Scrub was my contribution to a downtown gay zine scene that I found seductive and sexy, but was also conflicted about. So much of it seemed self-promotional and insular. I wanted my version to tell the stories of an underrepresented New York, whose stories are just as fabulous if one takes the time to listen. Scrub ended up being a one-off response. There was only one issue printed, mostly because I didn’t have a business plan. Printing is costly but I wanted the satisfaction of having a tangible artifact. Now, seven years later, I’m happy The Conversant has resurrected these interviews in an online format. It’s interesting so see how they hold up in a new context.—Justin Yockel
Rubén Espinosa: In 1971 I was going to enter university to be an architect but then I decided to move to New York. Nobody could take it out of my mind. My family thought I was crazy because—
Justin Yockel: Everyone in Ecuador?
RE: —because they have money. They’re rich. So when you have a good economic position there, you have no absolutely interest in coming here, except for vacations. By the ’70s there was a lot of news, not only about the hippies, but also about the blacks. There was a lot of unrest going on in Harlem. I don’t remember very well, but I used to read a lot about that up there. So for me, I wanted to be in New York, no matter what. So they sent me here to go to New York University and when I came here I got caught up in the whole scene right away and they kept sending me money. They thought I was going to school but I didn’t.
JY: Your parents? Are your parents immigrants?
RE: My mother is from Spain and my father is a Native American.
JY: So the draw for you to New York was just to see the excitement in the city.
RE: The excitement, yeah.
JY: And you had no plans to go to university? Or you did, but you were having too much fun?
RE: I did but it was the ’70s. I think now it would be a different story because the whole system, the whole culture right now is more business-oriented than the ’’70s. I don’t remember anybody talking about doing anything except just partying and doing drugs, you know? Anyway, it shocked me when I saw 1970s fashion for the first time in Trinidad and Tobago. It wasn’t like today where we have MTV broadcasting the same fashion everywhere in the whole world. At that time Ecuador was in the ’50s. I was wearing ’50s: My pants were very tight, with pointed shoes, you know, the Beatles kind of shoes? So I was living in the ’50s. It was shocking for me that there was something else going on. That’s the first time I saw it.
RE: Yeah. I saw the ’70s fashion for the first time. Some of the kids in Ecuador were hippy already but they were total misfits, you know, the bellbottoms. It hadn’t gotten there yet. You know Central Park, where the fountain is? That was the epicenter.
JY: Bethesda Fountain?
RE: Yeah. That was the center of the hippy movement. Everybody would just hang out there. It was amazing to see the hippies: their jeans with the big holes. It looked like they didn’t have jeans on. It was just holes with their cheeks hanging out: men and women! So I used to go out to the clubs in the ’70s. They weren’t like disco clubs. Disco wasn’t in yet. There was no disco in 1970. In the beginning, there was no disco. It was more James Brown, you know?
JY: People would dance to that on a dance floor?
RE: Everybody was more into black leather, short T-shirts, with jeans and handkerchiefs hanging.
JY: Oh, really? Well, those are the gay guys right? The hankies?
RE: No, no, no. That was picked up by the gays. That was really cool. If you go out in the night and you don’t have your handkerchief, believe me you couldn’t dance because a girl wouldn’t dance with you. And people would be like, you know, Could you lend me your handkerchief? ‘Cause I want to dance with this girl.
JY: What does the handkerchief mean?
RE: You know, you hang your handkerchief from here from your jeans.
JY: And that symbolizes something? Like there’s a system?
RE: It was just totally in.
JY: It was just a fad? It didn’t mean anything? Like the color of the handkerchief didn’t mean anything?
RE: No, but if it was red it was even better. I don’t remember why but I used to have my half T-shirt right up to here and then my jeans rolled and my handkerchief.
JY: So you were stylin’.
RE: Long hair, you know, shaggy, long hair. And you’d get the chicks.
JY: And you were 16?
RE: No. I was about 17, probably going on 18 years old. When I landed, the first club I went to was Sanctuary. It was a church on 43rd off 8th Ave. If you go there you can see it. It’s still there. It’s a theater. They do plays and stuff like that now. That was the best club. Everybody would dress up. You’d never see a suit there. It was a big scene and half was club kids—you know, like I was dressing—and the other half was all leathered up, you know, all black leather, punk. Punk was big.
