Monday, August 21, 2006

Sophie Ward (2006)

O2W: How did you get involved with modeling?

Sophie Ward: The story goes like this: Gemma was in the audience to watch the competition “Search for a Supermodel” in Perth and she was discovered by an agent who saw her sitting there. She called my mum and asked her to come down to the TV studio because she was in the final 10. We (me and mum) were in the audience watching her and the judges asked me why I didn’t enter. Then I explained I was Gemma’s sister. The same agent who took on Gemma asked me to join the agency too. I couldn’t enter the competition because I had my finals three weeks later so we decided to take it slowly, at my own speed, when I had the time. A few weeks later was the “City Face Competition” (which discovered Nicole Trufino and Dion Carnell) and they asked me to enter, but I said I had to study. They begged me to come so I went in the afternoon and won the competition, That’s how I got my first photos done, in 2003, then I was at university in Perth and I kept modeling at arms length, I decided education was more important, then in the third year I was able to go to Sydney a lot for lots of different jobs, I had become more mature and learnt how to juggle lots of things.

O2W: What is it like sharing the same name as your sister who is an international supermodel?

SW: Its cool, I get to do lots of fun stuff, it’s opened the world up for the whole family. It’s made it possible for all of us to travel to see our family in England. I miss Gemma so much when she’s not here, but now I get to see her much more often. Gemma was 15 when she started, and she always had a chaperon, my mum was with her for six weeks in New York when she first went there. She was on option for Meisel the whole time and they weren’t sure how long to stay in New York for because it was costing money and nothing was happening. But she got the break and got the Prada campaign. Our parents let us try anything we like, they are really good to us. People always say that we’re so happy together and it’s true. They wanted us to experience a richer understanding of life so they were happy to see us be happy within ourselves by experiencing so much. Mum is a nurse and Dad is a doctor so they are both very educated and caring people.

O2W: Do people always compare you to her, or have expectations of you because of her?

SW: We’re both our own person, one of the main obstacles of my career is that people will always compare me to her. I didn’t want to be at IMG to begin with because it’s the same agency as Gemma but I’m glad I decided to because they understand we’re different and have different looks.

O2W: What is your relationship like with Gemma?

SW: We’re best friends. I went oversees for the first time to Glastonbury festival in England last year and we went to Porto Fino in Italy at the home of Dolce & Gabbana when Mario Testino was shooting Josh Hartnett and Gemma together. Now and again Gemma reminds me about when we were there and Mario told her that she looks so normal standing next to me because I am taller and look more couture than she does. We are very close as friends but we have strong points of difference of course. She showed me around in New York, it was amazing because she lives there most of the time and it’s like home to her now. It was her turf and it changed our relationship and took it to another level. We realized how much we love each other. We both love having our family around. It’s like your heart. We’ve spent all of our lives together but it’s hard to be apart but now I know she’s always close by no matter where I am.

O2W: What are your other brothers like?

SW: I have two brothers who are twins, Henry and Oscar. They’re 15 years old. It’s hard to tell if they’re going to model when they’re older. If it’s up to them then they won’t. It’s not something I can see them being interested in, they are really into playing basketball and they both really love school, they’re insanely smart. Oscar learnt to read when he was three, and then taught Henry how to read as well. Oscar is definitely going to be something academically extraordinary when he is older. A few years ago I told Henry that if you drink lots of milk you get strong and tall. He wants to be 6′7” tall like Michael Jordan, and I said if you drink milk it will make you grow, now he drinks two liters a day of milk, cereal three times a day.

O2W: What is it like back in Australia in the Ward family?

SW: In Perth the family house is really big and airy. It’s in the suburbs near to the river. It’s far from anywhere and so it’s expensive to travel so we would have family holidays along the coast, ride jet skis, play golf and tennis. It’s very recreational. There is no nightlife really in Perth but it’s a very safe place to live. In our house the kitchen was always the center of the house. My mum would cook lemon meringue pies because we have a lemon tree out the back. We sat for hours and hours talking when we were younger. Mum taught us how to cook and about life. People said we were like the Brady Bunch because we got on so well it was odd, we argued sure but it was always so nice to live there. We all took a course about how to resolve conflict and leave the past behind and about how live a life full of infinite possibilities. It’s called Landmark Education. You can do it all over the world. Police forces do it and now they’re trying to implement it into schools.

O2W: Where do you all live now?

SW: Gemma lives in NY most of the time. She just got her own apartment eight months ago. I’ve been living in Sydney around my friends Tiia and Dion [Carnell] for the past year and the rest of family is still in Perth. My aunty has bought a derelict French house and the whole family is going there to do it up. I think my parents want to retire to France and have goats and orchards.

O2W: What were you all like as children growing up in Perth?

It was so funny, I have so many stories. We spent our whole childhood barefoot. We had a go-cart and we could all fit on it and we would roll down the hill. We did the most crazy things in that, we jumped off the jetties and went to the ice cream stores. Holidays were spent at the beach. My favorite holidays were the ones where we banned anything with a screen (televisions, Gameboys or anything like that), so we would go camping. I remember me and Gemma had a dictaphone and we made up stories with each other and then listen back to them and laugh all night long. Before that we used to write letters to each other when we were in the car. We made up a story that I was the woman who owned a quickie mart, my brother’s character I can’t remember actually and I think Gemma was a lady who owned a tissue factory. For Gemma’s 18th birthday, I scanned all of the letters I could find and made them it into a book. She loved it so much! We also had a swing in our back garden, it was on a huge pine tree maybe 30m high and my dad put a rope on. We used to jump off the shed onto the swing and do gymnastics, then the branch fell down eventually, and we were sad.

O2W: Your Grandma has a reputation of being quite the fashionista herself. Tell me a bit about her.

