Wednesday, December 30, 2009

"It's just life..."

Yesterday my friend and fellow blogger Diogenes Kuhr got something off her chest about the perception that Second Life residents have no "First Life." You can read it in its entirety here.

But since Blogger seems to have something against letting Mac users comment on other people's blogs, I'm posting my comments in my own blog. Which is probably for the best, because usually my responses end up meandering off course.

Dio's post got me thinking when she said that this time of year can be tough for SLers who visit family and try to explain this "other life" to them. "...and they kind of smile, while their eyes regard you with this mixture of pity, contempt and confusion. And maybe even fear." I had to laugh, because since I have a smallish family and live close to most of my relatives, I get that a lot myself all year round.

What it really got me contemplating, though, was the notion that this time of year actually proves what a wonderful platform SL is and its potentials.

For many people who don't have families, who don't have close relationships with their families, or can't afford to travel to see their families, this can be a lonely time of year.

Sure, in "real life" you can exchange phone calls, emails and Christmas cards with family and friends, but it's not the same as seeing them. The SL experience, however, gives you the next best thing.

Many folks spent Christmas *in* SL this year, having dinner, opening presents, leaving cookies and milk for Santa. They spent it with friends and family, some from SL and some even from RL. To me, that's the closest thing to "real" that you can get.

SL is also responsible for the happy Christmas an SL acquaintance of mine got this year. After marrying her SL partner in RL, thanks to help from her SL friends, she and her son were able to make the trip overseas to reunite with her husband. They were a day late for Christmas, but the three of them are now finally together as a family. What better gift could that be?

So while we may "live" in a pixelated world, there are flesh and blood people behind every one of those IP addresses that log on. It's really no different than texting or using Twitter or Facebook to communicate.

If anything, SL offers more intimate and meaningful interaction than those communication services, because it not only happens in real time, it also provides a rich visual experience and a deeper context to the communication.

You may not be seeing the "real" physical person via a webcam or photograph, but through an avatar, what you *do* see is even more revealing about a person. The avatar is a virtual manifestation of how we really see ourselves, deep down, and how we would like others to see us.

Yes, there are plenty of ethically challenged and morally bankrupt dickheads in SL, and at times it can be a struggle, without benefit of body language, to accurately interpret whether someone is trying to insult you or is being sarcastic. For the most part, however, Second Life is really just an enhancement of our "First Life." A "Second Home," as it were.

I know I feel the richer for having moved in.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Union Suit now available!

Another new product rolled out today -- Old West RPers will recognize this one: the classic "union suit" one piece wool long underwear (also called longjohns, depending on where you are from), featuring the buttoned "drop seat" or "escape hatch" in the rear. Now in red AND grey!

This winter essential is not only for the Victorian gentlemen in the Old West, ladies will find it a practical item as well -- in fact, historically, the union suit was originally created by women, for women, as part of the Rational Dress movement of the mid to late- 19th century.

"The first union suit was patented in 1868 as 'emancipation union under flannel.' Traditionally made of red flannel with long arms and long legs, it buttoned up the front and had a button-up flap in the rear covering one's rear end (colloquially known as the "access hatch", "drop seat", "fireman's flap", and other names), allowing the wearer to eliminate bodily waste without removing the garment.

Depending on the size, some union suits can have a dozen buttons on the front to be fastened through buttonholes from the neck down to the groin area."

Monday, December 14, 2009

1896 "Night Before Christmas" book now available

The famous Christmastide poem "The Night Before Christmas" (also known as "A Visit From St. Nicholas" or "'Twas the Night Before Christmas") was written by Clement C. Moore and first published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel on December 23, 1823.

Montagne Noire has acquired a carton of 1896 editions which are now available for sale in the MNC shop in Caledon Oxbridge Village for 75L.

Much of our modern notion of Santa Claus can be found in this poem,  including his physical appearance, the night of his visit, his mode of transportation, the number and names of his reindeer, and the tradition that he brings toys to children.

Prior to the publication of the poem, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas and Santa Claus, among other Wintertide visitors, were imbued with distinct cultural traditions. With Moore's poem, Santa Claus emerged as a distinctively American character, further shaped in the Victorian era by artists like Thomas Nast and in the 20th century by the advertising art of the Coca-Cola company.

This prim book contains scripted pages that turn when you click on them. The book displays reproductions of pages from an 1896 edition of "The Night Before Christmas."

