Saturday, August 4, 2007

Establishments: La Bicyclette



La Bicyclette branch in Antiquity Township

I was enjoying a stroll in Antiquity Township, when I walked past Antiquity's branch of La Bicyclette. I decided to locate the busy proprietress of La Bicyclette, Miss Virriginia Tombola, prior to the Antiquity opening, and she graciously agreed to a brief interview about her business establishment.



The Flagship store of La Bicyclette, in Port Caledon

1) What led you to start making products?

Oh, good question, which I don't really know the answer to. When I first came to Second Life, it was more as a casual tourist, fair much like anyone else. I certainly had no intent of making things, as I was (and to a certain extent am) a bit of a computer phobic. The notion of "content creation" seemed to smell of things fellows in mustard stained shirts did in basements of technical facilities. Certainly, it didn't seem akin to anything I fancied I might be able to do.

When I discovered the Victorian sims, I began to think of this virtual world as a place for immersive reenactment, and was immediately "hooked". Again, though, I really didn't think I could make anything: all the dresses, to say nothing of the airships, were so far beyond anything I thought I could ever do that, for a while (say, 24 hours), I thought I would be a pure consumer. But I remember you (note to anyone else: Dr Fabre met me about on my third day in SL, and was as helpful and encouraging as he always is) (Ha! Edit that out, sir, I dare you!) speaking about how PSP was neither a hard nor expensive program to use, and that simple clothes were readily made by even the brainless (you might have been politer, but such was the gist). Since I've made historical clothing in Real Life, it seemed a natural enough progression.

The vehicle business is a bit more perplexing. I hadn't ridden a cycle regularly in a couple of years (since then, I've retaken up the sport :)). But pennyfarthings look so clever, so I thought, "Well, if one is to have project, it might as well be useful". Thus, the first cycle, quickly followed by the first outfit, a cycling dress. As absurdly clunky as those items seem to me now, I nonetheless found everyone amazingly helpful and encouraging as I tottered along in my first poor scripting steps. It was this spirit of community and mutual creativity that kept drawing me back, each time with a new, perhaps sillier, project.

Finally, it is easy to grow addicted to creation in our world. In SL, wave a hand, and you can move a wall. You can use all the silk and such that you wish to in a dress. You can even make things that simply wouldn't work in RL, but very much ought to (my flying Steam Powered Pig comes to mind). Such powers are heady indeed, and once tasted, it is hard NOT to create :)



Miss Tombola posing in her lady's nautical garb

2) What intrigues you about Victoriana?

Well, again a hard question, as I've been obsessed with history since I was little. Would it surprise you to know that when I was about eight I made myself a hoop stick to push my older sister's hula hoop with? Or that I've always preferred long skirts to blue jeans? It's hard to explain such a matter that seems so fundamental to one's nature.

But if I might add a veneer of analysis, I would say that the Victorian period represents both the beginning of the modern era and the end of history up until that point. In many ways, the lives of country people in 1800 were not radically different from people of the high middle ages. The world was agrarian, focused on small towns and people did not travel awfully much. Yes, the world was being explored by ships and political systems had begun to shift, but at its heart, the world was still a small place.

Then came the industrial revolution, the migrations to the cities, and fast travel for everyone. I often speak of the bicycle, but it is important to understand in the day, it was as important as the train. Working men no longer had to live next to where they worked. Women could travel about town, no longer confined to a small grouping of houses. It, and so many other things, had profound impact in daily life and perceptions.

Yet, the people themselves still were of an older time. For all the technological marvels, culture was still small community based. Things were intimate and personable. One did not get one's goods from a "big box" retailer, but from the local merchant, who you no doubt knew socially. Trains may have moved at 60 mph, but society still ambled. It is that handmade personal touch to things that is so sadly lacking in much of our modern world.

I do not mean to gloss over the defects of the time. I've read my Dickens, and the industrial age was full of growing pains. Pollution was rampant and working conditions in the factories were awful: the deliberate destruction of the livelihoods of cottagers in the early days of the century through enclosure and unfair legislation was completely unconscionable. The lot of servants was poor as well, with the upper classes reacting to the revolutions of 1848 in often heavy handed ways. Marxist ideas did not spring out of thin air, and at times one is obliged to think that the aristocracy reaped what it sowed. Put simply, if I mourn the loss of gentility and community, I do not cry at the introduction of modern medicine and egalitarianism.

And yet, the question remains, can we in our Neo-Victorian worlds take the good of those times and apply them to ourselves and our creations? I think so, I really do. I do not have to have my property rights restricted in order to love a good ball, or appreciate the courtesy of the time. Modern tools can be made beautiful, much as hand made machinery was in the time, without belching untreated coal dust into the air. I think we can attain the Victorian Aesthetic (as Sir Edward Pearse terms it), without the unpleasantness associated with the past.




Miss Tombola posing with her Maltese, Nellie

3) What has been your biggest challenge for La Bicyclette?

Well, once I learnt how to make things, I think my greatest obstacle was and is getting notice outside of the Victorian sims. I like to write Victorian style adverts, but I admit that I am not really good at actually "pushing the product". My horses and vehicles seem to be well known enough in Caledon, Antiquity, and Steelhead, but outside of that I fear I am very much "Brand X". If I am to be honest, it might be because I am happy to spend time in the places I love, but find the outside world of SL a bit of a brash marketplace.



One of Miss Tombola's steeds, English Saddle Version

4) What has been your most successful product / best seller (or favorite item?)

Without question, the "breakthrough" item for me has been the horses and carriages. I loved my AKK horse, but I wanted more realistic looking beast, with an English Saddle for riding astride. I went to stop motion photographs from the late 19th century of horses in motion, use textures created from photographs of horses, and based tack and proportions on riding horses of the time. The horses were actually easier to script than a previous centaur I had made, though it was a couple of months before they had all the features I wanted them to. I truly enjoy my horses; as with all my main products, if they are popular, it is a bit incidental to the fact that *I* wanted the toy first :)




The Stanhope Carriage, a recent release

5) What can you mention about your plans for the future (for your store & products)?


Oh, right now, I would say that the primary goal is to focus on what I have. I am excited about my carriages being used by the new Versailles sim, but really, I have enough on my plate--I don't see myself as expanding there, for example. Now, the focus will be less on new places, and more on event hosting (such as the Antiquity Steeplechase we've spoken of). To wit, I would be sorely disappointed if my carriage house were only a shop front: the other night I was delighted to come across it filled with people loitering and not buying a thing! Instead, they were chatting, helping themselves to the bar goodies and one had broken out a cello and had started playing. I could have burst with happiness. To me, SL is about community, and *using* the places that we have spent so much time on. If my silly toys can help that sort of thing, just as party games break the ice at RL fetes, then, I have perhaps done something useful.

*6) Anything else you wish to add ...

Oh, I've probably blathered enough, don't you think?



Caledon Eyre's shoppe, including a stable, store, & the Salty Mermaid (beverages)

[ Thank you again, Miss Tombola, for your time and I'll be looking forward to seeing your stallions at the horse races in Antiquity on the 11th of August!]

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