is the only remnant of the original location. The sign was almost lost during the recent rebuild.

Photo courtesy of Mark Morris

Lucky Wishbone's Campbell location in 1956. Photo courtesy of Mark Morris.

The story: Opened in 1953 by Derald Fulton as an "easier-to-run" eatery, the original Lucky Wishbone opened at 4872 South Sixth at Irvington. Immediate success lent itself to opening more locations - including the one on Broadway  in 1954. Clyde Buzzard was made its managing partner. To this day, he still manages the restaurant and is the only surviving partner. Don't miss: It's hard to go wrong with anything at this fried-everything utopia. Standouts include Gizzards or Livers, Steak Fingers, Fried Chicken, and the Double Cheeseburger on Garlic Toast.

5. Kon Tiki, 4625 E. Broadway

Photo courtesy of Kon Tiki

Photo courtesy of Kon Tiki

The style: '60s tiki/exotica. The bamboo, the masks, the flaming torches at the door: it's all unchanged since this place opened in 1963 and is a tikiphile's dream.

Photo courtesy of Kon Tiki

Photo courtesy of Kon Tiki

The story: Dean Short opened it in 1963 after being inspired by tiki bars on a visit to California. It changed hands twice more, and current owner Paul Christopher practically cut his teeth on tiki. He started working there as a dishwasher and busboy at 15 and worked his way up. The place has served the likes of Lee Marvin, Robert Wagner and Robert Mitchum.

Don't miss: There's an extensive food menu, and the Polynesian BBQ Ribs are a favorite. But let's be honest: people come for the pack-a-punch cocktails. The Scorpion Bowl for two ($14), is a big, boozy, secret blend of rums, gin, brandy and liqueurs, ingested through long straws.

6. Pat's Drive-In, 1202 W. Niagara Street

patsfotovitamina2

Photo by fotovitamina

The style: Vintage roadside Americana. From the neon sign to the simple functionality to the barber-shop-style  red and white stripes of tile out front, it's humbly authentic - unlike so many modern places these days that are decked out to look like a '50s diner. The story: Henry 'Pat' Patterson launched his chili-dogs-and-fries concept in the 1950s, expanded, then downsized. This last remaining Pat's, just south of Speedway Blvd, has been around since 1962. In 1969, long-time employee Charlie Hernandez took over the business but kept Pat's name. Charlie carried on Pat's tradition of simple, inexpensive food: burgers, chili dogs, chicken, shrimp and fish. Don't miss: It's known for its chili dogs (choose the spicy version for an extra kick). Just before Pat passed away in 1999, he's said to have turned to his wife and asked for a chili dog from Pat's.  But even the staff prefer the Big Pat burger. Also try the shoe-string fries, hand-cut. Just remember to bring cash, because they charge extra for debit cards, and don't accept credit.  

And lastly...

Chaffin's Diner, 902 E. Broadway Blvd.

Photo by Vargas???

Photo by Gerardine Vargas

There was debate among 3 Story staff and contributors about whether or not to include Chaffin's in this article. Some refuse to patronize the place because of stories surrounding its owner. Others just don't think the food in this greasy spoon is even worth a mention. But, politics and iffy dishes aside, the place scores high for its looks. This is a real deal American diner, born in 1964.

* Tucson Modernism Week takes place October 3-11 in venues around Tucson. For tickets and a schedule, visit tucsonmod.com or pick up this free Tucson Modernism Week Collector's Guide, at locations in and around Tucson.

Messages in a bottle

Lesli Wood was so tired of floral scents she stopped wearing perfume. And then she set about making her own.  By Mari Herreras

lacurieoils

Photo courtesy of Lesli Wood.

Tired of the heavy and floral scented perfumes offered at department stores, Lesli Wood simply stopped wearing perfume. She never gave up looking for a fragrance or scent to call her own, but the only alternatives seemed to be oils sold at the health food stores.

Then about four years ago, Lesli sat down at her coffee table in her Los Angeles apartment with a few high-quality oils and natural fragrances she purchased, determined to make her own.

"So this has really only come into its own as a business the past year, but [there have been] at least four of tinkering, learning and taking the steps I needed," Lesli says, sitting in her workshop in the home she shares in Tucson's Barrio Viejo with her husband, musician Boyd Peterson.

lacurieexperimenting

Perfume making at Lesli's Tucson studio. Photo by Rachel Miller.

Thanks to an assortment of glass vials and tubes, Lesli’s workshop space has a mad scientist quality to it - but the kind of scientist who appreciates style, vintage and desert living. There's Chico, Lesli's Chihuahua mix, who might be the most friendly of this small wily breed, and a cow-hide rug across the floor. In one corner, a small antique secretary desk is filled with vials and looks like a mixing station ready for Lesli to bring her formulas to life. A '50s-era cabinet against a wall stores larger bottles of fragrances and oils, and all the supplies needed to be, well, a perfumery: Lesli's perfumery, called La Curie.

lesli

Lesli Wood. Photo by Rachel Miller.

Vintage and style is something that Lesli has always had a love for and a hand in; she ran a vintage and handmade store in the Glendale area with Boyd before moving back to Tucson two years ago. In Tucson, they started Thee Collection Agency, a similar shop on Sixth Street near Sixth Avenue. But they closed the brick and mortar store early this year, allowing her and Boyd to focus on other projects, like La Curie.

This perfume business is a new world for Lesli, but one that allows her to use two interests she's always had: science and art. "Perfume is those two worlds. There's some art and design involved. I do all the graphics and packaging," she says. "You have to be able to keep notes and have an interest in formulas or how chemistry really works. You kind of have to have a bit of a nerd brain."

 

The work of mixing - discovering those formulas and what Lesli describes as "sniffing, sniffing sniffing" - is harder that most may think. But turns out Lesli has a knack for this business, and quickly figured out what she liked and what others liked. She learned that synthetic fragrances might be easier to blend, but she didn't want to go in that direction. "I wanted to combine natural and essential oils and even a different, higher quality." One example is what's called an absolute, a name for a fragrance often described as a bit dirty and waxy, and considered a challenge to work with. Lesli, however, overcame that challenge and embraced what absolutes had to offer.

“A lot of handmade perfumers don’t like to work with these. The essential oils that you can buy at health food stores are extracted by a certain method and absolutes extract fragrance from plants using a different method. Not all plants respond well to an essential oil process,” she says. “They are also more expensive, rare and really concentrated and often have a different smell then essential oil form. They have more depth and complexity and are more highly regarded in perfumery.”

perfumebottles

'Synthetic' fragrances are easier to blend, but Lesli didn't want to go in that direction. Photo by Rachel Miller.

Figuring this out basically meant living a “How To” primer on making perfume. Lesli said it’s a model of living and working she’s always embraced. She didn’t finish college, and always figured how to do things on her own or seek the guidance of a specialist. “Maybe it’s because I’m an only child … but I also love puzzles and love a challenge. I read a ton and most of it was trial and error.

"I'm not doing this to make money," she adds. "Much to my mother's dismay, I've never gone into anything with the idea of making lots of money. I do this to express myself and maybe I can make money doing this."

lacurieminiatures The fragrance Lesli first created on her L.A. coffee table is called La Curie One. She says she's never changed this first formula. It's her first top-selling of the oils she's created and the positive reviews she's heard from friends and customers inspired her to keep creating.

“It’s a lively fragrance, not heavy. It’s kind of active. A little freshness. There’s some bergamot, which gives it a lemony fresh sent and an undertone of leather, and a little bit of jasmine. When I first made that one I described it as wearing your favorite aged leather jacket and walking by a citrus tree in bloom.”

