So Street: My journey from streetwear to high fashion and back. Part 4
There are poets and philosophers sleeping on park benches, under bridges, wrapped in cardboards and rags, making 'home' out of everything that comes their way...they are there to mirror our own existence, they quell our insecurities, make us feel superior or just ashamed...
Sometimes if you are lucky, you'll pass by as they deliver a sentence that somehow explains every single thought that you had been obsessively entertaining for days... So I walked in New York City, in the hope that I would come across one of these broken angels, these mad sages that have forsaken what most of us, work all our lives for: respectability, recognition, money; and yet, within the fire of madness, some of them achieve sheer clarity, something that the rest of us can only aspire to.
It was a cold February in the city, there were remnants of snow on the ground, I was walking toward the Public Library making my way up from Bryant Park. The tents were up, and there was a bustle of people everywhere coming and going with purpose in their stride, I stopped at the side delivery entrance on 40th. I was there for the models rehearsals for my fashion show: I would be showing Fall/Winter '95 as part of the official program of New York Fashion Week.
As I turned around I saw this man with the longest white beard I had ever seen, he was covered in rags from his head down to his feet, I could only make out his water-clear blue eyes and his white beard. He stood by a tree in a bundle of grays, as I passed by he said to me: "this is where the models come in" he smiled, and I smiled back. Ok, not everything has to be profound...and yet that phrase remained etched in my brain. At a distance of some twenty plus years, I finally understand...
We run through life trying to get from one point to another, seldom taking time to truly savor the moment. That was my moment, and yet as if seeing myself in a movie playing inside my head, I seemed to be to preoccupied by what I had to do, to really enjoy it.
We tend to measure ourselves by way of a comparative curve, if we could only stay with ourselves long enough to realize that the rest doesn't really matter, we could then live life as we should, and not in function of the haves and the have nots... Life isn't just, and the game of fashion least of all.
Once I cleared security, (this tough looking italian guy with a heavy Bensonhurst accent), I entered the building and walked up the marble staircase and through the doors of the trustee room.
The stage was being prepared, I saw my name at the top of the catwalk, the gold gilded chairs with crimson velvet cushions were being lined up by volunteers from the Parson School of design: they were laying down gift bags with my name embossed and placing name tags...I couldn't help thinking to myself, that I had never spent one day in Fashion School, what ever I had learned I learned on the job, the rest I had inherited, whether it was a sense for fashion, or the ability to create something different that would capture an audience.
We had actually engaged a publicist for the show and a stylist, whose job was to help me recruit the best available models or actually snatch them from the other shows: rather than pay their usual high fee most of them had done it in exchange for clothes, there is no bigger seal of approval for a new designer than this. Canon: the stylist, spent the first try outs ferociously critiquing each and every piece I had worked six months to put together for the show.
He kept asking for more stuff all the time, till the very last moment, when about twelve hours prior to show time, he said to me: we really need another cat suit, since our production facility was in Los Angeles, that entailed me finding a seamstress in New York and cutting up Chantilly lace that I was able to get from one of our suppliers to create a very sexy and revealing catsuit, I was cutting straight on the lace guessing at the measurements....in this little room off of 7Th Avenue sweating from the central heating till about midnight and then pouring over the seamstress, a real saint of a woman, as she tried to put the piece together with the exactitude that a show piece demands.
Canon was Irish, I am Sicilian so both being "islanders" (meaning not the NY islanders, hockey team, although we were both fans), but rather bearing the character traits of island people, we understood each other. We had somehow fostered a mutual respect for one another, in spite of the constant confrontations. In the end he was the insider, so I tried to follow his lead most often than not, last thing you want in times like this is a yes man or woman.
When it comes to fashion shows, the models you choose or in my case, as a new comer into the big league, the ones you get to walk for you, can make or break the show. I was regarded as a sort of subversive streetwise new and up and coming talent, unbeknownst to me.
Canon was able to talk Canadian supermodel Eve Salvail, one of the edgiest models of the decade, the original girl with the dragon tattoo and a favourite of Jean Paul Gaultier, to open my show.
For that I would be forever grateful. Along with Eve, under the pretext that my show was a "must" show he got some of the hottest and most relevant models of those years, some who ended up having roles in the now cult classic movie by Luc Besson The Fifth Element.
Walking in the backstage chaos right before the show while the dresser are helping the models to get into their outfits, makeup and hair people are buzzing around like bees, and reporters are shoving cameras in your face, is at first a bit surreal, but one can easily rise to the occasion, and inhabit that persona.
I had chosen a soundtrack laden with what I was listening to at that moment: Smashing Pumpkins, The Toadies, and a cover of a Led Zeppelin classic by Five non Blondes among others. The collection as I remember was my take on street meets activewear meets Downtown fashion. It was one of the first time someone had decided to show safety orange for fall...and that was maybe one of my contributions for that year. Eventually it became a "thing" in the years to come. Also I remember using this silk brocade embossed with crosses that was exclusively sold to the Catholic Church for the making of vestments and albs, it took some coercing to get that fabric but I somehow managed. It found its way into very tight fitting pants and jackets, fit for a rock princess...
At the end of the show, Eve brought me on stage, as we walked together towards the photographer's pit at the the very front, I took my bow, and maybe stayed a moment to long, generally that is only permitted to veterans of the business.
Afterwards, while reviewing the video at our showroom with the models and crew we laughed about it, someone remarked that maybe I should of brought along a lounge chair and cracked a beer can, alluding to the time I took for my bow... As someone that from a very young age had been going through the pages of Vogue (mostly to check out the models), to have one of their editors at my show was without a doubt one of the highlights, along of course with the ones from Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, Elle, the New York Time, WWD, etc. etc.....
The day after the show we were scouring the press to see what the reviews saied. WWD (California edition) had a first page article: edgy, streetsmart, California fashion rocks NYC...bla, bla...not everyone was kind, one critic accused me of trying too hard... On the whole, I was well received by the press and for a new comer I got a fair amount of coverage.
However, the best part of the week were the parties; rubbing shoulder with the titans of New York fashion, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Marc Jacobs, just to name a few, was definitely worth the price of admission.
New York back then was changing; it still bore the scars of a rougher past and yet, the big apple was at the cusp of a new period, one that would in a way forever change the city. Few people back then had email or a home computer or a mobile phone for that matter—club nights were still advertised on handbills, you needed quarters for phone booths, you could smoke just about anywhere, and most corners remained blissfully free of chain drugstores and banks.
The after parties thrown around town that year were equally as surreal... among all the Fashion Capitals, New York in my opinion has the best parties.
I recall walking into a an event for Alexander McQueen somewhere in the East Village, he would be showing in New York later on that year for the first time. As I walked through the wall of people gathered in an expansive loft space with music blaring, I remember seeing a few of my show programs used for coasters, I think that single instant was probably the most validating moment of the whole week.