To use the book, simply rez it and click the cover to open it. Then click each page to turn to the next one. You can close the book by clicking on either the front or back cover. Take care not to click too quickly, especially if you are in a sim with high script usage, the pages might take a a little longer to appear.

This book comes in two sizes -- a smaller "reading edition" and a larger decorative version that shows off the book's beautiful artwork. This book set is also transferable for gift giving!

Joyeaux Noel!

Monday, December 7, 2009

More on promoting your business in SL

Responding to my post about SL business marketing and profile picks two weeks ago, fellow Victorian designer Marrant Vita asked how I keep track of who puts my shop in their profile picks.

I thought it was worth a separate blog entry unto itself, because the program has proved so successful for me thanks to a product I found on XStreet.

The Profile Picks Gift Vendor, which I put out in my shop in Caledon, does all the work for me. I have two signs up -- the first is for the dress, and contains a notecard about how to participate in the profile picks incentive program.

The second sign, located underneath the first, contains the script. The customer puts my shop in their picks, then returns a day later (24-48 hours is supposedly how long it can take for results to appear in Search). When they touch the second sign, the script contained within then searches Search for that person's profile. If it finds my shop in their picks, it delivers the dress.

There's even a website where I can view who has participated in the program.

I should add the caveat that only account-verified avis can participate, which means that they have payment information on file with Linden Labs that verifies their identity. The SL search engine itself is currently set up so that only the profiles of account-verified users are indexed.

It's worked wonderfully and I can definitely recommend it -- it's very much worth the price. I have seen a marked improvement in my Search returns, in addition to
some keyword tweaking I've been doing to both my land descriptions and my classified ads.

Marrant's business by the way is called Marrant Vita's Victorian Needs, and she makes wonderful scripted products such as an antique sewing machine, a bread baking set and cleaning supplies.

She also makes amazing children's clothing -- you can get an entire set of clothes and a wood wardrobe for 500L -- and scripted toys, like her dollhouse and a wooden train set.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The reviews are (coming) in!

I was thrilled to be contacted today by Gertie Packbiers at Look What the Cat Brought, who posted a very complimentary review of my new winter gown, Soir d'Hiver.

From the sweet rose on her cap and the warm fur over her shoulders, this long coat from Montagne Noire called Soir d'Hiver modeled by my friend, Perdita, is sure to please.

A few other reviews have popped up on the web in the last year, including a mention by Kembri Thomsen in the October 2009 issue of The Primgraph (page 115). In her column, "A Ladies Dressing Room: Exploring Autumn's Glories," Miss Tomsen has many kind words for my Autumn gown, "Fleur d'Automne."

My friend Diogenes Kuhr, in her blog, "The Ephemeral Frontier," made mention of the campaign desk and chair set I made on a special commission.

Earlier in the summer, Miss Emily Orr, in her blog "Welcome to the Trainwreck Love life" bestows compliments on my mourning gowns as part of her report on a trip to the Old West sim Deadwood, where my oldest shop location resides.

A year ago, the reviews got rolling with Bamika Easterman's review in her blog, "Patent Pending," of my "Domestique" outfit for maids & servants.

I can't tell you how tremendously flattering, and inspiring, it is to get such positive feedback on my work. I'm very grateful for the support; I hope that my work continues to bring people pleasure during their time in Second Life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The sky is falling! (again)

After reading dozens of posts across the web regarding Linden Labs' announcement of major changes to the XStreet shopping portal, I couldn't decide whether I wanted to broach the subject here.

Initially I was gobstopped; the idea of being charge 10L per month, per listing, on top of the commission LL collects on sales, seemed heavy handed. Charging 99L a month for listing freebie items was even more stunning.

The outcry has been considerable, and in protest many merchants have been removing their entire inventories from XStreet, even though the policy is not set to go into effect until 30-90 from now (leave it to LL to offer a vague time line for implementation... though they "promise" they'll give 2 weeks notice before they begin charging merchants).

Already this policy is having an effect on the shopping experience, both good and bad. As a shopper, I certainly would like to be able to wade through the junk and find quality items more easily. But of much greater priority to me would be having a search function that actually worked -- both in XStreet AND SL itself.

As a merchant, I have more than 200 items on XStreet at the moment, and I don't relish the idea of slicing an additional 2000L a month from my profit margin at a time when my RL household budget needs every penny of the supplemental income I make on SL. I am in the process of examining my inventory to determine which items have become "stale" and need to go... but this is actually something I have already been doing in world.

