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The Silk Road to Provincetown

by Steve Desroches

Top Image: Diane von Furstenberg with Jimmy Lee Curtis at Provincetown Fashion Weekend in 2018.

Walking into Jimmy Lee Curtis’ studio at The Commons is a bit like going into the bottle with Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie. At the door of the cozy basement space is a fuchsia ostrich feather boa that peeks out like a bashful child. That shock of color quickly blends into a jungle of fashion as garments in various states of construction envelop the room from floor to ceiling, forming a sphere of fabric akin to the interior of a bohemian tent. On a large table stands a clear glass vase with purple flowers and a costume jewelry statement necklace of rhinestones around the neck. Everywhere you look is a shimmer and a sparkle, including on Curtis’ face, as even with a mask on, the formation of his eyes and brow indicate a big smile.

Affectionately known around Provincetown as Mama Lee, Curtis has reason to smile, as he’s returning to his first passion of fashion, specifically textiles as he points to a wall of hand-painted, one-of-a-kind silk scarves. Those pieces will be the focal point of a fashion show this Saturday at The Commons, the Bradford Street shared workspace open to artists and entrepreneurs that’s become a hive of activity since it opened in 2018. Curtis’ fashion show, titled Lost Is All The Time Not Engaged In Love, will be the biggest event yet for The Commons, and as Curtis gives a twirl to show the motion of a red scarf with an intricate design, it promises to not disappoint.

Photo: Jamie Casertano

“I just love this space,” says Curtis, giving another twirl, holding the scarf close to his chest. “It’s perfect for me. I just love it. I’ve just started to sew and paint textiles again a few years ago. So they said rather than do a gallery show why not do a fashion show, make it an event to show the work. This is really the happiest time in my life.”

Curtis began working in fashion, and specifically in textiles, while a student in London at the American College in the mid 1980s. With a friend, he opened his own boutique on King’s Road and that is where Curtis’ scarves first took off. Very soon one piece ended up in British Vogue around the shoulders of supermodel Christy Turlington on location in Morocco for the shoot. Curtis gives a giggle of disbelief still when he looks at the photo. He hopscotched across the pond and back finishing his degree in his native Michigan and then moving to West Hollywood in 1997 after living in London again. There he switched gears, working at one of the last old-school department stores in Beverly Hills as a makeup artist with Golden Age Hollywood clients like Ann Miller, Janet Leigh, and Mitzi Gaynor. Curtis was in heaven. But little did he know that he was about to ascend a few clouds higher into paradise.

Photo: Jamie Casertano

A friend invited him to Provincetown as a thank you for years of cat-sitting while away at the Cape tip. They stayed at the Burch House, which back at the turn of the millennium was still a wonderfully eccentric, affordable guesthouse just next to the Bas Relief Park. During that first visit to Provincetown, staying in classically bohemian accommodations, Curtis couldn’t get the town out of his system when he returned to California.  He promptly packed up and headed east, landing a job at the Burch House and quickly earning the term of endearment “Mama Lee” because he became the “mother hen” of the house, making food and caring for all the young drag queens, artists, and loveable vagabonds that orbited the quirky abode.

“There used to be a lot of places like the Burch House,” says Curtis. “There were about six or so where you could still get a room for less than $100 in the summer. They attracted the most wonderful people. They were gathering points for artists of all kinds. The Burch House was the best of them all. It was a Provincetown institution. Of course you got what you paid for. It was no frills at all. Once a guest said, ‘It’s kind of dusty,’ and David Jones, who was the manager, said, ‘I’m sorry, we only clean to 40 watts here.’ It was old Provincetown for sure. It was such a creative scene there all the time, dust and all.”

Photo: Jamie Casertano

True to his generous spirit and maternal ways, Curtis frequently digresses to talk about the accomplishments of his “children” here and afar. And many will be models in the show as well as his dear friend DJ Father Figure, Mark Louque, founder of the legendary party Fag Bash, who will spin at the event. It may be there that “Mama Lee” is best known, as he’s worked the door along with Aaron Korch for most of the party’s run. As he takes a largely green and blue piece draping over a gown he’s fashioned, he nods his head in agreement that indeed this show represents him and his work. And he can’t wait to show it to the town. He shrugs his shoulders and then points to a photo hanging on a curtain. It’s of him and famed fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg with an assortment of his scarves hanging behind them. She had surprised and charmed everyone when she made an unexpected appearance at the very first Provincetown Fashion Weekend back in 2018, the year Curtis revisited his first love. Chances are von Furstenberg won’t be at the show this Saturday, but no matter, those that Curtis loves, and that love him back, will be. And that’s what he’s most excited about.

“To be in Provincetown as an artist, getting to make art and to show it,” says Curtis. “I hope it all shows how happy I am. I hope it’s a love letter to the town.”

Jimmy Lee Curtis presents Lost Is All The Time Not Engaged In Love: A Fashion Show on Saturday, August 21 at 7:30 p.m. at The Commons, 46 Bradford St. Trunk show and reception to immediately follow. Event is free, but email [email protected] to register for assigned front row seating. Limited seating available. Standing room open to all. For more information call 508.257.1748 or visit

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Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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