Gina Vincenza Van Epps, a 1985 graduate of Frewsburg High School, has made a name for herself designing and altering clothing for celebrities and their dancers.
Van Epps is known professionally as "Psycho Seamstress," and has worked on wardrobes of celebrities such as: Paul McCartney, Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Muse, Pink, Justin Bieber, Carrie Underwood, Joan Rivers, Marc Anthony, Alicia Keys and others.
Most recently, Van Epps was selected to steam and prepare the wardrobe McCartney takes on tour. Each jacket is numbered, each shirt is lettered and all outfits have a tag attached stating where he wore it and with what other pieces. The tags include information on appearances at the White House, "Saturday Night Live" and more. The reason for this process is because everything McCartney wears for public appearances becomes instantly valuable and ends up in museums or charity auctions, said Van Epps.
1985 Frewsburg High School graduate Gina Vincenza Van Epps has made a name for herself designing and altering clothing for celebrities including those pictured above, from left, Justin Bieber, Sir Paul McCartney and Pink, among others.
Although it wasn't Van Epps' first time working for McCartney - she had previously worked for him in 1993 as a video production technician - the opportunity was a career-defining moment in time.
"Normally on a big show like that, the star of the show has their own wardrobe person, and usually the wardrobe I deal with belongs to the band, dancers or stilt-walkers," said Van Epps. "So, for me to be asked to actually steam out and prepare all of Paul's clothes was a bit of a surprise as well as a humbling experience. The level of historical value to his wardrobe is very significant. It gave it such a different level of value because it wasn't just a jacket made by his London tailor, this was a jacket that could end up in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, the Smithsonian, Sotheby's or Christie's Auction House. It just blew me away that I had the opportunity to play around in Paul's touring closet."
After McCartney's performance, he gave a bouquet of exotic flowers to Van Epps, who felt the gesture was impressive, so much so that even though the flowers have since died, she kept the wrapper from the bouquet.
As a result of the experience, Van Epps has been asked for many media interviews, and has even been offered a position at an Orlando, Fla., radio station as a fashion reporter. Van Epps is also in the process of setting up a local band image contest to help local talent improve their image and wardrobe. And, Van Epps is writing a book about costume rigging to act as a reference guide on how to do quick-change alterations. She'd like to use the book to teach seminars and classes. Plus, Van Epps has decided that she'd like to start a design house because she partners with a lot of talented artists who she'd like to bring together under one roof.
"The notoriety was beyond my expectations," said Van Epps. "Working for Paul McCartney really was a career-defining moment for me."
Van Epps moved to Orlando, Fla., shortly after graduating high school and went to a travel school to work in the travel industry. But, by 1987 Van Epps had begun transitioning into the music business instead. She attributes some of her interest in the music business to working as road crew for Norm Cady's Christian rock band from Frewsburg.
"My training for the music business started way back in Jamestown as a teenager slinging gear around," said Van Epps. "It actually taught me a lot about wiring and guitars. My first really professional paying job was a guitar tech for Foghat, and I toured all over the U.S. and Canada with them in 1989-90. When I finished that tour I started working local concert production when one day my boss asked me if I could sew because Megadeth ripped something and needed my help in wardrobe. It was then that I realized I could make more money doing wardrobe and seamstress work on concert productions and not get dirty - it was quite an epiphany."
But, it took Van Epps about 20 years to start getting hired onto shows working wardrobe. Today, she makes her living off doing A-list wardrobe as well as costumes for ice skating competitions. Van Epps is generally paid by the production company hosting a live performance or by promoters such as Live Nation or American Entertainment Group.
Van Epps' professional name, "Psycho Seamstress," originated as a means to weed out projects that were a little too squeaky clean for her style.
"Of all the people in my life who've been calling me crazy - I've decided to own it," said Van Epps. "I'm a very outspoken person, and my style is in your face. So, I wanted to speak to people who want something that's a little bit edgy and outside the box. There is a good crazy, and I wanted to speak to the people who were looking for that element in their design and in their style."
HONORING HER ROOTS
According to Van Epps, she has always been known as someone who blazes her own trail in fashion. In high school she was known as "Black Gina" because she usually wore all black and had a group of friends who dressed like heavy metal band Motley Crue.
"I was pretty well-known for the things I would wear to school," said Van Epps. "I think I was one of the only people who ever wore leather pants. I dressed a little like Madonna back in the day with crucifixes when everyone was wearing IZOD with the pinks and greens. I definitely had my own style throughout high school."
Van Epps' interest in sewing began when her Italian grandmother Emma Nalbone taught her how to sew at 10 years old. Nalbone recently passed away, and in her will she left her sewing machine to Van Epps.
"I remember taking sewing classes and home economics, but most of my sewing I learned from my grandmother who lived in Jamestown," said Van Epps. "She went to St. James Church and would make these quilts she called 'Lap Robes,' which were for people who were in wheelchairs. That's how I learned to sew as a kid, and as I got older I started making clothes. I started out making clothes for myself, and other people began asking me for wedding dresses and costumes for Halloween. Today, I do a lot of couture dresses."
Yet, although Nalbone has passed on, Van Epps said she believes her grandmother lives on through her work.
"She really used sewing to spread love, and the reasons that she sewed were to give to other people warmth," said Van Epps. "I have tried to carry that on in making things that will bring joy to other people."
Much of her family still lives around Jamestown, including her former stepfather Melvin Feather, who lives in Frewsburg. She has also kept in touch with many of her friends from back home.
"I recently sent Pennie Williams, a former schoolmate, my back stage pass from Carrie Underwood to give as a gift to her niece," said Van Epps. "I also made a dress for former schoolmate Darlene Olmstead-Macri, which she wore to the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas. And, Julie Johnson is moving down here to help me manage my exploding business and help me design stage wear. Having Julie come here is going to be an invaluable asset."
Johnson is a close friend of Van Epps' from Frewsburg who will move to Orlando, Fla., to help start the design house.
"For Gina to have me goes beyond friendship - it's trusting somebody," said Johnson. "I'm proud of how far she's come, I'm honored that she wants me to come help her and it will be nice to spend time with my friend. She's going to go quite far, and I've got a lot of drive so if she wants something done I'll make sure it gets done."
For more information visit www.psychoseamstress.wordpress.com or search for "Psycho Seamstress" on Facebook.