So far I've managed to deactivate about 1/3 of the more than 200 items I have in inventory. I haven't outright deleted them -- I'm still trying to decide what kind of sales record actually qualifies an item as "stale," considering I am a merchant in a "niche" market.

I guess I took for granted the idea that XStreet could serve a complete catalogue of my merchandise -- my philosophy was that if everything gets a sale sooner or later, slower selling items could be parked there indefinitely. Every sale counts, right, even if some items only sell about every other month?

I'm not sure if that was an unreasonable expectation, since LL was getting commission on every sale... my expectation now is that I should regard XStreet as a marketing tool, and fine tune my listings and descriptions to drive customers to the in world store.

When I made my first freebie about a year and a half ago, the SL marketplace was a much different place, At that time I could track that the majority of people who took my freebie clothing item also purchased clothing from me.

That has changed dramatically in the last several months.

Most of the shoppers who "buy" my freebies now? Never buy anything else from me.

There is a sense of entitlement that has become prevalent among newer residents that they shouldn't have to "pay to play" -- which is why I think we've also seen a sharp rise in content theft. This entitlement attitude baffles me, because there are few other places, both in online worlds and in RL, where you can "live" without spending a dime.

I'm not sure which came first, but the SL marketplace has experienced a drastic drop in prices in the time I've been a merchant. The economic recession has also added to this downward spiral. But many merchants are pricing quality items for ridiculously low prices both in SL and on XStreet, when many, many of them could charge more for their work.

It distresses me when I hear people say they don't care about making money on their work. I wish they would understand that if you make a quality item, you are selling yourself short by not selling it for market value. You are essentially devaluing the work you do. A consequence of that is that you also devalue the work of other community members. If we are all here in SL to live in a community, that means supporting each other and valuing the contributions of other members.

The distressing part of this new policy is that it puts "niche" merchants such as myself in a difficult position. My items serve a specific (Victorian/Steampunk/Western/historical) audience, even if that audience is not a large one. Because of that I'll likely never be a high volume seller, unless I consider diversifying my business.

So as I review my sale inventory in XStreet, how exactly do I gauge if an item is "stale"? An item that I would regard as "popular" in my niche might likely be viewed as a slow mover in a mainstream market. At some point will LL decide that niche items like mine don't meet their criteria for inclusion in the SL economy anymore?

This also raises another issue: How will niche communities maintain a presence in SL if the content creators for them can't afford to, or are no longer allowed to, sell their items? Or are specialized, thematic sims also on the endangered list too?

Finally, however, the biggest lesson in these changes is that, as in RL, the SL marketplace is also in a state of constant flux. You cannot rest on your laurels. You have to be constantly reinventing your "brand" -- even if you are just a "hobbyist" merchant.

That doesn't mean that all the joy is going to be sucked out of your experience, it merely means you need to think on your feet and adapt when market conditions change. While I'm not thrilled about the direction LL has decided to take XStreet, and where SL itself looks like it's going, I see it as a chance to challenge myself both as a content creator and a business person.

If indeed the landscape of SL is changing, and an influx of new corporate residents (presumably) with deeper pockets is on the horizon, perhaps this is the opportunity for many of us smaller merchants to start thinking bigger.

As they say, life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Montagne Noire news & new releases - 11/09


I've been on a creative kick lately, so I've not been keeping up on my blog posts, however, this also means you should expect to see more frequent updates in the coming weeks...


Montagne Noire Clothiers introduces "Soir d'Hiver" (French, "Winter Evening"), a rich mink and velvet coat, gown and matching Russian style "Zhivago" fur hat.

Available in emerald, ruby and sapphire, Soir d'Hiver is a fashionable winter outfit for the lady who wants to look her best on errands in town or visiting friends. It retails for $250L.


This season's early addition to our line of specially priced holiday gowns is for young ladies: "Le Petit Noel."

Available in holly red and ivy green, "Le Petit Noel" is a rich velvet and fur trimmed holiday gown for the Victorian or Edwardian girl, and retails for just $100L.

The gown comes with a modifiable velvet ponytail holder, which can also be copied, in addition to the white fur barrettes, giving you more hairstyle options -- MNC recommends a curly formal updo.

These gowns were designed to compliment our ladies Noel holiday gowns -- for mothers and daughters who wish to coordinate their holiday attire. You'll find both sets of gowns on easels at the entrances of all our locations!

Montagne Noire's main store is located in Caledon Oxbridge Village.

See all my inventory via Xstreet as well.

