Location East Village

Rent $1200 (commercial)

Square feet 600

Occupant Geová Rodrigues (fashion designer)

I think I’ll sit down in this one chair you have. Well, it’s a 98-degree day and we’re in your 12-foot-wide home and atelier with the wool carpet and the scraps of leather and fur floating around. Oh, the pincushion looks like a tomato. You used to be a painter and you are from Brazil. How long have you been here? Two and a half years. My landlord, Mrs. Shirley, attends my shows. She gives me advice. I say, “Mrs. Shirley, I wish you be my mother,” so I don’t have to pay the rent. She love what I’m doing. She want me to do something commercial. She want me to make money. I pay my rent late but all the time I pay. I find this place from another painter. He discovered the space is very small for him. Mrs. Shirley’s husband say to me, “You can afford?” I say, “Yes, sure.”

Does Mrs. Shirley wear your clothes, like the bra made out of airline sleeping masks? No, I like to do maybe a T-shirt for her. My clothes are too wired for her but she like, she watches Sex and the City, she says, “Geová, you have to be in Sex and the City because all the clothes look like that.” My birthday was on August 2. Her birthday is the same day. I’m always using my home for everything, a garage for my bicycle, a showroom. No one helps me. I do every single thing. I have the ability to make ugly things beautiful. When I work, I have to be a mess. When I have the mess I get inspired. All my fabric is found on the street, the garbage. I was born in the northeast of Brazil, Barcelona, eight streets, very small. I am not from a rich family. Twelve brothers and sisters. My father, he was a farmer, cows, bulls, corn, beans. Here is a picture of my family’s house, it looks like a train, one level, each house looks alike, 11 rooms. The last time I was there, eight years ago. The city wants to do something public for me. I am everything there. They watch me on TV in Brazil, MTV. I sent to them Elle magazine. I have a big article, May 2000. The immigration approved me today for a green card. Designer Jussara Lee is my sponsor. I’ve lived in good places and very worst. I live on 8th, 12th, 14th, 15th, 16th. I was very excited when I came to East Village. I love East Village. Once I live on 76th and Third. When I moved, I was depressed because I would be not part of East Village anymore. Next, I had a basement, a very teeny room in East Village. It was illegal. The landlord wanted to put all my stuff onto the street. I had fashion shows in the basement. I make a fashion movie there, documentary for European TV. Famous stylists were there. They love it. One day there is a London magazine journalist. A big cucaracha ran on the floor. Ha, ha, ha. She laughs. I say, “Don’t worry, this is very New York.” She says, “Of course.” I’ve never have a formal job, I never finish high school. I went to São Paulo when I was 16 and a half years old, 1980s. I was in Paris two years, painting. I met a friend and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Then I came to New York in 1990, the summer, I come to place of Keith Haring, Warhol, Soho. I say, “Where is the beautiful city in the movies? This is ugly.” I left after five days. I was very scared of New York. I couldn’t speak English. I was not prepared to be in another city. I go back to Charlotte. My friend in Charlotte is like my family. I find a big loft, a beautiful house. I say, “I don’t want to go to New York at all.” Then ’92 is when I move here. When I left Barcelona, I say I know it is past. São Paulo, past, Paris, Charlotte, past. But maybe one day, I go back to . . .

No one leaves New York. You’ve entered hell—choose your sofa. Do you cook in that tiny kitchen that kind of merges into the bathroom in the back? Oh, you do. You make fish Wanda? No, I said, I make feijoada. I sit, eat here near the window.

You sit next to the high-heeled shoes and the lace hoop-skirt dress in the storefront display. You have your plate next to the sewing machine. Do you ever feel claustrophobic? No, because all the time, I watch the street.

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