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Copyright © 1997 The Seattle Times Company

Features News : Friday, April 18, 1997

Emerald Fantasy: dressed for fun

by Cynthia Rose
Seattle Times staff reporter

Mention fetish fashion to Angel Russell, and she knows exactly what you mean. She's co-proprietor of Emerald Fantasy, a Seattle holiday service for cross-dressers. Transformation is the basis of Russell's business.

Emerald Fantasy's customers, all male, often hail from more conservative locations but choose Seattle to act out their fantasies.

"Seattle," says Russell, "is a mecca for the transgendered. First, it's tolerant; it's not liberal, but it is laid back. Second, it is a really open environment. Third, it has to be America's coolest city."

If Russell's bookings are any indication, many folks agree with her assessment. Emerald Fantasy is not yet a year old, but - through just one World Wide Web site - it is constantly busy. Whether clients request the "One-Day Makeover" ($299) or the "3-Day Dream" ($899), they must choose a time and book ahead.

What they get is a special, customized service, under the careful tutelage of a "hostess." Angel meets customers at a pre-arranged location. After some chit-chat, the hostess oversees a guest's transformation.

Says Russell, "Sixty percent of clients are from out of the area. Many are in their 40s, 50s, even their 60s. Most are married. Some of them have never, ever dared to do this. So they've got both terror and pent-up longing."

They also lack what Emerald calls "the basics": wigs, heels, makeup, breast forms and fashion sense. "We take them through everything very carefully. We make sure they don't wear those tacky juniors. We make sure their overall look ends up quite tasteful."

The proof of this process is in the Polaroids - 10 of which, like complimentary movie tickets, are a part of the Emerald Fantasy package. In them, one sees a set of pleased, relaxed ladies, often able to "pass" in the streets of Seattle.

Reading Emerald's mail, one finds a lot of gratitude. "Usually our clients are first-timers and, quite frequently, they are far from home. They start thinking, `Is lightning gonna strike me?,' `Is this gonna mean the end of my marriage?' " Emerald staffers react very carefully. "Lots of people come with many conflicts. Anxiety. Guilt. We try to impart how common this is! So we keep up a running commentary; we just kick-start them. Once they have a little fun, they start relaxing."

Fun is an Emerald Fantasy specialty; this is truly a holiday with a difference. Most of the clients (from as far away as England, Mexico "and the Midwest") are not gay, nor are they transsexuals. Once dressed to a level where they are comfortable, clients are game for almost anything: dinner at a nice restaurant, shopping at Nordstrom's, a night on the town, even dancing. "The only places we don't go are gay and lesbian establishments. Though perfectly safe, those are the last places where we would blend in."

Emerald's founders - all from L.A. - chose Seattle very carefully. They thought it offered just the right balance. Says Russell, "In L.A., you've gotta be drop-dead beautiful or you are nothing. In San Francisco, things can get a little seedy, and there is an air of suspicion. In the Midwest, you meet a lot of gawkers and pointers. In the South, you are liable to bump into some good old boys who would like to pound your brains in. On the East Coast, people might say anything to you."

If Emerald Fantasy's fan mail is flattering, it is certainly a two-way street. Their staff really have respect for the customer, having walked in their shoes. "I mean," says one, "these guys are so good-hearted, thanks to their feminine side. That is clearly what makes them so kind and what attracted their spouses in the first place."

Emerald may be better civic boosters than the mayor. But, really: Hasn't there ever been a single problem? Angel Russell stops to think for several seconds. "Well," she says slowly, "we do have trouble with sleeve lengths."

Emerald Fantasy can be reached via e-mail at angel@emeraldfantasy.com or on the World Wide Web at www.emeraldfantasy.com


Copyright © 1997 The Seattle Times Company