It doesn’t seem quite like Christmas until one receives an invitation to an ugly-sweater party. Freelance filmmaker Miaken Christensen takes the concept a step further with her annual Sweater Soiree, a huge word-of-mouth party in the Avenues. This year, Christensen decided to make the magic last all year long by producing a Sweater Boys 2012 calendar (SweaterBoys.com), featuring pin-up shots of men in ugly sweaters. All proceeds of the calendar will go to Project Renew, an organization developed by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to help families affected by leftover cluster bombs in Vietnam.
How long have you been hosting the Sweater Soiree?
I started four years ago. It just started as a fun party idea—ugly sweaters are funny. I was trying to think of something that would motivate people to actually wear ugly sweaters, so I wanted to have a cool prize. The first year I did it, I decided to do a Sweater Girls calendar as a joke, and everyone loved it and thought it was hilarious. The next year, I thought, “This would be funnier if it were guys.” So I started doing Sweater Boys. Every year, it’s gotten bigger and bigger. Every year, everyone’s asking, “Where can I buy one of these? I really want one,” and I never have them for sale; I only print out two. This year, I decided I would sell them, and I would donate whatever I made to this organization that I’ve worked with out of Vietnam. I felt that if we’re going to sell them, we might as well do it for a good cause.
Thrift stores are having a hard time keeping ugly sweaters in stock. Is your party responsible for this?
I think we’ve definitely contributed to it. I went looking for a new ugly sweater this year—you can’t do a repeat, you know—and I went to the thrift store, and they were like $20. I was like, “This is the ugliest sweater I’ve ever seen, how can it be $20?” But I paid for it, because I needed something really good and ugly. It’s becoming this huge fad—everyone’s trying to beat out everyone else.
What are the latest trends in ugly-sweater fashion?
A lot of dangly things, like dangly bells, dangly candy canes. I haven’t seen too many light-up sweaters, but when I do, it’s a real gem. It’s tough [to pick a winner], usually, because we get a lot of really nasty sweaters there. I guess the general criteria is someone whose sweater is just unabashedly, full-force gaudy, ugly nastiness, to the extreme. The more frills and grandma flare, the better.
Who’s the target demographic for these calendars?
I’ve been tracking who’s been sharing the link and coming to the site, and I have everything from 20-somethings on Facebook to Mormon housewives with blogs. I think it’s a funny thing for women. It’s not meant to be sexy; it’s meant to be funny. It’s a joke, and so women have typically gotten a kick out of it. But a lot of guys get a kick out of it too.
How did you pick Project Renew?
In 2009, my brother and I and some friends went over to do some filming—just some personal projects. We visited some rural villages on the DMZ, which is highly populated with unexploded ordinance. 100,000 people have been injured or killed by these unexploded ordinances since the war ended; it’s a major problem still. I had no idea. I think a lot of people my age don’t know about the war in general, and we also don’t know about the long-lasting effects.
I interviewed some widows in these areas whose husbands had recently been killed. They go out, they go search for scrap metal, and they pick something shiny up, and it explodes and they die. A lot of those bombs were designed to be tampered with before exploding. I was really moved by these families and what they’re up against.
Project Renew is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, and it’s headed up by someone who’s a U.S. Vietnam vet who just felt an obligation to go over there and help rejuvenate the country. They have programs in place for these victims and their families to help them get back on their feet. It’s designed to be sustainable, so it’s not just giving them money—it’s teaching them a trade, or buying them a water buffalo so they can plow their own fields, or buying them pigs so they can breed them and have lots of other pigs to sell. And they also do land-mine and cluster-bomb removal, on the preventative side of things. I’ve wanted to go back and help, but for now, ugly sweaters are the only way I’m going to be able to do that.