I am sincerely grateful for your support, and wish you a wonderful start to the holiday season.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Introducing: The Mackinaw

There's a distinct chill in the air, which has put me in the mood for making winter clothing.

Right out of the gate I've finally completed a jacket project I tinkered with all summer, a Mackinaw coat. A gentlemen's double breasted woolen work coat, it's available in red plaid and blue plaid.

According to my research, the Mackinaw, a heavy dense water-repellent woolen coat, is said to have been invented by native Metis women in 1811, when John Askin, an early trader on the upper Great Lakes, asked them to design and sew woolen jackets for the army. "They were all to be blue, but when this colour ran out they used red and then the black-on-red plaid cloth that we associate with the jackets of today."

Mackinaws later became an indispensable accessory of American and Canadian loggers in the northern and northwestern part of North America in the mid to late-19th century logging boom. "The term later spread to be universal, and in Canada the "Mac" is regarded as a marker of national identity and working-class values."

MNC's Mackinaw is modifiable, allowing you to tailor the garment to your proportions. The coat top comes in both a shirt and a jacket layer, depending on what you wish to wear underneath. It retails for 100L. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Genteel thoughts on guerilla marketing in SL

There are probably about as many opinions on how to market one's business in SL as there are SL residents. Despite this, or in spite of, I try to carve out a certain amount of time each week to read up on the current issues of interest to merchants in SL via both LL sanctioned and independent forums. I've culled a lot of very good advice from other merchants, both large and small.

There are some very helpful, experienced businesspeople out there who are happy to share their tips for marketing their content. Scorpion Agency offers 140 Second Life Marketing Tips & Ideas, which are relevant for both SL and RL businesses; a recent post at the New Babbage ning site demystifies how to use SL's search to boost your business.

I would not call myself a "cutthroat" SL businessperson. In RL, I abhor certain types of marketing, like telemarketers who call during dinner (even when you're on the Do Not Call list). Other methods I respond to very generously with my hard earned cash. I love coupons, discounts, free shipping, etc. The businesses who politely offer these kinds of marketing campaigns generally have a repeat customer because they are willing to reward me for my loyalty.

So thinking along those lines, I wondered if there was a way to harness the loyalty of both new and longtime Montagne Noire customers, without being the dreaded dinner interrupting telemarketer.

Since Linden Labs effectively crushed the community that was the XStreet merchant forums with their new and confusing blog format, I've been visiting other independent forums to see where all the merchants have gravitated. I decided to ask about the issue of "gaming" traffic and search results at SLUniverse, which is emerging as the merchant go-to site. You can see the discussion my question generated here.

The response was an interesting mix. I asked if it was unethical to offer an incentive reward to customers who put Montagne Noire in their Profile Picks. Some said yes, some said no. Some said it depended on whether you gave it only to people in your update group and people who already had your shop in their picks. Some thought it was gaming search results to offer an incentive to anyone walking in off the street.

What almost everyone agreed on is that it can be a real challenge to publicize an SL business -- even more so as the business landscape in SL has changed dramatically in the last year or so. It takes a lot of creativity to effectively get the word out, especially when you are working with a modest budget.

Probably the most powerful tool for promotion -- and least understood -- is the SL search engine. It turns out one of the methods of improving search ranking is having people add your business to their profile picks.

The SL search engine counts each pick from an "Account Verified Resident" (an SL resident with credit card or Paypal payment information on file with Linden Labs) as a vote for that location when determining its rank in search.

After a good deal of thought, I decided to try an experiment.

I sent a notice to members of the Montagne Noire Fashion Society update group, and to a select group of friends.

Now my sincere hope in all of this is that my friends and group members won't regard this promotion as the equivalent of the obnoxious junk mail the postman brings everyday. I'm hoping that my friends know me well enough now to know I am not a scheming, money-grubbing capitalist who just has them on my friends list so I can flood them with marketing campaigns.

Would you like to earn an exclusive hat and dress set FREE while helping spread the word about Montagne Noire Clothiers?

If you are an Account Verified Resident (an SL resident with credit card or Paypal on file with Linden Labs) all it takes is putting MNC in your "picks" tab in your profile. Picks are a great way to show off your favorite people, places and merchants in SL.

It's a quick and painless process: Simply place Montagne Noire's Main store in your "picks."

If you don't know how to add your favorite locations and business in SL, it's super simple:

1) go to the "Edit" pull down menu in the upper left corner of your SL browser.

2) select "Profile" then click on the "picks" tab.

