Housewives on Fire: Let There Be Light, 2015

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4

I remember being handed a small plastic bag which, I was told, contained a costume. Upon opening it, I discovered a jock strap, harness, head-piece, gauntlets and greaves.

The wings were to be attached just before the march. I looked at the jock strap and understood immediately that my bare-naked ass would be presented to Oxford Street in all its glory.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to the man next to me.

“Really, it’s a bit much,” he said.

Olie helped me to put on the jock strap and the rest of the contents and I looked around the Oxford Art Factory. By late afternoon, most people were in costume and both the parade concept, along with the costumes themselves, began to take shape.

The minimal nature of the costumes belied the remarkable synergy of costume and body. Indeed, the naked body beneath seemed to inflate them, giving shape to designs that were bought to life with light and colour.

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The float was an enormous success with both the crowd and the organizers; Housewives on Fire and Hot Kandi won the award for ‘Best Float Design’. Based on that, HOF were invited by the Mardi Gras organizers to participate in the finale of Mardi Gras 2015.

The success of 2014 sprang from the conceptual level, and they came up with another idea for the following year to provide similar scope and impact.

“Light was the theme for 2015, and our chosen charity, Twenty 10, is a support network for young people coming to grips with being gay,” said Olie.

“We decided to trace the phases of a young gay person coming out, from starting off feeling like an alien, before going through the stages of development before emerging at the end as a beautiful butterfly, or firefly.”

The materials resulted from another discovery Max and Olie made while investigating a different project.

“We had been approached by a dating agency, Red Hot Pie, to make three or four outfits for their girls. They wanted their logos laser-cut into the leather.

We went to visit a trophy store or something about doing it, and we saw the cutting on these Perspex trophies with lighting that shone through it. The concept of Perspex and light came from that.”

The effect was striking, but Perspex, because it is both rigid and fragile, promised to be a far more difficult material to work with. Initially, the most difficult part was the cost.

“Before you can work with it, you have to mould the Perspex,” said Max. “To get a company to do it would have cost one hundred and twenty dollars per outfit, at least. The other solution was to buy a machine. That was too expensive, so I built one. It took me a day.”

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The Perspex required immensely detailed, painstaking work with the more complex outfits molded by hand with a heat gun. The detailed shaping and cutting of designs was done by the people wearing the costumes over a number of working bees at the house in Burwood.

“Most of the labour was done by the people involved. We’d get people to do the stuff they could do. If I was charging to make these things myself, I’d be looking to charge about two thousand dollars per outfit.”

In addition to the difficulties presented by Perspex, Max was also confronted with a host of other issues relating to the lights.

“These are LED lights; there’s a lot more wiring. Last year, we used Christmas lights that came pre-packaged. These have to be soldered, wired and cut, and then hooked up with connectors. There’s a hell of a lot more work involved.”

I fell asleep on the couch somewhere during the early morning hours and when I awoke, the house had emptied out, except for Max and Olie, who were seated at the table in the grey morning light. Max was still working on the lights, while Olie glued together some pieces of Perspex for nipple tassels.

Max wanted a cup of tea, so I went to the sink to wash out a few mugs. Glitter powdered the surface of everything; kitchen counter, window-sills, the floor, even the knobs on the cupboard doors.

It looked like Tinkerbell had crash-landed somewhere in the back of the house and exploded on impact. I remarked on it and Olie said,

“I went to the park the other day to walk the dogs and some old guy came up to me and said, “Oi! Your dog just did a turd over there and it’s covered in glitter!’ I said to him, ‘What can I say? I am French and I am gay.”

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Everyone’s favourite Frenchman.

***

The rest of the morning was spent carefully packing the costumes into boxes, which were then transferred to Max’s four-wheel drive. The three of us piled in and drove to a nightclub, Club Elleven, situated at the top of Oxford Street.

“What’s it like, having all those people in your house for months on end?” I asked.

“To be honest,” said Max, “When it’s over, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. We miss the hustle and bustle of all the people.”

“We clean up!” says Olie from the back seat. Both of them laughed ruefully.

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