Friday, October 19, 2012

What up, Watto?

by frédérik sisa

Some people go to Comikaze for the comics, video games, and other stuff of that nature. I do too, to some extent and with varying degrees of obsessiveness. Even when immersed in talented artists presenting their custom-printed books, or the splash of fan-girls and –boys in costume, or the seemingly endless supply of toys, I ultimately always keep watch for fashionable goodness. And with good reason: last year’s Comikaze brought to me the most Awesome Hat in the Universe – a fez with Mike Mignola design. Natch.

This year, although there were some very compelling and theatrical steampunk clothiers and supplies, I was less impressed by their novelty charms – I like steampunk, but with reservations – then I was by humble artisans sharing their wares without getting dressed up in comic book trappings. Such as WATTO and WATTO’s Wife, whose unique designs, quality metalcraft (much powder-coated steel was on display), and overall stylishness stood out among all the “stuff” on the convention floor.


I had a friendly chat with the lady behind the table, Mary Spencer, and knew that her and her husband’s work was just the sort of thing I like to feature here at The Fashionoclast. A few reasons why:
  • Between the complementary collections of Watto and Watto’s Wife, there’s something for everyone, man or woman, adult or child. Everyone!
  • Creative designs with an irresistible edge inspired by tattoos, rock ‘n roll, history, and more. And skulls. Mustn't forget the skulls.
  • Made in the USA – Tucson, Arizona to be precise.

Jon and Mary

The story of Watto begins with metal sculptor Jon Watson, who launched into metalwork in 2005 after a fifteen-year career as a graphic design. After apprenticing with a metal, he set out on his own by offering sculptures and other products through the company he started with wife Mary, The Metal Garden – it’s worth checking out; Jon’s sculptures are gorgeous. As for Mary, she’s a graphic designer with experience in floral design, prop design, and product management. Februrary 2009 saw her laid off from her job, which led her and Jon to start WATTO (takes its name from Jon’s nickname. In addition to giving Mary the opportunity to indulge her love of fashion, launching WATTO opened up opportunities for other creative endeavours for the husband-and-wife team, like WATTO’s Wife.

Mary very kindly took some time to answer questions via eMail.
How do you and your husband develop a piece from design to production? 
We discuss the new design then one or both of us create a sketch and we talk about what we like or would like changed about the sketch. Once we agree on the design, Jon makes a prototype. We tweak it for size or shape from there until we get something we both like or at least can agree on.
In looking over your collection, I see a bit of steampunk, a bit of goth, a bit of Victoriana...How would you describe your inspiration and influences? 
We describe our stuff as everyday street couture with a rocker edge. We are greatly influenced by symbols particularly those used in the tattoo industry. We are also influenced by pop culture so as trends emerge such as the popularity of steampunk, we incorporate those into our line.
How have Watto and Watto's Wife evolved over the years? 
When my (Mary) company shut down in Tucson, I took that opportunity to start my own business, something I'd always wanted to do. Jon had already been doing custom metal work for many years. One day Jon walked in with a cool buckle he made. That was it. I knew we were going to create an accessory line of buckles geared to guys. The raw edginess of metal was a perfect "guy" material. We started doing festivals and wholesale shows. We found online our stuff was doing really well, but it was harder to do shows with only buckles as it was too limiting so we added some lower priced items that were easy on the budget and great for gifts. Although they are unisex, they have a special guy appeal.  As we continued to do festivals and shows, we found that we needed to add some more items strictly geared to women that were an impulse purchase. These were not necessarily made of metal (steel) so we wanted to separate it from WATTO Distinctive Metal Wear. Jon was kidding around and said I should name the line "WATTO's Wife" and I had to admit it had a fun ring to it, so it stuck.

Your pieces have found their way to many musicians, actors/actresses, and other you have any fun celebrity encounters you'd like to share? 
Jon really loves that we met "The Most Interesting Man in the World" (from the commercials). Jackson Galaxy from "My Cat From Hell" purchased our items a few years back and he is a super nice guy. He's helped propel our Outlaw Kitty design to new heights.
Other than through your website and etsy, you travel around to sell your fantastic wares. How did you end up at Comikaze, and where else can people look for you? 
One of my friends who makes Steampunk jewelry (Mystic Pieces) suggested we try the Phoenix Comic Con. We're always up for new adventures so we tried it and it was fantastic. We heard about Comikaze through her as well and thought we'd give it a try.
What did you think about Comikaze? Are cosplayers and fan boys and girls particularly receptive to your designs? 
It's a lot of fun! We love seeing all the creative outfits. WATTO's Wife seemed to go over really well there.
Where do you hope your business will be a few years from now? What can we look forward to? 

We are hoping to blow out our Outlaw Kitty line. It's had such a great response we'd like to see it go further.
Finally, which of your pieces are you wearing, and why did you single it out for yourself? 
Jon wears one of the first buckles he ever made (iron cross) daily. I wear a custom blinged out cross necklace quite a bit. It adds a bit of rocker bling to any outfit.

So there you have it. Beautiful designs and beautiful workmanship.

My favourite, in case you were wondering, is the octopus design, which rather surprises me because I usually haven't been drawn to octopuses before. Of course, I say "favourite" but I like them all...

Many thanks to Mary for sharing her time with me.

Check out the WATTO family of websites for pictures of their wares, celebrities, and other noteworthy street couture inspiration. And note:

WATTO @ Etsy
WATTO's Wife
The Metal Garden
Rescue Ink

Note: Images used with kind permission of Mary Spencer. Image from Comikaze is mine.


Mica said...

Love their pieces - especially the cure cat and dog ones at the end with the bones, very unique! :)

They sound like such a lovely couple and they make beautiful items, thank you for sharing :)

Frederik Sisa said...

Glad you like it, Mica! :)

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