It used to be so easy to tell whether the stranger walking toward you on the street was an extraordinary person or a drear: All you had to do was look at the way someone was dressed. Now, thanks to tattoo parlors, nipple-piercing studios et al., everyone, regardless of how unutterably ordinary he might actually be, looks like a freakazoid. A formerly meaningful and significant chunk of vocabulary in the language of clothes has been rendered meaningless. And so, as a result, has Halloween.
Halloween is supposed to be that most cathartic of holidays–when ordinary Manhattanites don the mantle of eccentricity. This system only works when conventionality is the norm. What possible purpose can Halloween serve in contemporary New York, where the regular Brads and Janets on the street dress like style outlaws 365 days of the year?
My advice: Avoid the whole thing and spend Oct. 31 chez toi . Mark the occasion by doing something really macabre and transgressive–for example, designing your own casket. This is not as preposterous as it sounds. After all, you spent a fortune on those kitchen cabinets and you agonized over the detailing on your platform bed, so why not be a style Nazi about your casket? Don’t wait till you’re on a respirator–design the bloody thing while you’ve still got all your marbles. Doodle and sketch, and if you like what you see, call George Palumbo (718-387-3842).
Couture cabinet-maker Mr. Palumbo specializes in stylish storage, enabling anal-retentive sophisticates, and people like you, to squirrel away the unsightly reality of their lives. A regular casket-maker would inhibit your self-expression with his preconceived and fussy notions re: design. George, on the other hand, loves to free-associate with opinionated, style-obsessed clients. He’s done private commissions for Vanity Fair art director David Harris and moi , among others. His commercial cabinetry can be stroked and inspected at Holland & Holland, Christian Dior and Chanel; he also made the 30-foot reception desk at the uptown David Barton Gym, and he’s not cheap. “My regular pieces start at around $3,000–right now, I’m doing a gigunda 14-foot cabinet in honey-stained maple for two rich uptown lesbians.”
I asked George if he would, hypothetically, undertake a coffin commission, emphasizing that my personal preference would be for rectilinear mid-20th-century-style woodwork–recalling the furniture designs of some of my personal faves, Nakashima, George Nelson and Hans Wegner. Why shouldn’t I have a coffin to compliment my Danish-modern furniture aesthetic? George was only too happy to oblige. He assured me that designing and building a casket for a picky client would be “no different than making a lovely credenza.” But he won’t cut corners: “No veneers–be prepared to spend at least a couple of grand just for materials.” And no ebony and mahogany “because they’re endangered. A solid white oak will do nicely. It has total drama, and the grain crotches so beautifully.” “Crotching” occurs when people like George juxtapose planks of wood so that the grain forms a V. George estimated that a gorgeously crotched casket would cost me around $7,000. For a nominal charge, he added, he would “store until needed.”
Not included in Mr. Palumbo’s price is the fabulous but functional designer hardware (i.e., handles) that you so richly deserve. Valli & Valli (150 East 58th Street, 326-8811) has a mind-blowing range of superbly designed brass and stainless pulls and knobs. Owner Marinella Formenti recommends the matte stainless handles “for the Danish look.” He said: “Very chic, $200 each, and I think you need six. Non ?” Having theoretically racked up a cost of $8,200–the price of a deluxe trailer home–I headed off to discuss my tufted interior with Gary Lipps.
Mr. Lipps owns House of Lipps, a fabric and accessories boutique. He could not have been more enthusiastic: “We make posh pillows and curtains; I’ve never done a coffin interior. I’ve always wanted to, ever since I saw The Loved One .” (Directed by Tony Richardson, this must-rent film stars, among others, Liberace as a maquillage -wielding mortician.) I find, to my delight, that Gary shares my morbid fear of latent catalepsy à la The Fall of the House of Usher . “If you’re going to wake up in your own coffin, the last thing you want to be staring at for the rest of eternity is mildewed, beige slub silk,” he said.
I resolve to set aside my Danish-modern aesthetic and go for a cheery textile recalling happier times: e.g., a Lilly Pulitzer sundress print, a Marimekko or Pucci print (F.Y.I.: Marilyn Monroe was actually buried wearing a Pucci dress), a plaid, a logo repeat of a favorite designer or a Liberty floral print. As I unfurl a tantalizing bolt of celebratory chintz, Gary cautions me about the cost: “I’m expensive–I couldn’t touch a job like this for less than $1,500, not including fabric.” I ask him to make it tufted, in case I start freaking out and banging my head against the lid after I wake up. “That’s an extra $500,” he said.
