Oh, you pretty things

By Allan I. Ross
Autumn Luciano Photography (left), courtesy photo (right)

Local photographer transforms women into pin-ups

Some say nostalgia in fashion trends runs on a 20-year cycle. Others put it at around 50. That would give modern-day wistfulness to anything from the flannel-and-combat boot grunge look of the ‘90s to the fastidiously groomed, impeccably decked-out “Mad Men”-era chic of the ‘60s. Not a lot of overlap there.

Look a little farther back, however — about 70 years — and you’ll find the origins behind the vaudeville/burlesque subculture purring beneath everything from the recent wave of pseudo-grindhouse flicks popularized by Robert Rodriguez to the pop music charts — Katy Perry owes more than a passing wink to Bettie Page. Cat’s-eye mascara, cherry red lips, bustiers, garters and black stockings — it’s female empowerment with a dash of dominatrix. Who would have thought an ironically chaste style dating back to Rosie the Riveter would become a thing?

Local photographer Autumn Luciano, for one. Luciano, 26, is the owner of Decadence Dolls, a vintage fashion photography studio in Lansing, who recently celebrated two key achievements in her career: She was named Best Photographer in City Pulse’s 2013 Top of the Town Awards. And she recently became a franchisee of the national Pretty Things Academy family, a class created by Go-Go Amy, a professional pin-up model and burlesque dancer.

Luciano met Go-Go Amy in 2011 at one of her shows at The Loft in Lansing.

“I’ve always had an interest in the past eras because of my grandma,” Luciano said. “She was gorgeous, and she raised me on Big Band music. A couple years ago, I inherited all these vintage clothes and decided to start doing these pin-up fashion shoots with clients for fun. When I met Go-Go Amy and told her what I did, she asked me if I’d be interested in hosting one of her classes. It was all over from there.”

Go-Go Amy will lead the class at Luciano’s studio on Friday, which will involve teaching women how to pose and how to create ‘40s-era makeup and hair styles. The basic package, which consists of a tutorial, is $75. The deluxe package includes a makeover and full photo shoot by Luciano for $200. Then on Thursday, Spiral Dance & Video Bar in Old Town will host Tease-o-Rama, a bi-monthly burlesque show Luciano started with local drag queen Ace DeVille with a focus on vintage music and costumes.

Luciano said her studio has a big Facebook following, with around 6,000 likes, and attributes her popularity to the resurgence of the rockabilly scene (there’s a lot of overlap between pin-ups and greasers, apparently) and the novelty of doing something that’s both daring and safe.

“Women feel comfortable posing for pin-up photos,” Luciano said. “In boudoir photography, it’s a classic wholesome way to express their sexuality in a safe environment. The majority of my clients are everyday women. There is absolutely no modeling experience required to be a Decadence Doll.”

After Lansing native Wendy Graves turned 35 in January, she decided to book a Decadence Dolls photo shoot. She adopted the pin-up name Lilly Love Lee.

“I used to hate people taking my picture — I’d be a nervous wreck,” Graves said. “But Autumn did a good job coaching me. I don’t feel objectified in any way. I am proud of my pictures, and I feel beautiful.”

Graves said she’s been featured in two different pin-up magazines. She’s a single mother to a 17-year-old daughter and admitted she “hasn’t done much” for herself. But her modeling experience seems to have carried over to the real world.

“I never imagined I’d be in a magazine one day,” Graves said. “Being a pin-up gives me strength, passion and something to look forward to. We all need some of that in our life.”

Luciano says her goal is to have a studio separate from her home someday, someplace that can be a hub of everything vintage. It would be a studio, of course, but also a mini salon, a vintage shop, maybe even a place to host burlesque shows.

“I would also love to start traveling more,” she said. “I have been published in many magazines and have developed a fan base in other parts of the country. I’d love to meet everybody. To me, the pin-up crowd is made up of the most interesting people in the world.”

Featuring Go-Go Amy, Ace DeVille, The Klaw Mark Kittens and Buttercup La’May
9 p.m. Thursday
Spiral Dance & Video Bar
1247 Center St., Lansing
$10 for 18-up/$5 for 21-up
(517) 371-2221

Pretty Things Pin-Up Class
Noon Friday
$75 basic class/$200 deluxe class
To sign up, e-mail autumnluciano@gmail.com