Tramp Lamps: Lingerie That Lights Up a Room!
What are Tramp Lamps? Tramp Lamps are artist created lamps made from vintage lingerie. They are cool, they are sexy, and since September, 2003, artist Kelly Bulter has been making them in her basement studio in Nashville, Tennessee.
Were you a lingerie collector before you began these lamps?
No. Frankly, I could never wear something so constrictive. But I love the look of the garment and I love the image of a woman in a corset. I'm just not the body type, myself, to wear one... comfortably.
What inspired these lamps?
I wanted to make something that obviously no one had done before, and I researched the idea well in advance so I would not step on anyone's toes. I was delighted to find no other product like this in existence. If you see any lamps like them on the market today, in 2006, be sure that either the manufacturer intentionally copied my creation or that they have never been on the world wide web.
What do you think the appeal is?
Do they buy more than one? I was not sue who my demographic would be and I found that there are a variety of admirers. From a dominatrix who bought one for each room in her dungeon, to a conservative mother and daughter pair who just each had to have one. I think my biggest market would be Burlesque society. I have a lot of interest in taking the lamps to Burlesque shows and conventions, however I do not have the cash to fly to Vegas or the west coast to show them at these events. Like Pip in Great expectations, I need a benefactor.
I find it interesting that you've made no mention of men buying... Do any men buy them? Any comments from men?
There seems to be an equal number of male customers as women. A lot of women buy them for their male friends. I think men like them just as much as women do, but are afraid to say so from fear that their girlfriend or wife will be offended or jealous... which I think is ridiculous.
Without giving away any secrets, tell us the process of making a Tramp Lamp.
Messy. First, I clip off any details that I can apply later, such as small ribbons, beads, and bows. Then I dip each garment in a vat of handmade-water-based-goo. While they marinate in my mixture I may have another batch lined up awaiting to be cured as well. I produce anywhere from 12 to 20 lamps at a time this way. Then, once they are saturated, I hang them up and sculpt them to look like the female form. Then they dry. This takes anywhere from 5 days to a week and a half depending on how many coats of the solution they require. The solution gets sprayed on to each lamp several times after the initial dipping. It's a long process and it cannot be rushed.
Is this a full time venture now?
I did quit my job to pursue Tramp Lamps full time in January of 2004. However, I have not found it to be lucrative enough to be my sole source of income and I have had to take on odd jobs to pay my bills. I would love for it to be my one and only money source, but I haven't found whatever the secret is to make this happen. (If someone out there has any leads for me, now is the time to let me know!)
Where do you find your vintage lingerie?
I shop for garments at vintage stores, thrift stores and online, then I bring them back to my studio and arrange them the way they must be to go into my bath of solution. Vintage underwear is a mixed blessing to search for. Sometimes, its easy to find in stores because people are reluctant to purchase it for personal wearing... perhaps they find it too weird to go on that part of the body? Or, it's too difficult to find, because retailers of vintage shops know it doesn't sell well, and therefore they don't bother carrying it.
What, if any, considerations do you have when selecting lingerie to transform?
Will it hold my solution well? Will it repel it? Will it filter light well? Will it look great "stiff?" Will it make a killer lamp? New garments tend to be less "curvy" than say a bustier someone wore all the time, thereby giving the garment their own body's pressure-treatment and shape. Those hard wires bend over time and follow the natural curve of the waist in repose. These used garments naturally become ideal lamps with very little coaxing from my hands.
I am sure you've heard some vintage lingerie collectors complain that you're 'ruining' rare items... how do you respond?
I actually haven't had any complaints from lingerie purists that I am desecrating the fabric; in fact, they are glad to see it used in such a creative way, rather than getting rot from sitting in someone's drawer. Too old to wear, too beautiful to chuck, this is a good compromise. Light it up and it's almost pure in its preservation. I don't dare claim that it is an archival process, but I do think it will last longer this way than stuffed in a drawer or an attic chest.
Do you have other ideas for similar art? Such as using stockings or something?
Long tubular object such as leggings or sleeves don't look good with the process I use to cure the garment. I much prefer the sleeveless look for the lamp. I am always getting suggestions to build some lamp from pants and shirts... but they never turn out right.
Aside from your goals of making this a full time gig, do you have any other plans?
Yeah, sure. I always want to be involved in the arts. I am sure no matter what happens with this lamps thing, that I will come up with something new. I am constantly thinking of new things to make. I love functional art and I want to dabble in clothing that is wearable instead of illuminated. My degree is in theater and painting and I would love to get reacquainted with both of those mediums again.
Tramp Lamps are available on her web site, TrampLamps.com, and are sold at number of small boutiques around the country. Visit her website for an updated list of boutiques.
All images © Kelly Butler & Tramp Lamps.
Interview by Gracie.