JY: Punk was big? Already? Late ’70s.
RE: No, no. Early ’70s. But not really punk. It wasn’t called punk. Punk came with The Ramones around 1975 but not the fashion. The fashion was before that. The music came with The Ramones—you know, they made it popular—but not the fashion. The fashion was before that.
JY: I didn’t know that.
RE: And this club was run by two brothers. They said they were two mafia guys, but I don’t know. When that closed, they opened another one on Central Park West near the Museum of Natural History. I think 78th Street, right in the middle. It was in the basement. It was called Forbidden Club and still the music wasn’t disco. But it was changing a little bit. After that there was another one like on 40th Street between Lexington and Park Avenue. They called it The Townhouse and the drugs that people used to do were amazing because, you know, by the time they closed, usually by 5 or 6 o’clock, there were at least 50 people on the floor passed out. So what the bouncers used to do was grab one from the legs and—
JY: —just drag them out?
RE: Yeah, right! Drag everybody. Everybody that was left over. All passed out. All drunk. So when the club closed—this used to happen in all the clubs—you’d see 4 to 10 people passed out outside.
JY: Hah! My god.
RE: You know? You don’t see that anymore. You can’t do those kinds of drugs anymore. I used to do a lot of Quaaludes and pot. Mostly it was Quaaludes that people used to do. Downers and speed.
JY: I don’t even know what those are. Quaaludes are downers?
RE: Yeah, but for some reason you function. A lot of marijuana. People used to drink a lot. From there, there was another club underneath the 59th Street Bridge. Not underneath, just nearby. That’s where I first heard The Push and Pull. It was fabulous to see the people. Everybody used to be into dressing up. If you worked, you saved your money to go and buy clothes. There was a store on 59th Street called Jumping Jack Flash. On 59th, between 3rd and 2nd Avenues. So everybody used to save their money to go and buy a jacket. You know, they had those jackets?
JY: You mean a leisure jacket?
RE: No, no, no. Leather jackets with a lot of appliqués, like a plane or eagles, you know, on a different color. And then you’d go on high heels. They used to have a whole collection of high heels. They used to make them themselves.
JY: For women?
JY: Like platforms?
RE: Platforms, yes. Mine were like that. They were like a $180.
JY: Back then they were $180?
RE: Yeah. They were expensive.
JY: That’s a lot of money.
RE: Basically, you get paid and you just run there and spend your whole paycheck. You know? Save for 2 weeks and just go and buy another jacket, another pair of pants. Everybody used to do the same. They used to do a tremendous kind of business. And down in the Village, you know, the East Village, it wasn’t like it is today. You could walk down the Village and you could see those skinny guys with their platforms, tight, skinny leather pants and jackets and long hair. You could see it all over. You don’t see this anymore.
JY: So these were straight guys too?
RE: Right. Straight guys. And down at the other scene in the West Village—I don’t know much. The only thing I know is—You know that square, Sheridan Square? There used to be a scene there of drag queens who used to dress like Kiss.
JY: Oh, really? Like with the white makeup and black flames?
RE: That was like everyday! You could go there and there were like 20 of them. There’d be fashion guys, straight guys, and drag queens. Everybody was—
JY: And gay guys? Everyone was in the mix?
RE: Yeah. It was a scene. So I used to go there and hang out with those people.
JY: So did you ever go back to Ecuador? To visit?
RE: No. I never went back.
JY: Because of the politics? Your family didn’t want to talk to you?
RE: No, not really. No. What happened is, I lived with several American girls, like Jewish girls, girls that were very rich and I didn’t speak Spanish for a long time. I had no desire to go to Spanish-speaking countries. I didn’t speak Spanish again.
JY: You said you were living on Amsterdam?
RE: Yeah. At that time I was living on Amsterdam Avenue. The rent was only $40 for a one bedroom.
JY: For a month? For a one-bedroom apartment?
JY: You’d share it with other people?