Right now the only stores that carry La Curie are MAST in Tucson and her former shop in California. MAST sells the full range: four oil-based perfumes, two face sprays and a natural mosquito repellent, as well as three eau de perfume sprays. Her remaining sales are online through her website and, thanks to an October 2013 review in a popular perfume and beauty products blog, those sales are increasing, even for samples.

"Before, online, nobody knew who I was. Really, how do you convey a smell online? So sales have been through MAST, and I've been watching closely what people say and buy," she says. The feedback this past year has been phenomenal, with sales at about 40 bottles a month. "At first I thought it was people I know, and how nice it was that my friends are supporting me. I didn't trust myself, but I was finally told that I probably only know 10 percent of the people who've bought at MAST," she says.

Sending samples to the EauMG fragrance and beauty blog took some courage, but Lesli says she realized the publicity would help her reach an audience beyond the loyal following she's cultivated in Tucson. "It was a positive review, and it gave me the validation I needed. It was the first time I had anyone who knows what they are talking about smell [my products].  She did a second review, so now I have two nice reviews. It helped. I've had people ordering samples from all over the place and discovering my stand-alone website."

lacurielesliattable

Perfume making combines two of Lesli's loves: science and art. Photo by Rachel Miller.

Her spray perfume Faunus - unisex, like all her fragrances - is woodsy and earthy, inspired by the Roman forest god of the same name. These earth-inspired creations, like Larrea with its touch of creosote scent, and even the name La Curie, happen to be inspired by a special super moon Tucson night - those big moon evenings we are treated to from time to time.

"I went to the El Tiradito shrine during a super moon,” says Lesli, recalling an evening at the Barrio Viejo shrine dedicated to unrequited love and loss, in which people for generations have left prayers and wishes in crevices of the shrine’s wall. “I don't read my horoscope. I'm not really into that stuff, but there was a super moon and my husband's mother wanted to go. She said we have to put prayer there.”

At that time Lesli was feeling stuck and not sure where she was moving in this perfume business, with no ideas for scent names. "Right after that everything came to me. It all happened in one week."

There's more running through Lesli's head, along with the tubes and the notebooks open on her desk, revealing new formulas inspired by secret society symbols, roses, Northern Morocco, moss and ferns, and Italian caves. There are notes of crushed leaves and wet earth floating around there too. But right now her seven fragrances are enough for people to discover.

lacuriesamplescropped

So Lesli finally made some fragrances she could wear, and ones she hopes appeal to people like her. "I think of them as a sophisticated bohemian group, but also artsy and rebellious. Except now you've grown up and you're doing the responsible thing."

* Find La Curie perfume at MAST100 S. Avenida del Convento, Tucson or online at www.la-curie.com

True colors

Hair color is great while it lasts... except it doesn't. Enter Liora Dudar and Maegan Scarlett and a line of color maintenance products they cooked up in a kitchen. By Mari Herreras. Cover photo courtesy of oVertone.co

Courtesy of overtone.co

Photo courtesy of oVertone.co

The images Liora K Dudar produces generate healthy double takes and national praise, earning the Tucson photographer - widely known as Liora K - a reputation of being feminist fierce.

Which could make Liora's latest endeavor surprising to some. That is unless, of course, you ever noticed the touch of color that often tops her brunette tresses. Today the color is red, a flame of red hair that beautifully frames Liora's face.

Sitting beside her inside Café Passe on Tucson's Fourth Avenue is Maegan Scarlett - a friend that shares Liora's feminist ideals and values. What's equally obvious is that Maegan shares her love of color too. Her hair is a gorgeous shade of orange in all-over color down to her shoulders.

Courtesy of overtone.co

Liora (left) and Maegan. Photo courtesy of oVertone.co

Together, the friends recently launched oVertone, a line of color-depositing conditioners that can be used weekly and daily in different color intensities to keep those fantasy colors from fading as fast, and leaving hair well-conditioned at the same time.

What's referred to as "fantasy color" are colors like pink and other pastels, as well as more intense shades of blue, green, red and purple. On the café table sit some of the offerings: tubs of weekly deep conditioner in purple, red and a teal green. They're creamy and have a light, natural-smelling fragrance -  nothing like the usual ammonia smell of many hair coloring products.

Liora says they came up with the business idea over their mutual love for fantasy color - something she suggests people choose in an effort to be their more authentic selves. When Liora first met Maegan they recognized they shared many values and interests, and over coffee they'd lament that their color faded too fast, forcing them to go back to their hair stylists a little more than they desired - every two weeks rather than every six weeks. With oVertone, application can be weekly or daily, depending on a person's wants or needs. If someone has a blonded streak, according to Liora, it can take the salon out of the picture altogether.

Courtesy of overtone.co

Katy Gierlach modeling Extreme Pink. Photo courtesy of oVertone.co

Once the start-up idea hatched, the women ran with it. And it feels like they have no intention of stopping. "We're the sort of people who jump head first into good ideas, I suppose," says Maegan. "'We're going to do it and we're ordering lab supplies right now' is pretty much how it started."

There was no market analysis nor 20-page business plan, just what Liora and Maegan describe as passion -  the kind of passion that fuels projects with what sometimes seems like the energy of 20 women, not just two.

"A business plan is just not our style. From my personal experience, I find that people who are successful jump face first into things and don't look back," says Maegan. "If something comes up and we need a business plan, well then we'll write it. But we don't want to waste the time. I'd rather focus on marketing and creating a brand and great product."

Courtesy of overtone.co

Laura Dinardo shows Vibrant Teal peeking out from under her brown locks. Photo courtesy of oVertone.co

Liora says when they agreed on the business idea, she had to go to a friend's wedding the next day. She found herself looking at her phone, going over 20 different emails from Maegan, who in a short time set up a website URL, did research on Shopify to set up online sales, and began identifying ingredients and bottle vendors.

The line they've created - 54 different products, to be exact - formally kicked off online on June 21 at oVertone.co. They've also been busy researching retail and wholesale markets, and they have interest in Australia. So part of their challenge now is making sure they have the labels legally required for the down-under market.

Why the interest? Liora and Maegan say it's because their research shows there are no other products like theirs out on the market - no coloring conditioner specifically for fantasy colors. Theirs allows freedom, they say - the ability for consumers to take hot showers and do heat styling without having to worry about damaging their color. "We're still looking for who else does what we do and we can't find it," says Liora.

Courtesy of overtone.co

Rambo Reza mixing it up with Extreme Teal and Extreme Blue. Photo courtesy of oVertone.co

If they do find anything similar on the market, what may set oVertone apart from the rest is a specific set of values important to Liora and Maegan. For example, they are using as many organic ingredients and recyclable materials as possible. "These go-deep weekly treatments are 70 percent organic and the daily are 30 percent organic. What's great is that we created these ourselves to make sure we know what's in them," says Maegan.

On their company blog and in all of their marketing they want to have as many different ethnicities, genders and body types represented as possible - not surprising, given Liora's strong support of the body positive movement. They also created a give-back program that allows customers to round up the cost of their online purchase and designate that dollar or more to one of four non-profits: American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Nurse Family Partnership and Best Friends Animal Society. "This gives our customers a voice," says Liora, adding that over time the charities will change.

There's also a trust factor they are counting on, the fact that they personally came up with the formula, mixing those early batches on tarps laid out in Maegan's Los Angeles kitchen and dining room. With the lab supplies purchased, Liora took the Amtrak train from Tucson to L.A. and once she arrived they started experimenting. Liora says some of Maegan's college bio-chemistry knowledge was a help, as well as their own experience with fantasy color.

