Start Dressing Like a Gypsy

On Tuesday, May 16, Liberace, that “deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavored, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love,” would have celebrated his 81st birthday.

This apocalyptically unfavorable review of my hero led to a lawsuit against William Connor of London’s Daily Mirror in 1956. Liberace sued for libel and won–a happy victory for sequins and bad taste.

Liberace popped his jeweled clogs in 1987, the year that saw the rise of Prada, the beginning of the insidious massification of “style” and the birth of our national obsession with fashion and “good taste.” Liberace represents a pre-Helmut Lang era, when Sue Mengers was the most important person in Hollywood and hip New York men shopped at a store called the Marquis de Suede, without even thinking it was funny.

To mourn Liberace is to mourn the death of bad taste. I am dedicated to keeping the memory of the old poof alive and I exhort you to do the same. As I write this column, I’m using a Liberace mousepad, purchased at the Liberace Museum gift shop for $10, and, despite the breeder’s protestations, I named my dog after the late, great one. If we ever get him a furry companion we will definitely name him Scott, or Thorson, after Liberace’s palimony-crazed former chauffeur and twinky. Read all about this tawdry relationship in Mr. Thorson’s Behind the Candelabra: My Life With Liberace . Bibliofind.com currently has copies ranging in price from $3.75 to $30.

I consider myself privileged to have attended Liberace’s last appearance at Radio City Music Hall in 1986. He whirled over the stage on a wire in a capacious ostrich-trimmed cape, gently flapping like a well-fed jellyfish, and helplessly facing the wrong way. He had to be whirled off again and reoriented in the wings before being whirled back on for a final, moving curtain call.

Let’s keep him up there where he belongs–whirling overhead like a corpulent, mauve, unicellular sea creature–a constant reminder of the utter pointlessness of good taste.

This week, light a candle for Liberace and observe a minute’s silence for Mr. Showmanship. And the next time you’re in Las Vegas, honor his memory with a visit to the Liberace Museum at 1775 East Tropicana Avenue (702-798-5595).

Given his dwindling fan base, you might well find you have the place to yourself. On my last visit, I saw only four people: two gay men independently pushing their obese mothers around in wheelchairs, as if in a David Lynch movie. Coincidentally, both mothers wore matching oxygen tubes under their noses. This gave these aging fans the appearance of bizarre museum tour paraphernalia, rented at the front door and returned at the exit.

Pick a small space in your apartment–a nook, a closet, an entryway–and cover it with the most insane wallpaper you can find. It’s the Donatella Versace principle: A small chick looks better gussied up. And it works.

Majorly shooshy architect Daniel Romualdez loathes wallpaper “unless it’s used with panache!” Daniel is a big advocate of antique panoramic wallpaper, “particularly 18th-century chinoiserie–very Mona Bismark–from Gracie.” For $5,000 and up, the artisans of Gracie (121 West 19th Street, 924-6816) produce intense chinoise hand-painted wallpaper that looks totally hip in a Vreeland-Billy Baldwin kind of way. Salesman Jay Hupp will even work with you to personalize your design, within reason: “We don’t do Tom of Finland,” he said.

If you’re not the Park Avenue type, and you don’t know or care who Mona Bismark was, then dial up eBay and bid on some vintage wallpaper. Ignore all the depressing 1940’s Glenn Miller swing-dancing stuff. Go right for the mylar wallpaper from the 60’s. At the time of writing, there is some amazing Bob Guccione-ish black and white lattice on mylar (item # 333903877) with no bids. One roll–at $8–is just enough to do the powder room.

Stop dressing like a minimalist lab technician in an Eastern European clap clinic and start dressing like a gypsy! You know, prints, ruffles, coin-trimmed accessories.

Tempestuous and unpredictable, gypsies are role models for feminine empowerment. They used to come to our house selling clothespins; when my mother declined, they would curse her, expectorate into the herbaceous borders and flounce off. Try to capture some of this gypsyish turbulence without dressing head to toe; overdo it and you will look like an idiot.

Jeffrey New York, in the meat-packing district (415 West 14th Street, 206-1272), sells ruched chiffon tops by Versace and Ungaro for rich, tarty gypsies. Intellectual Belgian gypsies might want to consider ruffled and gathered tops by A.F. Vandevorst and Dries Van Noten ($570 and up).

The shoe selection at Jeffrey is riddled with gypsy-chic: Dolce & Gabbana jeweled and leopard-lined thong sandals ($465). Most gypsyish of all are Jean-Paul Gaultier’s floral chiffon-covered high-heeled sandals with yard-long leg ties. After paying $505, you might want to get the chiffon carnations adorning your toe cleavage fireproofed and Scotch-Guarded before you dance around any campfires.

To poor gypsies I would pose the question, “Have you shopped Strawberry today?” I cannot believe the gypsy-friendly prices at Strawberry (279-8664) and the plethora of Romany rags: cotton and spandex bandana-print capri pants by Bongo for $19.99; floral print, gathered peasant blouses for $12.99; kaftan tops by Jou-Jou, $16.99. There are 27 stores in the New York area alone; you’re probably living above one and you never even noticed.

Ding Dong! If you are considerate and well-mannered, you will order vats of Skin-So-Soft (S.P.F. 30) sunblock bug repellant from your Avon lady. Skin-So-Soft, a bargain at $12 for four ounces, will reduce your chances of ruining everyone’s summer by contracting Lyme disease, West Nile virus and skin cancer. You owe it to your family and friends.

In the unlikely event that you don’t have an Avon representative, feel free to call mine, Stacey Tollin (203-698-1043). Ask Stacey about the new improved Skin-So-Soft with IR3535 which also repels biting midges, no-see-ums and black flies, but not necessarily in that order. Start Dressing Like a Gypsy