MARCH 2002

PLAZA MAGAZINE

WHEN THE GOTHIC GLAMOUR EXHIBITION WAS LAUNCHED THIS FALL, VALERIE STEELE TALKED A LOT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND IN PORTERVILLE, CALIFORNIA; HOW YOU FELT ALIENATED BY THE WAL-MART AESTHETICS, READ ROMANTIC 19TH CENTURY NOVELS AND DREAMT OF A DECADENT LIFE IN PARIS. WHAT IS YOUR OWN FIRST-HAND STORY ABOUT THIS, ABOUT YOUR ROOTS AS A DESIGNER? 

WELL ACTUALLY, WAL-MART DIDN’T EXIST THEN AND I DIDN’T EVEN HAVE THE IMAGINATION TO DREAM OF A DECADENT LIFE IN PARIS. I’M A CATHOLIC CLICHÉ: STRICT CONTROLLED CHILDHOOD, OUT-OF-CONTROL YOUNG ADULT REACTION, GRADUAL STABILIZING. I’D PROBABLY CREATE THE WHOLE CYCLE AGAIN IF I WERE A PARENT. I’M SURE IT’S BEST FOR EVERYONE I’M NOT. 

YOU OFTEN MENTION SISTERS OF MERCY WHEN TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF AS A CONFUSED TEENAGER. WHAT DOES THIS MUSIC MEAN TO YOU TODAY? 

SISTERS OF MERCY IS SUCH A GREAT NAME, ISN’T IT? I STILL LOVE THAT BAND, BUT NOW IT HAS A SENTIMENTAL LAYER FOR ME. WHO DOESN’T LOVE CRYSTAL METH SELF-INDULGENT MELODRAMA? 

WHAT EVENTS LEAD YOU TO BECOME PART OF THE HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD HUSTLER BAR WORLD, AS YOU DESCRIBED IT IN LEE CARTER’S INTERVIEW WITH YOU IN HINT MAGAZINE? 

I DON’T REMEMBER ANY SERIES OF EVENTS. JUST AN ENTHUSIASTIC LEAP. 

THE EXPERIENCE YOU HAD WITH WORKING FOR KNOCK-OFF COMPANIES IN LA, WAS IT SIGNIFICANT? 

ITS ONLY SIGNIFICANCE WAS IN REPETITION AND TRAINING. I DID IT BECAUSE I KNEW I COULD ALWAYS FIND A JOB WITH AN EMPLOYABLE SKILL. I DON’T REMEMBER BEING VERY AMBITIOUS THEN. 

CAN YOU POINT OUT THINGS, RELATIONSHIPS, PEOPLE AND/OR EVENTS IN YOUR LIFE THAT HAVE SHAPED YOUR AESTHETICS? 

ONE OF THE THINGS I REMEMBER IS FEELING A SIGH OF RELIEF ON SEEING ”PINK FLAMINGOS.” IT WAS THE CHEERY FUCK-YOU TO CONVENTIONALITY I’D BEEN WAITING FOR. IT WAS A CELEBRATION OF SELF-INVENTION. FOOTNOTE: I JUST FOUND OUT THAT LARRY LEGASPI, WHO DID THE COSTUMES FOR LABELLE, ALSO DID THE COSTUMES FOR KISS AND THEN DIVINE’S COSTUMES FOR THE PLAY ”PORK”! AND YET THERE’S HARDLY ANY DOCUMENTATION ON LARRY LEGASPI! I’M GONNA TALK ABOUT HIM EVERY CHANCE I GET. 

YOU HAVE CALLED YOUR STYLE ”MORE CAMP THAN GOTH.” HOW IS IT MORE CAMP THAN GOTH? 

’CAUSE IT’S WITH A LOVING WINK. 

WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOUR BREAKTHROUGH? 

BEING RECOGNIZED BY AMERICAN VOGUE PROBABLY GAVE ME THE CREDIBILITY THAT MADE THE DIFFERENCE. AT THE TIME, THEY WERE LOOKING FOR AMERICAN DESIGNERS TO PROMOTE AND SPONSORED MY FIRST SHOW. I WAS JUST IN THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME. I ACTUALLY CONSIDERED DECLINING. HOW WOULD MY NARROW AESTHETIC SURVIVE THE SPOTLIGHT OF A RUNWAY FOR MORE THAT A COUPLE OF SEASONS? I MIGHT RISK OVEREXPOSING A LIMITED STORY AND BURNING THROUGH SOMETHING THAT COULD EXTEND LONGER QUIETLY. BUT THEN I GOT OVER MYSELF AND THOUGHT “FUCK IT. YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE.” 

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO BE AN EXPAT AMERICAN IN PARIS? WHAT’S YOUR LIFE LIKE TODAY? AND WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE PARISIAN FASHION WORLD? 

