On a summer evening, my sidekick/photographer Molua Muldown and I arrived at the infamous and fabulous Chelsea Hotel. With visions of Sid, Nancy and Edgar Allen Poe swimming in our heads, we proceeded upstairs to the studio of couturier to the music world's greatest stars: Zaldy, a man who's best known for creating outre designs for everybody from Suzanne Bartsch and Rufus Wainwright to Gwen Stefani, Mary J. Blige and one of my old-school faves, Mick Jagger.
We started off our evening by having Molua take pictures of Zaldy on the roof of The Chelsea. Darlings, if that rooftop could talk, what stories it would tell! The ever-obliging Zaldy withstood the humid swelter like a pro model. We proceeded down to his eclectically wonderful abode for out interview.
PM: Let's talk about where your love affair with fashion began.
Z: I started designing in 2001. I didn't even know when Fashion Week was! I decided to stage a show at Show World.
PM: I love the Show World. I think it used to be called the Triple Treat Theater, didn't it? It was a smorgasbord of porn! Chicks with dicks in the basement and God knows what on the other two floors!
Z: I think Richard Alvarez was the one who originally suggested Show World, and when I saw the beautiful red and black space I just knew I had to stage my show there.
PM: Fabulous... You received a great response to that collection.
Z: I'm very lucky that I've had a great response to all four shows I've done. The press has been very supportive... especially Italian Vogue.
PM: Grazia de Nunzio has such a great taste level. Now, before you did that first collection, you were designing costumes and couture, weren't you?
Z: Yes, Suzanne [Bartsch], RuPaul and all my other "patrons" were having me design things for them for years before I ever thought of doing a formal collection. I still enjoy doing my custom clothes for special clients. And from doing all my shows, more clients have come to me for custom pieces. The two really feed off each other. The main reason for starting a formal collection was that I wanted to reach that broader audience and not remain so exclusive to just those custom clients. But I still love doing the custom work.
PM: Now, we're here at your Chelsea studio. Is this where our whole process takes place? Do you start with all your skething?
Z: Oh, yeah. This is where the bulk of the collection for the show is conceived and produced. Of course, I have my favorite contractors help out, but the bulk of all the work is done right here.
PM: Being out of The Chelsea Hotel has its own panache...
Z: Definitely. My label is "Zaldy
PM: I just saw your last collection. Tell me about the themes.
Z: Well, as far as a color goes, I really wanted to focus on yellows, blacks, creams and a very dark group of greens and a touch of red.
PM: Is yellow your beige?
Z: This season, yellow was definitely my beige. I love yellow. I always hear from people that they don't think they can wear yellow -- that it's just not a flattering color. So I searched and searched until I came up with this shade that looks just as beautiful on the palest blondes as it does on the darkest skins.
PM: I heard that you put this collection together in record time.
Z: Yes, I put together twenty pieces in just six weeks. It was mad! We finished the last stitch the morning of the show.
PM: You must have an incredibly strong team around you.
Z: Absolutely. I had Mathu for make-up, Danilo for hair and Desi Santiago for accessories. He actually works with me as a creative consultant, not just on the shows. He's amazing. Whenever we get together, we go off on conversational tangents that lead to creating things like our own print. There will be a new print in the next show.
PM: What is it?
Z: Stay tuned for the show. I want you to be surprised!
PM: Will you stay with the same size of a tightly edited collection?
Z: Yes, there will be thirty pieces. I'm very happy with that kind of concise, tight group.
PM: What inspires you as far as your design process goes?
Z: It just depends. Sometimes it's a shape, a fabric and the way it drapes, or it can be a print... It's always different. There's always something I want to say with fashion. Even when times are very stressful, I always enjoy the process of design.
PM: What kind of woman inspires you?
Z: I have a few consistent muses. One is Suzanne Bartsch, another is Beverley Kerzner, another is the stylist Sarah Ellison. I'm always inspired by people on the street, just the way someone might put an outfit together... lots of things catch my eye. Social trends, life in general, my inspiration comes from all sorts of things.
PM: Tell me about the wolf.
Z: Well, I've always been interested in the symbol of wolves. It's a very comforting symbol for me; a sort of spiritual guide. I've included a wolf in some way in all my collections, it just evolves and manifests itself in different forms. For example, I've used "via lobos" which means the "town wolf" in different forms.
PM: What can you tell Highbrow's readers about your inspirations, advice?
Z: Don't follow trend. Always follow your own instincts.
PM: I couldn't agree more. That has been the Highbrow's mantra! Don't march -- dance to the beat of your own drum.