If you’ve been to just about any big gay Atlanta event in recent years, you’re already tracking a pattern in the most show-stopping costumes. Chances are that one couple keeps getting caught in your favorite looks.
“All credit for the costumes goes to Tommy,” says Don Hunnewell (top photo, right) of his boyfriend Tommy Bui (left). “He is the genius behind all the looks. It wasn’t until I met Tommy almost four years ago that I began to understand the magical transformation that takes place with a real awesome costume.”
Halloween and its events like the annual Jerusalem House bash (year after year) certainly bring out Bui’s creativity, but you might have seen his handiwork on plenty of other occasions. Second glances have been cast their way during Atlanta Pride, the Red Dress Ball, and Atlanta Cotillion. They’ve been the Lone Ranger and Tonto, a pair of red queens, circus performers and most recently Day of the Dead skeletons, to name just a few.
“Ever since I arrived in the United States, I started playing with costumes and it’s become my passion,” says Bui, a salon stylist and artist. “In Vietnam there is no Halloween, so that’s I how got excited and inspired. Next thing I know, I just got deeper and deeper into the joy of creating.”
We noticed, so we asked the pair to share their insights on dressing up to help us spread the costume love with photos of their inspirational, wearable art. Check out the results below.
Where do the costume ideas come from, and how do you go about deciding which ones to do?
Tommy Bui: As an artist, I am always inspired and love the fantasy world. Most of the time I am inspired from my favorite comic book and movie characters. To decide which one always depends on the party and theme of the event.
Don Hunnewell: As a kid growing up in rural Maine I have only one memory of wearing a cheap plastic Casper mask and a bed sheet. As an adult, it wasn’t until I got in the bar business in 1989 that I did a handful of costumes for benefits such as Masquerade and Wigwood and looking back, I loved hiding behind the masks and make-up. It was exciting to walk up to people I knew well and watch as they struggled to figure out who was behind the mask or make-up.
What’s your process transforming an idea into a final look?
Bui: One of my favorite things to do when I have free time is doing rough sketches out of whatever is in my mind at the moment. Also I love searching Google Images for the most trendy Avant garde clothing and make-up that I can find on-line. I will then combine all the bits and pieces to create my original ideas, and the character is born.
Hunnewell: Deciding on and executing costumes wasn’t my talent, so I just let him have fun with his creations and I’m continually amazed and in awe of his many talents – hair, make-up, body painting, canvas art, sculpture, photography, drawing, sewing, cooking and mostly just the art of living in happiness. I’m a lucky man to be an active part of his artistic world! The best part is wondering what characters and images are dancing around in his head.
What is it about costumes that you enjoy so much?
Hunnewell: Making people smile and knowing I’m sporting a Tommy original piece of art!
Bui: I just want to express all my creativity so people can hopefully enjoy my expression of art.
Do you think gay people are particularly drawn to dressing up?
Hunnewell: It would be easy for many to think that costumes are a major part of the gay experience, but I think it’s equally attractive to the straight world. Just look at Dragoncon and the explosion of cosplay events, and I think you’ll find that cosplay is not just for gays or kids at Halloween. What’s not to love about escaping into a different persona?
Anything you’d like to add for other costumers out there?
Hunnewell: Of course anyone who knows Tommy knows he is a playful artist in every aspect of his life 24/7. I quickly learned that his many talents included a passion and healthy obsession for creating amazing costumes and looks. If I have any complaints, it’s that he creates these masterpieces and after the events are over he’s shy and won’t go to Kroger or Waffle House and slap a few smiles on some strangers who mostly need a bright light in the middle of the night.
Bui: My only advice for the costume newbies is don't be afraid to go out side of your comfort zone. Be creative and just have fun with it!
Photos by Matt Hennie, Sher Pruitt and Randall Carpenter for Project Q. Others courtesy Hunnewell and Bui.