Courtesy of overtone.co

Maegan shows off the effects of Extreme Orange. Photo courtesy of overtone.co

Says Liora: "We knew a decent amount about hair color and how it works and how pigments are structured. We took a lot of time researching and navigating the Internet to find the basic raw materials of what hair dye is made of, took that and reformulated it for our hair conditioner. It was sometimes a steep learning curve with the pigments." She adds that those early mixing days included a few phone calls to Tucson friend, stylist and colorist Amber Zabaleta of Imagen Salon.

"We'd give her call and say, 'Why are these not working?,' and we'd figure out if it was x, y or z. So we had some guidance. But Maegan's background in chemistry helped and I think both of us think similarly on a business level," Liora explains.

So together that day in Maegan's L.A. home they figured out the building blocks of hair dye. It helped, says Maegan, that there was a cupcake bakery and wine store down the street from her house. They also put the final touches to their business venture: the website, setting up social media, and researching the vendors who sold the ingredients. Plus, they were all able to successfully answer the first question women asked when they called: "Are your products cruelty free?"

Courtesy of overtone.co

Photo courtesy of overtone.co

Literally home-grown, the business still operates largely from Maegan's living room, where the pair recently mixed 180 ounces of conditioners for pre-orders. They are looking into contracting out the mixing, but first they need orders.

Maegan says the work involved in creating oVertone appealed to her Jane-of-all-trades attitude. While living in Tucson she worked for a health care IT firm while going to college, and continues to work in that field from her home in L.A. The fantasy color business is a creative outlet that she needs, she says, a home for her passion to create something and be part of something she loves. And while it would seem Liora gets enough creative expression through her commercial and personal photography projects, she says the facets of business development allow her to use her creativity in different ways that are equally rewarding.

Santana Nez in Pastel Orange. Courtesy of overtone.co

Santana Nez in Pastel Orange ombre. Photo courtesy of overtone.co

While the partnership between Liora and Maegan is very collaborative, each brings their individual skills, which reflects the titles on their business cards: Chief Operating Officer for Maegan and Chief Design Officer for Liora. And while both say their friendship bonds over their individual entrepreneurial spirit, Maegan is the one with some specific start-up experiences that have provided her with a few lessons one might not expect.

"I've been trying to start a business since I've exited the womb," quips Maegan. "Early on I sold candy to my peers behind my teachers' backs in grade school." At 19 she was working several jobs to pay for college. She became a certified personal trainer and brought other trainers together to create an online consulting business, along with a fitness and women's empowerment blog. But it proved difficult to monetize and she moved on.

Austin Puca in Vibrant Red. Courtesy of overtone.co

Austin Puca in Vibrant Red. Photo courtesy of overtone.co

"There have been other tries here and there and other industries, and every time you fail you learn a lot," says Maegan. "But the favorite advice someone shared with me along the way is if you wait to start until you're ready you'll probably never start. If you're comfortable when you do start, you may have waited too long."

What's evident to those lucky enough to observe Liora's projects - her collaboration with body acceptance activist and blogger Jes 'The Militant' Baker, for example - is the partnerships she creates. "It's a good way to live and very empowering," says Liora, agreeing. "Every partnership, I've always known was going to work out."

Maegan looks back at the beginning of oVertone and the intense energy each of them initially brought to the table. "Those first 48 hours we had done so much because we're really excited about it. I've been involved in a number of start-ups and I'm involved with the executive team in my day job - but I find that when the passion is lacking, it drains you.

"With this, we can stay up at all hours of the night and work for days. That's what keeps you pumped. That's what still keeps us inspired."

* To find out more about oVertone and to place an order, visit the website.

Lost and found

Tucson artist Steven Derks has turned junk into art, found objects into collectable pieces. In doing so, he's also found himself. By Joan Calcagno

Photo by Steven Derks.

Photo by Steven Derks

You might have noticed Steven Derks' studio and gallery on your way downtown. It’s that bright coral-colored building at 801 north main avenue – the front yard filled with large, colorful metal sculptures. The studio name, “Redeemed Arts”, reflects both his work, much of it a transformation of found objects, and his life as an artist – a life shaped by continual adaption, fueled by crisis and redemption.

Outside Steven's studio, Redeemed Arts. Photo by Steven Derks

Outside Steven's studio, Redeemed Arts. Photo by Steven Derks

Steven started dabbling with utilitarian ceramics in the mid-80s. But it was not until the early 90s, when he saw some success painting on traditional drums, that he started to see himself as an artist and thought, “I can do this”. A few years later his work evolved to large metal sculpture and narrative pieces using found objects. Today, you can see Steven’s work all over town - outside Beyond Bread, on the grounds of Hacienda del Sol resort, and the patio and bike rack at the The Loft Cinema, to name a few.

Bike rack outside The Loft Cinema. Photo by Steven Derks.

Bike rack outside The Loft Cinema. Photo by Steven Derks

Outside his studio is a Dead End sign. It’s hard not to smile at the irony because Steven has never stopped moving and progressing over the last several decades, working prolifically and, by his own admission, “frenetically.”

Steven Derks studio on Main. Photo by Steven Derks.

Steven Derks studio on Main. Photo by Steven Derks

“I work on as many as ten narrative sculptures at a time. I work a lot. I have to make something every day,” he says. A walk through the 801 gallery (or a sneaky peek through the windows or over the wall) proves it. On display, and under construction, are vivid abstract paintings, furniture that fits well with modern/mid-century interiors, giant metal sculptures, and creations that turn objects like birds’ cages, wheels, tools, even a telephone, into something much more. “The elements come from antique stores and resale shops. The objects inspire the work,” he says.

Narrative Sculpture by Steven Derks. Photo by Steven Derks.

Narrative Sculpture by Steven Derks. Photo by Steven Derks

Photo by Steven Derks.

Photo by Steven Derks

And then there are the rusted hearts, now one of his major art themes. The hearts grew out of his other sculptural work about four years ago. He had been doing found-object pieces with tools. Inspired by Jim Dine who in the early 1960s produced pop art with items from everyday life and who uses a lot of hearts in his work, Steven “danced around the heart with an ambivalence.” He started adding hearts to the tools series. “Then it turned into an obsession,” he says. “The heart on its own was completely cliché, but enhancement with found objects changed everything.”

Entitled Stop / Think, by Steven Derks. Photo by Steven Derks.

Entitled Stop / Think, by Steven Derks. Photo by Steven Derks

In the midst of this obsession, while working out in the studio’s front yard, he heard the news on the radio about the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson. He immediately came into the shop and started making a new piece, this time incorporating guns. And he kept making them. “I did it because I had to do it. I don’t take [the pieces] to galleries.” They are now hanging all together in a corner of the 801 gallery. “They have turned into an installation,” Steven says.

Steven Derks the artist took some time to emerge. As a boy growing up in Tempe, he was always resourceful. Whilst in high school, he had a paper route and did restaurant work and saved a lot of money. “I should have been focusing on school but instead, I worked.” At just 17, thinking he was going to “do the hippie thing” and live off the land, he bought a house with flood irrigation so he could have a little farm.

From the Rusted Heart series. Photo by Steven Derks.

From the Rusted Heart series. Photo by Steven Derks

There followed some time on a commune in Sedona, work on a historic ranch, and, searching for what to do next, an application for a college scholarship, then a job with the state agricultural department on the Navajo reservation.

He got accepted to college, but funding fell through at the last minute. Already on his way back to Tempe, his VW van with everything he owned in it, overheated and burned up. But he was redeemed. The next day he got the offer for the state ag job. So, at 20 years old, he was living on a remote part of the reservation in an abandoned hogan with a dog and a goat, and showering at the general store.

From the Rusted Heart series. Photo by Steven Derks.