SW: Oh yes, Nanna lives in Essex, just outside of London and she was the chaperon for Gemma when she came to London, so my Nanna would come. She lives alone and loves going on outings to London. She always called up the agency to ask where Gemma was staying and who she was shooting with. My bookers told me that she would ring and ask “Who is she shooting with this time, it is Nick [Knight] or Mario [Testino]” then she would say “Ok I’m going to have tea with Mario.” Gemma was so embarrassed by her for a while she came along to the shoot and tell the team which photos she likes on the computer screen. She’s so chatty and she tells you every detail of her life. I’m sure Mario was thrilled.

O2W: What have you been able to experience so far through your work?

SW: The main reason I stuck with modeling is the people, the amazingly inspiring, creative and energetic characters. There is so much life in fashion. I love that the other reason is that it opens so many doors. Gemma was really into acting and acting school doing commercials in Australia. It seemed like a good way to break into it. I think now she sees modeling as acting in a way. I think that’s why she’s such a great model. I did an arts degree and so I get to meet all of the top writers in fashion. They wouldn’t know who I was if I wasn’t a model. It’s like training for something creative.

O2W: Has it made you look at the world differently or changed your plans for the future?

I grew up next to a university so I always wanted to go there, I don’t plan too far into the future. I don’t think you can do that. Life can change so fast in a week, right now modeling has changed my life in a different direction. I’m still living a life that I love and it’s changed my life but in accordance with my heart.

O2W: What do you do like to do in your free time?

SW: I listen to music a lot, I haven’t been able to do it much recently but I love going to museums with exhibitions. I hardly go shopping, but I like going to markets, especially little antique type ones or book fair’s. I like museum shops and art gallery shops more than clothes shops. I like hanging out in the park and going to parties, dinner parties, picking cherries. I love writing emails too. I’m really dedicated to writing to my friends back at home about how I feel. I can express my emotions very easily through writing. It’s how I write when I write for magazines too, very unconscious, I never think about what I’m writing, it just comes out naturally.

O2W: How would you describe your style?

SW: I would say quite earthy, a lot of it is high fashion style but not always expensive and quite graphic too, I like lots of shapes and prints. Growing up I stood out because I’m so tall. When I was young I wanted to hide and blend it now I express it because I am tall and its part of who I am. I always try and make new combinations with all of my clothes so I have a different look each day.

O2W: Everything about you is so innocent. Surely you must have some vices?

SW: Well yes, I do, they aren’t too naughty I hope… They all begin with the letter C too….chocolate, cigarettes and coffee.

Veruschka (Feb, 2003)

Veruschka was no ordinary '60s model; a German countess, she could be anything from Greta Garbo to a leopard in a tree. Now, at 61, she is still an inspiration.

Of all the players in Michelangelo Antonioni's cult 1966 film BlowUp, there was one legendary enough to star as herself.

Veruschka - the model whose farout features dominated fashion magazines in the late '60s - appeared for hardly five minutes, but her performance was electrifying.

Announcing herself ("Here I am") at the studio of the David Bailey-esque photographer (played by David Hemmings) barefoot and in a black mini-dress, she proceeded to seduce the photographer's lens by writhing on the floor like a wildcat, while he sat astride her, snapping furiously."

She moves like nobody on earth," Hemmings sighed afterwards.

In real life her photo shoots were no less extraordinary; US Vogue editor Diana Vreeland would give Veruschka carte blanche to conceive fashion stories with her then lover, the Italian photographer Franco Rubartelli.

The leotard-clad Veruschka and Rubartelli would jump on a plane together, taking all the clothes, body paint and photographic equipment they needed to the middle of a desert, or to some snowy wasteland against which Veruschka would throw her lean body into contorted shapes. They once travelled to the Bahamian island Eleuthera on Christmas Day to take photographs by moonlight.

You would expect such an astonishing figure to make an entrance. But when Veruschka, now 61, arrives at a Parisian photographic studio, she glides in swiftly, shrouded like a brightly coloured Lawrence of Arabia.

Within seconds she has disappeared into a back room for a further hour to apply her make-up.

Veruschka, who now goes by her real name, Vera von Lehndorff, is in Paris to meet the New York fashion designer Michael Kors, who chose to capture her spirit in his spring/summer 2003 show for the French fashion house Celine.

To a sitar-laden remix of the Rolling Stones' Jumping Jack Flash, Kors sent on to the catwalk a collection he dubbed Veruschka Voyage, a holiday wardrobe gleaming with gold embroidery and hot pink and orange tie-dyes.

Kors's models looked like leisured, sun-tanned bohemians, sporting collar-bone-skimming earrings made of linked brass discs.

Today, von Lehndorff is just here to hang out while the photographer Vincent Peters shoots the Celine advertising campaign with the 27-year-old Midwestern model Frankie Rayder, who appears airily unconcerned about measuring up to one of modelling's all-time greats.

Von Lehndorff's pale, heavily lined face and broad features remain impassive as she draws on a cigarette. Her ensemble is on the outer reaches of eccentricity; over her taut body she wears something resembling a black body stocking, a floor-length orange cardigan and a raggedy orange tie-dyed scarf.

On her size-nine feet are Vivienne Westwood pirate boots, and her straggly tawny hair hangs from under an orange bandanna decorated with spangles.

Odder still, earlier in the day this look was completed with a pair of orange-lensed Ali G-style sunglasses.

However, von Lehndorff's career as a model has had unusually little to do with clothes. As she said to Nova magazine in 1968, "I hate the whole kind of chic look - Dior, St Laurent. They might look very nice, but I don't feel them." And her attitude hasn't changed. "I'm not especially inspired by fashion," she says slowly in her contralto, Germanic voice, before giving the rail of Celine outfits a polite but cursory survey. For von Lehndorff, modelling was all about transforming herself. "I was always being different types of women. I copied Ursula Andress, Brigitte Bardot, Greta Garbo. Then I got bored so I painted myself as an animal," she says in a deadpan way. "One day I ended up as a stone. I was depressed and went out on to my terrace in Rome. I wanted to disappear, to be like the stones of the terrace. I painted myself lying down in the mirror, and copied the stones on to my face."

