This is his second set of fangs: a pair of Liliths. They’ll match perfectly with the Classics he got last November. Luis Savinon is a member of the Sabretooth vampire clan, one of 40 vampire clans in New York City, and is doing the essential preparations for his first Vampire Anti-Valentine’s Day Ball. The ball has been held every year, for the past 18 years, the Sunday after Valentine’s Day and marks one of the key gatherings for this clan’s members.
Around this time of year, an appointment with the fangsmith is hard to come by: he’s only in New York City four days leading up to the event and is very popular. Why? There are a dozen or so other fangsmiths in the city, after all.
This particular fangsmith is the founding father of the Sabretooth Clan, which has approximately 300 members in New York City, where it started, and has grown to include members from all over the U.S. and Europe, totaling 1,000 worldwide.
His name is Sebastiaan van Houten, “aka Father Sebastiaan”, and all you need to do to join his clan is go through the Rite of Transformation: get your first pair of custom fangs from him, a pair of temporary tooth caps made of acrylic (the same material used for dentures).
Van Houten loves flan, speaks sign language and smokes an electric handheld vaporizer. He is a 6-foot looming figure with bright blue eyes, a candid smile framed by a pointed beard, and has long chestnut wavy hair.
Oh, and he says he’s also a living vampire.
Although he was born in 1975 in California, van Houten grew up in the New York City metro area and said fangsmithing is “one of those things that fell in my lap.”
As a child he said he loved the supernatural and horror movies but that his introduction to real vampirism was through his mother who told him about Anne Rice’s novels. He was 13 years old. Several years later van Houten said he found himself looking for a fangsmith to get his first pair of fangs because his first love had requested to go to their high school prom as vampires.
He wore the new fangs to his job at a specialty shoe store in New Jersey, van Houten said, and a dentist spotted him and suggested that they go into business together. “He taught me how to make the teeth,” van Houten said, “I worked my butt off.”
After 19 months of making dentures, caps and bridges for the dentist, the business fell apart, according to van Houten. But hooked on fangs and vampire culture, van Houten set up shop in the East Village in 1994, first working out of the popular Goth club at the time, The Bank, (now known as Element).
His first customer was his mother. “She’s the brood of 1994,” van Houten said. A brood is the year you receive your first pair of fangs, he said. It functions much like a graduation year or class year.
Nowadays, van Houten’s fang shop is located inside the Halloween Adventure store on 4th avenue and 11th street, near Union Square. It is hidden behind the pirate section and is about the size of a photo booth, allowing only two customers and himself in at a time.
“I warn people in the beginning: if you look in the mirror, I will not finish and I’m not refunding your money,” van Houten said. The experience is about suspense, mystery and a final unveiling that is usually accompanied by a snarl, giggle, or a growl.
Along with a promise to not look in the mirror, before any fang making can start a customer must perform a pledge holding their arms high in the air, hands in rock ‘n’ roll form:
“By the power of Father Sebastiaan, I will not eat with my fangs on. By the power of Father Sebastiaan, I will not sleep with my fangs on…I will smoke and drink with my fangs on. I will have crazy amazing sex with my fangs on.”
Pinkies to gums, the customers lift their upper lips and the master begins his work.
Van Houten, armed with black latex gloves and a dentist’s scalpel, mixes up some creams, pastes, and liquid solvents from unmarked bottles into a small plastic cup. The resultant creamy white paste he places on the third teeth from the middle to mold Classic fangs and the second teeth from the middle to mold Lilith fangs. After a few minutes to let the paste harden and take the shape of the tooth beneath it, he yanks the mold off.
The teeth are not permanent and no adhesive or glue is required, rather they fit snuggly on top of the tooth.
Because he has dental training, van Houten said he does not use a mold and works directly in his clients’ mouth. Using electric wood carving tools—they are the same carving tools dentists use for dentures, he said—he shapes the harden lumps into two visible fangs. Or dental caps gone awry. Refits them. And refines and polishes. After 45 minutes, the fangs are ready and it’s mirror time. The Rite of Transformation has been performed and the client is now a member of the Sabretooth Clan. The price is $100 per pair.
“There is no commitment,” he said. “It’s not like a cult where you have to join and do all these things. People come and get fangs and they have their awesome experience and they wear their fangs once in a while.”
There are some people, he adds, that do it full time. Others do a mix, he said, by wearing the fangs for the six months leading up to Halloween and then after Halloween take them off and go back to being normal.
“I’ve had a lot of people go and raise a child and then they come back when their child is at a certain age and they start getting back into it,” he said.
While Goth, he said, is about death, music and morbidness, Sabretooths are very much about living. “Vampirism is about celebration of life and finding those things that make life more special,” he said. “Fangs are really that element of it.”
They encompass four crucial tenants. Fangs are a mask that enable empowerment of personality; they connect you to your primal nature; they are a magic trick, an illusion; and finally a sex toy, he said.
Van Houten lives for the most part in Paris working as a tour guide for Mysteries Tours. “We do catacombs, graveyards like Pere LaChaise, a ghost tour, a vampire tour,” said van Houten. “That’s what I do for a living.”
And on the side he has continued to make fangs for the past 20 years, coming back to New York for the Anti-Valentine’s Day Ball and New Orleans for Halloween.
Van Houten’s fangs became a way to connect people with similar interests in the dark arts. “The community is a result of these people interacting,” he said, “with the connection being my fangs.” Much like a hobby or sports club connects people.
“You make a couple pairs of fangs for Slovenians and those people meet at a music festival with all these Germans, and French, and automatically they gravitate towards each other and have something in common,” he said. “It’s a kind of secret that they can share. It’s this whole subculture and network.
“It’s really genuine,” he said. “It’s not that they all drink blood and think they can turn into bats,” van Houten said. “It’s got a real family vibe to it.”
Like any community, its members ebb and flow in and out as they please with some being more committed while others just dabble. And it thrives around its gatherings. This year’s vampire ball, for example, featured heavy metal music DJ’d by Aengel, Xris Smack!, and V Christ. The Master of Ceremonies Baron Masurara, a Dracula-like vampire with shiny black hair down to his calves, performed throughout the night with “Undead” being particularly popular.
Between 300 and 400 vampires ascended to the Greenhouse club in the West Village (the location was changed last minute from the DL in the Lower East Side) to sway, dance, jump, howl, shake and mingle on the dance floor with bloodbath drinks in hand and no windows to indicate just how far into the night they had come.
The fangs, for some, will be retired in a small plastic case at the end of the night to await the next big event. For others, the fangs will merely come off for the night and be placed back on their teeth to resume every day life the next morning.
Savinon wears his on a daily basis and will most likely seek out a touch up from the father again right before Halloween, in order to prepare for the New Orleans bash—the biggest event for vampires. Savinon already has tickets.
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Correction: This story first published on February 17 stated that van Houten worked in a discount shoe store. He worked in a specialty shoe store, called Wild Pairs. We regret the error.