Fashion Backward

The Club Kids were a group of nightclub frequenting, drag queen dressing, drug gobbling, trend starting 20-somethings who changed the face of downtown Manhattan in late '80s early '90s NYC. Michael Alig, their king, was a god among party promoters and reenergized the city's nightlife before unfortunately ending up in the state penn for axing his live in drug dealer. The Club Kids pushed fashion to the limit, fearlessly experimenting with everything and anything, and in the process reminded NYC that the realest and rawest fashion happened on the street not the runway. [caption id="attachment_6160" align="alignright" width="175" caption="Michael Alig on daytime TV"][/caption]Michael Alig was a simple Midwestern boy who soared into NYC at 18 and never looked back. He tried college, but got bored. His real interest was in nightlife. Mid-'80s NYC held a rigid class system, dominated by socialites and celebrities it was nearly impossible to gain entree without the proper funds and contacts. Think Andy Warhol's Factory, Studio 54, Details was all very prim and proper. People were at parties on their best behavior and dressed to a T. Then disaster struck. Andy Warhol died and left a gigantic void in the downtown scene. No one knew where to go or what to do or, most importantly, who to follow. At this time Michael was just a lowly busboy at Danceteria. He begged socialite James St James, a member of the old guard of NYC nightlife, to mentor him. James claims to have been repulsed by Michael, until he started getting attention that is, and then they became the absolute best of friends. [caption id="attachment_6059" align="aligncenter" width="800" caption="Michael: before and after"][/caption] Michael's big break came when Peter Gatien, owner of the terminally un-hip Limelight and later Tunnel and Club USA, gave him a shot at promoting some parties. Michael's shindigs were an instant success and by the age of 21 he was the top party promoter in New York. The scene he created was as far from the socially acceptable, well behaved early '80s. He gathered all the freaks, the loners, the drug addicts and a few trust fund kids and created something out of this world. The more grotesque, the more glamorous. They embraced a "never grow up" way of life, sleeping all day, partying all night - for pay. They wanted to shock the status quo. Piercings, tattoos and hair dye evolved to prosthetic features, face paint, incredible costumes and public drug taking. [caption id="attachment_6041" align="aligncenter" width="1024" caption="The Changing of the Guard Party shot by Robert Birnbach"][/caption] Club Kids were known as those wacky downtown mischief makers -- the men often seen bopping around in 4 inch platforms, baby doll dresses, full makeup and carrying signature lunchbox purses. Everyday was a performance piece and the clothes had to fit the part. "The outfits weren't just outrageous, they were just sometimes disturbing," Village Voice columnist Michael Musto said in the 1997 documentary Party Monster. "I mean, everything from oxygen masks to blood on the face and all these apocalyptic images. The aesthetic was one that was both embracing American capitalism and mocking it at the same time." Beyond the costumes, the parties aimed to be equally shocking with headliners like The Pee Drinker, The Champagne Enema, The Dirty Mouth Contest, etc. In the same documentary, Michael Alig explains that what they were doing was perfect for the 1980s, because the decade was all about scams. They were building a reputation of being fabulous for no reason. They were naming trends that were fabulous for no reason. It was all very arbitrary, but numerous appearances on day time TV helped the movement trickle out to the flyover states. Kids in Omaha started up their own Club Kids scene, created their own stars and painted blue dots on their faces -- all in Michael's image. Donahue video "This is a fantasy, and we're all just living our fantasy" - James St James [caption id="attachment_6064" align="alignleft" width="275" caption="Michael's birthday: Bloodfeast"][/caption]One of the staples of Club Kid wear was the onesie -- one piece lyrca unitards. These came in handy for under your costume or acting as the costume itself. There was a huge theme of youth -- pacifiers, baby bottles, diapers -- but it was always mixed up with sex, death or science fiction, among others. Subtlety did not exist, as blatant shock value was the primary goal. Painted on bruises, fake blood, tons of gore -- Michael had a little fetish for horror movies and often threw violence//death themed parties. His "Bloodfeast" party was inspired by one of his favorite b-movie horror films bearing the same name. And coincidentally the movie features a corpse's legs being cut off -- which is exactly how Michael later dealt with that silly dead body that ended up in his apartment. [caption id="attachment_6079" align="alignright" width="406" caption="Michael & James on Joan Rivers"][/caption] But anyway, when it came to clothes (or lack thereof), nothing was off limits -- Michael even went through a phase of bedazzling his genitals. He walked around with no pants on donning feathers and sequins on his member. This never quite caught on in the way he had hoped. There was a focus on creating one-off looks like "robomutant club freak" or "perverted-sex clown aesthetic." We could write pages upon pages of adjectives trying to explain the Club Kid aesthetic, but it would all be a waste of time. The only way for us to properly communicate this to you is through images. Get ready for a fabulous ride of insane parties, over the top outfits and killer looks (see what I did there?) Gender