From the Rusted Heart series. Photo by Steven Derks

Sculpture and photo by Steven Derks.

Sculpture and photo by Steven Derks

Before long he was promoted to what he calls “cactus cop”, a middle-management job that included enforcing agricultural and antiquities laws. That brought him to Tucson. In the mid-1980s, now married and still working his “cactus cop” job, he resurrected his interest in art, dormant since high school. He “dabbled” in ceramics – large decorative and utilitarian bowls and sculptural Raku pieces.

He also dabbled in the Tucson arts community, but he didn’t really see himself as an artist. “The director of [what was then] the Rosequist gallery offered to show my work there, but I was too shy to take them up on the offer. I was totally intimidated by the whole thing.”

From the Rusted Hears series. Photo by Steven Derks.

From the Rusted Hears series. Photo by Steven Derks

Steven had also been dabbling in religious, or at least spiritual, exploration from a young age. As a boy he idolized his grandfather, a devout Catholic mystic. “I was an altar boy. I went to mass six days a week so that turned me into an atheist. And then I kind of reconciled that and became a bit of an agnostic later.”

The desire for an authentic, meaningful life stuck with him though. In high school he was involved with Eckankar, “a conglomerate of Eastern philosophies”. While living on the reservation, he took part in ceremonies that were available to him. “Now I’m an agnostic who is fascinated with spiritual people. I’m intrigued enough that I investigate.” he says.

In Tucson he returned to church. Through one of the church’s service projects, he met charismatic priest Juan Daniel Vialobos, who was working with the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, trading food and medical supplies for Tarahumara craftwork. Steven began accompanying him and bought drums, baskets, pottery and ceramics back to sell, passing the profit on to Juan Daniel to continue the work.

Steven Derks in front of his painting. Photo by Steven Derks.

Steven Derks in front of one of his paintings. Photo by Steven Derks

It was at this point that his spiritual quest and his art-making converged “quite by accident,” he says. Thinking he might enhance the value of the drums and increase the profit for the Tarahumara, he picked up a paint brush and started painting a snake motif on one of the drums. He was encouraged by friends who liked the drum paintings. This felt right. It was first time Steven thought “maybe I can create art as a living”.

Steven welding one of his many sculptures. Photo courtesy of Steven Derks.

Steven welding one of his many sculptures. Photo courtesy of Steven Derks

When he couldn’t get a decent price at roadside Indian stores, he took the drums to a gallery in Scottsdale on a whim. The owner bought them all on the spot. With almost $6,000 in his pocket from the sale, he decided “I can do this” and quit his job as cactus cop. He was 30.

President Clinton bought one of the drums on a visit to Arizona and hung it in the Oval Office, lending Steven credibility and a career boost. Meantime, another shift happened. Thinking about making hangers for the drums, Steven bought some welding equipment and the stand turned into a sculpture.

Not long after that, newly divorced and now a single father to a one-year-old, Steven was facing a new chapter. Although he was selling drums and sculptural bases in galleries around the country, he hadn't had a job for years. “It was me, a baby and a truck load of stuff and there was no looking back at that point. I had to make it as an artist,” he says.

An exclusive deal and the promise of guaranteed income with a Scottsdale gallery fell through when the gallery owner died unexpectedly. Steven had already let go of all his other galleries so this “really forced my hand. I couldn’t travel with a baby. I had to make it selling locally. And the drums weren’t going to be enough.”

The drum stands that had morphed to sculpture morphed again – this time into narrative pieces using found objects, what Steven calls his redeemed art. “The sculptures were selling well so I just kept doing it.”

Bill Dantzler’s favorite Steven Derks twisted metal. Photo by Steven Derks.

Bill Dantzler’s favorite Steven Derks sculpture of twisted metal. Photo by Steven Derks

Today, Steven shares the space at 801 W. Main with three other artists and sells to local galleries, owners of high-end residences, corporations and collectors.

Bill Dantzler, one of those collectors, owns about ten of Steven’s pieces. “When I first saw Steven's work, I was struck by what he was able to do with scrap metal - the way he had cut it and put it together. I thought ‘Someone is going to buy it up’, so I bought the three pieces on display.” And he kept buying them.

“He does a very good job with twisted metal – which is hard to do,” says Bill. “Steven is particularly good with the spontaneity of some of his pieces, the sense in which he can make the metal come alive - something that just exploded at that moment.”

At home at Damien Ranch, a “sustainable social experiment” in intentional community with writers, teachers and a few other artists, Steven is still adapting and evolving. Late at night he is learning some skills he hopes will let him work with fabricators on more complex pieces;  he is teaching himself 3-D computer design.

Painting and photo by Steven Derks.

Steven's painting on a collector's wall. Photo by Steven Derks

Painting by Steven Derks. Photo by Steven Derks.

Painting and photo by Steven Derks

He continues to struggle with his self-image as an artist though. “My idea about artists - and why I didn't pursue art right out of high school - is because I thought it was for the kids with the trust funds. I had to find junk and figure out how to make it into something interesting. I’m still surprised every time somebody buys something.”

You can visit the 801 Gallery and Redeemed Arts studio at 801. N. Main Avenue. View photos of Steven's sculpture, paintings, furniture and more on his website

"It's glorious feeling comfortable in my skin"

In a Mother's Day exclusive, Jade Beall, creator of A Beautiful Body Project, writes a letter to her pre-mommy body. Cover photo by Jade Beall.

From "The Bodies Of Mothers", photo by JADE BEALL PHOTOGRAPHY

From The Bodies Of Mothers, photo by Jade Beall Photography

Jade, a Tucson-based photographer, started her own body-positive movement after taking self-portraits of herself after childbirth. She had gained 50 pounds and struggled to lose the weight. She put the photographs of herself on her website and the result was immediate: an influx of inquiries from other mothers asking for their own authentic portraits of their bodies post-birth.

Jade Beall and baby, photo by Jade Beall

Jade Beall and baby. Photo by Jade Beall

Today Jade, who admits to having struggled with her weight her entire life, says it feels "glorious" to be comfortable in her skin. This month, Jade's portraits - no airbrushing, no photo-shopping - are published in her book, The Bodies of Mothers. In celebration of Mother's Day, we asked Jade to write herself a letter to her pre-mommy self. "[The letter] came out quickly and easily," says Jade. "And after I finished it I felt at peace."

"My Dearest Body Before Babies, I want to tell you that I wish I could visit you -  you, the girl with a flat tummy and rested eyes. I wish I could caress that tummy and those legs and admire those arms, my arms, the arms that you don't even notice while you imprison yourself to the scale in your bedroom closet.

I want to hold you and tell you how precious you are and ask you to relish yourself because you will never look or feel exactly like this ever again and you should be out celebrating and allowing yourself to feel worthy, just as you are. And instead you sit here comparing yourself to ideas that are not yours, ideas of what you should look like to be worthy of success and greatness.

From "The Bodies Of Mothers", photo by JADE BEALL PHOTOGRAPHY

From The Bodies Of Mothers. Photo by Jade Beall Photography

I also want to tell you that after you give birth to your beyond precious boy, forget about your hollow tummy and your wide hips and let the dog hair pile up on the concrete floor. Lay in bed with your little baby and when he sleeps take a bath and marvel at your incredibleness.

From "The Bodies Of Mothers", photo by JADE BEALL PHOTOGRAPHY

From The Bodies Of Mothers. Photo by Jade Beall Photography

You are the biggest you have ever been, yes, it is true in so many regards: your heart has grown, your love has grown, your belief in magic has grown, your body has grown. Take all that space you deserve and dance in it. Don’t stare at yourself in the mirror with a frown, but instead check yourself out as if you were the most gorgeous being you have ever seen. Flirt with yourself. Praise yourself. And then go snuggle with that perfect baby before he turns two and pushes you away.

