Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Why am I called "denisebrain"?

My name is Maggie, so why is my business called denisebrain? I get this question regularly...today as a matter of fact.

My name isn’t Denise Brain, but it has been a bit of a nickname for me. I am a professional French horn player and teacher, and Dennis Brain is one of the greatest horn heroes any horn player could ever have. Tragically, the Englishman was only 36 when he suffered a fatal crash in his sports car in 1957. He had already become arguably the greatest hornist of modern times.

Dennis Brain, Norman Parkinson photo, 1953

In 1999, when I was first prompted to provide a user name on eBay, I was helping a student bid on horns and my first thought was the nickname denisebrain. Not long after that, I sold one vintage dress using the same user ID. Then another vintage dress, and another. Pretty soon, denisebrain had stuck to my vintage clothing business.

I don’t use the name denisebrain flippantly—I feel the utmost respect and awe for the inimitable musician who inspired it. Still, it isn’t the sort of business name I would come up with today. Today I would probably search deep and wide for a name that is easy to spell, memorable, interesting and tells what my brand is about. It would be nice to have people say, great name instead of who?

On the good side, I have had no competition for the use of this name, and at this point, I love it...it is my business. It’s also a sly and loving nod to my other job in music.

And wouldn’t you know it, I am gradually growing a collection of vintage clothing and accessories featuring horns of all types and eras (other than the all-too-numerous Ugly Christmas Sweaters with horns that is—not my thing) and here are some:

I’ve worn these earrings (which I made from Christmas ornaments) forever. Jim Hendrickson photo, 1991

My husband gave me this 1960s vintage shirt for my birthday. It was from Vintage Vixen.
1950s modern horn print skirt
1970s horn photo print dress
Some—not all!—of my vintage horn pins
1950s Vera scarf
60s instrument-print shirtwaist dress, and my most beautiful accessory
The same print in different colors has recently joined my collection—it came from Small Earth Vintage
Another recent addition to my collection is this 1960s dress from CustardHeartVintage
This 1950s skirt came from Dorothea's Closet Vintage
A pewter horn pin, gift from my friend Amanda
This sash belonged to my Aunt Marie, a music teacher
My friend Anna (BootyVintage) gave me this 1980s dress
This copper jewelry set was given to me by my friend Susan

One last shot, because I love it so: The Quintessential Brass at Indiana University in about 1981. I think we called it the Maggie and the Spit Valves shot. That is about when I started signing into a practice building as Denise Brain, so I guess this is origin story material!

David Coleman, John Wilds (my brother), David Ford, Norlan Bewley and {ahem} Denise Brain.
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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Quick vintage fashion wearers survey

Do you wear vintage clothing/accessories? 

And do you have several spare minutes for a brief survey? 

I’d really appreciate your answers to five survey questions. This survey is anonymous and none of your personal/private details will be collected:

Thank you in advance!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Who and How of taking my vintage fashion photos

There are a few questions that I answer often. I am asked who is your model? and when I say that I am, the question follows, who takes your photos? When I say that I do, I am almost always asked how?

I am here to answer these questions.

With a few exceptions I look pretty average in other people’s pictures of me and always have. I am not photogenic—mainly because I have a self-conscious reflex that makes me go all awkward when I see a camera. If you could take a photo of me without me knowing you might do better.

Believe me, no one has ever walked up to me and declared that I should be a model, even when I was 17 or 18. I am not model-thin, model-tall, model-young or model-beautiful. The reason I started photographing vintage clothing on myself back in 1999 was because I wanted to animate the clothes. I wear vintage clothing all the time, and I wanted to show a real person doing this—and I was the only model I could afford who was available at the drop of a hat. Also, I thought it would help distinguish me from all the other online vintage clothing sellers at that time, having a person in my shots. I don’t think anyone else used a real person in photos to sell their vintage fashion then.

My purpose isn’t to convince people that I look fabulous in my vintage finds, it’s to convince you that you could look fabulous in my vintage finds. I smile a lot, trying to capture the happy look of old magazine spreads and advertisements. I want others to think oh that looks fun! It is fun...and the world can use a smile or two.

I had to get over my self-consciousness even taking my own photos. (I am a professional musician, and I have had to apply the same sort of effort to getting out in front of people and playing my horn. I just have to get over myself and perform.) I kept trying things until I hit upon ideas—looks, poses, angles, lighting—that I really liked. I used to take 40+ photos per item to get the handful of shots I would use; now I take 10-15. And no, you can’t see what I throw out! Everyone takes terrible photos, I just trash them and move on.

Lots of people ask how everything I show on myself seems to fit me. I have learned to use every trick in the book! Obviously, if something is too large I can pin it, trying to make sure the item looks as it was designed to look. If it is too small, I can usually show certain types of clothes by using a vintage (read ‘high power’) girdle, sucking it in, etc. If I can’t zip something, I can use fabric tape to hold it in place at least, and just not show the telltale part of the fit. Lots of things I show I could never wear walking down the street, but the human body, much more than a dress form, is malleable. My mission is not to surprise you with the range of sizes that fit me, but to give you an idea of what the item would look like on the person it would fit best.

Then there is the technical side of the equation.

I’ve evolved somewhat in the way I take photos, but it has been essentially the same setup forever. My husband and I have devoted a corner of our living room to a sort of photo studio. I have a roll of white paper on a stand, and banks of lights on both sides. I set the camera on a tripod several yards away and use a timer to get my photos.

The lights are fluorescent bulbs—ones that simulate natural light—in inexpensive shop fixtures. The compact fluorescent bulbs on top are just to add a little more light near my face. The light fixtures are rather weighty and are on frames attached to old (heavy) microphone stands. In addition, I’ve got sandbags on the bases of these stands. Once, the whole set up fell down, and I don’t want a repeat performance!

I set up a mirror behind the camera on its tripod, mainly just to get a sense of what the shot looks like.

One of the great more recent changes has been getting a nice used camera of far greater quality than my c. 2001 workhorse. My old camera took pretty good point-and-shoot shots but my new camera (an Olympus Pen E-PL1) is noticeably better. Then there’s the timer issue. I need to be in the frame for the camera to make adjustments. I activate the shutter using an old-fashioned squeeze ball which pushes air down a tube to trigger a plunger which pushes the shutter release. Did you get that? Because there will be a quiz. 😄

I have a frame on the camera that keeps the air tube where it needs to be.

 Then, using a 2-second timer setting, I squeeze the ball, quickly drop it...

...and pose!

Photoshop allows me to extend the width of the background. I don’t have nearly enough space in my living room to have this background in real life!

So there you have it, the who and how of my photos. I hope it wasn’t way more than you wanted to know! 

📧 Keep track of my vintage fashion ideas and deals by subscribing to the denisebrain newsletter!