But at the beginning of her career, changing was a necessity, not an artistic, endeavour. She had first travelled to New York in 1961 as plain old Vera, but failed to secure a single booking. After retreating to Milan for a spell, she returned to take Manhattan under her new name, Veruschka.

"I dressed all in black and went to see all the top photographers, like Irving Penn, and said, 'I am Veruschka who comes from the border between Russia, Germany and Poland. I'd like to see what you can do with my face.' "

It worked; constantly booked, Veruschka gained almost mythical status. When Life magazine profiled "the most sought-after model in the world", they magnified her 1.8-metre frame to an alien 1.9 metres. Her extraordinary physique, complete with outsize hands and feet, even spawned industry rumours that she had once been a man.

Von Lehndorff's background is as intriguing as the Veruschka creature she invented. Of noble birth, her full title (which she never uses) is the Countess Vera Gottliebe Anna von Lehndorff. Her father was a Prussian count who was involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944 and hanged that year, when Vera was three. Her mother was arrested, and Vera and her sisters spent the rest of the war in Gestapo camps. They were reunited with their mother after the war, but the family was destitute, and ostracised by other Germans for their father's treachery. She ended up studying textile design in Florence, where a fashion designer first asked her to model.

Von Lehndorff stopped modelling in the early '70s when the newly appointed editor-in-chief at Vogue, Grace Mirabella, advised her to cut her hair so readers could identify with her ("I hate that idea"). She then sought to become "an artist who had modelled for a few years". Collaborating with the artist Holger Tradilzsch, she was photographed in 1971 and 1972 as a series of characters, clad only in body paint.

Although she has made the odd foray back into modelling (for example, to launch a menswear collection for Karl Lagerfeld in 1995), von Lehndorff lives the life of an artist in a rundown area of Brooklyn, with her lover Micha Waschke, a musician who doubles as her assistant. She has exhibited a steady stream of work, from photos of herself covered in ash to a short film, Buddha Bum (1998), in which she plays a series of homeless people and Buddha.

It is unfortunate that von Lehndorff talks about her art in the kind of indistinct terms that smack of half-baked pretension. "Veruschka was the first emanation of the children of illusion," she murmurs, referring to her sprawling work in progress, Emanations. Since the mid-'90s, she has collaborated with designers ranging from Helmut Lang to Paco Rabanne to explore characters that include "urbanites and savage animals, presidents and movie stars". But the results are compellingly strange, and far from anachronistic.

The fashion world fosters an ongoing fascination with her '60s persona, the make-up brand MAC sells a lipstick called Veruschka, and there are still boutiques named after her, yet she is detached from any hype. Asked if she misses the glamour of modelling, she looks down her wide, flat nose unselfconsciously: "No. I have my own drama and glamour anyhow. As long as I am here, it is not gone."

"Oh, I think she's more glamorous than she ever looked in her pictures," designer Michael Kors chips in, which is plainly untrue. But in fashion, where myths can hold more sway than reality, Veruschka will always be an extraordinary beauty.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Louise Wilson

The Met's spring fashion exhibit—"AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion"—could easily have been named after Louise Wilson. Since 1992, Wilson has dutifully served as the course director of the 2-year Master's degree program of London's Central Saint Martins, arguably the world's most influential and revered fashion school, which she also attended. While at the same time, the 40-year-old mother of one has done so with an unorthodox teaching method that goes well beyond exacting. Former students have called it loud, brutal, abrasive and terrifying—even fascist. Reaching back, imagine the cane-pounding dance instructor in Fame ("You've got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying. With sweat."), multiplied by ten in fearsomeness, dressed in a uniform of black and hurling insults laced with profanity. (Not even "AngloMania" escapes a dagger from the punctilious professor: "It's very well-done and affords British fashion the clout it deserves. But it was difficult for me to look at because it felt staged and overdressed, like a Ralph Lauren shop.") The strategy, however, has paid off, as a high ratio of her former students have gone on to greatness, usually after taking part in the now-legendary annual graduation fashion show, where scouts from key stores, magazines and the occasional conglomerate come from far and wide for a glimpse of the future. Having first met Wilson during London Fashion Week, I caught up with her again in New York. She was in town representing the university at the "AngloMania" opening-night dinner. Perhaps owing to the sunny day of our meeting in SoHo, I found her to be open, warm and cheerful—if cheerfully contrary—as we spoke about everything from building a super-brand to her own transgressive past.

In my mind, Central Saint Martins is like an atelier or an elite workshop. What is it really?

A hellhole. (Laughs.) No, Saint Martins is a government-funded central London studio with many disparate students from different backgrounds. It's a big multi-disciplined art college, within which there is the fashion school. It's a scruffy place. You could paint on the walls if you wanted to. I'd hate to think there's a kid in East Berlin or Slovenia who's put off by the image of professionalism that we have.

It's quite competitive, isn't it?

Yes, and it takes a bit of time to get in the rhythm. Students sometimes turn up at my course and they look a bit like they're going to Bali with only Wellingtons and a map, and they never leave their hotel room because they didn't think to bring a bikini. I'm full of bizarre analogies like that.

You told me before it was difficult getting your professorship. Why?

That's just me being sarcastic. It didn't appear I got my professorship for any work I did at Saint Martins, but because I left and came back. I went away to be the head of Donna Karan in New York, and came back with a veneer of something else. In my twisted and bitter view, I think it's a shame that you have to leave and do something outside to gain recognition, although I'm sure the university will say it was my work on the MA. As the course director, I'm also a professor, which I'm really happy about because there's no other professorship in the school. There are, however, honorary professorships. And honorary doctorates, like [Alexander] McQueen and [John] Galliano. As for me, I'm basically just a fat fucker who by some fluke gets to teach really great people, and some really tragic people who become great people. Don't forget there's also the BA course, which is extremely good.