Oh sweet post-birth body, I want to tell you how sweet it is allowing our self to take all the space we need! I have to say it’s quite liberating no longer owning a scale to hide in my closet and comparing myself to my sisters. Now I love my sisters, all of them, and see myself in them.

It’s glorious feeling worthy and comfortable in my skin right now, not tomorrow, but in this very second. I look forward for you to discover just how beautiful this world is, when we love ourselves completely and when we feel beautiful as a collective.

And how wonderful it is to know that when I am 50, I will not have to write this letter to my 34-year-old younger self because I will know then that I was loving me that way I deserve to be loved right then."

love,

Jade

* Jade Beall runs Jade Beall Photography and her dance studio, The Movement Shala, in Tucson. She is also co-owner of clothing company Fed by Threads.

The space whisperers

Architects Luis Ibarra and Teresa Rosano don't just fill a space, they listen to it first. Here, the award-winning Tucson couple share their unique approach - and their home. By Kaleigh Shufeldt.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Levin residence by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Garcia residence by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

There is no such thing as a blank slate in architecture, say Teresa Rosano and Luis Ibarra, the married couple that makes up Ibarra Rosano Design Architects in Tucson. They believe architecture is already present at a site, whether it is an empty city lot or virgin desert.

Says Luis: “It’s learning to listen to the site itself, letting it kind of guide you through. If you sit still long enough you'll learn to listen to the patterns. You will begin to understand how to apply what you need to the site, in a way that is both respectful, harmonious. When we come to a site, we come at it trying to understand the architecture that’s already there, the good qualities and the bad qualities.”

The couple looks at a site without any preconceptions or idea of style. In fact, style is not one of Luis’ favorite words. He believes style sets rules that can keep them from seeing the actual solution.

But if their own style, or aesthetic, were to be summed up, it would be Desert Modern: creating modern buildings that are inspired by the desert. They focus on the natural colors of the area, with materials that will cause the least damage to the terrain – and are based off of the site. “It is usually the coloration of a site, the ground, the rock, the vegetation that leads us to particular hues,” says Teresa.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Downing residence, by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Luis and Teresa. Photo by Chris Richards courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Both born and bred in Tucson, they came to appreciate their home desert turf in different ways. Teresa grew up on the far northwest side of Tucson, where she spent her weekends in the desert as her father - with no architectural experience - built their family home out of adobe brick. Her days playing in the desert led to a love of it, she says. It was one she fully appreciated on a visit to Taliesin East, Frank Lloyd Wright’s estate in Wisconsin. There on a wall were photographs of Taliesin West, the architect’s famed winter home in Scottsdale. Despite the lush greenery she was in at the time, “I saw the pictures of the desert and it was like there was a little flutter in me. I thought, ‘That’s home’.”

Luis, who grew up on the east side, says he thought every place was like Tucson. It was only when he started studying architecture at the University of Arizona, and was exposed to different building styles and people from around the world, that he realized he lived in a “special place.”

garciapink

The Garcia residence by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Luis and Teresa met at the University of Arizona College of Architecture, Teresa in her second year and Luis in his third. While they were still in school they worked on their first project together, a kitchen and porch remodel. From there they interned with architects around the city then started their firm. In 1997, now married and after just renovating their kitchen, they entered into an American Homestyle and Gardening design competition and won first prize. The publicity from their win got them their first client.

Both now lecture at the UA, Teresa a class on site analysis and planning, and Luis land ethics, sharing their lessons in space with architecture students. “We come up with ideas that aren’t normal,” says Luis. They use a variety of materials, such as adobe, straw-bale, cement, concrete block, and integra block.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

A courtyard fireplace at Luis and Teresa's home in Tucson. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

A tour of their own home, in a mid-century district of Tucson’s midtown, showcases not only their modernist philosophies, but innovative thinking. Originally a small box of a house built in 1947, they bought it in 1995 and are still renovating.

A studio in the yard that serves as an office for them and four more staff is made out of RASTRA, an insulating concrete form. The floor is made out of cork bulletin boards – much cheaper than a regular cork floor, at 50 cents a square foot. In the main house, an addition to the original building has cut-outs in the Integra block that funnel air when their swamp cooler is running. A shower has a removable styrofoam roof, turning it into an outside shower for months of the year. The spacious living/dining room, its perimeter wall facing east, has been redesigned with a long, low window along the bottom that brings in just enough light, but keeps out the morning sun.

Photo by Gillian Drummond

Inside Luis and Teresa's home, with low-lying window. Photo by Gillian Drummond

Their preference is for simple and bright: cobalt blues and lime greens, blonde wood, and plenty of IKEA wardrobes and sliding doors. In their laundry room, glass-fronted IKEA doors and cabinets hide every single appliance and object from sight.

Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

A custom headboard in the home of Luis and Teresa. Photo by Gillian Drummond

Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

This mosaic tile bench in the couple's bedroom was made by Teresa's father. Photo by Gillian Drummond

 

Luis says the seller of their house - a daughter who was selling it on behalf of her deceased mother - gave up a cash offer in favor of the young architects. They described their plans for it, and she told them her mother had always wanted to remodel. "She knew we were going to put love into it," he says.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

This yard was landscaped by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

A play yard was part of this remodel by the couple. Photo by Chris Richards courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

If he has a legacy, he wants it to be not a lasting style or look that he and Teresa are known for, but rather buildings that fit their surroundings. "I'd like to think we did the best we could, we didn't do what was trendy."

Their work in Tucson and the surrounding desert ranges from city housing and commercial spaces (a duplex, courtyard homes, a fashion boutique, The Screening Room facade) to mountain-hugging desert residences and a residence in Alberta, Canada.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Levin residence by Ibarra Rosano. Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

Whether trend-setting, trend-bucking, or just plain loving - of their trade and of their spaces - this couple is getting noticed. They are recipients of more than 50 regional and national design awards and a recent Best of Houzz award for design. They have been lauded by architecture magazines as rising stars, both in the southwest and nationally. In 2013 their project, the Levin Residence - made up of three rectangular forms appearing to hover over the desert - was featured on ArchDaily and HGTV’s Extreme Homes. The ultra-contemporary Levin Residence is now the backdrop for BMW’s new print and web advertising campaign for its Series 3 Gran Turismo.

Photo by Bill Timmerman courtesy of Ibarra Rosano Design Architects

The Levin residence is currently featured in this ad for BMW. Photo courtesy of BMW

*For more on Ibarra Rosano Design Architecture go to ibarrarosano.com or call (520) 795-5477.

* See more of the couple's work on the slideshow below.

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The buffalo roams

A true Tucson original, Buffalo Exchange, is celebrating its 40th birthday with a unique road trip across America. We ask: what makes this business tick? By Joan Calcagno.

Outside the Airstream. Photo by

The Airstream trailer that sets off this week on a road trip. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

It started tiny, in a 400 square foot store in the University district. Forty years later, one of Tucson’s best exports is going small once more. Buffalo Exchange, the clothing chain that now spans 49 stores and 17 states, is celebrating its 40th birthday with a road trip in a vintage Airstream trailer.

Inside the Airstream. Photo by

Inside the Airstream. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

For two and a half months, staff will take the Airstream to each of its stores for a day of celebrations. At each store, the staff will fill the Airstream with vintage western clothing and other treasures, turning it into a roaming, dynamic pop-up shop. And after the retail tour, the Airstream hopes to hit music and art festivals, including Coachella.