3) Click on the "New" button at the top of the picks page, and the location will be added (be sure to actually be standing in Montagne Noire's parcel location before you add it to your picks!).

If you already have MNC in your picks (thank you!), update the tab by pressing the "delete" button at the top of the picks page, then click on "New".

Once Montagne Noire has been in your profile picks for 24 hours (enough time for SL search to read your updated profile), return to the shop to claim your prize! Touch the sign below the one you received this notecard from and vendor will process your reward and deliver it!

To encourage users to actually keep MNC in their picks, I'll be changing out the special gift every so often.

To build subscriptions to the "Montagne Noire Fashion Society" update group, I'm now also working on a way to offer special discounts & sales for group members, where if you wear the group tag while you shop, you'll receive a discount on certain item(s).

So what do people get if they add MNC to their picks? This special limited edition onyx version of my "Fleur d'Automne" set.

A last thought on being a business owner in SL. I don't really think of myself as being in competition with other Victorian designers -- we all have unique styles, and our clientele all have unique tastes. I'm here to have fun, and if that also means I might be able to grow my business into something that pays a few RL bills, I'd be thrilled. But I am also thrilled when I see other designers succeed at something they love to do, too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Content theft -- the deck is stacked against us

Some disturbing news today... Stroker Serpentine has reported over at SLUniverse that a massive content theft has taken place, using what were probably some of the known exploits of the permission system, notecards, etc.

As far as I know, my work is not involved. I feel fortunate that after all this time I have not been a victim of this, but I'm sure time will only tell when someone thinks its time to start ripping small time merchants like me.

I feel terribly for everyone whose work has been stolen, and I feel incredibly helpless. It seems that SL has no real interest in preventing what has clearly become large scale content theft. I'm simply at a loss as to what to do -- so many voices much more influential than mine have risen up in the past to protest this, and nothing has been done.

I'm not sure what this all means, what the future holds for content creation in SL. Like so many other virtual and real world places I've invested myself in, everything from Facebook to my health care insurer, it feels like Corporate America has no accountability for their actions.

It's the new corporate profit model -- well, perhaps not new, but big business seems less concerned with keeping their real motivations a secret anymore.

What it is, is risk assessment gone horribly wrong. Businesses no longer seem to be interested in what the customer wants -- they are interested in knowing how long they can keep making money while they knowingly rip off customers, or allow them to be ripped off? When the litigation finally comes, will the payout we have to make be substantially less than the profits we earned while ripping off people?

In Second Life, the folks at Linden Labs happily take the money content creators spend on uploading textures, sounds, animations. They happily take the tier payments my landlords pay for virtual real estate, that I in turn rent from them for my shops.

They don't seem to see that content theft is problem -- because it really costs them nothing. It's not really "their" content that's being stolen. Linden Labs is in the real estate business and the asset storage business, not in the content creation business. They provide servers, and sit back while Second Life residents do all the heavy lifting.

Not to diminish the service that LL provides -- obviously that takes a tremendous amount of resources. Someone has to pay the electricity bill.

It seems to be the nature of community building that it always reaches a critical mass, where it simply becomes too large to effectively administer or police. This happens simultaneously with larger interests entering the picture, who see a new opportunity for investment... and profit.

You hit a threshold where a community of individuals is much harder to stabilize than a community of larger interests.

And this is what is happening with Second Life. Administering to a handful of corporate entities, who already have their own management infrastructures, is much more profitable and efficient than trying to keep thousands of "mom and pop" content creators and landowners happy.

For now, we wait. I personally am waiting for when LL finally announces exactly what "a minimum threshold for content transactions" is as part of qualifying for their content seller program... while my business is just beginning to grow, my content creating days very well could be over before I ever get a chance to prove myself in the market.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Expeditionary campaign desk & chair set

Once again, time gets away from me. But I have a good excuse -- I've been working on a commission.

I spend most of my time designing clothes, but about a year ago I started making low prim furniture. At first I was just doing this for personal use -- I was having trouble finding Victorian era low prim furnishings for my shops, as well as for my apartment and the hotel I own in a western RP sim.

Now I completely admire (and envy) those with the skill to make the amazing Victorian furniture I've seen out there -- unfortunately, when you have a 100 prim allowance for your residence or shop, you have to come up with creative ways to cut corners in order to have a realistic looking interior.

So I began photographing furniture textures from my own house, the houses of friends and family and a friend's antique shop. I started simple by building basic one prim items like armoires, dressers, bookcases, etc.