bending was a huge part of the movement. Boys dressing like girls, girls dressing like boys; the gender line was blurred, if not erased entirely. It was all about sexual freedom and self-expression. James St James commented on a talk show once that their looks were all about showing how you felt on the inside, outside. He explained this while dressed like a wart addled troll -- if you feel like a troll today, dress like a troll today. They sold the idea as acceptance -- acceptance of yourself and acceptance of everyone else, no matter how out there they may have been. It all started this way too. Michael was sober and bent on joining together all the kids who were made to feel like freaks in high school. He wanted them to be the ones deciding who got into the hottest clubs. He wanted to reverse the control. Give power to the powerless. Unfortunately, at the end Michael became powerless to heroin. Angel Melendez, his roommate and drug dealer, ended their party. During an altercation in their shared apartment Michael ended up killing Angel. The body was stored in the bathtub for a few days until Michael cut off his legs and threw his body in the river. Months later the corpse finally resurfaced amidst relentlessly swirling rumors of Michael's dirty deed. He is still in prison to this day, having been denied parole for seeming unapologetic toward the crime. [caption id="attachment_6099" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="I <3 Crack"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6100" align="aligncenter" width="399" caption="Michael's mother Elka, center"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6101" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="James St James at Bloodfeast"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6103" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Michael pouting"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6104" align="aligncenter" width="1024" caption="Michael & Keoki"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6108" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Amanda Lepore on daytime TV"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6109" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Project X Magazine couple editorial"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6110" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Two works of art"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6111" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Michael Alig & Village Voice columnist Michael Musto"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6112" align="aligncenter" width="464" caption="James St James: gorgeous as usual"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6113" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Bruises and lollipops"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6137" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="James St James, Michael Alig & Richie Rich"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6139" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Not censored in real life"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6142" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="James St James"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6148" align="aligncenter" width="605" caption=""Bloodfeast for June brides...get me to the church on time!""][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6149" align="aligncenter" width="488" caption="Chicken cutlets"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6150" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Clara the Funky Chicken: a staple at Limelight"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6151" align="aligncenter" width="484" caption="Blue dot obsession"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6152" align="aligncenter" width="353" caption="He also had a penchant for blue noses"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6153" align="aligncenter" width="403" caption="Alig & a friend"][/caption] [caption id="attachment_6154" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="A very Club Kid XxXmas"][/caption] The story of the Club Kids reinforces the idea that living outside of reality never works. No matter how insulated from the real world you feel that you are, it will always find a way back to you. The Club Kids resided lawlessly in an alternate world, where day was night, men were women and drugs were legal. After the murder they tried to keep things afloat, but everyone was just going through the motions. Things had gotten real again, and no amount of drugs or glitter would be able to transport them back to their comfy, cozy world. The party may have ended but the fashion still lives on. Especially with the current '90s resurgence, we are seeing Club Kid trends everywhere -- from wild hair colors to towering flatforms. Lady Gaga is actually a total Club Kid incarnate -- her outfits are straight off of the dance floor at Limelight. This probably has a lot to do with her collaboration with Thierry Mugler, a former Club Kid himself. So let's just ignore the drugs and deaths and remember the Club Kids for the good they created -- a fabulous world where your outside matched your inside and everyone accepted you for whoever, or whatever, you chose to be that day. [caption id="attachment_6155" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Manner Magazine"][/caption] As James St James so eloquently puts it "There's a place for you. If you feel like you're a freak, if you've got a hunchback, throw a little glitter on it, honey, and go out and dance and show the world that it's okay." images sourced from