April 8, 2009


agent Matt’s incredible talent for spaces, furniture, and style is celebrated in his two books PAD and PAD PARTIES, and in his home and vintage clothing shop in Vermont. Matt is also the co-author of L.A. BIZARRO!. Matt and I struck up a friendship over Italian film soundtracks and Japanese bands. In the first weeks of creating Spy Vibe, I had a brief chat with Matt about some aspects of Spy Vibe culture:

SV: When I think of the Spy Vibe, and most of my images come from films, it is a kind of Lounge culture for the Space Age. When did the Lounge aesthetic first emerge?

MM: Well I'd guess we'd first have to establish a definition of "Lounge Culture," because that term is pretty vague. If we’re talking about sipping alcoholic drinks and listening to music while sitting around on stylish furniture in some kind of sophisticated setting, it seems to me that there has been some form or another of that for hundreds if not thousands of years. I'm sure plenty of pharaohs did that. Every decade of the twentieth century had its version.

SV: How did this style evolve or change in the Space Age culture of the 60s?

MM: I can only make some semi-informed guesses, but I'd say it had less to do with the influence of the space age and more to do with the influence of the birth control pill. Playboy magazine was probably an important factor too. The lounge became a tool for seduction, which went a long way in shaping that scene; there was sex to be had without the risk of pregnancy. Cocktails were a way to impair a woman's judgment, and an environment that engages the senses—seductive lighting, sensuous furniture, a good sound system, and whatever—helped create the mood. And mood has power, it's the same reason why churches burn incense and light candles; it's a different kind of seduction, but seduction nonetheless. So with regard to all the elements that compose what we're calling lounge culture—music, design, fashion, and the rest—it was basically all about sex.

SV: What did the James Bond films bring to the table that was different?

MM: In my estimation, what James Bond did was put a face on an ambiguous concept. Like Playboy magazine, there was now a directive. It got very specific. It became a fantasy.

SV: Story-wise, I wonder if it’s a shift from Private Detective heroes to Spy heroes? Cramped offices to ultra-modern pads?

MM: That's a great distinction, and again, it's the advent of the birth control pill at work here. Where are you going to most effectively seduce a woman, in a cramped office, or an ultra-modern pad?

SV: We’re both fans of Our Man Flint (1966), In Like Flint (1967), and Barbarella (1968). Why do you think they stand out from other films of that time?

MM: Because they were tongue-in-cheek and probably had the more to do with sex and half-naked women than the other movies of that ilk; Jane Fonda gets naked in the first five minutes of Barbarella!

SV: When movies like Austin Powers try to recreate that period, they seem to miss the boat slightly. What are the missing ingredients?

MM: Earnestness. Austin Powers is satire, and was designed exclusively for laughs.

SV: The styles of Kubrick’s 2001 (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971) seems so integral to one’s experience. Do you see changes in design between those years?

MM: The vision of the future got more ambitious. And the promise of a new decade always has an impact on design.

SV: The early 90s saw a rebirth of 50s and 60s style. It has continued as graphic design, animation, illustration, and pop-surrealist painting embrace the retro modern/futuristic look of the period. What was it like for you writing PAD (Chronicle Books, 2000) amidst that wave? Did you have a sense that you were part of a larger tribe?

MM: I never considered PAD to be an accessory to that scene. More or less, PAD spoke to a reinvention and repurposing of the past, and not so much a recreation or celebration of it. PAD was more about digging through dumpsters than mixing martinis. I never really identified with that whole lounge thing; I went to one of those exotica events in Los Angeles once and felt like a fish out of water. Everyone looked adorable, but I couldn't get out of there fast enough. So writing PAD never had me feeling like I was part of the lounge tribe, for sure, in fact a lot of those lounge people hated PAD because they assumed the book had something to do exclusively with the clichés of bachelor pad style, which it really didn't much at all, and they just couldn't see beyond that. So to a lot of them, PAD was a tacky disaster. Some people are extremely myopic, what can you do?

SV: What is your list of Essentials for those wanting to explore the 1960s Spy Vibe?

MM: All the movies you've mentioned for sure. And the music collections of that era released by the German label Crippled Dick Hot Wax, as well as Scamp Records and Rhino Records. They all do a great job capturing the period and that sensibility in music. The French and Italian films especially; spy is best when it's European, spy has to be a little exotic. An all-American spy is not that romantic.

SV: Your ultimate Evil Lair- what would it be and why?

MM: I think it would have to be vehicular, so I could get around; an amphibious vehicle that flies too—and with lots of bells and whistles. And it would have to have white auto upholstery, because I have a thing about white auto upholstery.

Thanks to Matt for taking some time during the pre-launch of the new edition of his book, L.A. Bizarro! (due July 2009!). You can learn more about Matt and his projects on his website.

new cover design for the july '09 release

From Amazon:

(Chronicle Books/2000)
You have a futon left over from college, some dingy end tables that Aunt Miller left you, and an apartment whose carpeting dates back to the Me Decade. The decorating magazines and TV shows never seem to talk to you. So what? With some attitude, know-how, and a lot of your own style, your place can be transformed into a fabulous Shangri-La, a swanky venue fit for living and entertaining well. Pad: The Guide to Ultra-Living is filled to bursting with hip, affordable projects for every room in the house and shows how to use basics like lighting, plants, mirrors, and paint to enhance even problem areas. Numerous testimonials from real people with real living spaces demonstrate how a little spunk and individuality can overcome the limitations of the average urban dwelling. Offering a complete lifestyle package, Pad has instructions for building your own home bar, ideas for party themes and recipes--and even collateral hangover cures! This total living guide will have your place all spruced up--and the envy of guests--in no time.

PAD PARTIES (Chronicle Books/2003) The highly anticipated follow-up to Pad, the definitive guide to extreme domestic décor, Pad Parties is the irreverent manual that will make any party an over-the-top entertainment sensation. Filled with deceptively simple and funky recipes for drinks, exotic garnishes, and appetizers, Pad Parties also includes ideas for enhancing the partyscape with music, ambient oddities, and creative homemade projects. Readers will learn how to transform a forlorn thrift store painting into an arty liquor larder and infuse their soirees with a gentle touch of surreal perversity by screening classroom safety films and Liberace variety shows. Concocted late in the night by a team on the leading edge of party style, the secrets to a happening scene are all here. With full-color photographs and illustrations, this is the perfect party guide for people with the distinctive and demanding sense of style that says, "That hideous vase would make a great swag lamp."