Difficult as it is, how would you describe what you teach?

I have no idea. I've been asked to give lectures, and I think how would I sum it up in a lecture. It's amorphic. I know what my job description is, but I don't know what I teach. Basically I teach across all pathways. We have women's, men's, knitwear, textiles, fashion journalism, and we just added accessories. I teach all of those except journalism. I also teach portfolio design.

Do you have a particular method? Is it hands-on or more theory-based?

Very hands-on with lots of interaction. I work very much by tutorials, or going up and moaning at everybody. You have to get inside their heads. Until you realize what they're capable of, you can't push them to achieve that. I get more out of them than they ever expected. And I teach them that people are out there. If their work is good enough, those people will help them realize their goals. I often ask students is this what you would show Tom Ford, and they say, no, we'd have done more work or we'd have dressed better. So I say, why don't you do that here?

Do you like fashion?

Yes. But what you'll find is many students don't really like it. If they don't like it, they won't be able to tell you who the stylists are or the photographers. If they say they can't remember the names but they recognize the work, I'll say that's bullshit because if you were selling mobile phones, you'd know all about the phones' features and tariffs. You can't subvert knowledge until you have knowledge. At the same time, I respect a student coming at it from a totally different position and trying to move it forward, and not falling into the rattrap of work that came before. It's not about the mark; it's about the work. Once you've entered the industry no one cares what marks you got. They care about whether you can do the work or bring something new to it.

What do you look for in students?

When people ask what I want, I say I only know what I don't want. When they ask what I don't want, I say I'll know it when I see it.

Who are some of the graduates of the MA course?

Alexander McQueen, Sophia Kokosalaki, Peter Jensen, Emma Cook, Jonathan Saunders, Eley Kishimoto, Jens Laugesen, Bora Aksu, Marios Schwab, Basso & Brooke. There are also a lot of people who go work in the industry, but you never read about them. You only ever read about people who started their own labels. Alber Elbaz has two MA students at Lanvin, Phoebe [Philo] had three at Chloe, Gucci men's had two, plus there's Adidas and Puma. But those aren't sexy, or they don't appear sexy to the press. We had a boy go to work for ACNE jeans in Sweden, but you'll never read about him doing that. You'll read about Christopher Kane.

Do you try to create fashion stars?

Absolutely not.

It happens by accident?

Yeah, it really does. A lot of people have tried to figure out the mystique of Saint Martins, but it's simply a group of students in a building that's not that glamorous, taught by a committed staff who the students probably hate.

How much do you have to wean them from the time they come in?

There's quite a bit of weaning. Sometimes they come in towing the line of respectability, and yet you have brands like Comme des Garcons who are being urban and edgy. It should be the other way around. It should be the youth who are making their own guerilla stores. They should be posing something that we react badly against, not something we already understand. But not all of them should be doing that because some of them do want to go to America and work for Calvin Klein or Banana Republic, or whatever.

Do you set out breaking the students' spirits?

I don't think so. Students may feel the criticism is harsh, but I think it's possible they haven't had criticism before. It's my job to point out when something is badly done, or when there's no point of view. To build a brand you have to have something about you. If not personality, then some thought process. I'm forty, and they're young, so they're meant to be informing me. They should be bringing me a book or something that I haven't seen, not like some obscure chant book by Dominican monks, but an image of the way they see the world.

Are you sad to see them graduate and leave the nest?

We're lucky because once they've left us, nine times out of ten we have a good relationship with them and they come back and give talks. People like Kim Jones, Giles [Deacon] and Emma [Cook] come in like three times a term and see a small group of students, so they get an objective viewpoint as if they took their portfolio outside. Someone like Peter Jensen has his own label and also teaches menswear at Saint Martins. Most others come and say hello at some point. I'm always glad to see them, but if I see ten people a day and it's five minutes each, that's fifty fucking minutes a day.

Do you keep up with students after they graduate?

I keep up with them on the Internet and in magazines. I don't usually go to the shows in London, because if I go to one I have to go to them all. Besides, they usually go on to be so successful and huge, and I'm just some sad fuck stuck in my office. They end up having far more exotic and fabulous lives than me.

Do they ask for advice?

Some come after me for my advice. I just laugh. What advice could I possibly give them? Sometimes I actually ask for advice from them.

Are you like a mother figure?

No, because I'm a terrible mother. And I don't feel like their best friend, either. Sometimes you hear rumors they've seen tutors in gay clubs and they're laughing about it, and you realize you are not them. They are going to be the gods. I have a fear and dread that one day I am going to be in some one-room cottage in penniless retirement, and they're going to be whizzing by in their fucking Ferraris, clutching their bloody god-knows-what bags and throwing morsels to me out the window. I suppose I could keep a photocopy of their first project so that later on I could bribe them. That could be my retirement fund.

I know you don't like playing favorites, but can you give me an example of a student you felt great about?

I never taught Hussein [Chalayan] because he was in the BA course, but I remember seeing his paper dresses and they were fantastic. The craftsmanship was something else, and he had magnets under the catwalk so the clothes moved. That year was a fabulous year. More recently, I've felt great about Christopher Kane. It's not that I admire him above anyone else; it's that he works so effortlessly. He comes from a point that I would never start or finish at. Now, he's doing Versace couture as a consultant and he's hoping to do his own thing.

Do you put graduating students in touch with, for example, Versace?

No. Well, in an indirect way, because the older you get, the older your friends get, and they end up everywhere else in the industry. Do people phone me up when they have a position? Yes. Do I put them in touch? Only if I've been phoned, and only if the work is right.

Do you tip off the press to hot students?

No, I've never been that clever.

