Look. Now look hard. This is Banneret, the latest release from artist hyasynth Tiramisu of Silent Sparrow. There are more clothes for women than for men at the shop, but the outfits for men, like Banneret, are exceptional. There are four versions (400L$ each, fat pack 1200L$). Each is the same shape, each has prim cuffs and the innovative straight prim collar with buttons. And each comes with gloves, trousers and a jacket that can be worn on its own or with a flexi-prim tunic extension. This version is called Twilight. Think it’s just black? Look again. Look at that purple piping trim. Each has different coloured details. Now look harder. Each has a different intricate brocade pattern, soft black on hard black. There are secrets about black. But the real story of Silent Sparrow is the story of colours you cannot see.
Not that hyasynth doesn’t provide you with colours you can see. The next outfit, Nymphaea, comes in either Ash black/grey or this intense red called Carmine. A quick glance at the poster and you might dismiss it as a goth genre cliche piece, the obligatory black and blood tunic. Look harder. Sometimes this kind of complex pattern of lines and colour are just spray painted onto an existing garment shape and there you go. Not this one. This pattern isn’t arbitrarily slapped on, it’s painstakingly mapped on. And a closer inspection reveals exquisite detail: lace trim, a large flower, ruby red semi-precious stones as buttons and tie-pin on the cravat. And the subtle variations of the red draw you in, like you’re staring at an open fire. Nymphaea in Carmine comes with trousers and socks, a shirt-level and a jacket-level jacket with waistcoat and cravat attached, jacket tails as either skirt-level garmet or flex prim and gloves. It costs 400L$ and, as you can see from the photo, it’s unisex, a feature not unusual at Silent Sparrow.
Sometimes there are not just unisex garments but completely complementary outfits. I asked one strikingly matched couple in the shop about their look. Kthonios happily told me he was wearing the Mille-Feuille suit and Julienne piped up that she was wearing the matching gown. Both are masterpieces of black to white gradients and textures with plenty of detail. I asked the duo whether they bought a lot of goth clothes. “No,” said Julienne, “we just buy things we like, whatever they may be, actually.” They tried to articulate what it was about these clothes that made them different, but no one could quite put their finger on it. There’s a secret there, in this black. One thing they did mention was the cross-over. Kthonios had actually been hunting not for goth but for quality steampunk. And this works beautifully.
It was Julienne’s first visit. But he had been once before. He bought Mille-Feuille for men and wore it for her. I guessed that she’d approved and her flowing red hair shook as she laughed at the understatement.
“I said ‘Wow!’” she told me, “and then he brought me here and I kept saying Wow.” Granted, I haven’t been in this business a long time. But never before have I heard of a man choosing an outfit that makes a beautiful woman say wow. Much less, that she’s so impressed as to go back the shop with him. And continue to be impressed. And buy the matching outfit! Wow, indeed.
There are five pieces to the Mille-Feuille for men. The main piece is a shirt-layer that is shirt plus waistcoat plus cravat plus what looks like a satin cumberbund with a magnificent brocade jacket over it all. That’s all on one layer. The trouser-level continues the satin cumberbund under the lower part of a hemmed jacket as well as giving you the trousers themselves with the same astonishing brocade pattern and surprising soft cuffs the same grey as the waistcoat. Shirt and trouser layers can be worn on their own, or you can add in the matching gloves (complete with a clasp on the back of the hand which matches the jacket’s clasps), a skirt layer tails to extend the jacket down to your shoes, and the flexi-prim suit tails to make the whole thing flow when you walk or turn. It costs 450L$. Nothing but black and white and grey, yet, like myriad facets of some secret dark diamond, the details sparkle with light and life and rumours of colours unseen.
Another formal victorian treasure for either gender is the Serendipity suit, available in Ash or, as I’m wearing here, Sepia (500L$). Is it goth? Is it steampunk? With the right hat and gunbelt it could even be wild west. Again, the top is treated as a single canvas for shirt, jacket and wonderfully drawn jabot-tie/scarf. But there are three different colours of tie included and there are also skirt-layer tails, prim tails and prim cuff. Plus trousers that complete the pattern highlighted on the jacket’s chest, leaves that swirl and dip, shoots that seem to time-lapse-video grow before your eyes.
Not all the suits are drawn on a single layer. The clear clean lines of the Morgan suit feature fine victorian trousers and an open jacket under which you could wear virtually any shirt you own. But since you’ll get a shirt-tie-waistcoat with colours that are watercolour in texture and jewel in intensity. I’m wearing a blue called “Cloud.” The shirt exudes a soft puffy quality. This is partially due to it being on the shirt layer where the sleeves can be looser, but partially by hyasynth’s extreme cleverness. Every other part of the suit has a grain to it: blurred vertical lines that suggest how they feel. The shirt looks extra soft precisely because it lacks those lines you see everywhere else. Genius! But it leaves you with a dilemma. You’ll never want to wear the jacket, so as to show off the shirt. But you won’t be able to leave the beautiful jacket off. And then, which of the four included morning-coat style lengths!!?
