Friday, January 20, 2012

Fez-O-Rama: The Fez Dispenser

by frédérik

When it comes to fezzes, some people react thusly:

We here at the Fashionoclast agree with the Doctor, however: fezzes are cool.

So yes, I do wear a fez now.

How I got to that fez is a tale that brings together swing music, secret societies, comic books, and a general appreciation for the quirky. It ostensibly begins with LA’s response to San Diego’s Comic-Con; the fledgling Comikaze. Nestled amidst the comic books, vendors, and celebrities selling signed photos was the Fez-O-Rama booth styled like a tiki lounge and overflowing with fezzes bearing all manner of embroidered designs.
Jason Rodgers and the Fez-O-Rama Crew at LA's Comikaze, 2011
I might not have given the booth, attractive as it was, much of a second thought if I hadn’t seen the unmistakable artwork from one of my favourite artists and storytellers, Mike Mignola. To offer some context, while I do enjoy reading comic books – ahem, “graphic novels” – I don’t collect serial comics like the stuff DC and Marvel put out. I will, however, grab hold of anything Mike puts out: Hellboy, BPRD, and other spin-offs and one-shots. His art and writing, along with those of his collaborators, stands apart; I would even go so far to say that I’ve learned a lot about storytelling from reading Mike’s work, and it’s come in useful in my own writing. But I digress. There was a black velvet fez bearing Mike’s iconic skull and crown designs. Violin music played. An angelic choir began to sing. The ceiling parted to let in a single ray of sunshine, gently caressing the fez with a warm glow…Needless to say, I bought the fez and proudly sported it the remainder of day, exchanging nods with other fez-wearers in acknowledgment of our solidarity as members of a not-so-secret brotherhood. And given that Fez-O-Rama has ties to both the Cult of the Eye (“America’s Favorite Secret Society”) and, by extension (if I’m not remembering incorrectly…), the fiery swing band Lee Press-On & The Nails, it seemed like some great mystic web of connections compelled me to that particular moment in time and position in space, to that particular fez.

Or something like that. For some reason, fezzes encourage, even demand, colourful embellishment.
The point is that where I never thought I’d wear a fez, I found a hat that was unique, quirky, and sufficiently off-the-wall to be my ultimate iconoclastic piece of headwear.

 The awesome Mignola Fez, and a killer jacket discovered in the basement of a thrift store. I almost didn't get it, though it was priced at $30, but my wife brought me to my senses. The rest is the stuff of party fashion legend.

The Mignola Fez, in all its close-up glory. Jason adds ventilation perforations on top to help keep heads cool.

The limited edition Mignola Fez - only 75 made - also has Mignola's signature.

As silly and magnificent as the fez can be, there’s more to it than being the signature headwear of iconoclasts and those wacky do-gooding freemasons, the Shriners. Developed and refined by Arabs in Fes, Morroco, with origins in Greece, the fez attained official status when Sultan Mahmud II decreed it the official headgear of the military in 1826, followed by civil officials in 1929. Interestingly, the military fez was wrapped in a turban. The fez has since seen service in the national costume and militaries of several countries, as well as many organizations such as the Shriners.I’ll point you to Wikipedia if you want to know more about the distinguished and cultural aspect of the fez, and move on with an introduction to Fez-O-Rama and the man who makes the fezzes, Jason Rodgers.

As the story goes, Fez-O-Rama was conceived through a combination of laughter and cheese pizza as a semi-serious idea for gifts to friends. That was 1991. In 1996, Jason worked out the fabrication problem but didn’t move forward until two years later, when the acquisition of an embroidery machine, inspiration, and an outright opportunity to dive into turning sketches into reality. Enter the Cult of the Eye, Jason’s Sacrifez, and the now-legendary Tiki Oasis event, and 2005 saw Fez-O-Rama taking off with an ever-increasing catalog of unique and creative graphics embroidered on fine fezzes. To get the full background scoop, feel free to mouse on over to Fez-O-Rama’s About Us page ( then come right back for a short interview I did with Jason via eMail.

