In review: Samantha Rei's “Black Pearl Lounge”

Until recently, fashion designer Samantha Rei was best known for her designs under Blasphemina’s Closet, one of the first online, gothic-Lolita shops in the U.S. when it launched in 2000. In 2014, she rebranded under her own name to mark a shift away from those subcultures. Last Friday night at the Gale Mansion in Minneapolis, she debuted her third collection, for fall/winter 2015, under her new label in “Black Pearl Lounge,” her first solo fashion show since the rebrand.

For the show, she opted for an old-school, presentation-style salon, with with two sets of models descending the Victorian mansion’s staircase before dispersing into the intimate, well-heeled crowd. The presentation allowed guests to get an up-close-and-personal look at the detailed garments, which incorporated hand-beading and delicate fabrics such as lace and silk, and were topped by custom hats by Seattle-based milliner Apatico. The dozen looks on display seemed to take inspiration from the current season of Downton Abbey, which is set in the midst of the Roaring ‘20s. Drop-waist silhouettes, fringe, and beading weren’t in short supply throughout the spirited collection.

She says on her inspiration behind the line, “I met this really great photographer from Germany and he had done this gorgeous photo shoot inspired by old Chinese cinema. I remembered reading Shanghai Girls a couple of years ago and how much that inspired me. I started researching—I’m a huge research nerd—and [1930s Chinese-American movie star] Anna May Wong came to be a part of it.”

While Rei says her ultra-feminine designs are still inspired by literature and historical fashion, they’re more wearable than her creations under the Blasphemina’s Closet label, which typically included corsets, bustiers, and full, ruffled skirts. Although her models—topped with period-specific coifs, charcoal-rimmed eyes, and deep red lips by Haus Salon, and sparkling jewelry from local line Realia by Jen—looked like they could be extras who had wandered off the Downton Abbey set, one could still imagine the dresses worn today at a black-tie affair or fancy cocktail party with more modern styling. One slight critique I had is that a couple of the looks faltered due to flimsy-looking fabrics and odd fabric pairings, such as a gold velvet and green silk look. But on the whole, the collection looked impressively polished, well-made, and expensive—and definitely more unique and conversation-starting than something you would find off the rack.

Rei’s collection is available for special order at

Hat designer Megan Bishop of Apatico with a model wearing Samantha Rei and Apatico designs

[All photos by A.J. Olmscheid, special to Minnesota Monthly]