About $10,200 later and I’m starting to feel like my dad: He always told us that “when the time came,” we should save our money and throw him on the compost heap.
If the kids are giving you a hard time about Halloween and demanding to go outside to play with the crack-addicted transvestites in the street, distract them with a copy of Mumbo Jumbo: The Creepy ABCs by Michael Roberts (Callaway, $24.95).
Mr. Roberts is not just a cover artist for The New Yorker (he does those graphic collages of fashion victims with broken ankles, etc.), he is also one of the most perversely wicked fashion journalists of all time. At the British Tatler in the 1980′s, he dressed Vivienne Westwood up as Margaret Thatcher and put English public-school boys in Yves Saint Laurent couture drag; his acid-tongued fashion coverage for the London Sunday Times in the 1970′s still has some fashion designers wincing.
He has managed to infuse this lavishly illustrated children’s book (his second) with a dollop of his signature naughtiness without doing anything too unsavory. E.g., M is for Mummy–”There must be a hieroglyphic / for a person so terrific. / She’s Egyptian, she’s not crummy, / my three thousand year-old mummy.”
Demeter has a perfume named Funeral Home ($15)–one whiff is equivalent to throwing yourself face-down on the top of a carnation-covered coffin at an Italian mob-controlled funeral home (i.e., it smells great).
For those of you Halloweeners unable to resist the allure of the costumed and fetid throng pulsing through the streets of Greenwich Village on Oct. 31, here are some costume ideas: Screaming Mimi’s (382 Lafayette Street, 677-6464) just took delivery of rails of 70′s and 80′s ghetto-fabulous dead stock: Styles range from candy-colored flared pants and polyester-printed and lurex shirts to Michael Jackson Thriller T’s. Proprietor Laura Wills, a self-described “vintage hag from way back,” had to be tranquilized when she stumbled upon this cache in the Deep South.
“It’s totally Shaft –not the recent Armani version. Some of the high-waisted polyester pants have 40-inch inseams!” Prices range from $48 to $75 for the wilder pants, and the shirts run from $45 to $70; pendants are $12 to $20, and hats are $28 to $55. “Pimp” is a good look for guys and chicks. If you would rather do “hooker” and show off your legs–and possibly your thonged rear end–buy the men’s glitter polyester dashiki from Screaming Mimi’s and accessorize it with a pair of La Rose boots from Cherry.
You may have read about Joseph La Rose, the wacky Manolo Blahnik of Jacksonville, Fla., who died last December leaving a mountain (120,000 pairs) of tarty, over-designed, under-appreciated footwear. Jayne Mansfield was wearing a pair when she got decapitated, but don’t let that put you off. As reported in The New York Times , Sotheby’s will be auctioning off 100 historic lots next spring, along with Joan Crawford’s line-drawing of her own foot. But the remaining slag-heap of fabulous shoes were purchased by Cherry proprietors Cesar Padilla and Radford Brown, and these savvy vintage dealers are making them available to you in dribs and drabs.
Delivering this week to Cherry (185 Orchard Street, 358-7131), La Rose winter boots–metallic-silver leather Barbarella thigh-highs for $350 (these are the ones to wear with that dashiki); zebra-stenciled pony ankle-boots with a 2-inch thin heel for $375; late 60′s Victoriana tapestry go-go boots for $200; and chartreuse or hot orange insulated go-go boots for $175. La Rose boots are Halloween-appropriate, but they will also throw a much-needed wrench into your overly ladylike fall wardrobe.
Talking of extraordinary people: If you have been experiencing a burning desire to familiarize yourself with the international symbol for chiffon, then run, don’t walk, to see Isaac Mizrahi in his one-man show entitled Les MIZrahi . He will be demonstrating the aforementioned symbol, and much more, at the Greenwich House Theater (27 Barrow Street, 741-2231) until Nov. 25.
Warning: Isaac’s intermittent, unironic, supper-clubbish song stylings–”Baubles, Bangles and Beads,” “Tea for Two,” etc.–are definitely a bit indigestible. However, it’s well worth the heartburn, especially when he settles old scores (heads up, Helen Hunt and Michael Kors). TV might ultimately be a better medium for the deposed fashion icon: Oodles-of-charisma Isaac could do The View single-handedly.
Follow Simon Doonan via RSS.