I can’t sleep, I can’t think, I’m barely coherent. But I’m not depressed. Au contraire ! In fact, I’m having a euphoric, transcendental fashion moment. These fashion epiphanies–or fashiphanies –don’t happen very often. Only once in a blue moon does one encounter that mind-blowing persona and-or garment, the stratospherically high style-quotient of which renders obsolete everything else on the fashion landscape.
Examples of transcendental moments past: my first Bowie and Liberace concerts (not necessarily in that order); spending the evening with a maquillaged , bejeweled Erte (only realizing he wasn’t a woman right before dessert), etc., etc…. My fashiphanies have rarely occurred at fashion shows, and then only when something disastrous happens–like the occasion in 1991 when the ceiling fell in at Michael Kors, fall show and frosted (reinvented?) Suzy Menkes’ sausage-roll hairdo with particles of plaster, for example.
My transcendental fashion catalysts of yore all pale in comparison to my latest fashion- frisson provider. Her name is Isabel Garrett, and she makes Body Webs. What’s so b-e-y-o-n-d about Isabel Garrett? Oh, not much, really, except that she is a former disciple of Ayn Rand, she operates her business from a nudist colony, and she sells her wares at swinger and biker conventions. Not to mention the fact that she’s the uncrowned queen of next season’s sauvage trend (first pegged in this column). Nothing fascinating or compelling about that, is there now? Log onto www.bodywebs.com and try to remain blasé … I dare you.
The nerve center of Body Webs, the $200,000-a-year slashed-and-sexy-spandex business that Ms. Garrett has operated since the early 1990’s, is– quelle surprise –her motor home. It was from this traveling atelier that the divinely insane Isabel spoke to me last week. “I’m parked at a nudist resort in Kissimmee,” she said from the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort in Florida. “It’s not a colony–it’s a park, a camp or a resort. Colony is”–sardonic groan–”un-P.C.,” clarified Isabel in her first breath. Isabel is experiencing a flurry (a small article in WWD and the one you’re reading) of publicity re: the alleged knocking off of her “look” by John Galliano. The storm-in-trailer controversy centers around this season’s must-have swimsuit, designed by Mr. Galliano for the house of Dior (see various Dior ads and the cover of May Vogue ) and bearing more than a striking resemblance to the signature spider webs which are the heart and soul of the Garrett oeuvre . In an affable open letter to Mr. Galliano, care of the house of Dior, written in May, Ms. Garrett concedes that she was not the first to slash and weave spandex–”just the most outrageous.” Her letter concludes: “If you’re doing more sliced spandex why not just hire me–I’m experienced!” This is a monumental understatement, as I quickly found out when I grilled her about her varied and fascinating life.
“Let’s just say … Cher,” said the cheeky Isabel in answer to questions about her age. In the crazy collage of Isabel’s life, her Bronx childhood is one of the less sizzling chapters, and she thoughtfully flits through it in kicky sound bites. “Very middle-class Jewish. There was one gentile family on our block, and they actually had a dog. I touched it. When I was a teenager and visited Manhattan, I got to touch a cat, too.” Isabel, an only child, is less than effusive about her mother. “She wouldn’t play board games when I wanted to, which was all the time. Everyone should switch mothers with somebody else when they hit 25, because that’s when everyone starts to think everybody else’s mother is so cute.” Her father, Max Reines, was “a famous garment-center embroidery designer who made all my mother’s glamour-puss clothes.”
Despite these early ties to Seventh Avenue, it would be many years before Isabel donned the garmento mantel herself. “In the 1960’s, I studied Fine Arts at the City College of New York. That’s when I became an Objectivist.” A what? “An Objectivist,” explains Isabel patiently, “is a follower of Ayn ( Fountainhead ) Rand. We believed in capitalism and, you know, all that barbaric rational-self-interest stuff. I supported myself by dancing topless five nights a week at, among other places, the 49er. Remember The Odd Couple ? Their apartment overlooked the 49er.” Just when you think Isabel’s life is reaching an apotheosis of kookiness, the needle in the kooky-meter starts quivering again.
In the 1970’s, with capitalism and creativity burning in her veins, Isabel created “The Whoopsie Doll.” “I became a toy-and game-designer. The Whoopsie was a simple enough concept: You squeeze her tummy and her pigtails shoot up in the air,” said Ms. Garrett. “I designed it for Ideal. They sold over 400,000.” Other Garrett triumphs in the toy world include Magic Hair Crissy and, in the 1980’s, the VCR interactive game Clue. Despite Clue’s success–”it was voted game of the year in 1984″–Isabel’s toy-industry career was not destined to propel her into the 1990’s.
