Somehow in this city with every level of costume need, custom-made clothing resources have remained a secret. I found out years ago that you could buy decent quality ill-fitting leather pants off the rack for $200, or get them customized to fit like a glove for $150 at Wayne‘s Leather Rack. The same with theatrical costuming: I’ve had seamstresses make Elizabethan-style gowns for little more than the cost of the fabric. Young designers will often make-to-order affordable clothes, and wedding-dress shops from Hollywood to the Eastside (if you‘re going for big) and many dry cleaners have in-house tailors.
If you happen to be a size that is not on the racks and are not happy with the styles offered in Big Girl shops, the choice is to wear ill-fitting clothes, make them yourself or have them madealtered. Bodybuilders have the same difficulty, which is why they’re rarely seen in anything other than workout clothes, army fatigues or, for dress-up, the requisite Sylvester Stallone double-breasted suit. So when I concocted the idea of having an ensemble custom-made for this issue, I thought of Michele Mills, a woman with a wild, unconventional sense of fashion.
Ten years ago I started seeing “Meesh” at club Fuck. She wore different variations of a tutu with strap-on dildo, and a vibrator on a chain around her neck as a “charm.” Later, as a member of the band Cholita: The Female Menudo, she co-designed different looks for the band members: Day-Glo school-girl outfits, quinceañera gowns and cha-cha slumber-party ensembles. Since the early ‘80s, she has designed for indie films, videos, performance artists and bands, such as the lounge-core Crepe de Chine and the metal-thrash Troll. At UCSD she majored in visual artsfilmmaking and minored in costume design, working summers as wardrobe mistress at La Jolla Playhouse. She is currently collaborating with Tami Galindo on a Jungle Red Productions documentary about burlesque costumes and iconography. a
Meesh is known as Nailz in her girl gang, the EpiLadies. Their group statement (see epiladies.com) goes like this: “Our strength is based in the pain of being a bitch. Regular cholos get jumped into the gang by taking a few punches, but could they pass the test if it included a bikini wax and cramps? They think they are hard if they have a couple of gunshot wounds . . . we bleed every month!” Members include performers Bobby Pinz (Selena Luna), Hot Wax (Diviana Ingravulla) and their beloved bitch Scratch (Matt Starkey). As far as I can tell, they basically show up at clubs and parties, looking sexier and nastier than anyone else, and showboat, but I haven’t crossed them.
After consulting with “Method” costume designer Susan Matheson about where to begin, I interviewed Meesh using a series of diagnostic questions Matheson devised for her. Matheson‘s design experience runs the gamut from movie costuming, to toy development at Mattel, to creating meditation wear for gurus.
Ron: What kind of outfits do you look good in? Are there any specific colors you tend to wear more?
Meesh: Definitely dresses or skirts. Something that is more tight fitting on top and less tight fitting on the lower hemisphere. Right now I’m liking bright pink. I don‘t like dusty rose, no antique, no mauve. It has to be bright.
What details, like necklines, sleeves, work for you?
I like cleavage, and definitely no turtlenecks or anything tight around the neck. I’m not really big on collars, but as long as it‘s open in the front I wouldn’t mind the collar. Keep in mind that I like big hair.
Are there any fabrics you‘re allergic to besides cheap?
Actually, I’m not allergic to cheap!
How about shoe style? Can you wear high or pointy?
Shoes are an issue. I tend to go between kinky and a practical as much as I can. I like the way high-heeled shoes look, but I‘m carrying so much weight on them that they’re terribly uncomfortable, unless the heels are wide. And the wider the heels are, the less cute the shoes tend to be. I like boots, but there‘s a problem with boots in that my ankle and my foot are small and my calf is really big.
And what kind of accessories do you wear?
Big, big, big, and noisy if possible. I’m really into either big bright plastic or gold right now.
On what occasion would you see yourself wearing this outfit?
Are we going for something really fash-ion-y, or the tacky side, or both?
I think both, because that‘s you. Transcending tacky into high art.