How did your perspective change from seeing fezzes as a running gag to something, well, actually cool?
I can't be sure if my perspective changed significantly or not. I may just be too close to it. I have always respected both the history of the fez as well as the more modern ridiculousness of it. I try to balance the running gag vs cool factor to this day. I take the process of designing and making a fez seriously while never taking myself too seriously. 
Do you have any stories of customers who similarly changed their perspective when confronted with all that fezzy goodness at one of your booths?
When we first started showing the fezzes in public it was at Tiki Oasis, a fantastic tiki themed weekend event now located in San Diego. In the early years we would get resistance from random people that did not understand the relationship between the history of American tiki movement and the fez. Over the years we have seen more and more people "get it". That isn't to say we don't still get confused looks and lots of questions, but honestly if I didn't get those looks now and again I'm not doing my job.
How do you make a fez, from getting someone like Mike Mignola to offer a design to actually fabricating it?
The project with Mike Mignola was rather unique. I first approached him about it at the San Diego Comic Con and he seemed entertained by the idea but I didn't pursue it until some time later. When we finally started discussing the fez idea over email, Mr. Mignola asked that I put together a design idea for him to look at. After getting over the initial shock that I was now designing for an artist that I look up too, I spent a good deal of time looking over his work and sketching out ideas. Once I found something I was excited over I went to the embroidery design phase. This is done on the computer and works much like Illustrator except instead of working with fills and strokes it involves stitch types and patterns. From there I will run thread tests, tweaking colors and stitches until I have something that passes for an embroidery. Once I have a design I will sew up a prototype. In the case of the Mignola Fez I made the prototype as a gift. I brought it over for Mike to see and we discussed a limited edition run and royalties and all of that. Ultimately we did 75 fezzes in 2011.

Currently available fezzes. Click image to embiggen!

What has surprised you the most about running Fez-o-rama?
I guess the most significant thing has been that just when I think we have taken this idea as far as it can go, it keeps growing. I would never had thought that after making fezzes for over 10 years I would still be this passionate about it. I have also met an amazing group of creative people through Fez-o-rama whether it's through the internet or at events. Our goal this year is to spend more time bringing the Fez-o-rama booth out to events and meeting even more of them.
What can we look forward to from Fez-O-Rama in the coming years?
There will of course be all sorts of new designs. Our focus has always been on coming up with new ideas and this year will be another example of that. We will have new monkey designs, more SciFi themed pieces as well as our tradition of lots of retro and tiki styles in the Summer. We are going to be introducing some fez accessories this year. Our friend Janelle Badali of Badali Jewelry sculpted an amazing bronze pin that will be posted to our website in the near future. I'm also looking at introducing some variations on the fez hat as well as incorporating more of my fashion design experience into what we do.

Many thanks to Jason for his time. To see more fezzes and other goodies like Tassel pins, and to get prices and the like, visit Fez-O-Rama!

And don't forget this week's Frivolous Friday challenge: bold and crazy hats. I have my fez on - what are YOU wearing on your head?

Disclaimer: All images by me, except for the Fez-O-Rama logo and fez catalog images, which are borrowed from the Fez-O-Rama website with Jason’s kind permission. The Doctor Who belongs to the BBC and is only used for humourous, non-profit purposes...but I will take it down if, for reasons of copyright, I am requested to do so.


Mica said...

Love that jacket with the fez! Wouldn't normally have thought the Fez could look cool, but this article really interested me! Love it!

Frederik Sisa said...

Thanks, Mica! I'm still a bit surprised by how cool fezzes can be. And I still can't believe I almost passed on that jacket...lesson learned about taking advantage of opportunities when they appear! :)

stylish with a budget said...

it's a great & unique jacket and looks fab on you. i don't think a lot of guys can pull that off.
great buy!!

Frederik Sisa said...

Thanks, Sasha. That's very kind of you to say! :)

Anonymous said...

Ah, I too am a proud owner of the Mignola Fez. Which, I suppose, makes us brothers in the Sacred Order of the Dapper Corpse.

Frederik Sisa said...

Brother Anonymous, I salute you and your fine choice in fez! Thanks for stopping by!

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