Steampunk’d is GSN’s new skill-based design competition series, hosted by fashion expert Jeannie Mai, that takes viewers inside the retro-futuristic aesthetic and seeks to discover the most inventive and versatile Steampunk designer in America. Inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery, Steampunk is a design movement seen in everything from fashion to technology to pop culture.
In the eight-episode series, the contestants, who are also known as “Makers,” work in teams and compete in a series of pressure-filled challenges designed to test their unique abilities to transform ordinary objects and fashion into creative masterpieces. Each week, one of the ten Makers will be eliminated and the last one standing will take home the $100,000 grand prize.
As each project is completed, the work will be unveiled to the judges, which include Thomas Willeford, the leading authority on Steampunk, Matt King, the creator, writer and director of the series The World of Steam, and Kate “Kato” Lambert, the British entrepreneur and founder of the world’s first steampunk clothing company, Steampunk Couture. To learn more about exactly what Steampunk is and to get some details on this very unique competition, Monsters & Critics got the scoop from Matt King and Kato.
When asked what appealed to them about Steampunk’d and made them want to get involved, as a judge, King said, “I created The World of Steam, a set of Twilight Zone-like episodes set in a Steampunk universe, as a lifelong love of the genre. So, being asked to judge some of the best Makers and creators of Steampunk designs in the country was a no-brainer.”
Similarly, Kato said, “I’ve been immersed in the Steampunk world for ten years and have watched it grow from one single Google search result to what you see today. I felt confident and comfortable with the position of judge on the show.”
Even though the judges are recognizable faces and voices in the Steampunk community, many viewers will be learning about the Steampunk culture and lifestyle for the first time, when they tune into the show. To give a little bit of background for the newbies, King said, “Steampunk is fantasy and science fiction against the backdrop of the Victorian aesthetic. Steampunk’d is a show that has incredible designers who live and create in these worlds every day, making some truly dynamic and amazing creations.”
And Kato added, “Just be prepared for a new genre of a style that you may have only seen brief examples of in other media, and keep in mind that the heart of Steampunk is DIY.”
Both King and Kato have quite a history with Steampunk, both becoming aware of it a number of years back. “I was a bookworm, and I devoured Jules Verne, HG Wells, HP Lovecraft and Robert Howard, as a kid,” said King. “These worlds were my introduction into science fiction and fantasy, and as such, they are near and dear to my heart. When I found the Steampunk movement at the 2009 Comic-Con in San Diego, I immediately felt a ‘click.’ It was this perfect confluence of all of the geek things that I loved. Steampunk allows us to tell stories in that in-between space when culture switches from old guard to avant garde, mechanical monstrosities are being born through mad science, and people are pushing the boundaries of manners, social mores and the limitations of the human brain.”
For Kato, it was when she was still a teenager. “From my late teens, I’d been designing fashion in a neo-Victorian, post-apocalyptic mash-up that I had no name for and struggled to explain to people. Then, when sharing my work on MySpace in 2004, a friend pointed out ‘how Steampunk’ it was, and the rest is history.”
Her love of the Steampunk look and the lack of exactly what she was looking for in her own closet led Kato to start the first Steampunk clothing company, Steampunk Couture. “I wanted to own the clothes in my imagination, and so I made it happen. I was lucky in that other people wanted them too and, within 12 months, I had a clothing company.”
When it comes to getting the Steampunk look right, King said, “For me, the vision behind what you are creating is key. Make your fashion immersive. So much of bad design has no thought behind it. The thought behind who your character is and how they interact with the world around them can truly create wonder and amazement. Is your character clockwork on the inside? Does she pilot an airship? Is she an explorer? Is she an inventor whose experiment went horribly wrong? We tell a story with what we wear, every day, and people make judgments based on that story. Are you rich or poor, relaxed or uptight? If you are designing something that is as wonderful and outlandish as a Steampunk outfit, make sure it brings out your individual point of view and invites people into the story you’d like to tell. That’s where you are going to find that ‘wow’ factor.”
Kato agreed that being unique is key. “It takes on many forms and styles and you can have A LOT of fun with the fashion. Everyone has their own unique spin, and my current personal key points are Victorian basics (bloomers, corsets, tail coats, etc) with post-apocalyptic hardware on top and perhaps a sci-fi gadget or two (but never three!)”
