this changed everything

tiffa novoa 1975 – 2007

heavy shit today.

tiffa (née tiffany ann snead) was not just a fashion designer, she invented an entire aesthetic style. she was not just one of the founding members of a notorious performance troupe, she helped to create an entire subculture. she wasn’t just a visionary artist, she was a force of nature whose ripple effects inspired, and will continue to inspire, her closest friends and countless, thousands, of people who are likely not even aware that this is the woman responsible for their inspiration.

i barely knew tiffa, and i can easily say that she affected the course of my life.

in the spring of 2004 i ran into an unusual-looking group of folks walking around venice beach. later i would describe the way this posse appeared at the time as superheroes in street clothes–from a street on a different planet. having previously worked with the dresden dolls in boston before moving out to LA, i had only one idea of what this gang could be. i went up to them and asked, “what are you guys? are you a band?”

the answer came back, “no. we are a circus.”

the group was called, simply, el circo.

two months later i found myself at a seminal event in the los angeles underground. it was a fashion show for onda designs at a downtown warehouse. the fashions were tiffa’s, though i had no idea who she was at the time, and the people i met that night, and would meet in the years after who had been involved with the production of that night, would become some of my dearest friends and colleagues. the name of the party was “VITAL.”

in the scrapbook i have from that year, full of flyers and other mementos, i still have a flyer for VITAL, and underneath it, in a bout of prescience that completely astonished me when i rediscovered it looking through the scrapbook a few months ago, i had written the words:


so i had known even then.

i had known immediately.

seven months after VITAL i became the production manager for an LA-based circus troupe called lucent dossier, which was just two months old at the time. five months after that i was working with lucent and the do lab on redbull’s ascension event, getting a hands-on, crash-course education in culture marketing from the experts in the field. (that event was also the first time i actually worked with el circo, 1 year after meeting them on venice beach.)

the night that 2005 became 2006 i was at the new year’s eve party put on by madison house and anon salon where i watched the dresden dolls and el circo perform on the same stage.

a year and a half later i was developing the marketing strategy for the do lab’s lightning in a bottle music festival, on which el circo were very significant collaborators. and now, six months after that, i’m writing this post on my marketing website, getting so nostalgically lost in the mystical, cyclical serendipity of all these events, that it actually made me manage to forget for a moment why i sat down to write this post in the first place.

by the time i’d become involved in this whole circus, tiffa had moved on to a new design label, ernte fashion systems, moved to bali where the production was based, and become a significant couture force from paris to tokyo.

i know this because many of my friends who have themselves become designers and gone on to start fashion labels are her friends, her artistic progeny, and have been inspired by the path she blazed and the creative visions she wrought.

in a 2005 SF-Bay Guardian article on the effect that the various groups within the burningman community have had on san francisco nightlife, and west coast underground dance culture in general, the writer paid particular attention to the legacy of el circo:

El Circo has fused a musical style and a fashion sense that are major departures from the old rave scene.

El Circo [is credited] with creating the postapocalyptic fashions that many now associate with Burning Man. Most of the original El Circo fashions, which convey both tribalism and a sense of whimsy, were designed by member Tiffa Novoa, who has since hit it big with her Onda Designs.

….That fashion sense has carried over onto the streets and into the clubs of San Francisco, giving an open and otherworldly feel to many parties.

….It can also be a personally transformative experience. “At first, this was all costuming, but now it’s who I am,” says Matty Dowlen, who manages El Circo’s operations and looks like a cross between a carny, a hippie, and a trapper.

…. “A lot of the women in El Circo were some of the most beautiful in the world, and [Novoa] dressed them up to look even more beautiful,” [Electronic musician Random] Rab says, noting that it changed how the denizens of El Circo conceived of themselves. “One day everyone was all hippied out, and then they were all tribal and tattooed.”

…. El Circo strives to cultivate a new kind of culture and communal ethos.

this is what tiffa created.

she was one hell of a powerful being. powerful enough to create a vision of the world that was so mesmerizing it enchanted a whole subculture and even managed to redefine people’s sense of self.

my love goes out to all my friends who are mourning her loss. she will be greatly missed. what she has created will continue to inspire countless others to pursue their creative dreams. it is bigger than life–or death.

this changed everything.


“Tiffa Novoa, whose legendary creative and artistic impact will be forever felt, will be honored in a public memorial next week. All who knew her or were impacted by her life are invited to come and share space and memory. If you have a piece of her clothing, please feel encouraged to wear it. Also, in order to relieve her family and close friends of the necessary finances of this event, there is a suggested donation of $10. After the reception there will be a potluck gathering at a near-by park in the Oakland Hills.”

Memorial Service:
Monday, Oct. 29th
1:00 to 2:30pm

Chapel of the Chimes
4499 Piedmont Ave
Oakland, CA 94611


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