RE: No. You didn’t have to share. Nobody shared apartments because it was so cheap. Basically, at your job you made $120, $140, $150 a week and your rent was only $40. You can imagine!
JY: So let’s say you make $600 a month and you’re only paying $40.
RE: Yeah. That’s basically how it was.
RE: So a lot of my friends, what they used to do is work 6 months to save money and the other 6 months they wouldn’t work. They’d just go out every night. And I’m talking about just a sales job, you know, selling clothing.
RE: A retail job. That’s it.
JY: So they were making about $3 or $4 an hour?
RE: Yeah, yeah. You’d save all your money and then in the winter, you wouldn’t have to work anymore. You’d just go out every night.
JY: That’s so nuts. That’s great!
RE: A lot of people did that. You can’t live like that anymore. You can but you—
JY: —have to have a trust fund.
RE: So what happened is then The Inferno came. That was on Broadway and Bleecker. Now it’s an apartment building.
JY: By the Swatch store.
RE: The opposite side. From there I started switching into disco. Little by little it was changing. It was moving into disco. Clubs weren’t disco in the beginning. This was starting in 1975. It started turning into the disco movement. More clubs started opening. You’d see Bronx kids coming. I’d see it for the first time—like in 1976—that breakdancing started with Puerto Ricans doing it in clubs. All of a sudden it was something I hadn’t seen before. About ’75, ’76. They started going to the clubs and dancing. It was new: [mimicking the moves]. So little by little Inferno became all disco. The Rolling Stones, James Brown and Doobie Brothers started moving out with all the hard rock bands. And so the heavy guys—the ones that didn’t want disco—they went to Max’s Kansas City, where The Ramones and Blondie started. So all of a sudden I didn’t see my friends. People told me they were all going there, you know, the guys with the platforms, the skinny pink and light blue suits? All of a sudden the coolest guys disappeared and I was like What happened? So I went down there and they were hanging out but it was different.
JY: So that crowd—this Max’s Kansas City crowd—was much more about black clothing, leather? More punk?
RE: Yeah, that’s where The Doors used to go and Andy Warhol. I didn’t know Andy but I remember The Ramones and Blondie used to play all the time. But the scene was too rockstar/movie scene, for me, because it wasn’t really about dancing. It was like a bar and a restaurant. So it was only about hanging out.
JY: Like a scene. It wasn’t about having fun so much?
RE: No. I really liked the dancing. So that was the end for me and I just moved on to the discos. And that was the first time I saw gays. Not really drag queens. Only gays. It was a mix of gays, the fashion crowd and quasi-hippies. The Inferno was huge. For me it was even more beautiful than Studio 54 because the walls were all neon lights and they had 5 or 6 cages. When you got drunk you’d go up there to dance. They didn’t pay anyone to be there. So, they had a mezzanine almost at the entrance, like a second floor overlooking the dance floor with sofas and couches. It was dark and they had pillows and sofas and people used to go there for sex. And there were a lot of gays. A lot of couples used to dress in leather jackets with matching hats. They were either in black or brown. Others were had a military look, with army boots, army pants, army jackets.
JY: So they were really dressing up, fitting in to this masculine look?
RE: What you saw in the East Village at that time was the same thing as that group, The Village People. That kind of fashion also got caught on with the trendy crowd. ‘Cause I remember going and buying the whole army outfit with the boots, the hat and the whole thing and I’d see gays following me and I be like, Oh, my god! But it wasn’t for me. I think it has to do with the couple of guys who used to guard the door. They were gay. I think gays were in a lot of crowds after that, because when all the major clubs opened, they were always there. Before that, the clubs weren’t really so gay.
JY: It was mixed?
RE: It was mixed between the disco crowd and the guys who were like rock star, rock’n’roll types, or punk—all leather and the whole thing. When these people left, it was only just trendy disco types. At that time I used to wear high boots with my pants tucked inside, like riding boots. They were very trendy at that time. 1975. Very tight shirts. So the look was very gay at Inferno, but the trendy ones used to do the same. Everything was very tight, showing a lot of skin. The guys also, you know. It’s totally different from today where the girls dress really very fabulous and sexy but not the guys, you know, not the straight guys. You have to look real macho now. That’s what is required for a woman to notice to you. At that time it wasn’t. You had to look very kinda feminine to be attractive, to be able to get girls.
