File Photo: Troy shows why the Collar City is Steampunk. Photo by Sarah Pezdek
TROY — Imagine a world where steam is the dominant consumable force of energy.
Next weekend, you won’t have to imagine too hard, as the third annual Enchanted City Festival hits Troy, Friday and Saturday, Aug. 26 and 27.
The festival celebrates the “steampunk” genre first introduced by novelist K. W. Jeter, author of “Morlock Night,” a 1979 spinoff to “The Time Machine,” by H.G. Wells. In “The Time Machine,” the Victorian aged author pays the late-20th century world a visit. Although definitions vary slightly, steampunk is a genre of science fiction/fantasy that takes place in an alternative 1800s setting in which modern technology like robotics and air travel are powered by Victorian style and sensibilities. It is an alternative “futuristic past.”
“It can be about the dark side of creation and contrast with that alluring elegance,” said author Chris Stocking, whose books delve into the alternative universe. “It can be something like Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, which I believe takes place post WWI, to Joss Whedon’s Firefly, which is some parts steampunk and other parts space western. Like I said, it’s about pushing boundaries with specific criteria that really can’t be defined. It’s a baffling thing at times to have something so simplistic and complicated all at once, but people have really taken hold of it and run with to create masterpieces and have exemplified true craftsmanship.”
Steampunk owes a lot of its aesthetic to “The Time Machine,” said festival organizer Sue Dunckel, noting the Victorian era scenes from the 2002 Hollywood movie were filmed in the Collar City.
“This neighborhood where The Enchanted City takes place is literally the set for ‘The Time Machine,’” Dunckel said. “It doesn’t get much more steampunk than that. Troy, New York is steampunk.”
Now in its third year, “The Enchanted City” is an urban street fair and spectacle of steampunk fashion, fantasy and fabrications that magically transforms the historic blocks of downtown Troy, N.Y. into a “cosplay” alternative reality where Victorian fancy meets modern technology. New additions this year include a “Troy Mini Maker Faire” and a $4,000 Inventors’ Challenge Prize.
“The Enchanted City is a real life fairy tale that you can experience and even become a character in if you wish,” said Dunckel of Sweet Sues sweet shop. “It’s a steampunk Brigadoon that we wait for all year.”
Attendance has grown with each year. One thousand revelers attended the first, rain-dampened festival in 2014., The following year, 4,000 people visited Troy to attend the festival. Now that word has started to get out to the steampunk community at-large, Dunckel said, she only expects that number to increase.
Fueling those aspirations is the festival’s jump from late September to coincide with new student orientations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Russell Sage College.
A runway fashion show kicks things off Friday evening. The fashion show is part of a two-day collaboration with 2440 Design Studio to put the focus on designs for all occasions.
“Steampunk is probably one of the most exciting visual aesthetics to explore, with the amazing contraptions and beautiful garments,” said Corey Aldrich, owner and creative director of 2440 Design Studio. “Many of the designs transcend defined styles, time periods and gender norms. So it really becomes a fun playground to explore, where you’re purely looking to create something of beauty rather than something that has to fit into a preconceived notion of what is acceptable.”
Aldrich is the founder of Electric City Couture, the region’s largest original juried runway fashion show. This month, during The Enchanted City, he will present “Of Then and Beyond…A Steampunk Fashion Show,” a traditional runway show held among the cast iron stacks, marble walls and Tiffany stained glass windows of the 19th century era Troy Public Library.
The show will feature designers As They Sew in France, of Atlanta, Ga., Redfield Design, of Windsor, Conn. and Revive Gifts, of Edgewater, Colo.
“As They Sew in France is a national-level premier Victorian and Edwardian costume design house that was supplying opera houses and has now started to move more toward Victorian and steampunk festivals because the clothing is in demand,” Aldrich said. “These garments are outrageous. You take the Victorian look, with a beautiful long gown, and you throw on a pair of welder’s goggles from the 1920s, mix in a little Lolita, some cosplay and gear parts, and you crossover from Victorian to steampunk.”
About a third of the designs for the runway show are men’s clothing, but Aldrich notes steampunk is a fluid aesthetic that plays with traditional notions of gender styles.
“Women wear ‘manly’ vests and can look very feminine. Men wear ruffled blouses but they still look masculine,” Aldrich said. “It’s the perfect style for the now, because we are living in a society where gender fluidity is more in the forefront.”
Tickets for “Of Then and Beyond…A Steampunk Fashion Show” on Friday, Aug. 26 are $25 for general admission and $75 for VIP. Purchase online at steampunkfashion.bpt.me. The Guest DJ is regional house phenomenon DJ Jen Haley. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m.
This year, The Enchanted City has partnered with the Tech Valley Center of Gravity to include a Troy “Mini Maker Faire” on Saturday.
Part science fair, part county fair, “Maker Faire” is a gathering of tech enthusiasts — intellectuals and crafters, alike. All of these “makers” come to Maker Faire to show what they have made and to share what they have learned.
Becky Stern, currently a designer/maker at Instructables.com, presents “Tech Wearable Designs and Designers,” on Saturday, Aug. 27, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Stern’s work has been featured by VICE, the BBC, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Engadget, CNN, Business Insider, Forbes, and Science Friday.
Fabric designers will also offer a “Buy It Off the Runway, Retail POP UP! Boutique,” from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., at the Tech Valley Center of Gravity, located on the corner of Third Street and Broadway.
Dunckel said the popularity of the festival’s costume contest in previous years prompted her to reach out to Aldrich to place a greater emphasis on high quality fashion.
“So many people come to The Enchanted City wearing incredible outfits that cost thousands of dollars. These are not just costumes meant to be worn once a year,” Dunckel said. “There’s a real desire for high quality steampunk styles that can be integrated into the everyday wardrobe.”
While Aldrich does not expect most people would sport the full steampunk look everyday, he said there are plenty of ways to work pieces of the style into one’s wardrobe.
“You might not go to work decked out like our models, but you can take any one of the components — the finger cuffs, the vest on the man, the corset on the woman — and all the sudden you will have this elevated sense of style that is reminiscent of the steampunk aesthetic that can be worn in everyday life,” Aldrich said. “It’s all about accessorizing to create a nod toward the look and lifestyle while still being able to function normally in everyday society.”
The festival is free, and offers a family-friendly inspired day of music, games, performance, food and fantasy. Special events include a fashion show, historic tours, street performers and peddlers, storytelling, dancing, puppet shows, magic acts and more. For information and a schedule of events, visit theenchantedcitytroy.com.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.