Why the World Needs Fashion
From a confidential memo for the spring 1999 Pelle Pelle menswear fashion show, pinned to a dressing room wall backstage at the New York Public Library’s Celeste Bartos Forum: “Pelle Pelle Spring 1999 is casual, straight, cigar band, vintage, muscle, GTO, desert, flight, marine tech, roller, track, and ocean wave. Spring ’99 has taken strong inspiration from character-referenced ‘lifestyles’ which were popular during Hollywoods [sic] technicolor heyday through the early ’70s. Pelle Pelle returns to the big screen and dresses the likes of Clark Gabel [sic], Harry Belafonti [sic], James Dean, Sidney Poitier, and Humphrey Bogart in our interpretation of modern classics.”
On the wall beside the confidential memo, for some reason, is a photograph of Cab Calloway, circa 1929.
Be a Model and Earn Thousands a Day!
“I only have Andre and Brett as fast changes,” a dresser is saying. “Is there anyone else?”
“There’s Damon,” says the show’s director. “Is Damon asterisked?”
“Oh, well, if they’re asterisked they’re fast.”
“Models, models,” the Pelle Pelle fashion show coordinator then announces, as she draws Andre, Marlon, Jason, Brent, Preston, Jamal, Caesar, Will, Arnaud, Dahil, Jo Jo, and Izel to her. It is 20 minutes shy of show time on this the final day of Men’s Fashion Week, and the coordinator is showing the models how to be models. “I need all the men on the runway for a rehearsal,” she’s saying. “It’s important for the video. The video guy is losing the logo when he scans the audience, so keep an even pace. The camera’s on you. As you know, the camera is as important, and sometimes more important, than the show. Work to the camera. Nothing is a gallop. When you’re coming in as a double, show wide. Enter double, show double. Singles split a double. When you do a double pass-through, do it wide so you can do it right. Once you’re styled, leave it alone.”
“Somebody should tell this woman she’s just making it complicated,” the Jamaican model Stacey McKenzie, who is visiting backstage, whispers.
“Also,” the coordinator goes on, “that manhole cover at the end of the runway? Don’t step on it.”
“I mean,” says McKenzie, “it’s not rocket science. Just open the gate and get ya’ ass out there.”
“Oh, and guys, guys, guys,” the Pelle Pelle coordinator says, offering her final, crucial note in a voice whose anxiety is just barely under control. “These clothes have a lot of layers. These shoes have a lot of laces. So stay alert.”
The Invasion of the Fashion People
“You know how everybody is saying that gray is this year’s brown, which was last year’s black?” Holland H. Goss, exhibitions coordinator for the New York Public Library, where many of the men’s fashion shows are held, inquires. “Well, I went out for lunch the other day and every single person on the street was wearing black. There were men in black. There were women in black. There were even children in black. Honestly, I’ve never seen so much black in my life, even when black was that year’s black.”
Considering a Career in the Glamorous World of Fashion?
“I’ve been so working it, I’ve been in overdrive,” whimpers a makeup artist with a pompadour and sideburns that say Clint Eastwood, Rawhide 1959, as he applies fake facial hair to a 17-year-old modeling discovery from Fairlawn, New Jersey—a bleached blond named Jo Jo Ragones. “I did Milan, Paris, and London. Then I immediately took the Concorde here to do New York men’s. I’m, like, living on bottled water and Marlboro Lights. Now I hear they’re talking about moving the women’s New York up to September. You’re kidding. I mean, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in two months. I’m at the point where I don’t know if I’m putting on mascara or a mustache.”
Why Models Should Not Operate Heavy Machinery
“What do you like about these clothes?” a TV interviewer is asking models Damon Crawford and Jamal Trice.
“They’re well made,” Trice replies.
“The fabric is good,” adds Crawford.
“Is the logo important?” the reporter queries.
“Yeah, because it means they’re well made.”
“Right. Right. And is quality important to you in the clothes you wear?”
“Oh, definitely,” replies Crawford. “That way they could last. You could still have them in a year.”
Do Clothes Make the Man?
“So I leave my desk,” says a woman who works in the exhibitions office at the New York Public Library, “and I pass a doorway to this office the fashion shows are using as dressing rooms, and there’s this unbelievable vision, all these guys standing around in their underpants, looking in mirrors, combing their hair, flexing their muscles, or just standing while some assistant to the dresser’s assistant adjusts something or other, and then I go up the hall and take the elevator to the third floor to check a catalogue in Rare Books and I kind of bump into this homeless guy who’s always in the library, one of many, right between the men’s room and the Charles Addams Gallery, this kind of Zipperhead-looking guy with long, long gray hair that he combs and flips back and forth, and an ancient greasy jacket that he very meticulously shakes out and smooths, and, as usual, he’s tossing his hair and dusting the dandruff off his shoulders and taking the greatest care with his appearance, and when he’s done he gives me this expression, and it’s the exact same expression the models had, all guys get it sometimes, like David Duchovny crossed with Soupy Sales, that across-the-barroom dude-smirk that says, ‘Admire me.’ And I got so freaked out I ran down the hall and ducked into Slavic and Baltic to hide.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 11, 1998