So from there came a couple more clubs and then Studio 54. And for me it wasn’t hard to get into Studio 54 because a lot of people knew my face. Like now—the club kids—they can go anywhere because they know their faces, even if they don’t have any money. A lot of times I brought my friends and they were like, Only you can come in. And these were good-looking guys, you know? And there were a lot of after-hours places too, so you could see Steve Rubell, who used to own Studio 54. I knew a guy who saw that even Steve Rubell himself couldn’t get into the clubs. This was before he was known. A lot of people didn’t let him in because he didn’t have a look.
JY: So what were the criteria to get in the door? You could be good-looking and stylish but if you didn’t know anybody, you wouldn’t be let in. Like your friends: Why wouldn’t your friends be let in?
RE: Because they didn’t know them. I got in only because they knew me from the clubs. During that time I went to Robert Fiance Hair Design Institute to become a hairdresser. I used to work in Pierre Michel. I used to work in Gerrard Boley and Bloomingdales. I used to go out every night and just sleep a little bit and then go back. When you’re 20, you can do those things. You don’t sleep for 5 days and then crash for 2 and then you go back again. And you’re perfectly fine. If I did that now, I’d have a heart attack!
JY: Yeah, exactly! And you had this friend: She helped support you to get through FIT? That’s where you did the hair?
RE: No, FIT is a fashion and design institute on 27th and 7th Avenue.
JY: That’s where you learned tailoring?
RE: Yeah. I went to Parsons first until my ex-girlfriend couldn’t help me anymore. I found someone else when I went to FIT. And then I started cutting hair because fashion wasn’t really what I wanted. I was supported by lovers—I mean girls! You know? I was young. I was beautiful. They had money or they had a good job so it was no problem not working. I went to school. I dressed real nice. I was going out to clubs all the time so they—
JY: They liked having you around.
RE: Yeah. And then Indochine opened, that restaurant on Lafayette? It’s still open. It’s an institution. That was a big scene. Everybody used to go there, you know. I used to bring my girlfriend there and they’d get me a table because I’m me. Sometimes when it was too busy, I used to go to the bar and be served an appetizer for free because they wanted me there. So, I was kinda cool at that time, I now realize. Now I don’t go out. They don’t know my face. There’s nowhere I could get in, except for the way that I dress now. They’re going to start looking at me and study the whole thing again because nobody dresses the way I dress now. So anywhere I go, right now I stand out and once they see that, I’ll be accepted again. But it costs an enormous amount of money to do that, right now, in these times. I would stand out because most of the crowds right now are just suits but there’s not really anything for me that I could enjoy anyway.
JY: It’s too upscale?
RE: It’s too upscale. It’s too business-like.
JY: You can’t be a flake.
RE: Or as you say, you have to be a trust fund kid. That’s the only way because everything’s extremely expensive if you want to go out every night. If you only go out once a week, there’s no way you’re going to get all the relationships, all the freebies that you get. I never paid to get in at the clubs.
JY: So to maintain that status you have to go out every night?
RE: You have to go at least 4 nights a week. You cannot go out just one night. They’ll think that you come from New Jersey and you’ll have to pay for everything but at least you get in! There’s a lot of attitude. When you go out every night, they begin to see you here, there, over there. They see you everywhere and all of a sudden they say, Hey, guy! I want you to come.
JY: They want the regulars to create a buzz.
RE: Because the regulars go and stay until close. Also the regulars spend all their money on clothes. They’re fashionable. They get all the people together. They all hang out and when they hang out, they bring the other ones. But now you cannot do it. I mean, it’s impossible to do anything like that, but probably a lot of people still manage.
JY: Without money?
RE: Well, a lot of young hustlers do it. Things are changed but things are still the same, in a different way. A lot of hustlers do the same thing. They go out every night. They get money from friends, from people, like I used to. They used to give me money to go out to clubs. They used to give me money to pay rent, you know.