While King’s advice for the contestants is, “Be clear, be focused, and do what you say you’re going to do,” Kato elaborated by saying, “Focus on what you’re best at, be open and ready to learning new skills as fast as possible, and be prepared to work under incredible pressure while keeping in mind that whatever you make, it HAS to look Steampunk!”
As for what she’s looking for in a winner, Kato said, “What I’m ultimately looking for is someone who’s able to excel in a variety of mediums while keeping it impressively Steampunk in style. Basically, just a very strong Maker.”
Added King, “They have to bring strong design with an immersive vision into everything that they produce. I am also looking for someone who is going to inspire others to join the Steampunk community, in a very real way, and to be an ambassador. With the current dominance of geek culture in media, there is a ton of geeky noise to get above. I want to make sure that whoever represents this community is going to do it with respect and love for their art and everyone they come in contact with.”
Watching the contestants make such inventive and original items throughout the competition is also inspiring for the judges. Kato said, “I love seeing their own individual personalities and life stories emerging through their work. There are some impressive things being created for sure, most of which I desperately want to take home with me.”
King added, “Inspiration is literally breath, so to provide inspiration for someone else is to provide the breath on which they live. So much of being an artist is the difficult slog of creating when the world tells you to do other things. I think if you devote everything to your art, you are giving a gift that takes real bravery. So, not only am I inspired by what I have seen, I’m thankful that these artists have decided to share that inspiration with me.”
Over the course of the eight episodes, contestants will transform ordinary objects and fashion into creative masterpieces, and they will grow as artists in the process. Said King, “You will see artists who are good become great, and you will see great artists fail horribly. The constraints under which these artists are working are pretty brutal, and it brings out the best and the worst in them.”
Added Kato, “Most of the contestants have never worked as part of a team before and they are being put under incredible amounts of pressure, so be prepared for people to lose their composure and a bit of drama to stew. Despite all of this, I’ve seen some incredible finished pieces by the end of each challenge, and it’s hard to pick a favorite.”
When asked how they think they’d fare, if they were actually participating in the competition instead of judging it, King said he thought he’d do okay, but Kato revealed, “I don’t know if I’d be able to keep my cool long enough to not let it affect the work and I’d probably get eliminated in the first episode!”
The Steampunk’d “Makers” are:
Ave Rose (Culver City, CA) – Known for her moving sculptures and taxidermy wearable art, she has been described as the “Frankenstein of Steampunk” for her ability to bring dead creatures to life through motion mechanics.
Charles Mason (Hillsboro, OR) – A pastry chef by day, his steady hand and passion for detail also play into his steampunk designs, which utilize materials of all kinds, including scrap metals and leather.
Edward Thayer (Jackson, MI) – A single father of six kids, as well as a builder and automotive customization specialist, he earned the nickname “Steampunk Eddie” while being commissioned to do work for a new steampunk-themed brewery. Especially fond of clocks and gears, he uses old clock parts, copper, and other people’s junk to design his pieces.
James Neatherly (Nashville) – An X-ray technician, father and husband, designing custom watches is his Steampunk forte, and his leatherwork pieces are constructed using traditional tools such as mallets, bevelers and Exacto blades.
Josh “JW” Kinsey (Portland, OR) – Drawing inspiration from the vintage industrial motif long before it was even referred to as Steampunk, he aspired to be a professional artist from an early age, and his work has been displayed across the country in various restaurants, commercial buildings, galleries, and in New York City’s new Freedom Tower.
Karianne Gottschalk (Detroit) – A former tattoo artist and costume designer, Karianne specializes in fabricating weapons, bracers, guitars and intricate leather masks.
Morgan Olsen (Los Angeles) – Recognized for her rocker look and ensembles, she has worked as a professional costume and fashion designer for 13 years, and is experienced in creating last-minute custom clothing pieces, props and large-scale art installations.
Niki “Lady Hawk” Phillips (Tallahassee, FL) – A single mom and adult novelty shop purveyor, she is known for the dark and gothic tone of her Steampunk designs, for which she uses mostly found materials from thrift shops and garage sales.
Tayliss Forge (Irvine, CA) – As a cosplay model and artisan crafter, she spends most of her time making Victorian and Steampunk costumes and accessories for her online business, Nonconformity Accessories.
Tobias McCurry (Seattle) – A self-described “super geek” and theater trained performance artist, he is well-known in the Steampunk community for his fire-breathing and stilt-walking, and he is drawn to rivet work and armor pieces, often using copper, brass and metals in his costuming.