Pocket watches whose glass fronts reveal floating gears and tiny skeleton keys; ornate sepia necklaces decked with fantastical creatures; top hats, round rubber goggles, spyglasses and vintage suitcases packed for travel to another realm. Once you’ve seen the steampunk aesthetic, blending Victorian antiqueness with the technology of tomorrow, it’s easy to recognize its calling cards. And they’re becoming more visible as the subculture grows, even in a city that has a limited engagement with the past in its love of all things future.
Hiptazmic is one big reason in a small space, the boutique tucked into a print shop on the northwest corner of the Arts Factory. With handcrafted accessories, art and steam-inspired goods, owner Christine Esposito has been on a mission to pull Las Vegas into steampunk’s rusty time machine for more than four years. She strapped on her goggles and boots and dished about exploring this unique world through her art and imagination.
How did you discover steampunk? Years ago, before it became as “mainstream” and trendy as it is now, we were showing at a goth and dark subculture event where I was exposed to steampunk for the first time.
What defines it? Usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history, it’s a subgenre of science fiction that features advanced machines using the steam power of the 19th century. I thought, how cool is that—the combination of Victorian clothing accented with mechanical contraptions, not to mention the creative stories and characters based in fictitious worlds. It was just so appealing. For me, steampunk is what the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.
Who makes Hiptazmic’s otherworldly baubles—and how? The majority of the steampunk jewelry and accessories are made by me. My daughter, Gabby, works with me once in a while as well, especially with hair pieces like the combs and flower clips. Pieces are made from a variety of items: using repurposed, vintage and new charms, gears, broken jewelry, watch pieces and found objects. Assemblage art is just a blast to create. I love adding bits and pieces from just about everywhere.
And the art? Most of the steampunk-themed wall art is done by my daughter. She loves making 3D art on canvases using the same types of gears, bullets and vintage books that I do. Her series of steampunk heart art canvases have been very popular and tend to sell quickly. I also like to bring in some ready-made items that complement what we create. We sometimes bring in earrings or rings, and I am also always on the hunt for cool vintage antiques to add to displays. Most of them I eventually sell off, so even the decor is ever-changing and interesting. We also have started adding some costume pieces like corsets, spats and hats we decorate ourselves. And no steampunk aesthetic is complete without goggles; every airship pirate time traveler needs some goggles!
Your steampunkery shares space with a screen-printing business. The custom tees, clothing and vinyl for signs and banners are my husband’s doing, so you can see it’s a whole-family operation.
How long have you been in the Arts Factory, and how has your experience been there as a boutique vendor? This October it is actually four years since we have been in our current location at the Arts Factory. We have also doubled in size during that time. We were inside a couple other spaces with the Going Green Gallery with my aluminum can art and accessories for about two years before that. And before that, we were the first vendors to be outside in the back lot at the Arts Factory during First Friday for several years. Clearly, we love the Arts Factory!
How do you fit into the complex’s creative patchwork? Since we started outside as First Friday vendors, I think the artists in the building kind of viewed us as more “craft” than art at first. I embraced this; I like the idea of not being so traditional as an artist and a maker. I guess in the scheme of things ... for what was there in the building, we were very different and didn’t fit in that well. So we had to find our own niche. But we opened Hiptazmic at a good time. Besides galleries and studios, the only other non-gallery places were really Happy Panda and HellPop Comics. We liked the idea of a retail wing of the building. We became a kind of trio.
How do your customers find you? We started out with quite a following from selling online and vending during First Friday for years. Folks were happy to see us with a permanent location they could visit any day of the week. Tourists who wander through the building will almost always find us open. ... Word of mouth has played a big part. Return customers also come in for my husband’s work, custom vinyl signs and clothing. Many galleries and artists in the Arts District use him for vinyl and signage for art shows, etc.
If you had the ability to make any steampunk invention, tool or accessory, what would it be/do? Hmm, so many to choose from! But I am fascinated with winged things, so I think I would create some type of steam-powered, winged personal airship that also functioned as a time machine. It would be embellished with all kinds of intricate metalwork. Imagine all the amazing gears, charms and doodads I could go back in time and collect to create with.
Future plans? Earlier this month I opened my online Anachronic Whimsy shop at the new Amazon Handmade site. So I will be focusing on upcoming holiday sales and events in Hiptazmic, custom orders and creating more steamy goodness for my new online shop. When spring rolls around, though, who knows? Hiptazmic Studio may be expanding yet again.
Hiptazmic Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Arts Factory, facebook.com/hiptazmic.