By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
And yet, starting out as a design slave in a mental hospital is probably not the worst preparation for the fashion business. After having exhausted every available detox and rehab in Austria, the only place that would take me was a beautiful, if disreputable, art-nouveau place called Steinhof.
The doctor who ran the drug rehab owned a big ambition. He wanted to be a famous fashion designer. Somehow he finagled cash from the state to set up a work-rehabilitation program. The idea was that the junkies in his care would learn something which would serve them later, while keeping them occupied now.
After a month of group whine therapy, the few of us who could actually sit up and take simple directions were bused out every morning at 4:30 a.m. to Dr. Hermann's sweatshop. There we sewed and stitched until 5 p.m. when we returned to the hospital. I was the only patient who actually wanted to learn. Dr. Hermann's wife, who ran his little operation when he was at the hospital, took pity on me. She and the tailor they'd hired took me under wing and taught me everything I should have learned in school.
Realizing that I was serious, Dr. Hermann allowed me to leave the hospital to go to a pattern class every evening. After six months of this I was able to create even difficult garments such as lined suits and men's pants. The collection that finally emerged from the junkie sweatshop was very well-received in Paris. We had been working off the doctor's designs, which impressed me greatly. Until one night when I was left alone in his apartment to baby-sit and came upon a French underground fashion magazine in which I found every one of his designs. Line for line, each one had been copied and traced by the doctor.
Hand-painted silk and
silk jersey blouse
Needless to say, that's when my resentment about cheap labor — in this case, me and the other degenerates — and the way Dr. Faux Talent had funded his collection began to dawn on me. On the plus side, I learned not only how to make clothes but, even more important, how to get up in the morning and show up somewhere no matter how tired and annoyed I was.
The fashion wears out more apparel than the man.
Much Ado About Nothing
I moved back to L.A. in 1988 and, after no more than a dozen or two wrong turns, managed to open my own store at the dawn of Vermont Avenue. Owning a store I got to sample the other factor that separates L.A. from the rest of the world — the close, occasionally symbiotic relationship between celebrities and designers. From Stevie Nicks to Madonna and Lydia Lunch, from Helena Bonham Carter to the Olson twins, I experienced the inverse rule of celebrity: The bigger the name — that is, the more money they have — the more they expect to get for free. This sense of entitlement rules even more with the Hollywood stylists. Some of them are bigger stars and divas than the stars and divas they shop for. And then there are stylists like the great Phillip Bloch, who helped boost my reputation by dressing Salma Hayek in my X-Dress.
More typical, alas, is the stylist — you know who you are, Sweetchips — who walked into my store, picked out 72 garments for his assorted clients and promptly fell off the Earth. Weeks later, after many failed attempts to have my clothes returned — his whims were my inventory — an intern brought 12 pieces back with a list of who kept what. No doubt it made him look generous.
Is it bad form to mention that it took Barbra Streisand months to pay for her outfits? Or that, for the life-affirming honor of seeing Martina McBride wear my dress to the Grammys, I had to throw in another dress for her and one for her daughter too — which, at the end of the day, I was happy to do. Sort of.
Twenty years after the insane asylum, I'm wondering why all this feels so familiar. What is the big difference between designing in Los Angeles and designing in the asylum? Outside of the asylum, I get to wear my own clothes. And the garmentos are more dangerous than the inmates.
For more information on Monah Li Clothing, check outwww.monahli.com.