Slowly over time my skills have improved slightly, and I've made fireplaces, china cabinets and other Victorian era furnishings. Nothing fancy, but they are functional.

So it took me by surprise when I was asked to make an item I only had a passing knowledge of -- a campaign desk and chair set.

What is a campaign desk, you ask? Historically, officers on battlefields (hence the term "campaign"), as well as scientists, explorers and well-to-do tourists on safari or expedition, brought along a portable field desk to use for correspondence, sketching and journals.

Such a desk would typically have a hinged writing surface/lid that closed flush with the other edges of the desk box and was locked with a key. The edges traditionally featured brass hardware to protect the desk while transported, and had handles for carrying. The legs were often hinged or unscrewed and stored in a compartment under the desk box during travel.

My Second Life version was commissioned by a roleplayer who is a scientist on a paleontology expedition in the Black Hills of Dakota Territory, in the RP sim Deadwood. He had acquired the simple, one prim cherry wood map cabinet I'd recently released, but had trouble finding a portable desk to his liking. So I agreed to see what I could come up with.

And here it is: his desk, at 6 prims, features a "hinged" writing surface that can be opened by touch. The 5 prim chair was designed to look like a folding chair (though it does not actually fold) and includes writing animation. The inkwell, when touched, delivers a quill pen that will attach to your right hand when worn.

For more authenticity the set includes rolled and flat maps that depict the Black Hills in Dakota Territory, circa 1876 & 1878, and an 1874 map of the Rocky Mountain Territories: Colorado, Wyoming, Dakota and Montana.

I think it turned out rather well -- it's now got me thinking about other multi-prim furnishing projects.

If your interested in viewing it, it's on display in the 2nd floor at my Caledon Oxbridge Village shop shop, as well as on Xstreet.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Texas, we hardly knew ye

Sadly, after just three weeks in operation, the new Texas sim where my newest MNC location recently opened, is ceasing operations.

This isn't the first time I've opened a location in a promising new sim, only to see it fold not long after its unveiling. I still miss Londinium, a Dark Victorian sim which had all the makings of a fantastic RP world.

It's never good to speculate on what misfortunes are behind the closing of sims -- too often, however, it's that people aren't fully prepared for the tremendous financial investment that a sim requires, as well as the tremendous amount of marketing that must follow in order to make the sim pay for itself.

$1000 USD down and $300 USD a month in tier has always seemed like a steep price for the privilege of "owning" a 65,536 sqm piece of a virtual world. Yet I have daydreamed many a time of having my own private estate, where I can set up a residence, or build an immense flagship storefront. But the economics of such an investment have never been within my reach, and looking at the numbers, it's unlikely that will ever change.

I understand the resources that go into maintaining the vast network of server farms Linden Labs hosts. They are a private company and have the right to charge whatever they please for their product -- and considering at the moment they are the only game in town, so to speak, in this type of virtual world, more power to them.

Inevitably the economic conditions in First Life were bound to trickle into Second Life. People are losing their jobs, having their homes foreclosed on, watching helplessly as their credit is frozen or their bank arbitrarily jacks up their credit card interest rate.

In that scheme of things, Second Life is a disposable asset. And yet Second Life is something that many people right now need more than ever -- a place to temporarily escape from an oppressive set of First Life circumstances.

I've been creating specialty clothing and furnishings long enough to know that no matter how thorough my marketing is, there's just never going to be a larger demand for my product line. Let's face it: for as wonderful as the Victorian/Steampunk/Gothic communities are in SL, they are a small, specialized minority in the larger scope of the SL population.

I think I'm okay with that. I make enough now to cover my rents in world, to pay a miniscule portion of my rent in the real world, and to put some of my earnings back into the SL economy and support the work of other builders and designers. Perhaps if I had arrived in SL earlier, during the upswing of the content creation economy, things might be different.

But that's neither here nor there. The important thing is that I enjoy creating the clothing and furnishings I sell. It's a great stress reliever, it's a self esteem booster. It's something I should spend more time on.

So what would happen if I did devote more time to designing? That would mean less time devoted to, well... facilitating other people's need for drama. Hmm... now there's a thought.

So the door to Texas may be closing, but perhaps a window is opening elsewhere. Perhaps too it's my time to close some doors in SL, and open a window two for some fresh air.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

MNC news & new releases for October 2009

The best laid plans... suffice to say, RL knocked me for a loop, hence the absence of posts since September. I hope to rectify that this month.

