I had the opportunity to chat to a founding Bella and fashionista extrodinaire, Mandy M Pinup. Here is how that went down.
Mandy M Pin-up is just a small part of your expansive reach within the pin-up community in South Africa. Can you tell us more about how you discovered your love for pin up culture?
I have always loved the fashion from the 50’s & 60’s, and being a fashion design student in the 90’s I went through a stage of only dressing 60’s style to class every day – going as far as even sourcing authentic vintage fabrics! My dad and I share a love of vintage cars, and the two us have been going to car shows since my very early teens. It was only in mid 2007 that I attended the Magic Show (A trade show for the fashion industry in Las Vegas) did my eyes open to the amazing world of Pin-up & Rockabilly clothing, and alternative brands. I met the owner of Stop Staring and it was as if a light bulb went off in my head! I could associate with everything she spoke to me about, the culture, the clothing, the look and the lifestyle. Up until that point I didn’t even know there was a Pinup or Rockabilly scene – I certainly didn’t know it had a name! My interest was piqued and I haven’t looked back since.
Pin Up culture is so much more than red lips and victory rolls, what does being a Pin Up mean to you?
I very definitely love the feeling of “belonging”, and that it is really just a big sisterhood. I love how so many amazing ladies world-wide share a common interest and have common goals. Being a Pin-up is all about old school values and about being well-mannered – all the things that in today’s society have disappeared. I get to dress and have fun every day with what I wear. I love feeling confident enough to express myself in my clothing, my hair and my overall image without having to worry about what people think. It’s great that we are able to change perceptions with the way we dress. I love that a gal can dress like a lady and be influenced by a time gone by yet still have a modern twist to her look, be it with accessories or just the fact that we are wearing retro styles in modern fabrics.
Vintage styling has been a sought after and enigmatic style of dress for years. How do you think that you and your clothing brand have helped shaped the way pin-up is perceived?
I love the fact that even though I have plenty of tattoos and bright coloured hair I get stopped by older gentlemen to say “how nice it is to see a lady wearing a dress in this day and age!” or when a little girl dressed in Miss Happ is overheard saying at a kid’s birthday party “I know Mandy, I’m her biggest fan”. I promoting a look that can be timeless and appreciated by all ages.
When I launched Miss Happ at the 2009 Tattoo Convention here in Cape Town I was showing a range that I was passionate about, but didn’t even really know if there was much of a market for it. It was a huge gamble. I was going on what I loved. I remember going out one evening and seeing this lovely, tall Bettie Page look-alike (who I later tracked down to model for me!) and just being so relieved that there really were ladies out there that dressed the part and that could potentially buy my clothing.
You live the kustom culture lifestyle straight down to having your own vintage muscle car. When did you start to fully immerse yourself in the lifestyle?
I have been lucky enough to own my own business since 2008 which I do think made it a lot easier for me to be able to express myself in my clothing & look. From the beginning of 2008 to the end of 2009 I lectured part-time at a fashion design school, and still did Trend Forecasting for a few of the local fashion retailers – one in particular is a pretty conservative, so I was still aware of the image I portrayed and was slightly nervous about showing too many tattoos for instance. I would say only from 2010, when I decided to do Miss Happ full-time was I really able to be myself & not worry about what others may or may not think!
As one of the founding Pin-Up girls in South Africa, how has the scene grown and changed over the years?
When I started Miss Happ there were on 5 or so girls I knew of scattered between Joburg and Cape Town – it was that small! It’s only been in the last 2 years have we seen huge growth in the Rockabilly/Pinup culture here in SA which has been very encouraging. As with any culture there will be those who dabble in the look (and move on to find a look that might be better suited to their personal style) and that is also fine, then there will be those that try out the look once or twice and stay with it, embrace it and flourish. Either way, I see it all as exposure to a culture we love. I was lucky in that I got to meet many ladies through my business Miss Happ, and now with the reach of social media it has helped put everybody in touch with each other all around the world.
You’re a natural in front of as well as behind the camera, what sparked your love of being photographed? Favourite photoshoot of all time?
My dad used to teach Photography amongst other things, so I have really grown up around cameras. I dabbled in modelling in my very early twenties but was so super shy. It was as though the outside didn’t match the inside. When I started Miss Happ a photographer approached me to do a Pinup shoot which was the first time I had been in front of the camera in over 10 years! I was so incredibly nervous and was nothing but critical over the photos. Then about a year and a half ago I decided to give it another go, and also made a conscious decision to do more things to feed my soul, things that I loved doing. Over the years I have worked with many of the (now) South African pinup ladies through my brand, and had given my business 110% of my time. But I had lost who I was in the process and found myself always pushing others before myself. During 2014/15 I also lost 15kgs and was literally feeling so much better about myself, and more confident – I wish I had been like this in my twenties! It was then that I got in touch with Miss Hepburn Photography to do a shoot and I haven’t looked back!
I love the fact that with the pinup style of photography you can really live out your dreams. I have a bucket list of themes that I want to do for shoots, and so far I have ticket off a good few including: Shooting with a Dakota (DC3) and an authentic WWII Jeep for my Oriental South Pacific themed shoot. This year my favorite shoot has hands down been my Carmen Miranda inspired shoot that I shot with Sunkissed Studio who made the most amazing head pieces for the shoot!
This year I also opened my own Photographic Studio, Metropolis Vintage Studio, which I am so excited about. Not only do we get to work with some fabulously talented photographers and make-up artists but I am also able to shoot and practice my photography skills. I am still learning, but am very proud of what I have done so far.
Best tutorial you’ve ever (binge) watched for vintage hair?