RE: Sugar mamas and sugar daddies. They’re all over. Things are changed now. After the ‘80s, everything went downhill and then they were realizing that—this is when they came up with the name club kids—they were the only ones who dressed up. By then there’d be the suits that got in and other people. So there were a reduced number of club kids to make a place happening. They used to be the outrageous ones, the club kids. That was predominantly the ‘80s, but in the ’70s they were all club kids. If you and I weren’t club kids, we couldn’t get in. You had to do something on top. You couldn’t just get in. Except if you’re Calvin Klein, you know. Or Halston. And still, you’d see them with a turtleneck, you know. Or Andy Warhol. But the rest, they couldn’t get in. Now they need the club kids just to hype the place. The whole thing is theater now. It’s just a makeup theater. I don’t really know the scene now. It’s only what I read and what I see. But you can buy Paper magazine and you can see pretty outrageous people. But then you look around and you see people in T-shirts. Not even suits! I mean, before you couldn’t get in with a T-shirt. Even in Studio 54, there were good-looking guys who couldn’t get in. And people used to come in limousines, walking like a million dollars and they couldn’t get in. It was not about money.
JY: It was about style.
RE: It was about style and about being a celebrity and attitude.
JY: It’s refreshing to hear that even if you were rich you couldn’t get in. This city is so much about money buying you everything. You can be the mayor if you have a billion dollars.
RE: You know, Betsey Johnson? One time—it was New Year’s at the Mudd Club, down on White Street and Broadway. The Mudd Club. It was a scene—and that was basically a rockabilly club. You’d have your hair like this, very ’50s. And a lot of Roy Orbison. He sang Pretty Woman. A lot of those rockabilly guys used to go and play there. Anyway, Betsey Johnson got out a limousine and tried to get in for free and couldn’t. She said, I’m Betsey Johnson! They said, So, what? If you don’t pay, you can’t get in. She was in the limousine screaming. For me it was no problem. I could always get in for free. And there were the guys at Studio 54 who used to come and sit on top of their Lamborghinis. They’d try to get in, but nothing. They just couldn’t. The door was strict: You had to be fabulous or a celebrity and that’s it. You could be a millionaire in a suit and you wouldn’t get in. That’s why Studio 54 became famous, because people were just fabulous.
JY: Suddenly rich people who were used to getting access to everything were denied and it only made them want it more?
RE: Yeah, probably. But now—from what I’ve read—these people get in. When they know that you can afford a $1000 or $3000 bottle of champagne, no matter how you look. So those were beautiful times. A phenomenon that happened in the ’70s.
JY: Did Studio 54 ever lower its standards?
RE: No. Those were the rules until it closed—as long as Steve Rubell was the owner. Even myself: A couple of times I just couldn’t get in. He would just look at me and say, Not tonight. You can’t get in. And that never happened anywhere else. So that was Studio 54 in 1978? 1979? But before that was a lot of small clubs like Scena on 34th Street. Also on 44th, or 43rd and Broadway was Peppermint. It was fabulous because in that time they started featuring a lot of drag queen shows. That was the first time I saw everyone dancing together, like 40 people simultaneously.
RE: Yeah. The Hustle. That was the first time I saw that there. You’d see something like this and jump in and pick it up right away. And that’s when I met the Venezuelan fashion designer. I used to cut hair and he came in and I cut his hair once. At that time on 8th Ave between 42nd and 50th Street there used to be a lot of bars and clubs. A lot of drag queens. A lot!
JY: Working, up and down the streets?
RE: No, no. They used to do a lot of clubs in the nightlife there, but a kind of sleazy nightlife. That was a center for drag queens. They were all working, making a couple of dollars, hanging out.
JY: Turning tricks?
RE: Probably. They’d do it to survive, but not in the street. It was in the clubs and after-hours bars. Even today, you walk along 8th Avenue, and it’s still kinda sleazy compared to the rest of the city. Now, uptown, downtown, East Side, West Side all look the same. There’s no difference. Before downtown, you could see one thing. The West Side, another. Midtown was kinda in between. The Upper East Side was totally different, like it is today: quiet and the West Side was more European and Jewish. But now everything looks the same. In that time, at 42nd you’d find prostitutes all the time, all night, nightlife and people. If you wanted to do drugs and hang out, you’d go to 42nd. You’d always find a friend! All the restaurants were open.
