Podcast Ep 12 SIMON DOONAN ON THE FASHION ASYLUM & DRESSING BARNEYS WINDOWS
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EPISODE 12 FEATURES SIMON DOONAN, LEGENDARY WINDOW DRESSER
Designers know they’ve made it when their collections are stocked by Saks, Bergdorf’s or Barneys. The iconic New York department stores hold a special allure, even when you live elsewhere.
But retail, globally, is in a state of flux. Will there even be physical stores in 10 or 20 years’ time? As customers continue to head online, it seems like every week there's news of yet another “bricks and mortar” closure. In the US, analysts predict 25 % of malls could shutter within the next five years. Will we ditch consumerism on mass, as the anti-shopping / buy nothing movements expand? Will renting fashion and clothing libraries become major trends? Or is it all about EXPERIENCES?
The latter is where The comes in. He calls himself a carnival type, likens his celebrated window displays for Barneys New York to something out of Coney Island – and indeed he has put some very unusual objects in shop windows in his time.
Creative director, writer, drag lover and OTT window dresser extraordinaire, Simon Doonan is an actual proper fashion legend.
Wait till you hear how he got into it.
Growing up gay and dreaming of glamour in 1960s Reading, he moved to Manchester then London in search of what he calls “the beautiful people”, cadging window dressing jobs off the likes Tommy Nutter (tailor to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) and cult filmmaker Ken Russell’s wife along the way. In La La Land, he did the windows for luxury boutique Maxfield. In mid-80s Manhattan, he worked for Diana Vreeland at the Met, before joining Barneys.
Simon’s story is both extraordinary, and, in a weird way ordinary – in that Fashion Land has long been a place where eccentric, creative kids from small unremarkable towns can find a home and thrive.
In this Episode we talk about his professional path, and how today’s new generation of designers and dream weavers can navigate the changed fashion landscape. We discuss Simon’s unwavering belief in the value of originality ("Conformity is the only real fashion crime") and some of the fashion geniuses he’s encountered. And of course we TALK SHOP.
"To not dress like yourself and to sublimate your spirit to some kind of group identity is succumbing to fashion fascism." - Simon Doonan
SIMON'S LOOK BOOK - IMPORTANT BUT SLIGHTLY OBSCRURE HISTORY OF FASHION STUFF YOU NEED TO KNOW
Blitz Kids and the Blitz Club
"By 1977 I'd gotten very bored by punk. It'd become very violent. The skinheads and the National Front had moved in," the late Steve Strange told the Guardian for a story looking back at the brief but bright style light that was the Blitz club in London's Covent Garden. "It was about being creative, we wanted to start something that didn't have anything to do with punk...I ran a very tight ship in terms of my door policy. I wanted creative-minded pioneers there who looked like a walking piece of art, not some drunken beery lads. People would ask, 'Why aren't we getting in?' and I'd hold a mirror up and say, 'Have you looked at yourself?' It would actually make a lot of people try a lot harder to get in and maybe a week or two later, they would be able to come in." It was the dawn of the New Romantic era, where makeup and hair and ruffles were big. Think Boy George, think Stephen Jones, think Steve Strange. Think about reading Iain R. Webb's brilliant book Blitz: Fashioning 80s Style.
TOMMY NUTTER was tailor to swinging Sixties and early Seventies rock royalty and London glitterati.
I MEAN, TOMMY NUTTER MADE THIS... everyone think's Bianca's wedding suit was Yves Saint Laurent, but it wasn't - it was Tommy effing Nutter. And Simon Doonan did his windows. Which I just love.
KEN RUSSELL was a former ballet dancer turned portly filmmaker obsessed with sex, death and religion. He made such controversial 1960s masterpieces as Women in Love (shocking!), The Devils (even more shocking!) and The Who's rock opera Tommy. But who knew his first wife Shirely Rusell, the celebrated costume designer, had a vintage shop? Well you do know. Here's a snap of her in it. Read this - fascinating.
When the patchouli drenched Summer of Love hippie thing began to fade, Tommy Roberts opened Mr Freedom as the antidote. The look?Pop colour kitsch, with playful, childlike appliques (rainbows, space ships, cartoon characters). Enter Elton Jonh. Enter glam rock. Nights in tight satin...
Unsung hero of 1990s British fashion. Why aren't we still obsessed with Ozbek? He did make the best clothes. And Naomi! It was always Naomi.
I've really really truly run out of time. I have to get up early and install my National Op Shop Week concept store and I'm tres fatigue. But I have things to say about Bodymap. To borrow from Arnie, I'll be back. Please come back too.
SIMON'S BOOK SHELF
The Asylum, A Collage of Couture Reminiscences...and Hysteria, by Simon Doonan, 2013
Beautiful People, My Family and Other Varmints, by Simon Doonan, 2005
Confessions of a Window Dresser, by Simon Doonan, 1998
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
Writes Simon in one of his Slate columns, "Regarding Brenda’s sense of style: VIVIENNE WESTWOOD once dubbed her Majesty “the most fashionably dressed woman in the world.” Upon reflection, I think Viv may be onto something. In an era when the fashion landscape has fragmented into an infinite archipelago of conflicting trends and incomprehensible ideas, the only thing that really matters is to have your own signature look. Who has accomplished this if not QE2? Those boldly-hued matching dresses, coats, and hats—plus contrasting what-the-hell-does-she-carry-in-them handbags—positively scream 'Brenda!'"
Note: People started calling the queen Brenda after Private Eye anointed her thus in 1969, following a BBC behind-the-scenes at Buckingham Palace doco that the satirical mag decided came off kind of like a soap opera...
6 OF THE BEST BARNEYS WINDOWS BY SIMON DOONAN
You know the bit where Simon says he likes the idea of contrasts, of putting, say, one super fancy frock in a window surrounded by junk? And I say: like the rad new Stella McCartney campaign shot at a landfill? Well, here is it:
Listen to STELLA McCARTNEY on Desert Island Discs here