Changing gears, what's your opinion of High Street and fast fashion?

I've changed my mind on that. When you speak to young designers who are supported by High Street, they'll tell you they wouldn't be able to do what they're doing without it, unless they were living in a squat and starving like some people have done. And they'd never be able to compete with those companies' manufacturing. Every now and then strict tailoring will come into the picture to try to knock High Street off-kilter, but you can't quite get the masses to wear that. Everyone knocks Britain, but you could always say we had a great High Street, even if our designers were not super-brands. We create people who are brave enough to do their own thing. So what if Britain hasn't built a super-brand since Burberry?

Would it be possible to build a Burberry today?

I'm not being facetious, but if I knew that I would be bloody retired and have my house on Fire Island. I know absolutely fucking nothing about Burberry. They've been doing it for hundreds of years, and they had Rose Marie Bravo and they have Christopher [Bailey]. Like Balenciaga, it's a brand that only had to be reawakened. They're not starting form scratch. Or like Yves Saint Laurent, which only had to pull in the licenses and restart. I don't get this obsession with super-brands.

Then I presume you're not a fan of American brands.

I'd like someone to write a book about how American designers make their money. I'm not naming names, but how do they live in penthouses, employ their staff, have their shops and travel around the world—when they're not moving that much stock? There must be some fabulous tax dodge that happens in America. I've often tried to work it out. And then you have companies like Abercrombie & Fitch, which is exactly the same as Ralph Lauren, but with a loud soundtrack. I just went to an Abercrombie & Fitch store this morning—I was buying for my son—and thought, oh my god, it's like being in some ecstasy acid house.

What do you make of a big brand like Hilfiger buying Lagerfeld?

I haven't thought that much about it, but maybe that's me being a bitter and twisted cow. I respect Karl Lagerfeld and what he's achieved, but why not build a new name? Although, who's going to invest much money in a new name? But I really have no idea. I live in a microscopic bubble of cancer-causing chemicals called my office.

What about British designers who didn't go through Saint Martins, like Julien Macdonald?

I've never given it any thought, apart from wondering whether he's had facial surgery. He's changed beyond all recognition, and he's wearing his hair in a strange way. Now he'll never speak to me again. And those television commercials. There's this Julien Macdonald for Debenhams advert that you can see when you're at home lying slumped in your bed. It's most unflattering, and you wonder why he put his face on the telly. Do I think he's a designer? Not in my book. Am I sad he wasn't at Saint Martins? Not really. But that's me being a cow.

What are you wearing?

A black dress that I designed many years ago to clothe my semi-deformed body. Thank god, because when I read all these bloody magazines, I wouldn't know if I have the right cropped nautical jacket, or if my trench is the right length, or how to be more boho. It's my Chairman Mao uniform. I have about 39 identical black dresses, and in white and taupe linen for when I'm in Bali. I'm also wearing a black Lanvin scarf, black knickers and black sandals. The jewelry and leather bracelets are Hermes.

Do you wear designers you've helped bring into the world?

Alber [Elbaz] gives me really nice pieces of jewelry, pearls and stuff. I have to thank him for that. I didn't teach him, though. This bag is from Jens Laugesen, and Phoebe sent some nice Chloe bags. I have a student at Pucci who gave me a dodgy Pucci bag—not the one I wanted, but beggars can't be choosers. And I have a stash of Donna sweaters to keep me going for years.

We're in the middle of SoHo in New York. Would you ever think about shopping here?

Well, I nearly bought a Chanel bag today, but it would have been the sad fucker that's in the advertisement. I caught myself and thought I really wanted the small quilted one that you wear under your arm when you're a size 8, but that would look ridiculous on me. I spend a lot of money on bags and beauty products. I think most fat people are quite obsessive about their furthest extremities.

Let's talk about your background. Do you come from wealth like so many Brits?

My father was a gentleman farmer, so I had something of a privileged upbringing. I was born in Cambridge and raised in Scotland. I rode horses, and competed all through my teens. Eventually I gave up horses because you can't go to school and continue that level of competition. Also because I wanted to be in Newcastle where the black men were; they had a great time and played loud soul music and drove fast cars. It was an American naval college, and it was a short trip away by train. The man I hooked up with, though, is from Ghana, and I met him in London. We were together like twenty years and we have a son, but we never got married because I can't bear fat brides. Anyway, I nearly didn't go into fashion at all, but I remember my father taking me into the garden and putting his foot down. He said I was not going to do business studies in Newcastle. I had to take the offer of doing fashion at Saint Martins.

But why fashion?

I don't know. Saint Martins was where it was all happening. And, to be corny and un-me, my mother was always interested in fashion and always had Dior outfits out and nice handbags and things. Since the age of ten or eleven I was buying British Vogue and plastering [model] Marie Helvin all over my walls. I arrived to Saint Martins looking quite the fright in electric blue shoes and white mascara.

I love that. What year was it?

1982. There we were at Cafe de Paris with our jingles, our bangles, our Gaultier and our tragic hoop earrings. The forgotten thing about fashion today, and this makes me sound ancient, is we had to make clothes. Everybody in my generation remembers the horrible things we made in college to be different. Nowadays you will find a lot of people make nothing for themselves because it is cheaper to buy.

Did you have any professors like you?

A tutor who comes to mind is Ossie Clark, but in the ignorance of youth, I didn't even realize who he was. He had had his fame and gone back to teaching. I wish I'd kept some sketches or something.

What did you do after school?

I worked in Italy and Hong Kong for various labels. Then I came back to Saint Martins because the course director asked me to help as a tutor on the MA. Then I went to Donna Karan in '97 as a consultant for the collections, then left Saint Martins on sabbatical from '98 to '99. I then came back to Saint Martins to resume my position as course director and remained a consultant for Donna until 2002.

What was it like working for Donna?

