Local Designer Samantha Rei Pens Book on Steampunk Fashion

Designer and author Samantha Rei

Courtesy Samantha Rei

Minneapolis fashion designer Samantha Rei is known around town for her historically inspired, impeccably made clothing designs, seen on the runways of Envision or her own thematic solo shows. Though her designs have continually become more au courant, the designer got her start in Lolita, gothic, and steampunk clothing design in the year 2000 under the label Blasphemina’s Closet. In 2013, she shutted the line, rebranding as simply Samantha Rei—though maintaining her historical influences and sweetly feminine aesthetic.

This month, she penned and illustrated a book on steampunk and cosplay (“costume play”) fashion. Steampunk & Cosplay Fashion Design & Illustration covers a wide range of materials, from historical inspiration and the importance of research and forecasting to instructions on how to create mood boards, the necessary tools and materials, and drawing techniques, making the book useful to anyone interested in learning more about fashion design from a seasoned pro. Published by art-instruction book publishing house Walter Foster, the tome is available at Michaels and Barnes & Noble Booksellers across the U.S., and online at Amazon. 

A little background on the steampunk and cosplay genres from the book’s introduction: “The term “steampunk” was coined in the 1980s by author K. W. Jeter as a way to describe stories in Victorian and Edwardian times with more technological advances. In the 2000s, the style was adopted into its own genre of alternative fashion.” “Lolita fashion…had its start in Japan in the 1970s… It (is) heavily influenced by Victorian and Edwardian fashion, as well as modern gothic- and prairie-style clothing, such as Gunne Sax.” The book also delves into sub-genres of the style such as streetwear, Lolita, steamgoth, clockpunk, rococopunk, weird west, and dieselpunk.

I chatted with Rei about how the book came to be, her background in subculture fashion design, and the differences between steamgoth, clockpunk, and dieselpunk.

Q: How did the chance to write a book on steampunk and cosplay fashion come about?

A: It’s a funny story, actually. They asked me to do a book a couple years ago, but decided to go with a different artist. When this book came up, they asked me if I knew anything about steampunk, and though I don’t really design steampunk, I know a lot of about it. I asked if I could incorporate my own style into the book, and they said sure.

Q: How much research did you have to do for the book?

A: I did a little bit, but not too much, because I’ve been part of the alternative scene for so long. There’s a couple styles I was already familiar with but had to get my years correct.  Since most of them are anachronicistic styles, I still wanted to get the right eras. For example, clockpunk reflects the Galileo era, so I had to make sure I knew what years Galileo was alive.

Q: What is your training in fashion design?

A: I was self-taught for a really long time and I ended up going back to college about five years after I started my business, but growing up my mom taught me to sew, and I read a lot of books and practiced a lot before going to school.

Q: What are the differences between the subgenres you talk about in the book, such as steamgoth, clockpunk, and dieselpunk?

A: Most of these stylistically reflect particular eras throughout historical times as if they had the technology we have right now. In clockpunk, there are airships that are powered by clocks. Steampunk is inspired by Victorian and Edwardian times, but if they had the technology we have but powered by steam. Dieselpunk is more the ’20s- and ’30s-era jazz age and Art Deco, and a little bit of the ’40s. During that same era there is also decopunk, which is more pretty, while dieselpunk is the working-class part of that time. Steamgoth is just a gothier version of steampunk.

Steampunk & Cosplay Fashion Design & Illustration

Courtesy walter foster

Q: Since ending your Blasphemina’s Clothing line in 2013, you rebranded to focus less on subculture styles and more as a straightforward fashion line. What led you to make this decision?

A: I got burnt out. I still like Lolita fashion, but I just didn’t like the scene as much–there’s a lot of bullying and body shaming going on. Plus, anytime I wanted to experiment, I’d get bad reviews because Lolitas have such strict rules, and you aren’t encouraged to experiment, especially if you aren’t Japanese.

Q: What are some of your current personal fashion influences?

A: I still love Alexander McQueen, both him as a designer and the current label. He did a lot of risk taking, and I love how he merged art and fashion. I still love John Galliano, I love Anna Sui and Kate Spade and Ted Baker–they’re so fun and quirky, and their work has a sense of whimsy, which I like to incorporate into my work. People don’t see it in my designs, but I love (Greek fashion designer) Mary Katrantzou–she does some of the weirdest things with her textiles and I’m just fascinated with her.

Q: Do you think the book can appeal to someone who may be interested in fashion design, but not specifically steampunk and cosplay genres?

A: Absolutely. One of the reasons I agreed to do the book was it more about fashion design and less about drawing tutorials. It’s teaching people to think about their environment and what they’re doing and take that into account when they’re designing a look–are they hiking in the woods or playing with kids? They might just think, “I want to make a pretty dress,” but it’s important to know how to pick fabrics that will work best, how they’ll lay, how to draw ruffles and seams, what the names of sleeve silhouettes are, which necklines are best for certain things. I actually got a message from a friend today and she’d just gotten the book, and she said she liked how all that stuff is in the front of the book instead the back–it’s not just a reference.

Q: Would you ever do another book?

A: (laughs) When I handed this book in, I said I’d never do it ever again. But two weeks later, I was like, “I have another idea for a book!” I like the idea of standing out and letting people know that if it wasn’t for alternative fashion there wouldnt be much innovation in style. You need to have people who push the limits the most, and that trickles down to mainstream fashion from there.

Steampunk & Cosplay Fashion Design & Illustration is now available at booksellers including Barnes & Noble Booksellers, Michaels, and Amazon. Rei plans to celebrate the book’s launch with a public launch party on Saturday, October 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. at Jasmine 26. The designer will debut her spring/summer 2016 collection at TIM+THOM presents LARK during Fashion Week MN on September 25. Follow Rei at samantharei.com and Facebook for updates on location and details.

GIVEAWAY ALERT: To celebrate the release of her book, Rei is giving away a copy of Steampunk & Cosplay Fashion Design & Illustration as well as a Samantha Rei logo tote. Hat designer Apatico is doing another giveaway simultaneously.

1: Follow at @samanthareiofficial, @apatico and @walterfoster
2: Repost photo and tag your most fashionable friend(s)
3: tag @samanthareiofficial @apatico @walterfoster and ‪#‎SteamCosFashion‬
4: 1 entry per page

Contest ends Saturday, July 25; winners will be announced Sunday, July 26.