A Decibel Disparate: Exposing the community to local artists: musicians, writers, designers, performers, thinkers, who are doing things outside of the “Annapolitan box.” You will find no sailboats or Blue Angels here. This is a place for raw and unique talent. Let us look at our city with a “view askew.” Diversity is life.
By Brianne Leith
Photos By Kelly Jo Prewitt
“I want to check my email one day and there be 500 emails from random people who found Little…and the emails have nothing to do with anything…like what they ate for breakfast.” Darin Gilliam’s smile becomes her whole face as she laughs with her entirety. “That is my dream, for people to know my brand…so that can happen.”
I walked into The Studio of the Arts (SOTA) off of the West Street Circle, where Darin was reclining cross-legged after her studio meeting. SOTA’s walls were stark white and completely bare in anticipation of its next exhibit. Darin stood out from the walls with the burst of color from her bright blue head wrap. “It’s a skirt actually…it has been a lot of different things in my wardrobe though.” Every aspect of Darin Gilliam’s being stands out vibrantly from any surrounding. Her fun and eccentric personality, appearance and life are golden.
I had discovered her shirts and accessories over a year ago, when she was Darin McFadden of Little Shop Clothing. “Gilliam is my married name…I go by Darin Michelle for my art name. My brand name comes from my friends in college. They called me ‘Little Girl.’ Even when they were at my wedding they were calling me ‘Little Girl’…and I was like, I’m a grown ass woman.” Darin leaned forward into her loud laugh.
Last year in 2010, Darin started over with her brand. Renamed it “Little by Darin Michelle,” it had a more boutique-style lay out, strictly American-made shirts and a whole new mind frame. “I’m the owner and art director of Little, which is an art and clothing brand. It’s not just clothing and accessories anymore. I wanted to balance it out with serious art.”
“Life is a balancing act.”
Darin lays back, her legs still crossed towards me. Her hands punctuated everything she said as they moved constantly. She spoke quickly, but confidently and jovially. I rushed to write down all the wonderfully entertaining things she said.
“I started off not knowing anything about branding…or anything really. I wanted to do something fun, and not work for someone else…And I was really in love with Johnny Cupcakes, The Hundreds, and Benny Gold and what they were doing. I decided I wanted to do that too.” Darin smiled again sweetly and stared at the blank wall that separated her work space from us. I think she had not stopped smiling from the beginning. If not with her mouth, her eyes glowed with happiness. “Jumping into it was great…and awful. I was dumb and anxious. But I learned a lot, and I could see if people took me seriously, or if they just thought I was some girl putting decals on shirts.”
Though Darin should be taken seriously as the driving force that she is, her message is light-hearted. “Little is engulfed with the spirit of kid goggles…As adults we lose the fact that things are not that dramatic, and we get wrapped up so much. We just need to break away. Little is based on my Christian faith, and approaching life with a childlike innocence…
And doing awesome things…”
Darin has been listing characteristics on her fingers. Thinking over it she puts out her last finger again. “…awesome things.”
Little has been known for its unique Maryland shirts and its funky shirts with humorous random sayings. Her Maryland shirts, being the best sellers, “They sold out within two weeks after I started selling them,” Darin has decided to have four styles of Maryland themed shirts coming out shortly. I bought a shirt before they sold out. It has a yellow ice cream scoop with a Maryland flag as the cone with a banner that says, “Sweet Ol’ Maryland.” It was so awesome and unique, I bought one for my brother also.
Unlike some brands Darin puts phrases that mean something to her. “Yes, I put out messages that are supposed to be funny, but they’re not thoughtless. It’s silliness in my lives and other people’s lives. There are stories behind them. You see it a little bit differently once you know…like talking to people.” Her “Ice Cream = Peace” tank top was a saying that occurred when she was so tired she was delirious. “It was the answer to the question about peace…everyone has had one of those deliriously sleepy moments…where everything is funny.” Her “Oh Word” shirt was the second best seller. “After I put that phrase on a shirt, people would email me, and would relate to the fact that they also said that all the time. That’s what’s special and I love that.”
Darin also has a shirt that has scrabble letters spelling out “Oh Snap.” She even has the correct amount of points (11) “oh snap” gets you in Scrabble imprinted on the collar. “My family loved board games. My brother Malcolm and I never played by the rules. So we would make up words, or use slang words and just had so much fun.”
“I like to share the story of the shirt with people. They see where it came from. They get you, when they get it. I want people to feel like a kid when they get my shirts. When they get my shirts in the mail I want them to ask, ‘WHERE’S THE CAKE?!’”
Darin grew up in a “free and crazy household.” They sang and danced but loved serious matters. In turn, this idea of juxtaposition appears in her brand. Her art pieces though serious in expression and execution, have a whimsical or crazy flair to them. Black and white photograph of a woman in solemn contemplation, has been covered with a pink fox mask, or clown make up lies over top. Everything Darin does has that special quality that Darin embodies herself, spellbinding uniqueness.
After about a year and a half of planning Darin’s first solo show will happen in Annapolis. On August 6th SOTA will be exhibiting Darin’s Circus Ballerinas. This will be an experience. Completely immerse yourself in the “funhouse for young professionals.”
Darin twists her wedding ring around her finger, and we talk about everything, somber and light-hearted. “Did you ever notice that all those stores in the Mall smell like 15 year old boys…I hate that.” Both of our laughs and smiles added to the brightness of the blank white room.
Darin Gilliam is beautifully childish and outrageously serious.
Email Darin about what you are eating today.