Four Months as a Fashion Designer [PT 1]

One of my great loves in life is fashion design. Since I was a kid, I’d been altering stuff I found in thrift stores – turning them into new pieces. I come from a line of tailors & seamstresses on my dad’s side, and my mom also taught me a ton as she made performance clothes for my dad, and every occasion dress for me & my sister. I’m fortunate to have had all that background, because I love high fashion – especially if it’s futuristic in nature (think Thierry Mugler & Gareth Pugh). For me, fashion and music go hand-in-hand. Being a musician is only part of the deal—I’m an artist and performer, so the theatrical aspect of expression is strongly connected to what I wear. It’s a big part of expressing who I am inside my own little world.  But alas, as I continue my journey of artistic passion, I’m not at this point able to afford runway-level designer clothes. But I simply can’t settle for regular outfits, even if they’re interesting.

On top of that, I’ve always been kind of obsessive about projects. When I get an idea in my head, if it’s a really inspired one, it won’t leave me alone. It will wake me up at night and interrupt my daily tasks until I agree to bring it to fruition. Pretty sure this is a typical “Artist Thing.” We get whatever download we’re blessed with on a given day, and we’re slaves to its realization. This can be a great driver for getting things done, especially when the drive is related to your particular form of artistry. But one of the challenges I’ve always faced is big-picture focus. I can laser focus like a MoFo when it comes to a specific project or task, but in life in general – I struggle with being pulled in too many directions. So whenever it comes time to release new music, it means that pull will become more intense, since Me, Myself & I make up the team that creates everything you see here and on my social media.

For each shoot, I’m a different facet of myself; I’m expressing not only what I’m saying in my songs but also the world inside my head – the one I want to share with all of you. What I’m wearing is so instrumental to that communication. The cycle always goes the same way: I have a shoot coming up. I start to envision the story I want to tell visually – with the scenery, props, and of course, my costumes. I start to see everything come together in my mind, a clear vision takes form. I can see the outfits and various looks in my mind—often they’re inspired by something I saw in Game of Thrones, an obscure futuristic film or well-known Sci-Fi movie. Then I hit Google and start typing in every bloody search term/phrase/combination thereof that I can think of, trying to find the outfits I’m picturing.

And every single time, I come up empty handed. As it turns out, the pieces I’ve imagined only exist in my head, or any extant approximation has a price tag of oh…like $2,000 (or more). So…no.

After being frustrated by my lack of access to what I really want to wear and express, I did what I always do: figure out how to do it myself. Over the years I’ve made more & more complex pieces, becoming more ambitious every time; but this time was different. It was all-consuming. It became my day job for 4 months. It was late Winter NYC, I’d just finished recording my upcoming album and had the opportunity to shift my focus to all that comes with releasing an album: new photos, album art (most likely a photo), and music videos to accompany my new songs.  and I had a plethora of options at my fingertips—the city is a Mecca for fabric hunters and I fell under its spell immediately. I started by going to small fashion-industry focused warehouses, mostly by accident. When I searched for fabric stores in the Fashion District, I found several that had good reviews and a reputedly huge selection. So I took the A train and began pounding the pavement in search of fabulous fabrics. I couldn’t even find the first store, it was on the upper floor of an innocuous building on 35th. Once I called and found out how to get in there, I’d quickly realized my error; this was a wholesale-only warehouse serving the upper echelon of the fashion design community. What the hell, I figured, may as well play it off and learn what I can.

The beautiful, very professional manager walked me around and showed me materials that met the vague descriptions I gave her, and I discovered a range of textiles I’d never been exposed to in raw form (most memorably a 2-sided red/aubergine scuba that I couldn’t stop coming back to). These were clearly the foundations of what one sees on a runway, and the price tags reflected that. I learned that I’d have to buy at least 25 yards of a given fabric, and the ones I’d picked out were a minimum of $20/yd…So I found a way to not make an ass out of myself and exit the shop, thanking the woman who helped me as I left. At least now I knew to look for places that sold to the general public and fashion design students.

The Garment District, like so much retail in NYC and across the country, has suffered deadly blows over the last decade. As rents continue to rise to ridiculous levels of unsustainability, small businesses like the myriad shops that once lined this area of Manhattan have been driven to obscure locations across New Jersey and other parts of the Tri-State Area. This was no longer the thriving marketplace I remembered from my teen years; it had shrunken to a shadow of its former glory. But, as I discovered, many businesses valiantly held on, finding smaller locations higher up in the city’s skyline, rather than at street level. I found gems like Prime Fabrics, where the owner is always helpful to me and knows just about everything about textiles, and Chic Fabric where I could purchase luxurious materials for very reasonable prices. And then I remembered Mood.

Mood Fabrics is a fantastical playground for the designer—an amusement park where the rides are comprised of wildly varied textured, a rich spectrum of colors and an array of sheens and tones. One could spend an entire day there and barely scratch the surface of possibilities. When the elevator doors opened I quite literally felt like Charlie in (the real) Willy Wonka, standing there stunned for a moment by the sheer multitude of items on the floor. Once I was able to jar myself free and walk into the cavernous store, I was overwhelmed with delight at the availability of so many things. Sequins, satins, silks, glittery things, leathery things, canvasy things, and most awesome of all: every color zipper you could possibly want! Inspiration began flooding in, and there was no turning back. And there were friendly fashion design students and Mood employees to help me figure out & find what I needed. By the time I left the store, I had the beginnings of the 3 outfits I’d already planned, and the concept for a 4th. What I didn’t have was the slightest idea of the magnitude of what I was taking on, and that I would lose myself in this endeavor for months to come.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next installment(s) on my Fashion Design Adventure!