"I'm doing community service tonight," says Cristina Armijo, en route to celebrate the first anniversary of her fashion line, Cristalette, and the network that supports it. Rolling up on the Deco Lounge in the Tenderloin, Armijo is greeted with unabashed glee by two of her clients — Ambreezy of the electro hip-hop outfit Hottub, and DJ Primo. Ambreezy, who is performing tonight, is already done up in Cristalette: a tight short-sleeve shirt with a neon pattern like candy-beaded curtains, and glittery hot shorts whose waist reaches nearly to her rib cage. Inside the storied gay bar, Hottub's Loli Pop wears a matching mini-dress.
Along with Hottub, Cristalette clads Von Iva, Rubies, Jenna Riot, and Gravy Train!!!! (including for the latter's 2007 SF Weekly cover). A musician herself, Armijo is particularly suited to dressing the rockin' and rollin' female form. "Traveling and wearing the same thing every night," she says, "you want to move and you want to know your shit's not going to fall out." Trained as a dancer in her youth, the Saratoga-born-and-bred Armijo has long vacillated between the stage and the sewing machine. In early-'90s San Francisco, she made tote bags and customized T-shirts; in the latter part of that decade, she sang in popular Santa Cruz ska-punk band Soda Pop Fuck You alongside AFI's founding bassist. Armijo played bass and sang in Oakland indie-rock concern Outline Kit (full disclosure: Armijo also played in the Loyd Family Players with this writer); she came back to making clothes professionally when, after selling her pieces on consignment at the San Francisco Crossroads store she managed, she noticed her high-priced designs were selling within a few days. She quit her job, and soon garnered what she calls "a really loyal clientele."
By 11 p.m., that loyal clientele is in full force at the Deco Lounge, most of them Oaklanders, and many wearing Cristalette. The cover charge is $5 ("everyone should be able to come see the freak show," says the designer) but wearing Armijo's designs will waive that fee, plus get you access to the upstairs VIP room where there's free champagne, candles, and — much to the delight of the VIPs — psychedelic blue bouquets of fiber optic strands on every table. By 12:30, the dance floor's full-to-bumping as Gravy Train!!!!'s Hunx spins what can only be termed Roller Disco Boogie Music — the Sylvers and Nu Shooz, "Burnin' Up" and "Xanadu."
And now the neon candy stretch is everywhere, not just on the three women of Hottub, but on DJs Primo and Brontez, aka Junx. This is the subgenus of Cristalette that definitely isn't everyday fashion for just anyone. "Her clothing is the kind of thing that makes men feel okay with flaunting it," says Primo, "and that's something that not many people can do. I've got this thing on right here that's like, my shirt matches my underpants. I've got my mankini on and I'm ready for action." But there's another segment of her design family that is streetwear: A man and a woman sport corresponding pairs of Cristalette's signature oversize, beaded earrings; another woman wears a pair of customized vintage jeans with a delicate, short-sleeve embroidered blouse, reflecting not just Armijo's Mexican Indian heritage but also her NorCal home turf. All of Armijo's designs are playful and unafraid of natural shapes, whatever the gender. Or, as partygoer Elka put it: "Cristalette conforms to the curves; not only of your body but of your personality."
Hottub goes on shortly after 1 a.m. and, though the sound on the mics cuts out repeatedly and some Pervy McDrunkenstein insists on rubbing his naughty bits all over the dance floor, the three women throw down like Salt-N-Pepa doused in Spanish fly. And when they're done, they pull Armijo up on stage and holler "Cristamotherfuckinlette, Cristamotherfuckinlette," over and over. When asked a few days later if that was her most cherished moment of the night, she instead cites another moment: Up in the VIP room, she says, "I really saw a roomful of people that I care about in garments that I made, and the feeling of connectedness was really overwhelming. ... That's one of those key moments that I'll be thinking about when I'm totally broke or losing my nerve."
Community service completed.
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