So this guy used to live by making dressing for these people, fabulous dresses. He was good! He used to go out every night. But when Studio 54 opened, it was very selective. You couldn’t just bring anyone, but he could get in because everybody knew his face and he was fabulous too. He managed to bring 3—they were probably like 18 years old, Puerto Ricans—tall, skinny, beautiful. He used to dress them up and down. The whole outfit. He’d do the hair. It was totally cool. But I never realized—I didn’t know him that well—I thought he did the dresses for free, just to bring attention. I didn’t know that the business was that he would bring them and he was paid.
JY: So these are men’s clothes?
RE: No, no. Women’s clothes. Like they dress today, very fairy-like, very out there, with a lot of makeup and the whole thing. But at that time it was kinda new. It was around that time that I saw his beeper go off. And he was like, Hey, you gotta go. You got a John there. So she would leave and then come back again. I said, Oh! That’s how these people make money! And they used to sell us some drugs on the side. That’s how they did it.
So this designer told me one time that he used to get drunk at Studio 54 he’d wake up outside. On the other side on 53rd Street they had an exit, but not the real exit, only for people they didn’t want. And I’m talking about a guy who wore a $2000 suit at that time. They didn’t care. Very expensive suits and they would still throw him out.
RE: No, he didn’t make them. At that time, I used to cut his hair and he used to make jumpsuits for me. In the ’70s, there were a lot of jumpsuits, like all in one piece. So I used to go to Studio 54 with jumpsuits in different colors.
JY: So what happened to everyone?
RE: About a month or two after I arrived, I met a guy on the street who I knew from Guayaquil, Ecuador and he’s the one who introduced me to clubs. He told me he used to go to The Electric Circus down in the Village. But I never went there. That was the first big club and then the Inferno opened. He brought me there and introduced me to the whole scene. A couple of years after that my friend died. He was only 21 years old but he used to go out every night. He had a heart attack. I don’t know why but he used to do a lot of cocaine and a lot of stuff. He was a good kid and he died. He was the first one. We used to share an apartment at that time on 3rd Avenue at 27th Street. That was in 1973 or 1974. And then of my other friends—the ones I knew from the ’70s: I knew probably 18 or 20—I know 3 that are alive.
JY: So they died of drugs?
RE: Hepatitis at that time.
JY: Hepatitis B?
RE: I don’t know. I think it was A. At that time nobody knew about the term AIDS, so they all died of hepatitis.
JY: And then you said some were murdered?
RE: Yeah. Robbery in New Jersey. Some fabulous guys. And some other ones that got married to rich girls moved out to a good life on Long Island. That’s what I heard. I never heard from them again.
JY: So they could be alive.
RE: Yeah. They could be but I know a lot of them just didn’t make it. The funny thing is, these people were tall, beautiful. They could get anybody in the club. For me it was harder. I could get some. Not all of them. These people loved themselves so much and now they’re dead. They just died young. You know, they just took life too hard and fast. They never thought they could die. Now, I’m here. I don’t know why I didn’t die.
JY: So what’s your secret?
RE: I don’t know. I guess, when I came here, my grandfather told me, you know, Take care of yourself because, you’re alone. Nobody can take care of you. I always remembered that. I think that when I saw dangers, I just didn’t do it. My friends used to shoot up heroin. I used to help them but I never did it. The same thing when I used to work as a hairdresser, I was the only straight guy and they were all gays. I was never curious to have sex with them. When I was at Gerrard Boley and Bloomingdales, all of them died. Boom! All dead.
JY: In the ‘80s?
RE: In the ‘80s, yeah.
JY: In the ’70s they were still healthy?
RE: Well, in the ’70s I didn’t work with gays. I think it was probably 1978 or ’79 when I started cutting hair. There were about 20. I think that’s my secret. It would have been easy to hook up with them, but I guess I never went for that. I think I saved my life.
JY: Your heterosexuality saved you!
RE: Yeah! The thing is now, I think gays protect themselves, somewhere, somehow. But at that time, that was new. People didn’t really believe that you could die. Even if you read about it in the newspapers, you know, it wasn’t on their conscience.
