Saturday, September 14, 2013

An Interview with a Retro Clothing Designer in Second Life


There's a vintage which comes with age and experience.

Jon Bon Jovi               

          After a prolonged absence, I’m returning to 1920’s Berlin.  My meanderings across Second Life (SL) have kept me away for far too long from its streets and residents. Many of whom are friends of mine.  (Being a SL friend of mine means being willing to tolerate my extended absences.  Some of my friends feel this helps the relationship.  Significant Other expresses sympathy.) 
          One old friend whom I bumped into as I prepared to return is Mila Edelman.   Mila is a retro clothing designer inworld and with Frau Jo Yardley is a co-creator of 1920’s Berlin.  I had first met Mila at a New Year’s Eve party in 1920’s Berlin back in 2010 or was it 2011?  (I always have trouble with dates and times on New Year’s Eve.)   
          While reintroducing myself to 1920’s Berlin, I met Mila again for the first time since then and she reminded that I’d offered to interview her for this blog.  So, I promptly (Well, for me at any rate.) scheduled an appointment to meet and have an interview.
          I rez into 1920’s Berlin and Mila comes to greet me.  She apologizes for wearing her work attire, but she’s been busy building lately and says she’s dirty from all the activity.  Mila is of short stature in SL because she says she’s short in Real Life (RL) too.  She emphasizes that she is a short, adult woman and not a child.  I make sure that I don’t make that mistake.  Mila recommends that we meet at the bar in the theater down the street for our interview so we head off.   
I begin our interview by asking what brought Mila to SL originally.  She replies that she had wanted to join over a year before she actually did.  For years, she had been running and participating in text-based historical RPG's. Mila had always been building out the environments they had, as she saw them, in games like The Sims. But those were disconnected and all she could do was show folks the renderings to give them an idea of what their area looked like.  Mila became a beta tester for The Sims Online, and hoped that it would be an environment where they could finally come together in the same 3-D space. But it lacked customization.  She kept an eye out, but she also knew that, once she stepped into a world, she'd probably give a lot of time to it. So Mila watched SL, to see if that was what she wanted to do.
Her final joining happened when her RL nephew gave her the flu over Christmas of 2006.  She was stuck at home and decided to plunge into SL.  Mila had hoped that she'd find environments to observe, but there were barely any that were even moderately historical at that time.
Then in April 2007, Mila opened Old Time Prims (OTP), to provide more clothing to the market. And that's how she met Jo. It turns out that they had the same goals and desires for what they wanted to do in SL.  Frau Jo was building up this plywood Berlin and Mila was planning another city that will be forthcoming.
And that's why 1920s Berlin happened, Mila smiles as she recounts this story. She’s been with it since before it opened, and it turns out that she and Frau Jo work very well together. They’re likeminded and enjoy making historical environments as living areas.
I next ask Mila about her role in 1920's Berlin currently.  She answers that back with the first opening, she provided the women's freebies, and helped with acquiring much of the new land, along with doing building and programming of tools behind the scenes. When they decided to buy their full sim, Mila did the purchasing, and now does the books for our collection of regions. Today, Mila does special building projects, and works on programming tools to save them (and the tenants) money, and to provide everyone with the services needed. As Mila was an engineer in my previous life, a new programming language that communicated with all of the others she already knew was very easy to learn.
My third question asks Mila about her attraction to clothing and materials?
If it’s possible for an avatar to light up when a question is asked, it happens now with this one to Mila.  She tells me that in real life, her grandmothers both taught her to sew, crochet (thick crochet and lace), knit, quilt and weave when she was very little.  (Check out Mila’s SL profile for a very impressive RL resume.) 
Mila continues by saying that knowledge always taught her that, if she can make it myself, it's silly to buy. OR, (Mila’s emphasis.) if there's nothing TO (Her emphasis again.) buy, make it! In the case of SL, when Mila first started designing, she was charged with hosting a historical party. And if she hadn't added to the pool of clothes available, half the guests would have had to wear the same thing.
(SL does seem to attract those with a self-sufficiency bent.)
Mila adds that knowing how clothes are actually made gives her great insight into how to do them in SL, how to fit avatars realistically. So, she used her hand skills and her programming skills to be able to make clothes that aren't just for nightclubs.
By now I’m realizing that Mila is a true craftsperson inworld.  She has migrated her RL skills onto the Grid.  Mila agrees with this.  She is the SME in the entire lifecycle of the object inworld from concept to creation.  Mila’s head nods in agreement.
Mila adds that it was important to her that not only she, but everyone, have the chance to have a full wardrobe, so they weren't always wearing club stuff if they wanted to do dishes inworld.  (I wisely steered clear of this one, Significant Other already has me doing dishes in RL.) 
I move onto asking Mila what's it like to run a business like OTP inworld?