Morgan also includes socks and gloves and comes with twelve different waistcoat, shirt & tie colours (400L$ each). You can also pick up a rainbow pack of 10 shirt, tie and waistcoats (leaving out the grey and black, for only 750L$). Hyasynth confided that selling it in so many different colours had disadvantages that most of us don’t think of: for instance, she needs to use up 14 prims to display and sell it properly. But she loves the fact that it has enough colours to make her customers happy. And it’s worth saying that making customers happy is something hyasynth Tiramisu does very well. I’ve belonged to the Silent Sparrow group for a few weeks now, and I’ve never belonged to any group with a better signal-to-noise ratio. Virtually the only things you hear on it are praise for her creations by satisfied purchasers and announcements of limited editions, freebies and contests . In one recent prize hunt (finished now — sorry), five limited editions including a pumpkin-coloured version of Banneret were tucked into hallowe’en pumpkins and hidden throughout the delightful grounds on which Silent Sparrow is located. In the sewers, out in the stables back by the ducks and heron. A delightful time was had by all.
“Group freebies are a regular thing. I release them about once a month,” said hyasynth. Then, after a pause, amended, “Or more often depending if I get bored. I am happiest when working on something so these are for when I’m taking a break.”
I’ll close this review with two long coats and a secret. The first strikes me as another obvious steampunk cross-over, a unisex piece called Dirigible. It comes with options for 4 lengths of “skirt” and with prim tails. It’s available in 5 colours and although the obvious ones might be the latex black of Kohl or the beautiful brown of Leather, I’ve decided to show you Violet (there’s also a Crimson). Each cost 300L$. There’s still brocade, though it’s a larger pattern, less pronounced. Here the overall mood is the important thing. You feel part bell-hop and part engineer. You feel special. A coat, not a suit, it comes without trousers and you’ll want good ones as the skirt/tails of the coat are open in front of one leg. The thing you’ve come to expect with Silent Sparrow pieces is the restraint of palette — so many pieces are black with one or two colours at the most. Or are they? Look harder. Is it really just one colour when she’s made such masterful use of the whole range of the gradient between the colour and shadow? You’ll love the buttons and the brace of narrow straps, but what are those lighter pieces at the neck, elbow and sleeve? Are they identifying labels? Stronger material to reinforce portions of the garment that would wear and tear in real life? Hyasynth confessed, “It’s more visual than function.”
There’s also some of that in the unisex “Dreary.” You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out exactly what is strapped to what, so just enjoy it. Here I couldn’t resist the black — Ash — though there are four other choices as well including a rare rainbow-hued model that looks like the rainbow you find in an oil-slick rather than a stereotyped arc-in-the-sky shape. It too comes with tails both as skirt and prim and, as Dirigible, each colour is 300L$.
There’s something superhero-ish about this piece, brooding, yes, but from a position of power and strength. And again, dark but with the hint of something under the surface you can’t put your finger on easily. I suppose anyone who works with colour knows a secret about black. Pure black looks black. Obviously. But here’s the odd thing. If you take just a bit of blue, less than would be visible as blue, and add it, the blue-black will always look blacker than pure black.
That’s visually true for anyone. It’s also spiritually true for hyasynth. Out in back of the shop, across the wooden bridge, she was enthusing about colour. Typically, I was empathetic but clueless. Then it happened. She smiled at me, stood up and said simply, “I’m going to show you a suit. That only exists as a Limited Edition.”
What she rezzed in front of me was nothing short of a revelation. It wasn’t black. It was red on white. No, red is too short and insignificant a word. It was crimson. No, too dark. It was vermillion. It was ripest pomegranate. And the detail and design and brocade and colour: glorious!
“Are you shocked?” she said. I was breathless. “You shouldn’t be. Though being a goth girl, I love black, but my artist side loves colour.”
I thought I understood at last. “Red and white,” I muttered, “It’s beautiful.” But I have peasants’ eyes, writers’ eyes, not her artists’ eyes. “Red and blue!” she said. Was that the note of disappointment? Was she reproving? Or pleading?
I looked harder. Then I could see it. At the edges of the blouse. It was the palest of blue tints. But then again, no it wasn’t. It was the deepest of blues, it was an ocean, but it was set to nearly transparent so mortal eyes could easily miss it. Yet it was unmistakely seeping into the edges and folds like a blue flame eagerly licking the edges of white birch, a hot blue, as close as your lover’s breath licking your ear and whispering “Later.”
Now at last I really understood. This is what sets Silent Sparrow apart. This is what drove Kthonios and Julienne to say Wow. Not the black. Not the details. The details are occasions for contrast, the black a container for something wilder, harnassed. Inside is nothing less than a tornado of hot, smouldering jazz, instruments and solos that could explode any moment but are held swirling in place by the bass’s driving tempo.
The outfit you buy may look black. Those things may look like latex restraining straps. But look harder. Inside these things, under and behind them, is a wild joy tamed: a bouquet of brilliant blue kingfishers, a flitting fluttering riotous cloud of co-ordinated colour, intense and subtle all at once, sharp sweet taste of pomegranate dribbling down your chin. That’s the secret of hyasynth Tiramisu’s enriched, engorged black: your soul can taste the colours that your eye cannot see.
Go. Look hard. And feast. Silent Sparrow (58, 235, 32).
All photos taken in the Silent Sparrow shop and grounds.