Wow! I can tell you that in the beginning it was because of You tube tutorials that I was able to get my Victory rolls right and even tie on a bandana without it slipping off! Now there are so many more amazing hair tutorials out there, and some really inspirational ladies to follow. Check out my You tube channel for my list of favorite tutorials: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcy1XN_a22TsRkF-WlquoMTa7bpkXIxvC
You’re marooned on a deserted island. What five survival essentials have you got in your handbag?
Mosquito Spray (they love me!), Vodka for the cold nights, my travel pillow (I can fit it into my handbag!), a tent (I am not partial to the elements at the best of times and because I use a bowling bag a tent would fit – really!), a satellite cellphone (and the knowledge to work it!) to get me outta there ASAP!!
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t forget where you have come from, always give credit where credit is due and there is no “I”, but always a “we” – it’s about team work. Be careful who you stand on to get to the top, and lastly (and something I battle with still) “Don’t leave for tomorrow what you can do today!”
Do you have any advice for future pin ups who are waiting in the wings?
Explore the look! There are so many different facets to the Pin-up look, experiment and make it your own with your own spin on it. The Pinup look spans across 3 decades from the 40’s through to the 60’s, so you really have an amazing array of styles to draw inspiration from be it a hair-do or a dress silhouette. I am always more than happy to chat to gals who are new to the scene and love sharing knowledge about the lifestyle with others. I also want to stress that it’s not about deciding if you want to be a rockabilly girl or a pinup girl and over night changing your look either. You will naturally lean one way or the other. Within the look we might be wearing our hair more 40’s style with a suicide roll and soft waves but dress more classic 50’s and then pop a hair flower in our hair that is more tiki (Hawaiian style). Mix it up and see what look you associate with within the genre. It’s about making your own style within the natural boundaries of the Rockabilly look and style
There are also numerous Facebook pages and groups (both international and local) that gals can join which is a great platform for ladies to meet like-minded gals and something I always advise ladies to check them out, join in and ask questions. You will see the culture is a generally friendly one with most ladies are always keen to chat and share knowledge!
Also there are some fabulous series that show the different eras that I would highly recommend girls watching – even if it’s to gawk at the fabulous clothing and shoes! Check out:
- Bomb Girls (set in the 40’s WWII America)
- Pan Am (1950’s & 60’s)
- Astronauts Wives Club (1950’s & 60’s)
- Agent Carter (40’s)
- Land Girls (Set in the 40’s WWII UK)
- Memphis Belle
- Fly Boys
- Pearl Harbour
Miss Happ was represented at Viva Las Vegas in 2015, which definitely helped put South Africa on the Rockabilly map. Do you plan on returning to Sin City on a regular basis for the iconic festival?
Mr Murray and I went first on Honeymoon in 2014 which was our first trip to Viva, so it was just the two of us doing it as part of whole California trip. The following year in 2015 we were accepted as vendors through Miss Happ and were lucky enough to also be apart of their Fashion Show. Both times the experience was so incredibly different, both so amazing in different ways. We missed out this year as we have had a lot on the go, but next year we are planning on making the trip with a group of our friends and a few other local Pinup gals –This time it will be 100% letting our hair down (our up in a fancy hair-do!), kicking up our heels and having fun with people we love being with. Travelling with friends is one of the best things to do! Look out Viva 2017, we are coming for you!
What sneaky fact would surprise your adoring fans?
I am terrified of Sharks – the Great White Shark. It’s so bad I can’t watch them on TV or even look at a book with them in it! I also have a fear of the ocean and dark water. I am sure in a past life I was shipwrecked in an ocean full of sharks! I also love driving fast and would love to race cars. I am a slight terror in my ’68 Pontiac Firebird at times!
What are your hopes for the future of Pin Up and Rockabilly in South Africa?
I want to see the culture grow and be positive culture to meet people and make friends. I feel very strongly about educating and sharing knowledge on the Pinup & Rockabilly scene locally. There are a lot of people in SA that might be seeing the Pinup gals in their dad’s international classic car magazines, and then there are some that see the ladies posing with a modern street racer (car) in hot-pants and heels in speed and Sound Magazine. It is up to us to educate and show that there is a difference, to show people that we are about staying classy, being well-mannered, approachable, independent and feminine, and that there is a difference between the Centerfold and the Playful pinup! I would love to see more ladies embracing their girlie side and experimenting with the look.
You’re a founding member of the RokNBella’s, a proud representation of positivity within Pin Up in South Africa. How were the Bella’s born and where are these hotties going?
The Roknbellas are a group of fun lovin’, positive gals who get together and who are passionate about growing the culture here in SA.
I wanted to make it a slightly more formal group as we do have long term goals, and I feel that there has to be a good structure in place as it involves so many different personalities. We have 4 founding Bellas that hold it all together; Myself (Mandy M Pinup), Dollie Vega, Shantilly Lace and The Little Harlequin. We already have potential Bellas on board and can’t wait to share them all with you!
There are many similar groups dotted around the world and I always admired the fabulous sense of sisterhood that comes across and wanted something similar here in SA.
I loved that it is also a really good excuse for ladies to get together and have some fun. We would like it to get to the stage where businesses and event companys can hire the Bellas to be at their functions and events. We have such a cross section of ladies with different skills and talents that there is something for everybody! You will often spot our ladies at local events from car shows to evening events in and around Cape Town as well as shows across SA. Recently our founding Bella Dollie Vega won the title of Miss Hot Rod South Africa up in Joburg which we are all very proud of.
We are always looking for other gals to join us and will soon be arranging our first social in July for Potential Bellas to meet the founding members and have a fun evening chatting and socialising.
Check out our page on fb to find out more about us: https://www.facebook.com/Roknbellas
Be sure to check out Mandy M Pinup across her social channels and be sure to follow me too!
Until next time.