An eye-opener. I could tell you a hundred crazy stories. I'm fond of her. She's a genius to have done what she's done. And she's fucking passionate about it. What she taught me was how to fit. She can take a sack and turn it into something. And she worked so hard herself. She really put the hours in. Sometimes people say bad things about Donna, but everything she's done has been slightly ahead of its time. As a woman, I can look at it objectively now and see that it gets personal if you're a woman. The things that have been written about Donna have been so much more personal than the things written about Calvin. But she stayed very open. I wouldn't be a very pleasant person in that environment. I'm already rude, objectionable and generally a loony.

What do you do to relax?

I go to Bali every year for six weeks. I'm on that bloody beach in a bikini bottom and a straw hat pretending I'm Elle Macpherson. It used to be absolutely fab because there was no one there I knew and I could be on the beach topless. Then people I know started coming up and saying hello.

Any regrets?

No. I'm lucky because what was essentially my hobby became my job. Some people have their jobs but have other hobbies like fishing, therefore the magazines they read on the toilet are fishing magazines. The magazines I read on the toilet are fashion magazines.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Zaldy (2004)

PARKER: Today's not a good day for rollerblading.
ZALDY: Did you rollerblade over here in the rain? People always tell me not to.
PARKER: It gets kind of slick with all the gasoline and dirt. But I wanted to get over here fast. What year did you move to New York,1980-something?
ZALDY: 1987, I think.
PARKER: '87, '88, and '89. That was such a great time in New York.
ZALDY: It was pure nonsense. All you cared about was the way you looked, where you were going, and if it was free.
PARKER: And how you were dancing. Didn't you start out making clothes for Kier, the singer in Deee-lite?
ZALDY: Yes, she was the first. I was also Kier's synchronized dancing partner for a few minutes. And around 1988, I began designing outfits for Susanne Bartsch. Susanne was producing parties all over the world — in Paris, Milan, Tokyo. Susanne would wear outfits that my friend Matthu and I were making.
PARKER: Susanne was like the queen bee and you were her sewing bee. [laughs]
ZALDY: Exactly. Susanne would hire Matthu and me to be go-go dancers, but we were more like creatures. Every single penny we made from those parties would go into our outfits.
PARKER: You have such an imagination — it's amazing how you translate that into clothes.
ZALDY: I would never go to an event unless I was totally dressed up — not necessarily in drag, but in my interpretation of drag, which was more androgynous. For one outfit, we made a bodysuit covered in hand-cut plastic mirrors — all you could see were my eyes and mouth. We called it the disco ball. We thought of our outfits as our art. We were really interested in the idea of transformation.
PARKER: When you're young you're just flying by the seat of your pants.
ZALDY: Working with Susanne was great because it closed the world for me — it became a smaller, more accessible place. And it was through all the parties and travelling that I started modelling.
PARKER: What was your first job?
ZALDY: Vicky Bartlett and Joshua Jordan suggested me for a Steven Klein shoot in Interview. But things really started to happen after I attended a Vivienne Westwood show in Paris wearing a showgirl-type outfit, with crystals dangling over my nipples. An editor at French Glamour saw me and asked me to call her. I didn't think much of it — just another random card. But I ended up shooting a ten-page story in the magazine, and that led to runway work and print campaigns.
PARKER: And then you did that Levi's commercial in 1995. That was such a scandal. You were in drag...
ZALDY: ...looking very hot! I hail a cab and the driver and I start flirting. Then I look into a compact and realize I have some stubble, so I take an electric razor out of my purse and start shaving. At that point, I couldn't grow stubble, so they had to glue hair to my chin. At the end of the commercial, the cab lets me off at my stop. It was banned in America, and in England they could only show it after nine at night.
PARKER: What was it like being in the middle of all that controversy?
ZALDY: : It was an insane moment. I found myself in Greece making personal appearances at all these Levi's stores. I would arrive dressed in drag in a New York City cab. Policemen would be there to hold back the crowds. I was offered a bunch of movie stuff. I had all kinds of castings and readings. But I was always sure that I wanted to make clothes — that was my passion. By the mid-90s I didn't feel like dressing up so much anymore. I started to focus more on making clothes for private clients.
PARKER: Where does that passion come from?
ZALDY: I guess fashion was always there. My grandmother ran a school in the Philippines called the Paris Manila Fashion School. When I was a little boy, I used to watch Cher on television with her. She loved Cher so much, and so did I.
PARKER: I remember coming over here once and you were making a dress out of coffee beans.
ZALDY: I can't believe you remember that!
PARKER: That was hard to forget.
ZALDY: I had been hired by the Gevalia coffee company for an ad campaign. We decided to create a gorgeous beaded dress out of coffee beans. But a coffee bean has a flat and a convex side. We couldn't glue the flat side down to the chiffon, because we wanted the line on the flat side to show. So we had to sand down the rounded side of each bean individually. We spent a week sanding. The place smelled incredible.
PARKER: When you design your collection, do you ever worry that your work is too avant-garde?
ZALDY: Sometimes. The clothes for my collection are very subdued, considering the lengths to which I can go! I just want to reach more people, to have a larger voice. I'm still trying to work it out. It's a business, and I'm not a business genius.
PARKER: I remember there was a guy from LA Gear at the party for your spring 2003 collection. I kept thinking, "Why won't he just ask you to design some tennis shoes and write you a check?"
ZALDY: I know. You just have to do what you do and believe that it's happening at the pace that it needs to.
PARKER: You have to be optimistic.
ZALDY: But it is difficult to live this crazy life, trying to develop my own business without an outside backer.
PARKER: I got to wear a lot of the clothes from your Fall 2003 collection for my role in Laws of Attraction, which is coming out in March. I play a fashion designer who's married to a rock star and lives in Ireland. When I put on your clothes, I felt blasÈ, tortured, artistic, decadent, glamorous, and emotional.
ZALDY: All that, wow. It was fun to dress you up. I can't wait to see you in that orange gown walking down the castle steps in Ireland. That collection had a lot of Celtic influences. We did macramÈ leather with Celtic knotting, and huge prints of Celtic knots. The fact that your character was living in Ireland was too perfect.
PARKER: The gown had these tremendous cuffs that hung off of my elbows and almost reached the ground.
ZALDY: It took about ten yards of fabric to make that dress. It was made for that moment.
PARKER: I can see you designing costumes for conceptual movies like Blade Runner.
ZALDY: I would love to do more film work, but we'll see. How many more projects can I say yes to right now?
PARKER: Who have you been saying yes to?
ZALDY: Recently, my big fun client was Britney Spears. She was a doll.
PARKER: No way! Had she ever seen anything like your designs?
ZALDY: When she was trying things on, she said, "Trust me, I've seen so many clothes and your clothes are so different." That was nice. I've also been working with Gwen Stefani, who just launched a line called L.A.M.B. I'm working on the second collection, for fall 2004.
PARKER: Are you the designer for L.A.M.B.?
ZALDY: I'm a consultant. L.A.M.B. is like a think tank. There are also two guys from a company called Nice Collective who make a lot of her husband Gavin's clothes. We all get together with Gwen and her assistant designer, Annie. It's been amazing — I've never done anything like it before.
PARKER: I can see how she'd be a great muse for you.
ZALDY: I remember the first time I saw her in that "Spiderwebs" video — she blew me away. And her energy is amazing. I'm also developing a line for David Barton Gyms.
PARKER: It's not going to be a bunch of spandex and Lycra, is it?
ZALDY: No, it's going to be clothes that you can live in.
PARKER: I love that. I have these onesies from your first collection that look like little bloomers. You could just laze around in them all day.
ZALDY: Or go to the gym and work out. David Barton's new location is the YMCA across the street from here.
PARKER: Are you serious?
ZALDY: Serious. I'm going to be able to walk out of the Chelsea Hotel in my bathrobe, have a sauna and a Jacuzzi over there, and just come back home. It's going to be a fantastic extension of my bathroom.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Diana Melly remembers Mary Quant (Oct, 2005)

