If you’ve ever been to Bakersfield, California, there’s a chance you might not remember passing through.
Aside from notable former inhabitants including US Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, who headed the commission that investigated John F Kennedy’s shooting, country music star Buck Owens and heavy metal favourite Korn, it’s an unremarkable place.
All of which is a small pointer to why a younger Ginger Damon would find any way possible out of the town where she was born and raised, and eventually end up launching a motorcycle apparel company for women called Gigi Montrose Moto Couture.
“Being 17 back then in Bakersfield, no one seemed to have any hopes and dreams. I was determined to not let that happen to me.”
So Ginger became a hair stylist, but not just for any curl-up-and-dye salon. She went to work for Sebastian International in LA, where her client base eventually included some of the most famous people in Hollywood in the 80s and 90s – Sheena Easton, Paula Abdul, Jane Fonda and members of the Jackson family.
Trimming the tresses of the rich and famous eventually lost its appeal, but rather than start a new career, she took her talents down the street and became a hair stylist for the film industry. That meant more famous people and Academy Award recognition as part of the hair and make-up team on Star Trek with Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana.
“What attracted me to this career was the beauty and power. There was an understated elegance earlier on and I wanted to be one of the people who made that statement. The stylists were the rock stars back then. But that was changing and I wanted something different,” she said.
So Ginger spent the next year at an archeological dig, then came back to LA and got involved in community policy, which turned into an indirect path into the motorcycle industry.
She said: “I happened to know a guy at the time who was starting a custom motorcycle shop. I used my organisational ability and knowledge about the LA permitting process to help him get set up. In exchange, he offered to build me a motorcycle.”
While that guy never made good on his offer, it did get Ginger involved with the LA motorcycle scene. She began going to local motorcycle events, and while not yet a bike owner, she dressed the part and her sense of style started attracting attention.
“I didn’t have any gear, so I’d wear what I had. Girls would say ‘I need to dress like that’. The guys would say, ‘I wish my wife or girlfriend would dress that way’. Then when I started looking for a real motorcycle jacket for me, I couldn’t find one. So I made one myself.”
That first jacket, plus the comments she’d heard, prompted Ginger to start a company focused on making stylish motorcycle apparel strictly for women. But there was something missing as she began building her fledgling business – the proper name and a bike of her own. She credits Marilyn Manson with the former and Craigslist with the latter.
“I’d worked with Marilyn and was intrigued by the combination of names he and his band had come up with. I’d always been a fan of the movie Gigi and the song Bad Motor Scooter by Montrose, so the name of the company became Gigi Montrose Moto Couture. I call it ‘Prada meets the Rolling Stones’.”
As for the bike… she promptly turned to that leviathan of all that’s used – Craigslist.
“I really wanted a Triumph. It was probably because everyone I liked rode them – Steve McQueen, The Fonz, Ann Margret. I’d met Ann and I knew she was passionate about motorcycles. So when I saw this two-year old T100, I just knew I had to buy it.”
Turns out that T100 was a deal – it only had 5,000 miles and Ginger got it for $7,000. She’s been riding it as often as she can since and meeting people including professional stunt rider Jen Caputo, former Isle of Man winner Phil Reid and leather designer Robert Warner along the way. Proof for her that she’s on the right track.
She said: “I saw that many women ride with a borrowed identity. They’re wearing their guy’s jackets. I didn’t want to be the girl in that jacket; I wanted to date the guy in that jacket. But how do you complement that?
“So I created apparel that has a strong sense of feminism, individuality and empowerment. I spoke to a couple of young girls not long ago who saw me wearing one of my jackets and riding my bike. I told them, ‘you can ride a motorcycle. You can be pretty. You can be anything you want to be’.”
What Ginger probably also told them is that often that means going your own way, something she’s had no problem doing since leaving Bakersfield.
Maybe one day Ginger Damon will be added to that list of famous former residents.