PHOTOGRAPHY BY STEVE PARKE
Sarah Sparkles is a crystal-loving mermaid in Brooklyn who’s worked on window displays for Bergdorf Goodman for over a decade—and has blinged out everything from a motorcycle to a life-size Velociraptor dinosaur skeleton, not to mention more than a few mermaid bras in her Sparkledome Studio. Here she shows us how to make our own Mermaid Parade–worthy ensemble … but not before answering a few glittering questions first.
Faerie Magazine: Do you identify as a mermaid? Why mermaids? Why do we love them so much?
Sarah Sparkles: I identify as a fairy mermaid witch and have for a long time. I was born and raised in Rockaway Beach, a narrow peninsula surrounded by the bay and the ocean on the outskirts of New York City. My first memory was being a toddler with my mother holding both of my hands while standing waist deep in the ocean. The ocean has been a part of my conscious and subconscious mind for as long as I can remember. As a child and teenager I often dreamed of tidal waves. While swimming and meditating in the ocean, I ponder life’s metaphors about going with the flow. When you ride a wave, you careen and float and make it smoothly back to shore. When you fight a wave or don’t pay attention, you can get pummeled in a way that humbles you into submission, with the truth that nature and flow are more powerful then our human willfulness.
In 2000, I discovered the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. It became an annual high holiday—my Christmas, a place where my tribe of pagan art weirdos get to physically embody the mysticism and glamour we feel in our hearts and souls. Designing a new mermaid costume every summer became a hallowed ritual in preparation for the parade. Many of my dearest friends are also mermaids, and I’m grateful for decade-long friendships with Kai Altair and Ali Luminescent, who produce the Mermaid Lagoon (see page 83), an annual fundraiser for ocean-preservation causes; and Charlotte Lily Gaspard
of Midnight Radio Show, who weaves tales of sirens and sea captains with elegant shadow puppetry for children in the parks and gardens of New York City. The mermaids in my life are the most inspiring sort. We dance together, play together, and, in our own ways, make the world a better place together. The mermaids I know combine a deep love of nature with artistry and intuition, and often seek to promote stewardship and give back to society through sharing their enchanted art forms. Most of all, they believe in magic and freedom. Embodying this gives other people permission to do so as well.
FM: How do mermaids figure into your work?
SS: One of my greatest passions as an artist is making adornment for magically inclined people by channeling mystical archetypes through costumes, jewelry, accessories, and embellishment. Doing custom designs allows me to create adornment that is most symbiotic with an individual. My Faerie and Mermaid Bling jewelry collection is sold at Enchantments, New York City’s oldest occult store, in the East Village. All the jewelry is one of a kind or extremely limited edition. I have also done a lot of mermaid- or ocean-themed props and event décor. Creating ethereal atmospheres and adornment is a part of how I help create a world I want to live in.
FM: Why do you love crystal, sparkle, and bling?
SS: From my earliest childhood memories, I have been drawn to things that sparkle, like a moth to a glittering flame. My grandmother would let me play with her sparkling Swarovski crystal figurines that she kept in a china closet. I broke the tail off her crystal mouse, but I loved the figurines so much she let me play with them anyway. As an artist, I have a passionate affinity for embellishment and take great pleasure in working with crystals, shells, antique findings, appliqués, studs, stones, spikes, sequins, beads, glitter. I do not enjoy design unless I literally have a hand in the craftsmanship. My love for sparkles is timeless, omnipresent. It is constant, flourishing, taking on new shades and variety of ways for application. This love has only solidified with time, along with the excitement for growth of new expressions and revelations.
FM: Do you have a mission you can describe?
SS: In my roaring twenties, using art for activism was my driving force while participating in avant-garde alternative subcultures. In 2013 my book Parades Parties and Protests was born: a visual documentary that chronicles a decade of creative resistance culture against the backdrop of post-9/11 New York City underground nightlife, artistic public processions, political demonstrations, and national festival culture. The book’s visual focus is on costumes, installation art, and performances that raise awareness of the environment, eroding civil liberties, gentrification, and war, and in other instances embodying an alternative world we dreamed about living in. The intention of my book was to create a visual piece of media that raises awareness of underrepresented sociopolitical issues and for this inspirational creative resistance culture championing these causes to have a place in history.
