While some fandoms make me wonder, why? I still appreciate and love how passionate fans can be when it comes to the TV, movies, music, sports, and everything else out there people can attach themselves to. Which is one of the reasons I was quick to send Michelle Dante a note about her work.
The products found within the confines of Michelle’s Avant Dante are a fan’s dream set in reality. Especially those who, like me, adore Bea Arthur. Yes, Bea and all the Golden Girls are represented well in the Avant Dante realm as Michelle creates wonderful pieces centered on fandoms we all know and love. Talking with her, it’s apparent she’s as committed to the fandoms she reps as those who gravitate towards her work.
Michelle was nice to enough to chat with us about everything from her lifetime of fandoms to existing both online and in a physical space – rare for the here and now in most cases. Check out more with the mastermind behind Avant Dante now.
Kendra: There is a lot going on when it comes to Avant Dante. From tees to prints to keychains, but at the core of everything, there is a fandom. Were you the type to take part in fan art growing up, or is this a passion realized later in life?
Michelle Dante: I’ve definitely been an unapologetic fangirl throughout my life, but the most important thing for me has been the connections I’ve made surrounding those passions. Some of my most meaningful relationships began because we both loved the same band, or were obsessed with the same TV show. Those connections really are what sparked my art and design. I would have an idea for the perfect obscure, meaningful fan-inspired gift for my best friend’s birthday and when I went searching, it just didn’t exist. That is what got me creating. I couldn’t find what I wanted so I just started hand making my ideas as presents, and Avant Dante has blossomed from there.
Kendra: Another big part of what you do is inspired by feminism and functionality. Who are some of your personal functional feminist heroes when it comes to not only design but also entrepreneurship?
Michelle Dante: It’s such an amazing time for female entrepreneurs and artists. I love art and design that takes something so traditionally and functionally restrictive and turns it into a feminist statement like Zoe Buckman’s work. I’m currently following a dozen embroidery artists on Instagram that are taking that very traditional, housewife-esque medium and creating gorgeous works of feminist art with it.
Fundamentally I’m so inspired by women-led brands like Jen Gotch of Ban.do who is fearlessly expressing her creative vision while taking on normalizing issues of mental health through fashion. What gets me the most excited are female entrepreneurs born from the same idea that I had of “Hey, this should really exist in the world, and it doesn’t yet so I’m going to create it.” That’s how we get incredible people like Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassman giving us such great gifts to society like The Wing.
Kendra: Some of the standout pieces, for me, are the Golden Girl enamel pins. Why do you feel so many people have attached themselves to a show and characters that came out over 30 years ago?
Michelle Dante: That show was so ahead of its time. It really brought life to this world of female independence as well as LGBTQ tolerance and acceptance when those issues weren’t being shown in mainstream media. It was really groundbreaking to focus on women of a certain age completely owning their lives and their sexuality with humor and warmth. I caught them as reruns growing up, but the fact that my generation and those younger than me still watch the show, and connect to the Golden Girls really proves that it has stood the test of time in this really important way. It’s familiar, it’s so funny, and it’s so easy to see yourself and your friends reflected in those characters. They really are icons.
Kendra: Also, which Golden Girl do you think would rock something from Avant Dante?
Michelle Dante: I like to think I have something for every Rose, Blanche, and Dorothy, but I definitely see Sophia in one of my Mean Girls inspired sassy tees and the Feminist beanie.
Kendra: Some other great items are the book pages, but you’re doing something a little different by also using scripts pages as well. Was that in a way an homage to living in Los Angeles?
Michelle Dante: That is an interesting observation. I do love living in LA, I also went to film school at Loyola Marymount University where I learned firsthand what actually goes into creating these movies and shows we all love, and it’s still captivating to me. I think there is a real fascination for having a piece of the bones of the thing you love as memorabilia, which is what makes the script prints so popular I think.
All of the books and script pages I use are sourced from retired library books that are no longer in circulation. Sometimes I will do a piece and desperately search for the right book or script to print it on. Other times I find a gem of an out of print collection of scripts and the artwork stems from there. Either way, it’s always a fun and challenging process.
Kendra: You’ve proven to be the queen of upcycling when it comes to creating, but does that also play out into your everyday life?
Michelle Dante: Absolutely, I just love giving new life to old things, and it’s an added bonus if I can successfully change the original intended purpose of the materials. My house is full of upcycle projects in various stages of completion from re-upholstered furniture to the wine cork bulletin board I built into our kitchen cabinets.
My favorite project to date has been collecting really uniquely embossed beer and cider bottles and cutting and sanding them into drinking glasses. I’ve made so many we don’t even have store bought water glasses in our house anymore! It’s so important we have active awareness about our disposable culture and each do our part to limit our waste where we can. Making that challenge a creative outlet is something I’m very passionate about.
Kendra: Do you ever hit up conventions with your work or are you focused online right now?
Michelle Dante: My big focus this year has been joining Ten Women Gallery in Santa Monica, a women-owned, artist co-op gallery, and gift shop. I joined last year as a permanent artist in residence and we expanded to a new location on Main Street where they have been for the past 25 years. It’s such an amazing group of all local, female artists creating in so many different mediums and disciplines. Currently, there are thirty of us showcasing our work in the storefront on Main Street. Having that space to curate and display my paintings and creations has been the greatest gift. Between Ten Women and Etsy, it is really the best of both worlds to have both a brick and mortar and an online presence. It certainly is a juggle but I love it, and I would be so pumped to bring my work to a future convention!
Kendra: Are there any new items or fandoms that you’ll be showcasing with Avant Dante in the coming months?
Michelle Dante: I’ve got a few new collections up my sleeve for this summer and fall in celebration of some of my favorite current shows, specifically Stranger Things and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Right now I am working on two different portrait prints from one of my all-time favorite movies A League of Their Own.
My personal and ultimate fangirl moment happened a few months ago when I was contacted to do some artwork concepts for my favorite band of all time Third Eye Blind. Fingers crossed you’ll be able to see a piece of mine featured on their Summer Gods tour with Jimmy Eat World! I can’t believe that is a real sentence coming out of my mouth. What can I say, it just goes to show you, if you keep making and creating from a place of love and putting that work out into the world, you will get that love back tenfold.