"Is this really my life?" LuLu Locks asks. "I'm waking up this morning to go play Barbie dress-up with grown women?"
She is standing in the foyer of a Victorian house on Providence's West Side — headquarters for her photography studio, Providence Pin-Up. Her collection of vintage clothing and costumes sits in a room upstairs: racks of boas, tutus, and dresses; bags overflowing with pumps and patent leather boots.
In another room, a team of makeup artists are prepping the day's models with a spritz from an airbrush or a final dash of lip pencil. It is a typical pre-Valentine's Day afternoon at an operation where customers walk in as their everyday selves and walk out with photos of them transformed into flirty vixens from another era.
The studio's motto is "Be a Bombshell" and, in the three-and-a-half years since it opened, Pin-Up has photographed women propped on motorcycles, rolling around lasciviously in homage to Marilyn Monroe's last photo shoot and, in one case, posing with a live chicken.
Marilyn and Betty Page may have passed on, but they left behind a realistic aesthetic that women can aspire to, Locks says. Her studio is here to help turn those aspirations into 8x10 glossy snapshots of reality. Locks herself is a prime example. At five-foot-eight, with shoulders strengthened growing up on a farm near Coventry, she is never going to be the delicate-boned, supermodel type, she says. But a pin-up? "I know I look good in a shirtwaist dress and a great pair of pumps."The idea for Pin-Up came from years of working behind the chair as a hair stylist, when she would peer over shoulders at women's magazines and hear murmurs of "I'm not thin enough" or "I'm not pretty enough." This was a problem. But with her growing collection of vintage clothing and a group of talented friends who were makeup artists, photographers, and burlesque coaches, Locks had a solution. She and her friends got together, dressed up, took a few test pictures, and a business was born.
Of course, it didn't hurt that today's Providence is primed for industries with an eye on yesterday. Pin-Up gained momentum from teaming up with other nostalgia-tinged ventures like the Rhode Island Burlesque Academy, Providence Roller Derby, and Narragansett Beer.
On this Sunday, the business is in full swing. Downstairs, a dreadlocked derby girl named Mary Slayne is posing in a corset, black skirt, and roller skates. In the next room, an array of playing cards, jewelry boxes, and money clips — all accessories that Pin-Up customers can have printed with their photo — are displayed on a coffee table. The bright tones of ABBA's "Dancing Queen" waft through the house from a radio in another room.
As Locks tip-toes around wires that snake to spotlights and hair-irons throughout the house, she says her business isn't purely about titillation. It's about offering an alternative to the standards of beauty passed down by Hollywood execs and fashion magazine editors. "We encourage a cookie," she says. "We encourage wearing your freckles and not making yourself look so different with lots and lots of silicon."