Mila replies that it can be trying, but rewarding.  She not only gets to make clothes for people who were looking forever for exactly what she did, but to teach people about what was really worn in the past.  She smiles adding that it was nice to find that I wasn't the only person who longed for a collection of daywear.  Mila divides her week between new outfits for OTP, and build projects for Berlin.
1920's Berlin has a very high standard for historical accuracy in all its activities and objects and I ask Mila how does she deal with this challenge?  (1920’s Berlin probably has the highest standards in SL.  Check it out for yourselves to see.  Just please wear the correct period clothing and don’t act like a busload of American tourists in Europe when you arrive.  I’m American and have lived in Europe and ran away from busloads of my compatriots, whom I love dearly, whenever I saw them coming.  I can say this.) 
          Mila thinks is a good question.  (I occasionally have sparks of genius.) 
She begins by saying that Frau Jo and her are both quite educated in this area, so she can't think of a time when one of them really thought the other was doing something incorrectly. It is good to be working with those who you trust to know what you know, towards the same goal.  Mila continues, saying that Frau Jo and she both live more traditional lifestyles, in traditional homes, with largely traditional gadgets. So, instead of one person trying to teach a staff about it, it's the two of them, knowing the same things, and going forth on their respective duties.  This sounds like true collaboration to me. 
I turn to the business side of Mila’s life inworld and ask if OTP turns a profit for her.  She replies in the affirmative.  This is a rare thing in SL and become rarer. 
Mila explains that at first, she saw it as just staying a tiny shop, but she kept wanting to do more things. When her last big RL contract ended, instead of getting another, Mila chose to take some RL projects for old friends and colleagues, but focus on OTP and Berlin. That has paid off for her.
Mila continues that opening up Vintage Retro (VR is this whole sim, right outside of 1920’s Berlin) where she invited other designers to be as well, so that they could offer a huge range of shopping for historical things.) here was a huge thing, because she got a lot of family and friends from her RL to come and see what she does for a living.  (Mine are still trying to figure out what I do here.)  She says that mine were entirely unsure of what she did to actually make real-world money, because, in Warcraft, you CAN (Mila’s emphasis.) make money, but it's against the rules while in SL, you make real money and it's part of the system. Mila smiles as she tells me this.  (I think someone is very successful here.)  OTP has its own website.  VR will soon have one too. 
I ask Mila what future projects does she have planned.  Mila replies that she will probably always be working on new stuff for OTP, just because people still do need clothing, but they're also expanding on Berlin, and working on new historical lands, “stuff” that they have been talking about doing since Frau Jo and she met. She continues saying they are adding homesteads to Berlin, to give tenants who want bigger pieces of property and more prims a place to go. A lot of them like to rent with us, so it's nice to be able to offer that.
I inquire about other SL interests, like outside of 1920's Berlin.  Mila says that she wishes she could say that she has time for it, but she’s been working too much this year to travel elsewhere in SL! At the end of the day, right now, Mila often just wants to sit at my spinning wheel.  She is a huge music fan, and used to enjoy clubs that played German Industrial on occasion. 
          As I usually do at the conclusion of an interview, I ask Mila if there is anything she’d like to add.  There is.  Mila says some folks get intimidated when they come to places like this (1920’s Berlin), with really developed communities. It can look like EVERYONE (Mila’s emphasis.) there has an encyclopedic knowledge of the era and isn't open to newcomers (especially those with questions). Really, that's rarely true, and we LOVE (Mila’s emphasis.) new people who come wanting to learn. So, it's okay to come in and say, "I want to join you but I'm still learning." Folks here want to help.  Mila loves doing it in her shop and loves doing it in Berlin. Most others feel the same.  Mila never wants people to feel like the new kid in school. Frau Jo and she are particular about making this a welcoming environment to those who want to be a part of it.  That said, yes, people are asked to dress properly in 1920s Berlin (Vintage Retro, wear what they want). But that's because 1920’s Berlin wants people to be a part of the environment, and not just observing it from the outside.
          I would like to add that in experiences in 1920’s Berlin, I have found everyone to be friendly and accommodating. Even, when I performed some social gaffe, I still felt welcome.  Apologies again, Frau Jo!  (Contrary to popular belief, I did not spend a night in the local jail!) 
          I take my leave of Mila and thank her for her time and hospitality while apologizing for the delayed interview. 
          I encourage everyone to drop by OTP which is filled with three stories of merchandise and the VR area when looking for retro fashions and to visit 1920’s Berlin for a look at what a very realistic historical roleplaying sim can be in SL.  Tell ‘em web sent you!  (Just please dress appropriately and don’t ask why there aren’t any McDonalds around!) 
As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives. 
Below I’ve included a few links to pictures of Mila, OTP and the neighborhood.  Pictures are fun but, trust me on this, go visit for yourself, see the place, meet the people, and have a great time! 
I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here. 


Photo No. 1  Mila Edelman

Photo No. 3  Street Signs

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