I went to Paris when I was 20. I wanted to learn from the greats, all those designers who inspired me. Even if it was just picking up pins from the floor my ambition was to be in the same room as them. To be in the atelier.
My look at that time was pretty extreme. My hair was a mohawk-mullet situation, I smudged on eye make-up with my thumb, and I wore ripped shredded 1930s dresses over leather pants, concert-shirts and customised DM platforms. All my creativity was channelled onto myself – every day was my fashion show because I was desperate to express myself.
But getting a job was tough. I soon found out there was this thing the French seemed to love called red tape. I couldn’t get an internship because of it. I was desperate to make my dreams come true and be part of this world but it wasn’t happening. I was homeless, either couch-surfing or sleeping on the metro.
Somehow I managed to rent a room without papers at the very end of the metro by Clignancourt, the flea-market. They didn’t care that I was American as long as I could pay the rent. I started getting paid to show up at parties because I had such a cool look, so I did party promotion to make money. And by day I would go through the trash at the fleamarket to find materials for clothes and to furnish my room.
That’s when I found this car door. It was big, black and very heavy. I believe it was from a London black cab, which was strange. So I dragged it home thinking it might be a prop for something one day.
I still wanted to break into fashion. But I didn’t go to Paris to start my own career, but to learn. I wasn’t even planning to be a designer – I just thought I was going to work in fashion. Then I stumbled into having my own show. One night this guy said to me: “Well if you’re so great why don’t you just do it yourself?” He was being kind of a bitch. And I thought: “**** you, I will!”
Through going out in the clubs I had a contact for a location. I had friends who could be models and friends who did club flyers and lighting. So I put it all together – the gang’s all here. I made the patterns, and cut and sewed all the clothes by myself. And I made the shoes, which were just a high-heel attached by bandages – it looked like they had just come out of surgery after having a high-heel implant. The show was called “Body Modification”.
So back to that car door. I thought that instead of the paper invitations everybody else was getting, we could make one very special invitation. Pablo, my very dear friend from art school, lettered all the information – time, place and venue – on the car window, perfectly centred and beautiful.
I had that one special invite, it was like having one bit chip in a casino. I thought who do I gamble this on? Anna Wintour? Anna Piaggi? Hmm. At that time in Paris there was Marie-Christiane Marek who was the first person to do live broadcasts of the fashion shows: she had put a Gaultier show live on French national television. That means nothing now that everything is live on the internet but it felt revolutionary 20 years ago to watch Gaultier’s couture show live. So I thought: let’s give that to her.
Pablo hauled the heavy-ass door onto the metro and got it to her apartment. The concierge opened the door and because she didn’t speak English and Pablo didn’t speak French, somehow she assumed that he had brought the car door because Marie-Christiane had been in a car accident. She had a total panic. We didn’t know this until later when Marie-Christiane told us. It caused this whole to-do. So when Marie-Christiane came home to this chaos and this car door she decided “I want to see this kid.” Which is how my very first fashion show (pictured above) was on French TV: she interviewed me, everything. I was someone with no money, no publicist, no name, no clout – no nothing. Just some kid from America. And that first show being on TV kicked everything off. Because suddenly everybody in France knew who I was.
To me it feels like a miracle that from doing that one show I ended up doing them over and over and over again. This September will by my 20th anniversary.
What happened to the car door? You know, I have no idea.