Many who shop at Buffalo in Tucson may be surprised by the company's size, its 750 employees, and the $82 million dollars in sales it brings in each year. In Tucson, the company just added its fourth store, Buffalo Trading Post - a kind of "older sibling" to the original, selling clothes for the older woman.

Yet despite its expansion, each of the 49 stores (46 owned, three franchised) manages to look like a small, independent business. That's because every one uniquely reflects its location, and is at the same time grounded in the company's principles. Principles and people appear to be the basis of Buffalo Exchange's success. And as the company takes to the road for its big 4-0, it will be as much about getting back to these roots as it will be celebrating four decades in the retail fashion  business.

Kerstin Block - Founder of Buffalo Exchange

Kerstin Block, founder of Buffalo Exchange. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

Kerstin Block started the company with her husband Spencer in a 400 square foot store in the University area of Tucson on Warren Avenue near Speedway. Now Kerstin and their daughter Rebecca run the company from a head office that occupies seven rehabilitated houses on 6th Street and Helen, just a couple of miles from that first store location.

What sets Buffalo apart from thrift and consignment stores is the buy-sell-trade business model that Kerstin and Spencer created before they opened in 1974.  Each Buffalo Exchange store provides their customers a percentage of the selling price (30% cash or 50% in trade) for clothing and accessories they think will sell in the shop.

bestore1

Buffalo Exchange operates on a buy-sell-trade business model. Photo by Gillian Drummond

With this new concept, the store took off right away. “We opened on a lark and the first few months were really fun,” says Kerstin. She had always been a big thrift store shopper. So when they opened, the inventory came mostly from her house. The store location had foot traffic, so people stopped in, shopped, and brought in great stuff to sell. Word spread and it was only a matter of months before Spencer quit his job and they expanded to the space next door. Within a few years they had eight stores, including a second store in Tucson and others in Phoenix, Tempe and the Bay Area. In the 1990s they started to expand to other states. (The company also has two thrift outlets, in Nogales and San Antonio, which do not buy or trade.)

Rebecca of Buffalo Exchange

Rebecca Block. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

It was at about this time that Rebecca started working full time for Buffalo Exchange. She moved into administration after working at the Tucson stores throughout high school and college. But Rebecca was helping out as early as nine years old. “It was the family business so I did [the little] things that had to be done,” she recalls.

Although Kerstin is responsible for what she calls the “big picture”, she is still very hands-on in scouting new locations. “It doesn’t work otherwise,” she says. She travels to locations being considered for new stores, looking for the same qualities that made those first stores in Tucson a success: a sizable urban, alternative, arty population, and a location close to a university or urban center.

While the team has experimented with the various management theories over the decades, it realized a few years ago that accounting and reporting systems were getting so complicated and rigid that what is really important was getting lost. The 40th anniversary, says Rebecca, is an opportunity to remember that “750 people depend on Buffalo Exchange staying a sustainable, viable business and we can best do that if we stay focused on the values.”

Spencer established those values. He was, by all accounts, a character with character. It's all there in The Way of the Buffalo, a book of his previously unpublished essays on how to run a socially conscious and profitable business that Kerstin and Rebecca collated after Spencer’s death in 2009. There are pictures of him in some his many Hawaiian shirts, hitchhiking with a Buffalo Exchange sign and a mannequin, and ruminations on how trust, respect, leadership, communication, giving back to the community and having fun at work all make for good business. “We’re very aware of his legacy,” says Kerstin.

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The Buffalo Exchange store on Congress Street in downtown Tucson. Photo by Gillian Drummond

One of the primary "Buffalo ways" is functioning in a socially responsible manner. “Being in a sustainable business - buying and trading existing clothing, not creating demand for new textiles - is the most socially responsible thing we do,” says Rebecca.

Also as part of this ethic, the company promotes a number of community-based, environmentally-focused programs. Take its Tokens for Bags program. Shoppers can choose a bag for their purchases, or they can choose a token. They drop the token into one of two or three boxes designated for a local non-profit. Each token is worth five cents. That may not seem like much, but the tokens program has raised nearly $525,000 and kept millions of bags out of the environment. Proceeds benefit local organizations chosen by employees at each store, so the donations stay in the local community.

The stores also donate clothes to local organizations. In Tucson one of these is Youth On Their Own, which provides support services to homeless kids. When The Humane Society of the United States had to discontinue Coats for Cubs - which collects fur pieces to aid animal rehabilitation - Buffalo Exchange took it over.

Each Earth Day, Buffalo Exchange picks a national charity to receive the proceeds from a one-day dollar sale held at each store (it’s April 19th this year in Tucson.) This year, as part of the focus on their roots, proceeds from all the stores will go to the Tucson-based Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

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Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

People – customers and employees - are the focus at Buffalo Exchange. Unlike other retail stores that buy their goods from others and then pass it on to the customer, Buffalo’s customers are also their suppliers, so that relationship is critical, say Kerstin and Rebecca.

“Our customers are in business with us. The buying, selling and trading has to be mutually beneficial,” says Rebecca. Part of that, she says, is having a rewarding workplace, which is about “how you treat your employees and your co-workers and your customers. We want to have fun at work and have a good time with our customers, which sometimes can be hard when we aren’t buying [what people have brought in].”

Buffalo Exchange claims to have a much better retention rate than other retailers. “We work a lot on making sure people [who work for us] are growing. That’s one of the founding things - that we have people who have a good understanding of other people,” says Kerstin.

Despite the plethora of secondhand stores that have joined Buffalo Exchange in the retail sector, the company remains "very unique" in its business model, says Art Padilla, Professor in the Management and Organization Department at the Eller College of Business at the University of Arizona. He says that businesses succeed by finding a unique way to provide value to their customers, "and that is exactly what Buffalo Exchange has done".  That, and "knowing what to put in the stores - an eye for what will sell - is key," he says.

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Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Kerstin and Spencer traveled to each store in the small Airstream they owned then, living in it along the way. The Airstream that takes to the road this time is bound to get a lot of attention. Tattoo artist Allyson Bennett created artwork and signage for the outside and all of the interior design and restoration work was done in-house. The maintenance staff gutted and re-wired the 25 foot vintage Airstream. Other employees worked for months to create the interior. Everywhere you look there are interesting visual details, all from salvaged materials, that add to the lustrous restored wood interior. Shelves are made from the tops of vintage suitcases; jewelry is displayed on a rusted crib mattress spring with tiny rusted-metal buffalos welded to the frame for added interest.

Inside the Airstream. Photo by

Inside the Airstream. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

The tour kicks off March 7th at the 2001 E. Speedway store in Tucson and ends May 22nd at the store in Boulder, Colorado. Five drivers and five coordinators are driving the trailer to each of the 49 stores. Each store will stock the Airstream when it comes to them for a day, so staff has been buying and saving a lot of what the first stores had when they opened and which is really popular now: fun vintage western-ware, Mexican and other ethnic pieces, hippie/”bo-ho” wear, tooled purses, cowboy boots and other accessories.

While there have been a lot of logistics to deal with for each location, like the parking restrictions in front of the NYC stores, they are “ready to go”, Rebecca says. She and her husband will start the tour and Kerstin will be going to the Minneapolis and Chicago stores.

Buffalo Exchange 40th Airstream

Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange 

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The new Buffalo Trading Post, aimed at the older customer. Photo by Gillian Drummond

The main customer base at Buffalo Exchange stores is college-age to about 35 years old. The company's new Tucson offshoot, Buffalo Trading Post, is aiming a little higher up the age ladder. With the same buy-sell-trade concept, the 3500 sq ft store on the far south-west side of the city sells brands like Chico’s, Eileen Fisher, Coldwater Creek, and Banana Republic. Rebecca Block, who just turned 50,  says she walked out with a stack of clothes a couple days after the store opened. (Rebecca and Kristen, 71,  shop at the stores just like everyone else.)

