Chattanoogan: Chris Fugate – Geeking Out

Friday, August 23, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

With Halloween around the corner, Chris Fugate is already preparing for his favorite holiday. Helping to run the family business “Beauty and the Beast Costuming Shop”, Chris is already taking orders – something that started before the shop even came about. Friends would ask to borrow things from the closet or for his help designing their costumes for an event.

Born in northern Harrison surrounded by 28 acres of woods, Chris didn’t have neighborhood kids around, so he spent most of his time watching Thundercats and various animated action flicks along with playing video games. This would spur his creative mind for the beastly costumes as well as the fun ones.

He attended Red Bank in his middle and high school years, but was glad when it was over. He liked science, but his mind was further advanced than the rest of the class and he found it boring.

“My science teacher constantly got mad at me for reading books in class. One day, she gave me a dare and said, ‘So, you think you can pass the final right now?’ and I said matter-of-factly, ‘Yes…’ and she said, ‘Okay, I will make up the final for you and, if you can pass it, I will bring you something to read for the rest of the year,’” Chris relays.

He ended up making a 91 on the exam without even studying and his teacher brought science journals and magazines for him to read for the rest of the year. “It was a remedial science class that everyone has to take. We spent most of the time watching old episodes of Bill Nye the science guy – I still can’t stand hearing that theme song,” Chris laughs with a cringe. “Just wake me up when we get to something that hasn’t been covered in the last five years.”

Chris had wanted to become a video game designer and he knew most of the creatures that were in the games. Chris has coupled his two geek-freak passions and is currently a computer programmer with ADP as well as finding the creativity to come up with eccentric costumes for the shop.

“I went to UTC for a useful life skill that would get me a job, so I chose computer programming. I have been with ADP for seven years and I write the software that runs the leave administration and when someone goes on short term disability or medical leave – it is being called into one of our call centers and it goes through some of my software,” Chris explains.

On the side he spends his time at the shop brainstorming with his family for the next big event. Think ‘Star Trek’, fantasy and science fiction and there is always a convention around the corner. Family members, Susan and Jeff Stringer, started the shop almost 25 years ago. Susan was already taking orders from friends to make their costumes for Halloween or for costume events before even launching her business.

“When you think of the name of the shop, it makes sense,” she says. “We have the pretty costumes and we have the ugly ones.”

People come to the shop from all over the Southeast to make sure to have unique and well-made costumes. Susan sews most of them herself. She and Jeff have won several awards for grand master costuming.

“I was engaged to someone before I met my husband and I had wanted to do a Beauty and the Beast pair of costumes for a science fiction convention, but he would have none of it. He said, ‘I don’t dress up’ and I thought, ‘Well, this is not going to last’,” Susan laughs.

In 1986, when she met her husband Jeff, he liked the idea so Susan made the costumes and they wore them to ‘Worldcon’ – the World Science Fiction Convention in Atlanta. Worldcon is one of the biggest science fiction conventions held for over 71 years and giving the illustrious ‘Hugo’ award.

The Stringers won ‘best in class’ for novice that year, as that was the first Worldcon they had attended.

“Susan always made what I wanted to dress up as, better than anything you could get out of a package,” Chris says. “I started going to conventions like Dragon*Con and building my own costumes. At the conventions, everyone is in costume at all times. You can’t walk through the lobby without seeing a half dozen super heroes, storm troopers, or movie characters. If you want to play, you have to bring something to wear,” he jokes.

With a plethora of knowledge on most any video game or science fiction character, Chris takes pride in his creations that come to life.

“I saw a costume of Simon (Simon Petrikov of The Ice King) where someone had a really cheesy suit, a glued on witch’s nose, and blue face paint and called it a day.  I knew I could do better than that and I WOULD do better than that!” Chris says emphatically.

Gathering ideas at Home Depot as he scouts for certain pieces to a costume, Chris spied a yellow plastic bucket in which he envisioned a sawed-off crown for the Simon costume. With a mascot-style head, Chris fashioned the costume with fur and made the proper ventilation holes throughout.

“The most interesting costume is one Susan and Jeff are putting together – it is out of my league... she can sew anything you can dream up and her husband can fabricate just about anything whether it needs pistons or foam …whatever. Most of this costume (Simon) is ‘off the rack good will’,” Chris chuckles.

For many years, the family has hosted various haunted houses throughout the community with a percentage of the proceeds going to local charities.

“My favorite characters would have to be the Freddy Krueger costume we are working on and also in the early years I liked the World of War Craft Orc – it’s from a video game. I actually had motor cycle gas tank covers for shoulder pads. They were huge because these characters have really huge shoulder pads. We saw these things in a thrift store. One of the biggest skills to develop in doing this is to stop looking at something for what it is and look at it for what it could be,” Chris says.

Rather than recreating the usual characters, sometimes Chris will co-mingle characters, genres or eras.

“With Freddy we are doing a crossover genre… Freddy Krueger crossed with Steam Punk…  Steam Punk is a genre basically set in Victorian times where steam power was the most high tech prevalent thing…. It ‘re-imagines’ modern technology using steam power,” Chris explains.

Susan adds, “The best description I have heard is to think ‘Jewels Vern’ science fiction based on Victorian technology. People have always imagined what the future will be like. The movie ‘Wild, Wild West’ was Steam Punk. It set off the entire genre… Steam Punk had been around, but it didn’t gain huge popularity until that movie came out. The running gag is that it would be Goth – except that it’s brown…” 

Freddy will have his usual gloves, but Chris will develop creative things with the arm having a cybernetic robot arm with steam technology, pistons, steam vents, gears and cogs and crossing the outfit with an American cowboy-type theme.

Chris may have kept to himself and hidden his face in a book or zoned out with video games when he was a child, but he still liked attention from people. He found a way to get that attention in a way comfortable for him, and that was in costuming.

“It is a nice physical barrier… when you put on these suits you can be whoever you want to be… and as long as you don’t do anything stupid or illegal there are no repercussions for it. If you put on a monster suit, you can terrorize people and chase innocent civilians down… and they love it! It’s like Halloween anytime – you get to do things that are not acceptable any other time of the year,” Chris laughs.

Who knows what characters he will creatively combine for the next Worldcon or Halloween – perhaps “Frank Einstein”?  Barely into his thirties Chris’ thoughts on the future regarding his personal life are simple.  

“I want to get married and have a family…. I just need to find a cute girl who likes to play dress up.”

jen@jenjeffrey.com



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