Craftwork

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Piece of Crap vs. Piece of Craft

Danial Hellman wishes you were naked. He wants your boyfriend naked. Hellman isn't craving a roulette of anonymous sex; he wants to woo you with a pair of his handmade underwear.

Tubs of men's boxer-briefs line one wall of his small workspace on Dexter Avenue. Dozens of fabric rolls line another wall. The material ranges from the basic-but-fun sage stripes resting against the door to the mesmerizingly garish, like the gold lamé draped across his worktable.

Hellman began designing and making men's underwear two years ago while apprenticing at local theater companies and scraping to pay rent. To subsidize his income, he was manufacturing 300 dress-form covers for Nordstrom in his 400-square-foot apartment.

"It was awful," Hellman says, "I would stand in my apartment and be waist high in dress-form covers. It was factory work in my living room."

Living in a studio sweatshop was, perversely, inspiring. He started sketching underwear.

"Most designers talk about their 'passion for fashion,' but I just needed the money—badly. I realized that there wasn't a lot of selection when it came to men's underwear, and it's fairly easy to manufacture. Plus, well-made, comfortable underwear is a basic necessity for most people."

Hellman started testing his boxer-briefs on himself and his friends.

"I wanted the cut just low enough to be sexy," he explains. "But it doesn't look like it's falling off—and, most importantly, it doesn't feel like it's falling off."

With the design and fit perfected, Hellman took several sample pairs to The Sweatshop on Capitol Hill (1510 E Olive Way, 324-3662, www.thesweatshopseattle.com) and they began carrying his line, Danial Webster Design. His insignia is a picture of a preening cock. Belltown's all-underpants shop Pants (1914 Second Ave, 956-2945, www.pantsunderpants.com) picked up his undies, so to speak, soon after. Customers who insisted they didn't even wear underwear bought them.

Men buy them for themselves and their boyfriends. Women buy them for themselves and their boyfriends. Hellman has been asked about designing a line for the ladies, but it's not a priority for him at the moment. Women have lots of selection when it comes to underwear, he says, and he considers himself a menswear designer. That doesn't stop females from snatching up his drawers. His bottom line: They're well made, cute, and comfortable, which equals gender-transcendent appeal.

Hellman has carved out a successful niche for himself as a tailor working for Seattle Opera and Seattle Children's Theatre. He also designs outfits for local drag queens such as Sylvia O'Stayformore, Ms. Smoky, and La Vanda de la Rosa. His pet project is Re-bar's monthly drag-queen show and dancefest, Bacon Strip; Hellman clothes bacon-strippers in themed underwear. This month, he's creating angel undies for Born Again Bacon Strip; hence the gold lamé on his worktable. It's a chance to very visibly boost his work's profile. "Plus, I get to be wild and crazy and creative with my designs," he says. "I like to put small surprises inside each pair of undies."

Like scorpions?

"No. I line the pouch with another fun fabric," he explains.

What'd be even more fun? A paycheck for his work.

"I haven't been able to pay myself for this business in over a year," he explains. He personally sews each and every pair of his signature underwear; all profits have gone back into building up his business, paying for studio space, and buying fabric and new sewing and suturing machines.

Hellman's underwear is also available through his website (dwdesign.myshopify.com; $25–$30). Remember: A nice pair of underwear is your last chance to make a good impression.