New Haven’s Flair Fair makes art (and self-expression) accessible for all. Fans of Office Space know exactly why flair matters.
As Supreme Leader Donald Trump hovers his ax over funding for the arts, it feels like now is a very good time to spend your money on paintings, drawings, poetry, sculptures, pottery, and BandCamp downloads. But art can be pricey, and elusive, and you’ve already given what you can to Planned Parenthood and the UNHCR. Which is why we’d like to introduce you to: flair, specifically New Haven’s annual Flair Fair.
Flair, you may recall from Mike Judge’s 1999 cult comedy, Office Space, is what Jennifer Aniston’s character was lacking. Patches, pins and stickers, small-form art, and messaging that decorate your clothes and bags the way paintings decorate the walls of your home. Flair is all that and more. It’s fashion, it’s style, it’s your Facebook likes. It’s art.
That was what motivated Alex Dakoulas when he opened up his web shop, Strange Ways, in 2014. (The physical storefront opened in the arty Westville neighborhood of New Haven in 2015.) “Strange Ways was founded featuring artists and designers and smaller brands,” says Dakoulas. “We’re not selling fine art or high-end clothing. I wanted to make things affordable; I want people to support these artists without spending a lot of money.” Strange Ways sells patches, pins, screen prints, pennants, and other collectibles. “These smaller-price items keep people coming to the shop and supporting the artist in a more accessible way,” Dakoulas says.
The 32-year-old is also the organizer of the Flair Fair, an event premised on the same idea as Strange Ways. Last year, 300 people came to the festival to browse about a dozen vendors’ works. This year’s (free) fair, which takes place April 15, will have about the same number of vendors—some different, some the same—in addition to a food truck at Lyric Hall.
And if you’re wondering about “flair”: Yes. Though pins and patches have largely been a prominent aesthetic for a couple of subcultures (punk, hip-hop), “flair” as a name for these pieces did actually come from the movie. “We took it from Office Space,” Dakoulas says. “It feels weird saying we brought that back, but, across the country, that’s helped revitalize the trend. [I thought,] ‘I’m gonna call it flair,’ and then everyone started using it.” He adds that people primarily do come into the store and to the market for pins and patches. “That’s really what people have been drawn to from the start,” Dakoulas says. “I think there’s a resurgence in it.” He points to similar trends of self-expression and custom art in the ’60s. “I think what makes pins and patches different now than before is that artists are using the medium really well.”
Dakoulas has a degree in graphic design from MassArt in Boston. After he graduated, he designed footwear for Converse and then Puma, before deciding he wanted to sell his own designs and the work of artists he admired. “I have personal thoughts about what works better as a pin or a patch or a button or a sticker,” he says. “I think pins are really cool because they’re sort of like jewelry. The patches are great for statement pieces.” Some flair is better for bags, some is better for people who like texture, some is better for people who want to go bigger.
“The great thing is flair is accessible,” Dakoulas adds. “It’s not expensive; the pins are very easy to buy or stick on your lapel or your bag. The great thing about [flair] is they don’t cater toward any one demographic. What you buy is an expression of yourself.”
Alex Dakoulas – founder of the Flair Fair
Images by Antonio C. Esposito