Now onto the news! This is the beginning of my favorite time of year, so Montagne Noire has several new releases and news to share with you.


Our 2009 Halloween ball gown is now available -- "Samhain" is a rich black velvet dress with black beaded trim in a Gothic/Dark Victorian vein that comes with a ruby & silver spider choker necklace. The gown retails for just 100L.

Last years gowns are also available again -- "Hallows Eve" is a traditional taffeta crinoline gown that is available in citrine and amethyst. For the month of October, these gowns will be on sale at 50% the original price -- just 50L!

As many sims in SL will see snow fall following the end of Halloween celebrations, MNC is now releasing "Le Pelerine", a full length ladies winter cloak. Available in black velvet, red velvet and mink fur, Le Pelerine's slender silhouette can be worn with or without the matching hood. The cape retails for 200L.

In our merchantile department, we have several new additions to our low prim Victorian furnishings, including a map chest, a carved oak bar featuring a quaint brawling scene, a cast iron fireplace, and an oak truck with an open/close lid.


In addition to the markdown on last year's Halloween dress, our entire stock of "Petit" girl's dresses is also 50% off original prices -- reducing all outfits to just 100L-125L each.

MNC will also be marking down a limited selection of women's and men's outfits this month for retirement later this fall. These clearance clothing items will be reduced to 50L -- 80% off original price. Our clearance items will only be available at our main store in Caledon Oxbridge Village.

We have also made a permanent markdown on all our Oriental rugs and antique advertising signs, now just 10L each. The entire inventory can be found on XStreet.

(All markdowns are reflected in the purchase menu when you select the item).


Montagne Noire has opened a new location in newly relaunched Texas State USA sim, featuring a special selection of ladies, mens, and girls fashions.

Montagne Noire Merchantile, devoted solely to showcasing our low prim furnishings, is now open in Texas' sister sim, Kansas Territory.

(If you click on the landmark a second time once you arrive at the sim HUB to be teleported directly to each of these locations.)


Montagne Noire's main store is located in Caledon Oxbridge Village. We also have locations in Antiquity, Deadwood and the Victorian Village @ the Isle of Fatima's Desire.

You are welcome to peruse my inventory via Xstreet as well!

Thank you as always for your support, and enjoy you Halloween and harvest celebrations!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Just arrived at Montagne Noire ... Fleur d'Automne

September's new gown is now available -- "Fleur d'Automne" (French, "Flower of Autumn"), a rich velveteen day gown and matching teardrop hat with satin flowers, black feathers and black lace.

Available in ruby, turquoise and topaz, Fleur d'Automne is a fashionable walking dress for the lady who wants to look her best on errands in town or visiting friends.

Fleur d'Automne comes with a prim skirt for standing and a "system" skirt and hip ribbons for sitting, designed to avoid the embarrassment of naked legs that prim skirts cause for ladies who wish to sit modestly.

Circa 1865-1875, Fleur d'Automne reflects the early transition from crinoline (the "hoop skirt"), to polonaise, to soft bustle in Victorian ladies fashion. The full round shape of the crinoline gave way to more slender dress lines, with overskirting draped over the hips and underskirting moving toward the back of the skirt.

Montagne Noire's main store is located in Caledon Oxbridge Village. You are welcome to peruse my inventory via Xstreet as well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

About Montagne Noire Clothiers...

If by chance you have randomly stumbled into this blog, I am the owner of Montagne Noire Clothiers, a Victorian clothing shop in Second Life. I've been designing Victorian clothing for women and men (and now children) for a little over a year now.

I am by no stretch of the imagination a fashion designer in real life, though I have acquired enough seamstressing skills over the years to have designed and sewn several historically inspired garments. I would (very humbly) describe myself as an amateur historian, so in researching and designing historical costumes, it followed that I began to study the history and progression of fashion.

Now how does this translate to designing Victorian clothing in Second Life? Good question. I am not an artist in real life, I can't draw worth a damn. But I do have some graphic design skills that I use in my real life job.

Before I took the plunge and tried designing, I traveled through a number of the historical realms of SL, picking up a variety of historically themed garments, both free and Linden purchased, along the way. But it was often a painstaking and frustrating process.

While there were an abundance of shops out there advertising era specific clothing (Victorian, Medieval, Renaissance, etc), more often than not the outfits were an amalgamation of different eras and styles.

I've come to call it the "Sinderella Syndrome" -- more (adult) fantasy than reality, the gowns generally feature giant swirling crinoline (hoop) skirts and very lowcut necklines.

