by Laura Davis, staff writer

You may not recognize Donna Ricci’s name, but if you’re a fan of steampunk, you’ve surely seen her face; she’s the cover model for Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. In December of 2008, Donna opened her own steampunk emporium, Clockwork Couture, in Burbank, California. “I saw a need and I filled it,” says Ricci. “There really weren’t any other options at that time.”

Clockwork Couture has grown from a small online store, to a 750 square-foot showroom attached to Donna’s home, to its newly opened 1,800 square-foot storefront in just under four years. The growing popularity of steampunk and Clockwork’s unique selection of everything from artisan-made perfume and jewelry to custom-made costumes play a major role in the store’s success, but the real story behind Clockwork Couture’s steady climb is less obvious: it’s a business with heart and a sense of community.

“I wanted a business without negativity, a business I could feel good about,” Ricci explains. “I see grandmothers and granddaughters coming in to shop together and actually agreeing on things! It’s like it somehow fills the gap between generations and builds bonds.”

Recently, Clockwork Couture announced that they’re clearing out their Chinese-made products. “I want to bring as many locally-crafted pieces to my customers as I can, things that they won’t find somewhere else. I want to work with vendors I trust to provide the kind of working standards I would give to my own employees. So I decided, no more China. Some people will go buy cheaper goggles made in China from someone else. Oh, well. Someone needs to put their foot down, and it might as well be me. My goal is to get rid of 75% of our Chinese-made products by the end of 2012, and 100% by the end of 2013.”

Friends of Clockwork Couture’s Facebook page are frequently treated to pictures and updates about Djinn, the shoppe cat; Basil, Donna’s own rescue kitten; and, most recently, foster cats Zsa Zsa and Eva. What’s with all the cats? Donna explains with a big smile, “I’m a sucker for anything small and furry. It’s not just cats. We’ve rescued a horse, a rabbit, some ferrets … I love animals. Really, the business came from wanting to help animals, as a way to have the money to do more to help them.”

The new storefront has a room especially for housing foster cats until they find forever homes. Right now, Eva and Zsa Zsa are living comfortably in it, with room to spare for another rescue or two. When Donna pulled them from the shelter, she was told Zsa Zsa had an eye infection. She later learned that the cat needs $4,000 eye surgery to help restore more of her vision (she currently has about 40%), so Donna has begun a fundraiser to save Zsa Zsa’s sight.

Furry creatures aren’t the only community members Clockwork Couture has made space for. In addition to the gorgeous new showroom (complete with giant tentacle reaching across the room!), the store has a gaming “laboratory,” decorated in outstanding style by The League of S.T.E.A.M. This room doubles as a classroom. “Right now, we have plans for corsetry and hat-making classes, along with small business classes.” Ricci goes on enthusiastically, “We’ve just scheduled our first gaming group, too! Jason Enright of nearby comic book store Emerald Knights will be running Pathfinder, set in Victorian London, steampunk-style.”

Speaking of hats, Donna says, “My milliner is thrilled, now that she has her own space! We’ve got twice as many hats in the showroom now, and more stock of everything, so we can ship so much faster.” All of the hat feathers, Donna points out, are humanely gathered: no plucking. The wall of hats is truly dazzling.

A tea room, painted by acclaimed steampunk artist, Brian Kessinger, is in the works. “It’s got room for a group of six,” Donna says, “and people can use it for meetings, birthday parties, script readings, or whatever else.”

In fact, the entire facility is available for filming, photo shoots, and other artistic endeavors. As Donna showed me around, Veronique Chevalier  was doing a shoot for an upcoming issue of Gearhearts Steampunk Glamor Revue. “We’re letting people use our location free, as long as they’re promoting arts and education, and other noble causes. The gaming room could be used for lectures, too.”

All of this is the store in phase one completion. Yet to come? An indoor zeppelin, a rotating art gallery, and a full-sized TARDIS. The TARDIS will be built in front of the store for all to enjoy. Grant Imahara is lending his talent to the TARDIS project, so it’s guaranteed to be all kinds of awesome!

Clockwork Couture is located at 707 South Main Street, Burbank, CA 91506. 818-237-5477.  Store hours are Monday-Friday 9-4, and Saturday 10-6. Please note that the Pathfinder gaming group is by paid reservation only. Please contact Clockwork Couture for information.

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