In 1989, Isabel–who professes to have “always been a vacation nudist”–found herself in need of a slutty outfit to wear to a costume party at the Paradise Lakes Nudist Resort near Tampa (www.paradiselakes.com or 800-237-2226). “It’s the fantasy-nightlife place,” she said. The resourceful Ms. Garrett pulled out her nail scissors and, in a Norman Bates-like frenzy, attacked her spandex unitard. The rest is history. The swingers at the costume party went batshit over the attacked-by-a-thousand-moths-with-scalpels-instead-of-wings look of her ensemble. That historic night, Isabel got the thumbs-up on her next career and, voilà , Body Webs were born.
By the early 90’s, Isabel and her stretchy, kinky wares were a fixture at the various national swinger conventions, e.g. the Lifestyle Convention in Las Vegas and Dressing for Pleasure in New York. One day, a well-meaning swinger sidled up to her booth at Dressing for Pleasure and said, “Bikers would like them things.” Not knowing Sonny Barger from Sonny Bono, Isabel called Outlaw Biker magazine. In no time, she had strategically plugged herself into the hogs-and-heifers scene–and with it, an important new source of Body Webs revenue. With her preference for what she calls “open-minded alternative lifestyles,” Ms. Garrett slotted seamlessly into the unpretentious, boob-flaunting biker milieu.
Despite her louche lifestyle and her stripper-ish fashion niche, Isabel prefers more old-fashioned sex. “I like swingers,” she explained. “They are the only people who will proposition you and, if you say no, they will still have breakfast with you the next morning. But you won’t find me third buttock from the end in a love pile. I don’t like having sex with strangers. But I do reserve the right to cut one out of the herd occasionally.” Her current status? An ex called Archie is a close friend, but Isabel describes herself as follows: “Very available. Likes brilliant men. Someone as interesting as me.”
Until this spandex-clad peer materializes, Isabel is content to crisscross the country, prophet-like, spreading the word and “bringing out the latent diva in the lady next door.” Despite the totally revealing nature of what she calls her “street-and-beach-legal” designs, Isabel encourages plus-size chicks toward lardy self-acceptance. “I like undoing all the self-loathing that keeps women from strutting,” she said. “Fashion model is a job, not a value judgment. The only guys who really prefer painfully thin mannequins are rock stars and insecure corporate executives. The rest of us get to have curves and bellies and soft spots that guys love to snuggle.” Bravo!
Though wildly confident in her empowering, right-thinkin’ P.O.V., Isabel is convinced that she is “short on the trappings, mystique and business savvy that might make me quote-unquote important. I’m a poster child for A.D.D.” Prove her wrong and make her famous by ordering a buttload of Body Webs stuff and e-mailing her Web address to influential people in the fashion business. Must-haves from Body Webs? Since the Dior swimsuit is sold out everywhere and the luxury giant can’t make any more (I’m sorry, M. Arnaud, but that’s retarded!), buy an identical $45 suit–or three–from Body Webs. (This suit was $42.95, but Isabel jacked up the price after she found out the Dior suit cost $395.)
Isabel’s sauvagely slashed garments also make trendy and pragmatic yoga attire: Cat suits are $75.95. Help make spandex the preferred fabric of the new generation of yoga-holics! If your guru questions your choice, quote liberally from Isabel: “Spandex holds without hardware. Slash it and the edges roll and heal. It smoothes and cinches.” Trust me, the stretchy va-voom of a Body Web catsuit will make your sun salutations the talk of the ashram.
Craving a fashiphany ? Feeling inspired to meet the Web woman in person? Good news: From June 22 to 24, Isabel will be disporting herself at the Harley Rendezvous 2001 Classic, the 23rd annual bikerfest at the Indian Lookout Country Club, 1142 Batter Street in Pattersonville, N.Y. Isabel will be purveying her wares, cracking jokes and quoting from Nietzsche. One of her faves: “You must have chaos within to give birth to a dancing star.” Aa-aa-ah!
P.S.: Planning a last-minute, low-budget summer vacation? There’s plenty of room in the R.V. park at Cypress Cove down in Kissimmee. Be sure to ask for a Web-lady-adjacent space. Day fees start at $10. For more info, log onto www.suncove.com or call 888-683-3140. It’s a family resort, so don’t try snuggling anyone’s soft spots!