In my thirties, my focus has shifted toward a more personal tone: a combination of growing my artistic business while cultivating enough space to focus on my own healing and inner peace. My passion is to create as much inspiring art as possible as an indie designer as well as being a team player within dynamic visual departments. My life mission is to be true to my unique thumbprint as much as possible, which gives others permission to do so as well; to surround myself with inspiring people and places, enjoy life, minimize my environmental impact, focus on peace and gratitude, and make the world a sparklier place!
FM: Can you tell us about some of your most extravagant displays?
SS: My first assignment at Bergdorf ’s was spending days covering tree branches in black glitter for a sparkling 1920s- themed flapper holiday window in conjunction with the launch of Linda Fargo’s book Dreams Through the Glass. The rest is history! I’m deeply grateful for the unique life experience of working freelance for thirteen years in the Bergdorf Goodman visual department. As the years have gone by, my focus has been on doing more prop commissions.
In 2015, Swarovski collaborated with Bergdorf on the holiday windows. My studio was commissioned to bedazzle two four-foot-tall gargoyles, an alligator head, a bear head, a three-foot-tall blue ribbon, two baby birds (and a partridge in a pear tree)! At that time, the moniker among my fabulous assistants at the Sparkledome Studio was the Sarah Sparkles Super Sparkly Swarovski Sweatshop, School, and Sleepover. In 2017, my studio received another epic Bergdorf sparkle project, embellishing multiple life-size Velociraptor skeletons for a Museum of Natural History–themed holiday window. The elaborate 360-degree crystal treatment for the dinos required my studio to spend six solid months in bling production. My ultimate dream Sparkledome studio commission was designing and fabricating a Purple Rain motorcycle—embellished with Swarovski crystals, leather, studs, and spikes for a Prince vs. Richard Prince–themed Halloween party curated by AHZ Concepts.
Outside of working for Bergdorf ’s visual department and commissions that come through Sparkledome Studio, my focus has been on aligning with other designers who have a compatible aesthetic, and I take great pleasure in helping execute their surreal, macabre, and glamorous visions. Dream-come-true jobs have been assisting costume designer Darrell Thorne with bedazzling headdresses for the Park Avenue Armory Gala
and television shows High Maintenance and RuPaul’s Drag Race, assisting set designer Douglas Little for seven years of Bette Midler’s Halloween party “Hulaween” at the Waldorf Astoria, and project-managing the installation of the Swarovski crystal curtain—which was used at the Oscars!—that flanked the runway and judging room on the set of Project Runway’s accessory show. The ultimate heaven-and-hell-on-earth dream job was building out the venue Diamond Horseshoe for the show Queen of the Night. Douglas asked me to do an eleven-day hot wax installation, which turned into six solid months of crafting opulent wall treatments made of 100,000 butterfly and beetle wings; secret rooms draped in shells, pearls, and hot wax; gold-leaf walls and floors; faux coral with sculpted oversize jewels; distressed chandeliers; and precariously tall, oddly placed towers of champagne flutes.
FM: Any advice for aspiring mermaids and/or bling lovers?
SS: Be empowered to do it yourself! The majority of what I wear are simple items that I embellish. Make good friends with the Gem-Tac and the glue gun. Get acquainted with your local craft and trim stores. Learn how to sew. Decorate your home by embellishing picture frames, mirrors, and flowerpots with shells and jewels. Take trips to the beach to scavenge for beautiful shells, coral, and sea glass. If you’re not the crafty type, you can look up indie designers who make custom mermaid accessories and sell through occult shops, at special events, or on Etsy. If you can dream it, you can make it—or find a local artist to make it for you. If there’s a wish, there’s a way! When I was a teen, I fantasized about living in a house with different themed rooms. In my current abode, the Sparkledome, I have the Garden, the Palace, the Space Annex, and the Underwater Bathroom of Love, which is painted shades of turquoise blue with iridescent glitter and has sparkling coral and shells, fish, and mermaid accents adorning the room.
Mermaid is also a lifestyle! Join a local gym with a pool. Go to your nearest lake or ocean to relax and socialize. If you’re slammed during the summer, bring your work with you. Last summer I went with three of my assistants and a bag full of faux dinosaur bones and crystals to bedazzle away at the beach. Have crafting dates with other mermaid-enthusiast friends. Make travel plans to explore beaches you’ve never seen before. Donate to ocean conservation. Minimize use of plastic and other nefarious disposable items that find their way into our precious waters.
(Click the image above or click here to learn how to create your own mermiad bra.)