The image of a naked Amanda Lepore covered entirely in pink Mac lipstick dashing down the runway was the opening of Heatherette‘s first catwalk show a few seasons ago. These were early days for New York’s next generation designers (Zac Posen was starting to get some buzz, Proenza Schouler was just about to explode with a graduation presentation) but at the time the verdict was still out on the future of Richie Rich and Traver Rains’ clubland designs which had more to do with the dressing up theatrics of Tokyo’s Shibuya district than with strolling the streets of New York’s sober SoHo. At the time, Heatherette’s genesis could have been chalked up as one of Rich’s colorful gigs — he’s been an Ice Capade, a club promoter, and a pop star. However, four years on and the label has racked up acres of press coverage with Paris Hilton, Naomi Campbell, Anna Nicole Smith and others strutting the catwalk, and for Lauren Bush sitting front row. You name a celebrity and they’ve probably worn a Heatherette customized T-shirt or one of their mad confections on a magazine cover or to a high profile event. Now Rich and Rains are focusing on the business side of the business with big announcements that should position the label as a formidable force on the American fashion scene. Rich sat down with Jason Campbell for an exclusive interview to discuss Heatherette’s new chapter which he hopes will secure the label a wider audience of “kids” not afraid to be looked at.
JCR: Heatherette is making serious business moves, tell us about them.
RR: Heatherette essentially started out as a hobby almost four years ago. Traver and I started out making T-shirts and chaps. Chaps because he was a horseback rider and I was a figure skater and a club kid. We used to make clothes to go out in and T-shirts for friends, then Gwen Stefani caught wind, then the Backstreet Boys, and then Foxy Brown asked us to make her look for the MTV awards. Lil’ Kim called, then Missy Elliott. And then it became this kind of in-house project where we did the Sarah Jessica Parker Sex and the City T-shirt. Fast forward four years and it’s like any business that has to grow. You have to stay above water. So we got a business manager and started to shop around for investors.
JCR: You effectively had a business but it wasn’t focused on selling, is that it?
RR: We always get the question “Where do you sell?” An important question, but I think more importantly, the question should be what are you about? Where we sold wasn’t our focus. We tried the whole small boutique route and at one time we were in 96 boutiques worldwide but it was so hard for our small team to produce these quantities and get it out there. And frankly, it hasn’t been about money for us on this journey. It’s been for the fun of it, the-pinch-yourself-in-the-morning-kind-of-thing. Working for you and waking up and doing what you want to do.
JCR: Who are your investors and how will this change impact the business?
RR: We’ve partnered with a known group that owns about ten brands.
JCR: Not of those fashion conglomerates, like, what was that disastrous fashion umbrella company a few years ago…?
RR: No, it’s nothing like Pegasus. This is a preview for JC Report but the formal announcement of our partnership will take place in January. But we took the time to ensure we’re protected creatively, legally, with our integrity intact. People always think of us as fun and crazy, sort of the class clown, but we see the importance of the business side.
JCR: Are you ready to hold the flag high for American fashion?
RR: I’m ready to hold the flag…(cackle of laughter), but I think our feeling is more underground London with a bit of Tokyo and my-suburban-American-boy-next-door-gone-a-little-mad-thing thrown in there. I’ll carry any flag you want and marshal any parade but I’m not really driven by the system because I don’t really know the system. I’m really a 14-year-old girl inside, I like when kids call us and email us and say that they love our stuff.
JCR: You guys are really press darlings, would you agree that the brand’s identity is largely built on we-couldn’t-pay-for-this-kind-of-press coverage?
RR: The press thing really just happened. New York Magazine interviewed us in 2000 for a story about designing from home. Housewives, et cetera, creating crafts from home and somehow Traver and I got included in this article. From there we began to challenge ourselves. First our friends wanted our T-shirts. Then we took our designs to Women’s Wear Daily and then decided that it was fun and we had nothing to lose so why not make a full collection. We went to David LaChapelle who at the time was shooting me (naked) for his coffee table book (out next month) and he shot the collection. David really helped us and introduced us to MAO showroom, next thing you knew all the models I loved are walking our show.
JCR: I find that in fashion, especially these days, so much is about connections and relationship…
RR: Definitely, I got to say that everything you see with us has been through our friends. It’s been people like Patti Wilson, David LaChapelle, and Steven Klein.
JCR: The spirit of the line comes out of club kid culture, however the scene, at least in NYC, is void of that culture these days, who are you targeting?
RR: When I moved to NYC 11 years ago it was about being somewhere where things are happening. Heatherette is for those “kids,” whether you’re 13 or 35 years old who have that feeling of wanting to be where everything is happening. Having that thing inside of you that says look at me, it’s for that pop star inside of you.
JCR: We devoted our 50th issue to the return to an era of self-expression in fashion. You and I both lived in NYC in the early ’90s and experienced the club kid culture, probably the last period of this kind of bold expression. Being self-expressive wasn’t appropriate for a long time, especially here in NYC…
RR: My thinking is that if a taxi can be yellow, then why can’t I? I think to a large extent people are still afraid to dress up, and I’m not necessarily talking about outlandish things either. I think especially with women here in NYC, standing out is a real problem for them. That’s why everyone needs a good fag behind them, ask Kate Moss.
JCR: There are not too many labels working with a sensibility that show re-worked fuchsia prom dresses, where do you see the brand in stores?
RR: We’ll probably do Bergdorf’s with our higher end dresses and Barneys coop with our T-shirts. Bloomingdales with jeans, T-shirts…
JCR: Will it hang next to a Miss Sixty, Marc Jacobs, where?
RR: Marc by Marc Jacobs, Seven Jeans, in that area.
JCR: You’ve worked for Hello Kitty, will that relationship continue?
RR: Yes, we have the high end licensing for Kitty. I was a fan of Kitty back as a club kid; all the ravers had backpacks and that kind of thing. I feel like we’ve
been the pioneer for placing Kitty at the fashion forefront. When we started working with Kitty a couple years ago, people made fun of us and were like, “Hello Kitty on clothing?”
JCR: There’s whisper of a TV show in the works?
RR: Yes, we’re talking to three networks about developing a program surrounding Heatherette, the building of a brand, but no official announcement at this time.
JCR: The brand is not really known in Europe, what should Europeans know about Heatherette?
RR: Thus far, it’s really been about people who want to find Heatherette, the tastemakers. But in the spring we’re showing in Paris.
Photos: Past and present looks from Heatherette