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There were all sorts of amazing and wonderful costumes at Steam Powered. I found myself stopping people in their tracks, in hallways and in the vendor area, asking them to back it up so I could take in their get-ups. Now normally, people might be a little creeped out if you stopped them so you could ogle their outfit, but here, everyone was more than happy and enthused to show off everything, explain how they made it, how many hours it took them, etc. Some people even had a different outfit for each day of the convention! Crazy.

While all of the costumes were cool, and I love the geographical, historical, and time-period mash-ups — the whimsy and humor — of steampunk cosplay, there definitely is a standard steampunk look and feel. And it can become a bit of a uniform.

And then there’s Holly Conrad. I spotted her the first time I entered the vendor area. She was behind the Etsy Steam Team tables, probably deploying her tattered and moth-eaten Da Vinci-esque wings for the umpteenth time. The wings are amazing (pics don’t do them or the rest of the costume justice). I went over to see them close up. By now, she was pulling on their ripcord handles, ratcheting them back into place. So cool! Then I started to take in the rest of the outfit. There were layers and layers of it and obsessive levels of detail. E.g. There was a burn patch on one of her leather gauntlet gloves. Inside the burned out hole, I could see exposed wires, suggesting that there was even more going on under the surface. Later, I noticed that there were blackened rocket nozzles at the bottom of the wing-pack, and realized she’d probably *really* thought this through and put the scorching on the glove as the work-a-day wear and tear of a steampunk faerie’s flight systems. She was so laden down with layers of stuff, there was little of Holly left peering through. As she talked, she struggled to keep her ornately-decorated goggles on her forehead and the feathers, baubles, and leather flaps from her flight cap out of her face. It was simultaneously comical, charming, and cute.

I really enjoyed talking to Holly, who also goes by the character name Fyriel and sells on Etsy under the name Orpheus Alchemy. She’s a 22 year old medieval studies graduate from USCB. She’s fascinated by alchemical texts, occult grimoires, and crypto-history and incorporates much of this design style and iconography into her work. The name for her Fyriel persona came from a medieval manuscript were it was written, without explanation, as marginalia. The mysteriousness of this appealed to her. Holly grew up playing D&D, other RPGs, and World of Warcraft and credits these game worlds for much of her sensibility and inspiration. The Fyriel costume involved a laundry list of craft and construction techniques, from leather work and resin casting to metal work and electronics. She says that she gets home every day between 4 and 5PM, heads into her garage studio and doesn’t emerge until 3AM. Every day. She makes a point of “every day.” Somehow, I don’t doubt this.

Holly won the Steam Powered costume contest later that night. I heard that the Weta Workshop folks had been talking to her. Given the impact she made, the way she stood out from an already creative, talented crowd, they should be talking to her. She *is* looking for a job. Somebody should snatch her up, ’cause I have a feeling that, if she can keep the goggles out of her eyes, Holly Conrad is going places on those shabby, but o’ so chic, mechanical wings.

[The drawing above is by the amazing Suzanne Forbes. She did this sketch within the 20 minutes or so it took me to interview Holly. Amazing. Photos are by Kathleen of Figments.]

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Gareth Branwyn

Gareth Branwyn is a freelancer writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture, including the first book about the web (Mosaic Quick Tour) and the Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Building Robots. He is currently working on a best-of collection of his writing, called Borg Like Me.


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