I would like to wear something that’s sexy, flattering and has my sense of humor. I don‘t want to wear anything that’s, like, if you‘re a big girl you’re supposed to cover all this up. I don‘t care, I can let my arms hang out. I’m not really into my gut hanging out, because that‘s just unflattering. But other than that, I don’t care.
What do you feel tough in?
I feel tough no matter what I‘m wearing. My fellow EpiLady Selena and I — this is top secret, but I know I can trust you — I think the look we’re going to do for the next function is that kind of ghetto look where our faces are really done, but we‘re wearing sweats and high-heeled shoes. It’s going to be bad.
Is there a particular movie star, time period or place that you would evoke?
Anything that is Japanese teenager is good. I guess my whole thing right now, maybe not the specifics, but the vibe of it, is if Lil‘ Kim and Britney Spears had a baby, and the baby was really into the ’80s. I see myself as a combination of tough, hard-ass bitch and kind of frilly girly girl. But there‘s a distinction — I’m not into that girly girl in a demure way. Some of it has an association with cholas: I‘m going to kick your ass and cut you up, but I’m going to be wearing big ol‘ false eyelashes while I’m doing it.
Is there a person, male or female, you would like to be like?
I know it‘s an easy answer, but I can’t help it. Boy George.
Who was an early influence on your fashion development?
There was a friend of my aunt — she had really dark skin, and blue contact lenses, bleached hair and really, really tight stretch acid-wash pants. And the really long nails done in fluorescent pink. The idea of mixing two looks — it‘s more normal now, but at the time it was, like, a dark girl doing all the fashion tricks that blond girls in the magazines do. And the clash, the dark skin and big ass doing that white magazine-model look. It’s actually just the negative of Goth girls with really white skin dying their hair black. I really like that. I get my nails airbrushed at an indoor swapmeet on Slauson, and one day I saw this black woman, she had this makeup, I know she meant it to look natural, but it looked like Divine‘s. And she had this gigantic hairdo, and was getting these long nails painted gold with the rhinestones on them. Really glamorous, but she was still in her UPS outfit, shorts and top. It was so cool.
What would be the ultimate outfit?
I have this secret fantasy outfit. One day I want to have a big wedding, but no marriage. I want to be featured in a pretty dress at a party where I’m the center of attention. All my friends will come and give me presents, then I will leave for Paris. I want to do this big entrance, where I‘m on this big pedestal, in this thing that looks like a skirt but it’s nearly as large as a building. And then it rolls out and it opens up, and there‘s steps like those airplane steps, and I come walking down in my next dress, and I just keep stripping down to the final dress.
At Matheson’s request, Meesh designed four possible outfits, one of which they a decided on and reworked. We were off to International Silks and Woolens.
Matheson has been frequenting this Beverly Boulevard fabric store since she was a student at Otis Parsons in 1989. She refuses to be helped by anyone other than her main man, Bashir Khairzada. The walls are lined with autographed photos of every star from Chaka Khan to Zsa Zsa, and we asked Khairzada, who‘s worked here since he left Afghanistan 19 years ago, which famous customers came to mind. He said Joan Collins has very good taste, and I wouldn’t have thought that Gina Lollobrigida and Dolly Parton picked out their own fabrics, but apparently they do. Trailing after Matheson, we explored two levels and four wings of the shop. It specializes in vintage stock, and we looked at $12yard cotton and $600yard beaded fabric. At the cash register, I was shocked that the vintage polka dots we picked out was $89 a yard.
On Fairfax Avenue a few blocks north of Melrose, we pulled into Crown Cleaners & Tailor. Sue Chon was expecting us. She measured Meesh at 17 different points, yelling the measurements out in Korean to her assistant, a man sitting at a sewing machine. Over an hour in the fabric store, and only five minutes at the tailor‘s.
Three days later, we returned for a fitting. (Chon said when she’s not busy with other orders, she can make a dress from start to finish, same-day service.) The dress and coat were basted, with perfect darting and seams. Chon thrust hundreds of straight pins into the dress and coat for adjustments, calmly following Matheson‘s suggestions to take in here, shorten there. In two days’ time, Meesh would come in for the final fitting. I returned four hours later to pick up the finished dress and coat, with matching hat.