Fifty years ago, Mary Quant (above) opened a boutique on the King's Road, and swinging London was born. Diana Melly was there from the start. She recalls the sex, scandals and helmet hairdos of the original Chelsea Set

I got a Saturday morning job in Bazaar, Mary Quant's first shop on the King's Road in Chelsea, just after it opened in 1955. I was 18 and, like everyone else I knew, I wanted to be a model. Or rather a model girl. The distinction was important back then before the age of Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton. Model girls were considered decent, while model on its own could suggest something of the night.

Bazaar very quickly made a huge impact. It was where anyone young and interested in clothes had to be. It's hard to appreciate now quite how radically different Mary's clothes were from anything else available at the time. When I wasn't working in Bazaar, I would do modelling for magazines like Women's Own, Vogue and Queen and there it was all tweed suits, pinched at the waist, finished off with hats and gloves. We were constantly being told to make ourselves look older because fashion was directed at women over 30. It wasn't something for people of my age.

Mary Quant changed all of that. She was the same generation as us and her short skirts, little white 1/2 plastic collars to brighten up a black dress, and stretch stockings were what we wanted. She was a visionary.

We were just coming out of post-war rationing and we weren't used to having lots of clothes. I only had one dress from Bazaar. The wages didn't stretch far, but it was bright pink and curvy with a scoop neck and bare shoulders and I was so proud of it.

We all admired her so much, but even though she was only three years older than me, I was very intimidated by her. Her whole demeanour was quite like a headmistress " a very nice headmistress, but a headmistress nonetheless. Even later, in the 1960s, when I was married to George and we used to go to dinner parties in her entirely red dining-room at her house off Sloane Street, I never really felt as if I was her friend. She always seemed out of my league. Meeting her was a bit like meeting the Beatles. She was that famous to my generation.

In the late 1950s, Mary was the undisputed queen of the 'Chelsea Set'. Bazaar was one of its main meeting places. That was part of the reason why I wanted to work there. My friends could come in to gossip and giggle " though we tended to shut up when Mary walked in. It was the same just along the King's Road at Kiki Byrne's, another boutique that opened at the same time, or at one of the two coffee bars nearby.

They were the haunts of the Chelsea Set during the day. In the evenings, after work, we'd go to one of two pubs " the Markham, round the corner from Bazaar, or the Pheasantry. You went to find out where the nearest party was. And then you'd take your cigarettes and your bottle of cheap red wine and head off there. Sometimes they'd be fancy dress. There would be dancing to Paul Anka records. I don't remember there being any drugs. We were, in many ways, very innocent.

I've read a lot about the Chelsea Set subsequently and its importance, but it didn't feel like that at the time. There was a sense of the new and exciting, yes, of being in the forefront of change. And, of course, we were always being written about in the papers. In some ways the Chelsea Set was a media invention. The focus on us was out of all proportion.

I have one good example of this. In October 1957, I made the front page of the Evening Standard in the later editions, displacing a story about the Queen in Canada, just because someone had hit me. 'Model Knocked Out At Chelsea Party' it read. And the next day the other papers were full of stories about how my assailant's mother had brought me flowers at the hospital.

All that had happened was that a gatecrasher, a young male model called Robert Taylor, had tried to get in to one of our parties. My boyfriend, Michael Alexander, had gone down to throw him out. Robert went to punch Michael. Michael ducked and I got hit. Why was it front page news?

The only explanation is that there was something new, unusual or challenging about the Chelsea Set as far as the papers were concerned. But I still can't see it. There were in reality two Chelsea sets. There was Mary and some of the slightly older, wealthier women who came in to Bazaar to buy the clothes " people like Sonia Melchett, wife of Lord Melchett, or her sister Bunty Kinsman. If they gave parties, we'd dress up and be flattered to be invited, but really they were grander than us. You didn't take a bottle, although I do remember that on one occasion Sonia and the publisher George Weidenfeld had a party where we were all told to bring either champagne or brandy.