First, let me say that there's nothing wrong with wanting to dress like Cinderella in Second Life. SL is a place where you can realize your fantasies, and for many women, that's dressing like a princess. I myself readily admit to having a few Cinderella gowns in my SL inventory.

But it's problematic when you are the owner of a historically themed role play sim and want to provide visitors an authentic experience. That, however, is a topic for another blog entry...

Some of this homogenized look is the result of technical limitations in Second Life. It's very difficult to recreate some garment styles because of the way the UV body templates are mapped. For those who aren't familiar with how clothing is created in SL, it involves layering textures two-dimensionally in a graphics program like Photoshop. That final texture is uploaded to SL, where you apply the textures onto the three dimensional body of an avatar.

Sometimes the translation isn't what you expected.

So, armed with my interest in fashion history and a copy of Photoshop CS3, I began to tinker to see what I could come up with. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A mountain by any other name...

The redhead steps down from the stagecoach, gazing at the rough-hewn frontier town ahead of her, drawing her cloak around her as the bitter winter wind greets her. Mais, fait-i, fré, ogniet [But isn't it cold today] …. She hopes the welcome she receives is not so chilly … Vère dja, mais pas tant comme hiaer [Oh yes, but not as cold as yesterday] …

She wonders to herself if it was the right decision to come here… to start over … but it is too late for doute.

Where she should even begin? something to eat, perhaps…. Then enquire about available properties. Yes, that is it, she thinks. Make introductions, settle in, get to work, put my mind to other things…

Later in the day, she is standing before an empty building in a quiet corner of town by the river, imagining the interior adorned with lace curtains, Oriental rugs, racks of rich fabrics and... rows of dresses. An abundance of gowns. She had seen the attire of some of the ladies in town as she made her way down the street with her new landlord. I have my work cut out for me, she mused.

But what to call this place? She stood in silent contemplation for some time. As her eyes lifted to the stark hills surrounding her, her mind wandered back to a time and place on another continent, where she could see dark peaks rising out of the earth with the same kind of defiance.

Ah... Montagne Noire [Black Mountain], she said out loud, the sound of her voice drifting off into the hills. She smiled to herself as she turned to make her way back to Main Street. There were so many things to do now.

The story thus far...

I am but a character in a virtual world called Second Life. Perhaps you have heard of it?

I found this new world in December 2007, and like most everyone else who arrives on these virtual shores, spent my first few weeks trying to find my footing. I initially took the standard path: camping, blingy shoes, clubbing.

That got old pretty quick.

Then it occurred to me that as a virtual world, there had to be more to it.

I was fortunate about that time to wander into a place called Neko Gardens. The garden's caretakers, Jett and Jade, took me under their wing and it became my first home in SL. At the time, I had no idea what a Neko was. It had never occurred to me to be anything else besides human in this virtual world.

Neko Gardens was a delightful blend of feline, fairy and zen. One could sleep in a giant flower or swim in a sapphire waterfall. That might seem silly, but it was just the kind of escape I needed at that time.

Sadly, Neko Gardens, at least in the incarnation I knew it when I first met Jett and Jade, is no longer. But that sense of community they fostered there has stayed with me. I am so grateful for their kindness and generosity. It set the tone for how I have led my life in both of the worlds I reside in.

But back to the garden. As I settled in I began to broaden my horizons and explore other sims. I started plugging various search terms in -- and to my delight, one of the search returns was 22 Baker Street, located on the Victorian sim, Caledon.

From there, I began to wonder if such a thing as "role play" existed in SL. It did!

I drifted through many amazing times and places, all fantastically re-created down to the last pixel, until one day I finally discovered an era that spoke to me -- the Victorian Old West.

So, one frigid February afternoon, a finely dressed redhead descended the steps of a rickety stagecoach, stepping into the slush and snow covered street of a little mining town in the Black Hills of South Dakota... Deadwood, circa 1876.

There, Astolat Dufaux, seamstress, failed actress, refuge seeker, was born.


I chose the title of this blog, "The Victorian Closet," because it seemed an appropriate description for what will be my musings about Victorian fashion, both as a designer of Victorian clothing in Second Life, and as an amateur historian in my "First Life." I use the term fashion in the broadest sense -- not just clothing, but customs, attitudes and ... well, those things one might find literally or metaphorically in a Victorian closet.

Welcome! -- I hope you enjoy following my train of thought.