Intermingled with the racks of contemporary clothing are mid-century vintage dresses and memorabilia, western ware, Mexican clothes, vintage housewares and accessories. But don't expect any sparkly, nose-bleed high platform shoes here; instead, the brands are Clarks, Dansko and Keen. And let's not forget the cowboy boots.

The three women who work at the Buffalo Trading Post have a combined 40 years of BE management experience. Says Amy Ostlie, who manages the store: “It not like work. It’s fun.”

See you on the road.

See you on the road. Photo courtesy of Buffalo Exchange

As to the future, Rebecca and Kerstin look about a year ahead. They are scouting locations to open new stores, and after the tour they plan to start taking the Airstream boutique to music and art festivals like Coachella.

And although they are staying deeply rooted in the importance of people and principles, as Rebecca said: “We are always willing to look back to see what worked and always looking around to see what we could be doing. You cannot remain static. Change is inevitable.”

 * Find the new Buffalo Trading Post at 2740 S. Kinney Road, just north of Ajo. Open Tuesday through Sunday, 9am to 4pm. Follow the 40th Anniversary Tour here.

* For more on Buffalo Exchange, read about the latest recipient of its Visual Arts Award, Brenna Curry, in this issue's Pleased To Meet You.

Manscape architect

It started with a kiss, and a very bristly beard. Decades later, Tucsonan Noel Trapp has reworked a family recipe into manscaping gold. By Kaleigh Shufeldt.

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Noel Trapp. Photo by Kaleigh Shufeldt

“If you are ever going to steal a kiss, you’re going to need this,” Noel Trapp’s grandfather said, handing Noel a small amber vial. It contained home-made beard oil.

As a little kid, Noel remembers that “everybody else’s beard felt like a Brillo pad,” while his gramps’ beard was always soft.

The oil was a concoction thought up by his grandfather Richard in the 1940s to placate his wife, Angeline. She disliked the scratchy bristles that poked her every time she tried to kiss her husband. But Richard loved his beard and did not want to shave it. As Noel puts it: “He wouldn’t give up his beard and she wouldn’t give him up.” To keep both of them happy, they made a deal: he could keep the beard as long as he kept it soft.

3STORYADfinal More than 70 years later, Noel has reworked that recipe as part of a line of men’s grooming products to be launched in Tucson this month. Noel's Restoratives will be sold online and at various local stores. It’s the latest evidence - as if we needed it - that beards are a hot accessory (see ‘Combing through the manscaping facts’ below).

While facial hair is in vogue, for Noel Trapp it has always been a family tradition. Noel grew up in Northern Michigan, where most men had beards to protect their faces from the harsh cold and snow and where no one spoke of men’s grooming. A taboo topic, it was never discussed in Noel’s family. So when his grandfather handed him this vial, Noel was clueless as to its contents and its origin.

His grandfather’s, or gramps’, original beard oil was a sloppy mix of whatever he had at the time, Noel says. Growing up during the Great depression, Richard understood the concept of rationing and making do with what you had. The result was a recipe that could definitely use some fine-tuning.

Noel spent years working on the beard oil, trying to find the perfect combination of ingredients. He experimented, changing and adding elements with each try. But it was never quite perfect. During the Holidays, he would give his friends small amber vials filled with his newest batch.

Beard oil was a new concept to many of the recipients, but they would soon be clamoring for him to make more, and to sell this novel product. For Noel, the beard oil was a hobby; he had fun making it and he enjoyed giving it to people.

When Noel gave a sample to his friend Rob Easter, co-owner of Too Strong USA, Rob was “stoked.” Beards have no natural oils to keep them soft and strong, they get brittle. Says Rob: “If you have a beard it might as well be healthy, look good and smell good.” One of the few people who had heard of beard oil, Rob says it is rare to find someone who knows the science behind what they are doing.

For Noel, the science came naturally. He has worked with coffee for the past 20 years - from barista to, more recently, Educational Director of Exo Roast Co - and says it is easy to transition into formulating anything when it comes to fragrance. To Noel, it is simple. Coffee involves organic chemistry and understanding how things interact. His experience with coffee aided him in his experimentation with the beard oil.

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Noel says his beard oil is part of a bygone era. Photo courtesy of Noel Trapp

HiEnd Tight Barbershop  in Tucson's midtown district sees beards of all shapes and sizes. Owner Chris Willhoite says he sees men with full beards, chinstrap beards and everything in between. Offering hot-towel shaves with lather and straight razors, along with cleaning, trimming and shaping beards, the barbershop speaks to a historical period in American culture. It is an old-fashioned experience that, as Noel says, is the barbershop in the truest form.

Like the barbershop, the beard oil is a part of a bygone era when everything was handmade. There was this generational gap where no one really knew how to make anything, Noel says. It is a product with a story.

Over the holidays, Noel did what he does every year; he gave the batch to his friends. However, this time was different. It was the first year he handed his friend Alok Appadurai a small amber vial.

Alok, co-owner of clothing firm Fed by Threads, was unfamiliar with the beard oil concept, however he decided to humor his friend and give it a try. Immediately there was a noticeable difference in his facial hair – it was supple and began to grow evenly. He pushed Noel to start selling his product, helping him with the business aspects of starting Noel’s Restoratives.

noeltrappproducts Every year people have asked Noel why he wasn’t selling his beard oil and every year he had an answer. “This year I finally didn’t have a good answer,” Noel says. In December 2013, he decided to “bite the bullet” and start Noel’s Restoratives.

In addition to selling the beard oil, Noel will also sell what he calls cologne solids. Another recipe from his grandfather, cologne solids are a balm or salve with a mixture of natural ingredients and fragrance.

During the Depression, Noel's grandfather grew up in a family that rationed everything, from soap to candle stubs. They would melt thin slivers of soap and beeswax candles, mixing them with whatever oils and herbs they could find. After being poured into a shoeshine tin, the balm would harden into a solid that had a subtle scent and lasted longer than traditional cologne.

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Friend and customer Rob Easter. Photo by Dave Dunmyre

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Alok, who helped Noel on his way. Photo by Gillian Drummond

While Noel’s cologne solid won’t be quite as rustic as the original, it will follow the same basic concept. Noel said he was aiming for a combination of scents when making the solid, which smells like heat, summer among the pine trees, needles, and bark.

Both the oil and cologne solid will sell for $29.95 each. For people living in the area, Noel wants to set up a local pickup or delivery option. He enjoys talking to the people who want to know more about his products and put value in the concept of American-made.

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Photo courtesy of Noel Trapp

For Noel, it is important that his customers know the story behind his beard oil and cologne solid. “I consider value to be based on the history that comes with the thing,” says Noel. His products have a rich history, along with quality ingredients.

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Photo courtesy of Noel Trapp

Last February, Noel’s grandfather passed away. This is the first batch he’s made without his gramps. “I felt like this year I finally nailed it,” says Noel, “I really worked hard to tweak it to where I wanted it.” The release of Noel’s Restoratives will coincide – fittingly - with the anniversary of his grandfather’s passing.

‘Manscaping’: combing through the facts

Beards are a part of history, a feature that has defined men for centuries. In prehistoric times beards were for warmth, intimidation and protection. In ancient civilizations they were a sign of honor.

33% of American men and 55% of males around the world have facial hair. It is a trend that keeps on growing.

* Consumer product giant Procter and Gamble recently announced a dip in sales of its razors and razor blades, thanks to beards being in vogue, and events like the annual Movember month, which encourages men to grow beards and mustaches to aid men’s health, including prostate cancer.

