Photo by Lucas Michael
COREY PARKS' TALE IS OPERATIC, THAT OF THE DOWN-ON-her-luck rocker who bucks the odds and rises phoenixlike into the ranks of haute couture. Parks' clothing-design business started, as many great things do, partly by chance and partly by destiny. Two years ago, aching to come clean after more than half a decade of hard living with über- vulgar hard rockers Nashville Pussy, bassist Parks quit the band and moved back home to Los Angeles from Georgia. "I had to get a job. It was like, what was I gonna do? Suckin' dicks and playing rock & roll are about the only two things anybody would've paid me to do," she says. Two things, that is, besides another thing Parks does with panache: be herself. This "self" revolves around a certain primal attitude: Kick ass, curse like a sailor, trust your instincts, have heart. Taken with Parks' style, the proprietress of Les Deux Cafés gave her a job working the door. "I'm gonna pay you to be you," Parks quotes her former boss as saying. She takes a drag of her cigarette and laughs, a crawling, low guttural chuckle that makes you want to curl up around her leg. At Les Deux one night, a man admired a vest Parks had made for herself -- a greasy, faded denim dipped in black dye, studded with vintage concert patches -- and asked her if she might want to make some more for his store, Maxfield.
Today, Parks still can't believe it: her customized leather and denim pieces selling out the racks at a chi-chi Melrose boutique, Lenny Kravitz a devoted client, her name in Colette's Paris catalog in a roster that reads like a 20th-century encyclopedia of runway fashion's greatest hits -- Prada, Chloe, Commes des Garçons, Gucci, Marc Jacobs, Jil Sander, Calvin Klein. It's true a Corey Parks jacket in a couture boutique sticks out like a bondage hooker at a ladies' Sunday cocktail brunch. Instead of the modest little urban-sophisticate numbers we've come to expect from today's leather ateliers, Parks' pieces draw from the collective consciousness' most explosive and rugged paradigms -- the biker, the cowboy, the commando, the punk rebel, the white-trash heavy-metal rocker, the vixen-slut with the heart of gold. Instinctively, Parks cultivates the mythology of the sexed-up rock star, from the onstage fire-breathing to the "Eat Me Princess" wings tattooed on her belly, from the cowboy boots to the black panties that tumble from front seat to floor as she hops behind the wheel of her beat-up Lincoln Town Car. "Classy lady," she grins, licking her lips, then makes a coy reference to good old-fashioned falling in love. The 6-foot-3-inch Parks plays larger than life, a modern-day Valkyrie.
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Jackets are Parks' specialty. For a rocker, the jacket is a second skin, its markings the telltale emblems of kith and kin. Its scars, its degree of wear and tear, are the medals of experience in a clan: "Your jacket's like a fuckin' extension of you. It's like a statement of who you fuckin' are, man! All the patches that you wear, all the badges that you have on it, it just cuts right to the fuckin' chase. You're walking around with fuckin' AC/DC and fuckin' Ramones, and the fuckin' Pistols and a fucking American flag pointing the fuckin' finger . . . who wants to approach you and who doesn't? Who's gonna take you hostage? No fuckin' Backstreet Boy is gonna come up and fucking shake your hand, that's for damn sure."
In keeping with their vintage roots, each of her pieces tells a story. Donning Parks' customized jackets and pants, men are transformed into dragons. Floor-length leather tendrils snake up through silver grommets past the torso and dangle down in waves from the arms and wrists to the thighs, begging the wearer to twist and writhe. She starts with an old piece, something worn in all the right places, and then she layers. A black tailored coat is given glovelike three-quarter-length lambskin-leather sleeves and safety-pinned with a dead red rose, hinting at love lost and immortal. A deep-blue velvet blazer is embroidered with a massive back patch in an old-style German font, naming a fictitious Los Angeles gang of Parks' own invention (with a nod to Bowie), the Diamond Dogs. A black leather biker jacket is encrusted with military pins and buttons, then cinched at the waist with, of all things, a horse's riding tackle. A slim A-line skirt is pieced together out of pleatlike black-leather rectangles with white contrast stitching, suggesting schoolgirl prep gone bad. And then there's the inherent beastliness of the leather itself, which Parks exploits to good effect, leaving seams exposed and edges raw. Topping off the package, every Parks design comes with an iron-cross steel hanger -- her cousin, a welder, makes them -- and a garment bag sewn from a vintage American flag. Instead of a hangtag, there's a mini-Polaroid of a chick's tits and ass.
It's hard at first to imagine the badass warrior princess hand-stitching with needle and thread. But what's a rocker to do for hours and hours in a tour van on the road? Even Athena, when she wasn't slaying, got off on spinning and weaving. Parks has been sewing since she was in high school, a tradition passed on from grandma to aunt to mom to daughter. Tucked into a corner of Parks' workshop/kitchen is a leather-sewing machine in gleaming metal. In Corey Parks parlance, cozy emblem of female domesticity merges with gun-toting road hog: "The thing's like driving a fucking '69 Roadrunner hemi. RRRRRRR-RAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT! Scared me at first." And lest one think she's gone soft, couture or not, Parks and her new band, the Hunns, were 86'd from the Viper Room after a recent gig where she showed off her renowned fire-breathing skills: "I'm not a fuckin' designer trying to make rock clothes, I'm a fuckin' rocker making rock clothes."
Corey Parks is available at Maxfield, 8825 Melrose Ave.; (310) 274-8800.