I WAS SO HORRIFIED THAT I DIDN’T PICK UP FRENCH EASILY THAT I JUST NEVER TRIED AGAIN. I LOVE FEELING LIKE A VISITOR EVEN THOUGH I’VE BEEN HERE SIX YEARS NOW. I LIVE IN A VERY LOVELY BUBBLE AND APPRECIATE IT VERY MUCH. LIKE ANY PLACE I’VE LIVED, I’VE REDUCED IT TO A TRIANGLE BETWEEN MY STUDIO/HOME, THE GYM AND A FEW NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANTS. BUT MY WALK TO THE GYM TAKES ME THROUGH PLACE DE LA CONCORDE, THE JARDIN DES TUILERIES AND PALAIS ROYAL NOW. 

IT’S OFTEN SAID THAT YOU HAVE A CULT FOLLOWING. WHAT KIND OF ATTENTION DO YOU GET FROM YOUR FANS, AND WHAT KIND OF CONTACT DO YOU HAVE WITH THEM? HAVE THERE BEEN INCIDENTS, GOOD AND/OR BAD? 

SORRY TO DISAPPOINT, BUT NOTHING SIGNIFICANT, ALTHOUGH IT DOES REMIND ME OF A KIND OF UNRELATED STORY. SOMEONE INTRODUCED ME TO SIOUXIE SIOUX A FEW YEARS AGO AND SHE SAID, “OH YEAH, I REMEMBER SEEING YOU IN THE LOUNGE AT LAX. I THOUGHT YOU WERE AN ITALIAN PORN STAR.” I’LL REMEMBER THAT LINE UNTIL THE DAY I DIE. 

SEVERAL CELEBRITIES HAVE WORN YOUR CREATIONS. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT THIS? DO YOU HAVE ANY DREAM CLIENT(S)? 

CELEBRITIES HAVE ONE OF EVERYTHING, SO IF YOU’RE IN BUSINESS LONG ENOUGH, SOMEONES GOING TO WEAR ONE OF YOUR THINGS IN A PICTURE. I’M GLAD WHEN ANYONE BUYS MY CLOTHES. 

ABOUT ONE OF THE EDWARD STEICHEN IMAGES IN YOUR BOOK “L’AI-JE BIEN DESCENDU?” YOU SAID: ”IT'S ONE OF MY STANDARDS. IT'S WHAT I WANT LIFE TO BE.” WHICH PHOTOGRAPH WAS IT? AND IN WHAT WAY IS IT HOW YOU WANT LIFE TO BE? HOW DO YOU WANT LIFE TO BE? 

IT’S A PICTURE OF AN OPERA SET FROM THE '30S THAT I TORE OUT OF A NEWSPAPER ONCE AND COULD NEVER FIND AGAIN. IT’S A BLACK AND WHITE IMAGE OF A MOMENT OF SPIRITUAL ASCENSION DURING A RELIGIOUS CEREMONY IN THE OPERA. THE SET IS MONUMENTAL AND VAGUELY BAUHAUS/DECO. THERE’S A FIGURE THAT’S MOVING FROM SPIRITUAL PURSUIT TO SOME KIND OF SPIRITUAL RESOLUTION. I’M NOT SPIRITUAL AT ALL, BUT THERE'S SOMETHING TOUCHING ABOUT THAT MOMENT. AND THE MOOD OF THE PICTURE IS QUIET, DIGNIFIED AND HEROIC. 

THE FURNITURE LINE: WHAT ARE THE FUTURE PLANS, IN TERMS OF DESIGN AND COLLECTIONS? 

I’M WORKING ON DOING SOME THINGS IN PATE DE VERRE. I’LL KEEP DOING FURNITURE FOREVER, WHETHER ANYBODY’S PAYING ATTENTION OR NOT. 

YOU HAVE TALKED ABOUT TAKING A STEP FURTHER TOWARDS BUILDINGS/ARCHITECTURE. WHAT WOULD THE DREAM PROJECT BE? 

ARCHITECTURE SOUNDS KIND OF LOFTY AND I’M KIND OF BUSY. SUFFICE TO SAY THAT I LIKE PLAYING WITH VOLUMES. 

IN WHAT WAY DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH YOUR PROTÉGÉ GARETH PUGH, AND WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT HIS PARIS DEBUT? 

I LOVE THAT HE’S A FOCUSED TECHNICIAN, FOLLOWING HIS VISION NO MATTER WHAT. 

WHAT DO YOU GET INSPIRED BY, AT THIS MOMENT? 

-GRACE JONES’S "CORPORATE CANNIBAL" VIDEO
-TINA TURNER SINGING ”ACID QUEEN” IN THE MOVIE ”TOMMY”
-ARCHITECTURE OF CLAUDE PARENT
-ARTIST ANDREI MOLODKIN
-LARRY FUCKING LEGASPI!