Traveled to Houston from Minneapolis this past Thursday, for the National Halloween and Party Expo. Friday was all about the retailer; the big question, how does a small-business compete against big corporate? From 2005 to 2010, consumer spending on Halloween rose from 3.29 to 5.8 billion, a 76% growth in five years, despite a recession. That kind of growth has all the big retailers talking about entering the Halloween market at a greater scale, in the temporary pop-up form: Wal-mart, Walgreens, Target, Party City, etc, to compete with Spirit Halloween, Halloween Express, et al. The market is already saturated - can anyone say bubble? - and consumers are more savvy with their money in the "new normal", but reality isn't always a consideration when it comes to greed.
The trade show began Saturday, vendors big and small filling the massive George R. Brown Convention Center downtown. Leg Avenue, the big-dog in the sexy costume market, was giving away a mini-cooper. They had their own castle at the far East end of the building, with twice-a-day runway shows with female models the likes of which are hardly seen outside sunny So-Cal. Two could even sing. It was mostly image; cracks are starting to show in the glamorous facade. Fashion in this image-obsessed culture evolves by the season. Leg Avenue, like most vendors who make costumes, brings a few new designs to the market every year, and their costumes evolve somewhat, but year to year it all looks pretty much the same. And the dirty little secret no one really wanted to talk about is, retailers are sitting on a lot of product. Costumes didn't sell last year. How many people want to pay $100 +/- for a costume made of cheap material with weak seams and worse zippers, they're only likely to wear once or twice? Plenty of folk, as evidenced by the 5.8 billion we spent in 2010. But more and more it seems, the trend is toward accessorizing the costume a person puts together him or herself. Economizing. With creativity.
The main runway show was a fine example of an industry that doesn't define the culture as much as it mirrors it. Poorly made costumes from major vendors, clothing neither practical nor particularly creative. None of the more impresive, high-end costumes were allowed on the runway or they would have made the major-vendor product look as ridiculous as it was, and half the people walked out before the show was over. Though somehow a woman who called her DIY costume Black Valkyrie made it onto the stage, the only truly striking thing to grace it. I couldn't have been more surprised, or more impressed. There was a notable silence from the crowd: what are we supposed to do with this?
And of course, no one was talking about oil prices. I didn't ask around, but I expect there's as little awareness of fossil fuels in the Halloween Industry as there is across the culture. Should oil prices continue to climb, it will devastate the costume business. It was obvious, the difference in quality between those costumes made of natural fibers and those made of petroleum. Equally obvious was the difference in price, typically greater by 700-1000%.
Saturday afternoon I stepped outside into the park across the street from the convention center, to soak up some sun - though the same cold weather system that plunged the northern states into the sub-zero range pressed cold air well south, the temperature then at about 55 degrees. Sitting on a park bench in the chill air, I found myself part of a photo shoot for a producer from the Virgin Islands and a rapper from Trinidad. The producer, Tollo Texas, and I had a long conversation about music and beats. He's also a diesel mechanic, one of those trades with a solid future, because the diesel engine can run on vegetable oil. JJ-T, the rapper, sat down next to me, and the man directing the camera suggested we pretend to talk. I asked JJ-T a few questions and we actually talked. After two minutes he leapt up off the bench, jumping up and down, shouting and repeating, "we had an actual conversation! We had an actual conversation!" like he had never had one before.
(I forgot the name of the production company of the man directing the photo shoot. Send me a comment and I'll add it in.)
That evening we had a nice meal at Sambuca, my cohorts Keith, Mark and Sandra, and our host Kelly. Kelly is separated from his wife, and not altogether certain how to handle it. Living in Texas, coming from Missouri, he's a bit of a cad when it comes to women, but he loves his wife and his daughter very much, even if he's macho and posessive and not altogether sure how to build trust. We all danced to a tight band called Jones, and toward closing time Kelly and I hooked up with S. and J. from Kenya. From Sambuca the four of us closed out a Mexican dance club, and then travelled to Rich's, an industrial dance club.
Having not had much experience with industrial dance clubs but what I've seen on video, I was a little surprised by the relative lethargy. I forget sometimes how many people are taking pharmaceuticals, and how deeply we are affected by our sedentary lives. It was all very much a revelation. Not least that I was sober, dancing in an industrial dance club in Houston, but also that our stunning Kenyan companions did not want to dance with me as much as they wanted to dance like me, and watch me dance. That, and the lack of hostility in the club, though it was very hot, and very loud, and every race was accounted for in considerable number.
Our companions would have gladly closed out that club too, but Kelly and I, being twelve to fourteen years older, decided 4am was late enough. Kelly drove the ladies to their cars, while I sat in the back with J. and sang in Swahili, though I didn't know it was Swahili until J. told me it was. It's been a long time since a woman cuddled up to me the way she did. Blessings J. Blessings S. Thank you for a fine evening.
I flew back last evening with Keith. There are few in this world I have more fun with than that man. He seemed to be glowing somehow, and everywhere we went women were responding. I felt by comparison a dud; even the ladies I tried to flirt with seemed to look past as if I wasn't there. Perhaps it's because Keith is happily married to a beautiful woman, and is very much in love with her, and their son together. Whatever the case, I teased him that I was getting my first lesson in flirtation, at 37. Those southern ladies certainly are less reserved.
We arrived in Minneapolis at about 10:30. I wish I had a video camera, to capture the image of Keith, in shorts and a camel colored overcoat and a baseball hat, running through the 3rd floor of the airport parking ramp, for about five minutes, in the nine degree weather, looking for his car. Nor was I very surprised to discover he had previously destroyed both the driver and passenger mirrors on the Jetta, his wife's car, apparently backing out of their garage. "I was in a hurry," he giggled, when I asked.
Arriving home at eleven, to my grungy house and my quiet life, alone, I started to descend into a kind of darkness, a curious sadness that is always lingering underneath, that I indulge in occassionally. I picked up my swords instead, and danced and sang until 3am. Looking ahead, I have a performance at Patrick's Cabaret, March 18-19. It's time to get in shape. But thanks in part to Houston, I'm more confident now. I can do this.