Just before my interview with local party promoter MayStar, she texts to ask me if she should wear makeup. It strikes me as an odd question even from someone like her. That is, someone who has spent much of the last decade throwing independent fashion shows and lavish parties for San Diego’s weirdo cliques.
“Do you want me to be no makeup May or do you want me to be MayStar? LOL,” reads the text.
I tell her to do whatever is most convenient and don’t think much about the interaction until later when I’m sitting with her at a Golden Hill wine bar. Halfway through our interview I realize there are, indeed, two Mays. There’s MayStar, the host of Club Fashion Whore and other local indie parties that have been held at varying San Diego clubs for more than 10 years. And then there’s May (technically, May Jacob, although she’s not keen on people knowing her surname), the pragmatic, behind-the-scenes promoter who will be ending Fashion Whore on Dec. 5 at U-31.
I start to think about the differences between the two: MayStar works a room, champagne in hand, making small talk with fellow scenesters. She giggles demurely even when she doesn’t find someone particularly funny. She mixes the word “like” into her sentences far too frequently.
Luckily on this night I happen to be talking to May. She’s not wearing any makeup. There is no superfluous use of the word “like” throughout the interview.
“The MayStar character was almost like a release for me,” she says. “It’s almost like a character, but that character is such a huge part of me. It’s natural and it’s not forced, but it only happens in that setting. A party isn’t real life so in a lot of ways I’ve been living a life of escapism.”
First held in 2005 at the former San Diego Sports Club in Hillcrest (which later morphed into the Ruby Room and is now The Merrow), Club Fashion Whore started out as a dance night centered on the emerging electroclash music scene. A UC San Diego theater graduate, May was attracted to the theatrical elements of electroclash. Given the genre’s popularity in the international fashion world, Fashion Whore soon morphed into an event that featured fashion shows from regional designers, as well as monthly pop-up bazaars for local crafters to sell their wares. While most people don’t remember electroclash or the San Diego Sports Club, Fashion Whore was ahead of its time in that it embraced the local craft community and gave it a forum to show off products.
“To be honest, the fashion show was just a marketing idea to get people to come to my dance party,” May says.
The night soon became her trademark event and was popular enough that the owner of the Sports Club built a custom runway for the fashion shows. May soon expanded her nightlife reach, adding an 18-and-over event called Pop Noir at the downtown club Static Lounge.
However, being the sole employee of what has ostensibly become a nightlife event company has taken a toll on her. May has been the host of the events, as well as the company’s sole promoter, organizer and web designer. At the height of her popularity, she would be hosting and promoting four events a month at clubs throughout San Diego and Tijuana. Over the years, she says she developed a wicked case of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Early last year her boyfriend since her teens was diagnosed with thyroid cancer (he’s currently in remission). May says these things were enough to make her want to quit doing events, but that ultimately she’s quitting because, well, she’s just not feeling it anymore.
“Sometimes when I thought of quitting, I’d tell myself I need to make it to 10. I’ve been wanting to quit for a while, but I needed that 10,” says May, who adds that she’s had to move Fashion Whore to almost a dozen different clubs over the years. “I have over 6,000 people on my mailing list, but a lot of those people have moved. Some of them have babies now.”
Sitting with her on this night, it’s easy to speculate why an event like Fashion Whore isn’t doing as well anymore. The San Diego scene has always been ambivalent about fashion and the people who once came to her events are, indeed, now growing up and settling down.
When asked why she doesn’t try to market her event to a new, younger crowd, May says it was a lot easier to promote events in the past when Facebook would allow users to invite all their friends. She admits she could probably find new and inventive ways to market her event and keep it going a little longer, but after 10 years, she just wants to move on.
How does it feel to leave a brand you spent more than a decade building? May, the real May, doesn’t shed any tears or wax nostalgic.
“If you had asked me two years ago I would have said yes, I’m proud of it,” she says. “It’s not even the amount of work, but it’s almost like I just want to be normal or work for someone else and just have a break from the constant hassle. I want to put my phone in a drawer. Yes, I’m proud I made something out of nothing, but it was at the expense of myself. I feel like I’ve given away my youth to San Diego, and they don’t give a fuck. They don’t care.”