JY: So you were hooking up with girls.
RE: Oh, yeah, yeah. I was always slept with someone who’d pay my rent or something. That was my thing: girls. I could have had an adventure, but I saved my life by not doing it. And I’m glad. Now I take care of myself. I’m very healthy. I feel healthier now than I was then.
RE: I’m vegetarian too. I don’t eat anything fried. I avoid oils, so—I don’t eat any meat.
JY: Just McDonald’s hot chocolate!
RE: I’m glad I’m alive. There’s nothing like being alive. It’s so beautiful.
JY: So what are you aspiring to do now? Your clothes are inspired by this period and you want to start your own line.
RE: Yeah. I want to start my own line and I’m trying to see how I can bring polyester back. Even a blend of polyester. See, polyester has the magic of shine. It has better, subtler shine to it that looks luxurious. See this? [tugs at sweater] This is all wool, expensive wool but it doesn’t have shine at all. It could be polyester with a little wool. It will have shine that would be very rich.
JY: So that’s the idea for the line? To bring back polyester?
RE: The thing is that men have been left behind. New fashion houses like P. Diddy’s Sean John—everyone is wearing it but everything’s so bagged on. Nothing fits. Everything is just horrible. Basically they’re just making money.
JY: Yeah. I don’t think there’s much thought in that stuff at all.
RE: But also the big designers don’t have anything new. Nothing. The thing is that the market is there for men’s right now. When it comes to the woman, the women’s is saturated with very good things. They have good handbags. They’ve got good shoes. Good accessories. Good dresses. Everything’s there for them but the man is just left behind. But, I think men’s is making more money than ever before. And also men are becoming very vain because they’re really pushing the beauty products to men. Facials and the whole thing. You can see it for yourself. Before it used to be just the gays that would want to look good. But now straight men also want to look good. But still, when it comes to fashion, they can’t find something that is luxury like it was in the ’70s or in the ’60s. You watch the movies—
JY: Like the tailored suits?
RE: Even if you watch a TV show like Good Times. It’s about a black family in Chicago. They have the same fashion! It’s totally—Even on Three’s Company. You can see the fashion and you see how the regular men’s was well tailored. The details are there. Compared to now, to the big fashion houses, like Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein. They all have the same suit. It doesn’t fit and everything is two, three, four thousand dollars. It’s almost like, Give me your money and get out of here! So, the market is there—
JY: —for nicer stuff.
RE: And now I see them making it, doing it. A couple of stores are also doing fitted suits. Small ties. Like now: I walk on Madison Avenue the way I’m dressed now, and you have to see them. Sometimes I just want to window shop but I can’t because the salespeople and everybody are gawking. I don’t know what they think. They think I’m rich or they think, Where’d this guy get that? I’m laughing because I’m at Armani or Dolce & Gabbana and they’re freaking out. And these people are the ones with all the money! So there’s something to it, you know? Even down on 14th Street, the Meat Market district. I go there all the time. And they just keep looking at me, like Wow! And they are supposed to be the highest of creation! And they freak out when I go there and walk in the way I look.
JY: Well, it’s a lack of creativity on their part. I mean if you can do it for a few dollars—
RE: And they’re on Madison Avenue! They don’t have anything like that.
JY: That’s inspiring. I think it’s great that you make your own stuff.
RE: And the thing is, I could work for a big designer but I just don’t really want it becausewhy should I go and give away all that creativity and make someone rich when I could do it? A lot of fashion houses are really interested in new designers and something new. Now’s a good time to put something together, a good collection and shop it around, because there’s a lot more investors out there than before and they’re really looking. I’d do a collection of what I do without going all the way. They’d pick it up.
JY: People are afraid to take risks. It takes a lot, a lot of capital just to start a new line.
RE: Another thing is with black. Black used to be so exciting. They’d always say, red is the new black. I say black is the new boring. Black is the new beige. You’ll never see me in all black. In The Wall Street Journal I read that nationally more than half of retail sales is in black.
JY: Oh, that’s the number one selling color?
