J. Von Stratton designs for Seattle’s glitterati
In the breakfast nook of a vintage Capitol Hill apartment, clothing racks hold dozens of fringed and embellished underthings. In the living room, a white fur couch, a coffee table and armoire in shocking primary colors are surrounded by audacious stage costumes, which hang or stand like silent guests at a fabulous party. A human-sized lobster costume, like something from Radio City Music Hall, cheers up a corner.
This enchanted rabbit hole of a home workshop belongs to Jamie Stratton, a member of Atomic Bombshells burlesque and the costumer for recent local burlesque productions including Through the Looking Glass: the Burlesque Alice in Wonderland. She’s responsible for dazzling creations including Barbarella looks for the show Lost in Space to a gown made from 500 feet of tulle for Land of the Sweets: the Burlesque Nutcracker.
“If I could rhinestone everything in my life, I would,” Stratton says.
The native Washingtonian studied at Green River Community College and once took a single pattern-making class. She’s been visible in the Seattle fashion scene since the early ’00s, when she started selling plastic dresses and reconstructed separates at the monthly I Heart Rummage sale at the old Crocodile Café. Then, in 2005, before Olive Way transformed to a bustling nightlife scene, she opened a boutique called Agent X in the storefront where Tacos Gringos is now. She could be seen through the window sewing every day.
Around that time, New Orleans transplant Kitten La Rue recruited Stratton for the Bombshells after seeing her perform wearing a Viking helmet and dancing to Björk at a small variety show.
“I had a musical theater background, I knew I liked jazz hands,” says Stratton. “I’ve always been inclined to be on the stage, but [at that point] I didn’t think of burlesque as a career choice.”
Now it’s an integral part of her life. After burning out on Agent X in a year, Stratton closed the shop to focus on burlesque and costuming. One by one, colleagues in Seattle’s performance scenes came to her for custom designs for their acts. Now, she says, the majority of her business comes from the burlesque community.
“Jamie has made several custom outfits for me, including free-form gowns and robes,” says fellow Bombshell Miss Indigo Blue. “But my favorite has been the series of Carmen Miranda costumes she created for me.”
Each one is comprised of a bustier that ends just under the chest and a long, flared skirt that’s tight around the derriere and closes in front. For Indigo’s piece “Carmen’s Crush” in J’Adore, the outfit is vibrantly blue, red and orange, the skirt an avalanche of ruffles. The accompanying flowered and fruited hat does the original Brazilian Bombshell’s legacy proud.
The next iteration, for Indigo’s solo act “Bésame Mucho,” is a romantic pink and blue-green affair with roses covering the rump. Last, for her turn as Tiger Lily in Through the Looking Glass, Indigo dons Stratton’s most structured version in peach and cobalt. With sequins in a pinstripe pattern and bold shoulders, it’s intensely glamorous.
Indigo cites Stratton’s skill at embellishment and layering as what makes each ensemble, crafted from the same base pattern, so unique.
Together, the Bombshells’ high profile and Stratton’s formidable sewing skills have led to interesting one-off gigs for the designer. She received calls from the producers of So You Think You Can Dance as well as a request for a wardrobe assistant for a then-little-known Lady Gaga in 2009.
Stratton’s dream is to be lead designer for a big-budget pop music tour.
“I love cheesy pop stars,” she says. “Their music appeals to my type of crowd, which are teen girls and gays. That would just be like heaven to me.” If that ambition doesn’t work out, Stratton would also like to work on the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
“Seriously, those are just crazy ass drag queen costumes,” Stratton says.
Speaking of…let’s talk about that 500 feet of tulle. As “Madame Ginger” in Land of the Sweets, Paula the Swedish Housewife would don—or climb into?—a wiggle dress perched atop ethereal layers of fuchsia, blue, green, purple and orange. “Confection” is the word for it—if cupcakes were 6-ft. by 6-ft.
“[Paula] had to call her friend who used to work for the circus, who made tutus for elephants, to ask what the best way to gather tulle was,” says Stratton.
During construction it took up her entire living room. To get it to the theatre, it had to be folded into a parachute.
Recently, Stratton costumed the former Miss Gay Seattle, Seattle Musical Theater’s production of A Chorus Line, and produced custom wedding couture and ComicCon looks. She also sells one-of-a-kind frocks on her Etsy shop. (A hot pink Houndstooth–print minidress with a yellow latex belt and a Gothic Lolita-esque frock with structured shoulders are both pop princess-approved.) The few retail items Stratton makes are largely one-offs, found at Capitol Hill’s Pretty Parlor.
The newest arm of Stratton’s empire is a line of earth-friendly, stage-ready cosmetics. You should never fall asleep in your makeup, she says, but her high-pigment eye shadow or glitter dust won’t harm you if you do.
But does she sleep? Not lately. Updates to her costume for February’s J’adore show, the Bombshell’s annual Valentine offering, are in full effect.
“It’s a big, crazy, pink fiasco,” she says. “It’s really outrageous. I’m excited to make it even bigger this year.”
Above, Jamie Von Stratton models her own far-out outfit.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story inaccurately implied that the Atomic Bombshells produce the shows Through the Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice in Wonderland and Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker. While they both feature members of the Atomic Bombshells, they're produced by Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann. We regret the error.