The D.C. social scene sucks, and so does the music. Parties are just another way for the well-connected to become even better-connected; “salons” attract huge bores who can deplete the oxygen from a room with their tedious banter. When people throw parties in this town, says Jim Sottile, “they usually degenerate into business…or really awful sex.”
So goes the premise for Sottile’s annual “Wig and Velvet” party, held last Saturday night at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Georgetown. A determinedly quirky crowd, decked out in outrageous wig-and-velvet ensembles, crammed inside the tiny gallery to scarf up Lindt truffles and sip glasses of good wine and liquor. “People rarely dress up for parties or go to the effort to have fun when they are out in this town,” Sottile said. His guests, he says, “have to work to get into this party.”
So long as they wore the requisite get-up, access was not a problem. Sottile manned the doors watching as the art geeks and MIT Media Lab-types mingled with the glamorous people and those barely on the edge of trying too hard, surrounded by artwork best described as earnestly avant-garde.
“Washington is really tired,” said gallery owner Michael Clark as he explained the reason behind the party, pausing intermittently to greet new arrivals. Kiss, kiss. “Check the bar! Food’s over there!” he shouted across to an older couple over the pumping din of the Propellerheads.
When Sottile arrived in town 10 years ago, he says, he found professional Washington lacking in soul. He also noticed an unusually high proportion of wig shops in town. He tried various ways over the years to drum up some action, setting up a local fanzine and, later, an independent label, Vertical Records, which he still runs. It was three years ago when the full-time computer consultant and sometime clay-mosaic artist and musician came up with the idea for this gathering, inspired by the changing scenery in Edgar Allen Poe’s “Mask of the Red Death.”
Sottile and his girlfriend, Maggie Powell, pooled their cash and threw the first gathering in 1996, at Powell’s apartment in Adams Morgan. It was so successful that they decided to make it an annual event.
“People spend a lot of time going to clubs, expecting something to happen, and nothing does,” he says. “The most creative minds in this country are here, and they can’t even concoct a decent event or celebration. [We’re] trying to create a mood, another world.” And if you’re a host, he adds, “you provide everything. I hate pot-lucks!”Guy Raz