RE: Yeah. Like 53% of retail sales are black. In second, comes red. And then the other colors. There has to be a change. New trends, I would say, don’t happen right now mainly because you can’t sell on the street if you don’t have a license. You know where they’re selling over there on Columbus? They started a lot of trends. You know those butterflies to hold the hair? That’s all stuff from the streets. Those hats that go like this with a flower? A trend all over New York?
JY: You mean those floppy hats from the ‘90s for women?
RE: Yeah. That started here on the streets. Little designers doing little stuff. But now you can’t do that because if you’re a small designer in the street with an idea and sell it, you go to jail. Nobody. The only things you find are from Korea. And another thing, it’s amazing: these street fairs, where they close the whole block. A long time ago, we used to go to the street fairs because you’d see all these crazy and outrageous ideas that wouldn’t sell. There were a lot of designers—a lot of antiques, everything. Now you go and there’s some Italian sausage and everything else is made in Korea!
JY: Yeah, everyone has the same shit, over and over and over.
RE: Whether they’re selling it on the sidewalk or at a street fair. There’s nothing different. But before, everything was so different. Nothing was manufactured abroad. It was 10 blocks of the most crazy designers or the craziest guys who were collecting stuff and selling it. Small entrepreneurs. And antiques. There were boxes of stuff. Some people would just concentrate, say, on salt- and peppershakers by the hundreds. Or dolls.
JY: So there was a lot more diversity.
RE: Yeah. And jewelry, you know. A lot of antique silver. I have so many good things from there from the ‘30s or ‘40s. Old glasses. You know? But now they all have the same thing. I was thinking, if you’re a good mayor, you should really say, Look. Half price for the designers. Give a 50% reduced price and try to get people who will take a chance.
JY: Like incentives for small business?
RE: A lot of things can be changed. Who’s in charge of the Cultural Affairs Department? [* Actually, the Community Assistant Unit is the body that oversees street fairs] I mean, these people, what are they doing? They probably make $200,000 a year and they’re not even doing their job. You see for me, culturally the city is not producing, is not encouraging designers. You have to encourage people. Let them go out and rent one of those spaces. Those spaces used to be like $50. Now they’re probably like $400. [The editor poked around online and found fairs that charge a $30-$40 registration fee and the city requires a $10 license.] Nobody can pay. A small designer can’t go there. Nor can they sell on the street because of the threat of jail. People don’t have a lot of money but they have tons of ideas and they start making little things at their houses. 20 years ago you’d see a lot of stuff up Columbus Avenue, down on Broadway. You’d see a lot of people selling, down in the Village on the streets. And all the stuff became fashion. Now you can’t do that any more.
JY: So what would you like to do? You’d like to create some samples and then find investors to go straight to big stores? Or do you want to try to have your own little shop?
RE: No. No. I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want my own little shop because it’s not really worth it to come up with something new and have a little shop because the rates of survival are so bad. You need big pockets to be able to hold on for a couple of years until itheats up and also to hire professionals who know where to sell and how to market. You cannot do everything yourself. I would try but you can’t grow. That’s how computer entrepreneurs do it. They have an idea and they bring it to the investors. But now, there are a lot of people who are willing to invest money.
JY: You think so now?
RE: Now is a great time, like never before. Before you couldn’t do that. But now the time is really right. So that’s why I feel good about it. That’s why I don’t want to work for anybody, because why should I?
JY: So now you live in Queens?
RE: Yeah. I’ll probably move down to DUMBO soon. I don’t really want to live in the city anymore. I lived in Manhattan all my life. I find more creativity down in Brooklyn, even in Queens. For some reason, if you live in Queens you can smell the city. You can feel the city. You don’t feel the city anymore in Manhattan. Manhattan right now is so popular, not only for movies. It’s about great opportunities in the computer business, you know. All kinds of business: the service industry and the banking business. A lot of professionals from all over the world and other states come to Manhattan. So now it doesn’t look like New York. It looks like a hillbilly city. It looks like a small town from somewhere I’ve never been. Like hillbillies. That’s what it looks to me. I’ve been for almost 30 years in this city and for me I see the change. There’s nothing unusual in the city anymore. Everything is McDonald’s, you know?