* But P&G executives see men’s body shaving as having big potential. Last year it brought out a men’s body razor just for the purpose of ‘manscaping’ body parts other than the face.

* Pogonophobia is the fear of beards, and pogonophilia is the love of beards.

This Hollywood awards season, beards have ranged from the scraggly (Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Fassbender) to the tidy (Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper) to the goatee (Jeremy Renner). Expect more bristles on the red carpet when the Oscars come our way March 2nd.

* You can find Noel's Restoratives at www.noelsrestoratives.com Get 10% off until March 4th on all Noel's Restoratives products! Click here and enter code 3STORYMAG.

 

 

 

Cutting edge

Vinyl records are big... yeah, we know. But how about x-ray, picnic plate and chocolate ones? We meet a Tucson newcomer who is making it his business to cut records with a difference. By Gillian Drummond.

Photo by Of Us Giants

Photo by Of Us Giants

There are certain things you just never expect to do. Like looking at a single made out of a picnic plate. Or listening to a record made out of chocolate.

But then the world of Mike Dixon and his record label, PIAPTK Recordings, and side business LatheCuts.com, is unexpected. It's also trippy and fantastical and fun.

Mike, a lifetime record lover, will cut records out of almost anything. He's cut them on X-rays and mirrors, strips of wood laminate flooring, even plastic picnic plates. He's made them see-through. He's put sprinkles of gold dust inside them for extra novelty. Most of the time, though, he sticks to squares of plexiglass (not only are square-shaped singles more of a  novelty, they're less costly for Mike). His customers? Bands who want records in very small numbers, and who don't necessarily want to make money. They're more interested in a document of their work, a souvenir of sorts. "They're people that want their music on vinyl," says Mike.

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Mike Dixon at work. Photo by Whitney Ford-Terry

(And, for the record, the chocolate one only lasted one play. It trashed the needle, the record itself broke, and Mike and his pal ate it. But it was fun while it lasted, and ended up as a video on YouTube.)

In a messy room in his University area house, one where machinery shares space with packing materials, debris, and a poster of Kris Kristofferson, Mike works three lathe machines. Music is uploaded to his iPod, which is then fed into a computer that feeds into a cutter head. The sound vibrations, or electrical energy, send signals to the stylus of the cutter head and as it vibrates it cuts grooves into the record surface, moving in concentric circles towards its center.

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Inside Mike's home studio. Photo by Mike Dixon

Lathe cutting records is nothing new; it's how all master cuts of records are made. What's different about Mike's company is that, instead of sending the 'master lacquer' copy to be pressed in a plant, he cuts each individual record himself.

It's laborious, lasting as long as the record lasts. But it's a process that has propelled Mike to the forefront of lathe cutting records. His might be a tiny satellite of the music industry, but this is a guy who is making his mark. Not only has he issued hundreds of records, he's developed different strands to his business. There is the record cutting business, through LatheCuts.com; a record label, PIAPTK & Soild Gold Recordings; and a mobile record cutting business, MobileVinylRecorders.com, which last year he took to the Coachella and Pitchfork music festivals.

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One of Mike's records featured gold dust sealed into a see-through disc. Photo by Mike Dixon

Late last year, actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt got wind of Mike's work and asked him to cut records at a party the actor is throwing at this month's Sundance Film Festival, to launch a TV show version of HitRecord, Gordon-Levitt's collaborative film and music production project. Mike and Kris Dorr, his partner in MobileVinylRecorders.com, will cut 500 records ahead of time, and another 50 or 60 at the party itself.

This year will see  him at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. There is also talk of a possible party at the Grammys.

Mike Dixon's love of vinyl, and his penchant for country-influenced music, began in his childhood. Growing up in Texas, he would go through his parents' record collection. His dad listened to The Doors, and on the radio in his truck there was always a country music channel playing. To this day, hearing Glen Campbell, C. W. McCall and the soundtrack to Every Which Way But Loose puts Mike back in that truck and rewinds his life two and a half decades.

Then came junior high and punk rock, high school and college, and playing drums in various bands. While he was at college (he has a degree in marketing) one of those bands wanted to put their music out on vinyl. 'You had to order so many, like 300 or 400 copies," says Mike. He discovered a guy in New Zealand, Peter King, who had been doing limited run vinyl - as low as 20 records - since the 1980s.

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Mike taking his mobile cutting business on the road. Photo by Caleb Condit

Mike worked with Peter King, whose credits include The Beastie Boys and Pavement. After he graduated college, Mike realized he could do a similar thing in the USA.  He still holds King in high esteem ("The guy's a genius. He's the pioneer of this type of record.")  but with years of production now under his belt, and continuous improvements, Mike believes he may be catching up. "The  better the results I got, the more I wanted better results," he explains of his quest for a better quality.

Recently, for example, he stumbled on the idea of using lighter fluid to soften the record's plastic. Lighter fluid is less messy than the turtle wax Mike had been using, and it extends a needle's life. He used to get just 10 to 15 records from one needle (bought from an experimental hobbyist in Tennessee). Now he gets 50 to 60.

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A picnic plate record. Photo courtesy of Mike Dixon

"A lot of bands want their records on vinyl but can't sell hundreds of records," reasons Mike. "These are hand-made. They're  unique, rare, there are maybe only 30 of these made." In addition to novelty records, he produces high-impact packaging, using silk screening and letter pressing.

Says Tucson musician Andrew Collberg: "In a world where music releases have become pretty dull and sterile, Mike does quite the opposite. He puts out albums with the goal of making it hard for people to listen to music; cutting records to picnic plates, X-rays, odd shapes, or anything that could work. I think this forces people to give a shit, because it's gone form being just a music project into being something completely different, an art project."

Today, apart from the requisite turntable in his home office, Mike has a record turntable at close hand in the living room of his home. "I like the physical interaction that you have," he says of handling vinyl. "And I'm really into the visual stuff [that accompanies the record]. You have to go over here and open this thing up. There's the nostalgia, and the pop and crackle, and the warmth of the sound." Added to that is the pleasure of putting out quirky products; an album he issued by Tucson band Golden BooTs, on blue/black vinyl, comes with a warning: "This record has peculiar qualities". Side A has double grooves that run parallel to each other, and Side B plays from the inside out.

Ryen Eggleston, one half of Golden BooTs, describes Mike as "very driven and creative". He adds: "He offered some great ideas up to us for vinyl and we just went with it."

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Photo courtesy of Mike Dixon

For his PIAPTK record label (it stands for People In A Position To Know Vinyl), he prefers to lathe cut only singles, because lathe cutting albums would take up way too much time. Albums are sent to a pressing plant. The bands are obscure, their descriptions amusing: "freak folk", "hush folk",  "psych pop" and lounge pop.  He has also issued, as lathe-cut singles, what he calls The Trust Series; customers don't know what's on the record, they just trust in Mike's taste in music.

lathecuts3 Mike not only has alt-country band Golden BooTs on his label, he manages them too. He met the band while they were on tour, playing in Olympia, Washington, where Mike and his wife Beth lived at the time. They met again a year or so later, and the next day Mike recorded them live to his 1930's wire recorder, a predecessor to reel-to-reel tape machines, which records sound onto hair-thin stainless steel wire. The recordings were later released on a 7" single with three other artists.

The friendship grew, and the band members - Ryen Eggleston and Dimitri Manos - persuaded Mike and Beth to move to Tucson last summer. He resigned his job teaching business in high school and resolved to make his living cutting and selling records.

So far, so good. Lathe Cuts has stopped taking orders; that's how busy he is. And after next week's Sundance gig, we're betting Mike and his love of vinyl spreads even further.