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"I pretty much have measurements for every inch of Lady Gaga's body," says Zana Bayne, 23-year-old harness- maker to the stars.
On a recent afternoon, inside her Williamsburg studio, morbidly decorated with skulls, animal bones, and pentagrams, she's showing us a rack of her bondage-inspired harnesses. One of the most oddly alluring accessories of the year, Bayne's elaborate leather creations have been spotted on everyone from Katy Perry to Chloë Sevigny to Ciara to Ms. Gaga herself. Shiny buckles and rivets clank together as she pulls out a gray harness with leather straps that extend down the fingers and wrap around the body like a rib cage to create a skeleton effect. A favorite of her collection, she wore it last Halloween. But alas, she won't be using it again this year.
"I altered it to make it smaller because Nicki Minaj was supposed to wear it, but she didn't, and now it doesn't fit me anymore." She shrugs and places it back on the rack knowing that, as far as occupational hazards go, it's not a terrible problem to have.
It was only a little more than two years ago when Bayne, who has a wild mop of black curls, pale skin, and a mostly black wardrobe, moved to Brooklyn unsure of how she'd make a living. Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, she dropped out of high school at 15 with the blessings of her "open-minded" parents, took the G.E.D., and enrolled the following year in the San Francisco Art Institute, where she received a conceptual-art degree in New Genres.
As documented on her blog Garbage Dress, she made her first harness in 2008 after she saw a woman in London wearing something that looked to her like "a belt with suspenders" over a shirtdress. Soon friends and fans of her blog began placing orders for her harnesses and her business grew and grew. She was finally able to quit her day job earlier this year to sell her leather designs—including suspenders, bootstraps, and belts—full-time on her website, zanabayne.com ($65 to $325).
With all the s&m accessories and black leather popping up for fall, we could think of no better person than Bayne to take us on a tour of her favorite NYC shops. Stomping down her five flights of stairs in her beloved Ann Demeulemeester white go-go-esque boots, she leads us to the G train to check out Eva Gentry Consignment (371 Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-522-3522), where Bayne last worked as a salesperson.
Even though the temperature is in the mid-80s, with the exception of her white boots, she's dressed in all black—a sheer tank dress from Rick Owens layered over a bustier from Theyskens' Theory, a "pleather" mini skirt from Urban Outfitters ("my secret online shopping source for cheap basics"), and ripped stockings. But no harness? "I don't want that touching my skin right now," she says, preferring it as a cool-weather accessory. "With fall you can always play with layers, and that's nice. If you have a sweater that doesn't have a closure, you can just harness it up."
At the Boerum Hill boutique, she's greeted by her former colleague, who is, naturally, wearing a Zana Bayne harness. Bypassing all the colorful clothes, Bayne heads for the section of black garments. She pulls out a floor-skimming vintage lace dress for $150. "This is a good fall thing," she says. "Lace. Everything is lace."
She spies a plaid patchwork Vivienne Westwood skirt suit ($415) and holds it up. "Oh this is fabulous! Why hasn't anybody bought this?" she wonders. Even though it's blue and orange, she'd consider it for herself, but "Vivienne Westwood fits me badly. It makes me sad."
Talk turns to Bayne's rapidly growing business, and her old colleague asks, "Are you getting any child labor yet?"
"I have interns," Bayne replies.
"OK, same thing."
"They're older than me though." Bayne says. Her oldest is a 28-year-old woman. "She comes over after her day job. It's really awesome!"
After looking around some more, we catch a cab to take us to Change of Season (341 East 9th Street, 212-420-7770), which carries past-season designer clothes.
"This is one of my favorite places," she tells us as she goes inside. "Incredible selection, great prices." It's easy to see why she adores it so—it's full of dark-colored clothes and avant-garde designers, such as Comme des Garçons and Balenciaga, all marked down up to 75 percent off.
Bayne only wears heels, and the higher the better. She tries on a pair of towering black wedges by Gareth Pugh for $375. "I could run in these," she says as she confidently struts across the shop. But the price tag makes her hesitate. Bayne is not an impulse shopper. Her mother, formerly a vice president at Eddie Bauer and currently CEO of Artful Home, has wisely coached her daughter that being a responsible entrepreneur means saving her money, so she hands them back with a wistful sigh.
A few doors down, we stop at the vintage eyeglasses shop Fabulous Fanny's (335 East 9th Street, 212-533-0637). "I'm looking for something especially large or evil-shaped or strange," she tells the salesman. Whisking her to a case in the back, he hands her a pair of sunglasses with rhinestones on the sides and two rifles crisscrossed on top. They make Bayne laugh. After trying a couple sparkly cat-eye numbers, she thanks him and strolls south to the consignment shop Tokio 7 (83 East 7th Street, 212-353-8443). "I find so much stuff here," she says, flipping through designer dresses that look practically brand new. A teenager approaches Bayne and tells her she's a huge admirer of her blog and harnesses. "Keep going!" the girl says.
"Thank you," Bayne replies, blushing a little. "That really warms my heart."
Feeling re-energized thanks to her fan, Bayne hits one final store, Oak (28 Bond Street, 212-677-1293), which carries established designers on the first floor and more-affordable clothing in the basement. She coos over a pair of soft leather gym pants by Preen ($900). "I just want to wrap myself in them," she says, and throws the legs around her shoulders like a cape. But she doesn't dare try them on: "I'm afraid I'll love them too much."
Instead, she heads off to meet the new guy she's been dating. And what's his story? His family founded the South Brooklyn Casket Company, of course.