We were younger and although a few people did have titles we were a much more ramshackle bunch of free spirits. Some didn't have to work. They had private incomes. There was a lot of hanging about and going to parties, looking for someone to pick up if you hadn't gone there with someone. We may have seemed terribly promiscuous to the papers, but our liberation paled into insignificance in comparison to what came along in the 1960s. And anyway I believe that it was the wartime generation who had changed the old moral standards. I don't think our behaviour was terribly rebellious. For most of us it was just great to break out of our backgrounds and have a good time. 1/2

I used to spend whatever I had earned modelling on food for Michael and his friends. These were the days before women's lib. We lived in a flat in Harrington Gardens. He was a writer " the nephew of Earl Alexander of Tunis is how the papers described him, though in truth he was only a distant relative. He was very glamorous. He'd been in Colditz and was 41. I was just 19 and potty about him. I'd already been married at 16, had a child and divorced by 18.

Michael was at the heart of the Chelsea Set in more than one way. He had a secret deal with Charles Wintour, editor of the Evening Standard. He got a pounds 500 retainer for supplying gossip from the parties that would appear in the 'London Last Night' column which vied with William Hickey in the Express to detail our every move " and plenty of imagined ones. It was disgraceful now when I think about it.

The same old names would appear in all those reports and they always had a way of describing people. So Sharmani was 'the Sinhalese model', Suna Portman 'the niece of Lord Portman', Mark Sykes 'her fiance', Antonia Fraser 'the daughter of Lord Pakenham' (as her father, later Lord Longford, was known then) and Lady Jane Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 'a maid-of-honour at the Coronation'.

There was undoubtedly an element of snobbery about it all. Titles and aristocratic families seemed to matter more back then. I do remember everyone getting very excited one night because there was a rumour that the Duke of Kent was coming to the party we were at. And of course Anthony Armstrong- Jones, who later married Princess Margaret, was around.

I don't remember it being extraordinary or scandalous, though. The one big scandal was the suicide of Tony Beauchamp who'd been married to Churchill's daughter, Sarah. He was a photographer and his death and his part in the Chelsea Set was very well covered in the press.

It was Mary who was extraordinary and what she started at Bazaar. That went on and grew in the 1960s but my memory is that all the rest changed in 1958. The Chelsea Set had a brief heyday with the opening of Bazaar but within three or four years, it was over. I went to Afghanistan for four months with Michael in 1958 and when I came back it had all gone. There were no more parties, no one in pub you knew. I think it probably came back alive again with the swinging Sixties, but by that time I was married to George and living in Golders Green.

Today when I go down the King's Road, it doesn't seem very bohemian to me any more. Just rich. Bazaar became a chemist's shop. The whole place is so changed that it doesn't feel like anything to do with me. There's just Waitrose and expensive chain shops where we used to play. s

Diana Melly's new memoir, 'Take A Girl Like Me', is published by Chatto, priced pounds 14.99. She was talking to Peter Stanford

George Melly on the Chelsea Set

I lived in Chelsea in the 1950s (the picture of me with Diana, above, was taken soon after I'd moved out) and shared a basement flat at the wrong end of Cheyne Walk. It was the sort of area where MPs used to keep their mistresses. My flatmate was Andy Garnett who was one of the heads of the Chelsea Set. He had a Bubble Car and used to like to drive posh totty " as we'd call them " to low clubs in the East End. He saw endless glamorous debutantes, all part of the Chelsea Set. There was always a terrible racket going on in our flat with all my jazz set staying. Andy was wonderfully relaxed. Once he came in and there were mattresses everywhere. He pulled back the sheets and looked at the naked bodies. He turned to me and shouted, 'What do these animals eat in the morning, George? Hay?' It was a bit like the 1920s, when after the First World War people reacted with short skirts and the Charleston. This was only 10 years after the Second World War. But if you think of the artists who used to live there, such as Augustus John, Whistler, Rossetti, Holman Hunt, then you realise that bohemianism wasn't new to Chelsea. I remember Mary Quant well. She looked very sexy. Not that she particularly was, I suppose, in real life, but her skirts were shorter than anyone else's and she had this wonderful helmet-like haircut. She was good at overturning all the conventions.

George Melly's latest autobiographical book, 'Slowing Down', is published by Viking

Peter York on 50 years of the King's Road

The opening of Mary Quant's Bazaar marked the moment when the King's Road first began to establish itself as crucial for the young, aspirational and fashion-conscious. But it would continue to draw increasing numbers of would-be avant-gardistes from the hinterlands of London and beyond for at least the next 25 years. In the 1960s it was one of the key places where rock stars and toffs socialised together. It was full of Chelsea girls with their aristocrat and pop-star boyfriends in velvet suits. One of the most eye-catching landmarks back then was Granny Takes a Trip, a boutique which appeared to have half a car buried in its faade. Go forward to the early 1970s and along came Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's little clothes shop Let It Rock (later renamed Sex), the birthplace of punk. It was just around the corner from me, in my second-ever bedsit, in the crotch of the King's Road, just before World's End. But while the King's Road was still rather glamorous and exciting at the time, changes were already well under way. You would see flagships of multiple shops with branches in Oxford Street opening and it was also in all the standard tourist guides. That was the killer. A lot of very mainstream shoppers began hanging around there. Most people began to think of the King's Road as a glorified shopping centre. The original Chelsea crew were forced to retire to the back streets. It was no longer their own place of parade. And now I think Chelsea is due for some fashionable revival. If you called Nicholas Coleridge (MD of Conde Nast Magazines), I bet you he'd say, 'I'm thinking of going back to Chelsea'. There's just that feeling in the air.