L.A. Weekly's nightlife columnist recently named fashion designer Rio Warner one of the city's most colorful people. And as Warner sits in the gallery loft over her Hollywood shop, which for years doubled as the bedroom she shared with boyfriend Mani Vasquez, it's easy to see why: She favors bright, popping colors that complement the tropical bird sitting on her shoulder. Think along the lines of a punk-rock Punky Brewster.
Vasquez, however, might be one of L.A.'s least colorful people. His monochromatic daily uniform consists of black jeans, black shirts and a black leather jacket, all of which match his jet-black, Ramones-esque mop top. A pug named Otto sits on his lap, looking much older than his eight years, an earth-tone contrast to the couple's Technicolor parrot.
Warner and Vasquez met at Reseda High 13 years ago. The only two punk rockers, they instantly caught one another's attention, but it took several weeks for the introverts to become acquainted. On that fateful day, she commented on his Sex Pistols shirt in gym class shortly before police removed him for being drunk on campus.
“It really was love at first sight,” Warner says.
Vasquez, a habitually delinquent continuation student with permissive parents (“I got caught sneaking out, but I never really got in trouble,” he explains), finished school in large part thanks to Warner's efforts. An honors student, she came from a much stricter home (“My first experience going to see bands was with Mani,” she says).
After graduating early, Warner drove Vasquez to and from school every day while studying pre-law at Loyola Marymount University. “I used to have to physically pull him out of bed.”
Support runs both ways: Warner helps Vasquez maintain an even keel, while he helps her to pursue her dreams.
“I never really thought that I could be creative as a career,” she says. “Mani helped me to realize that I could do what I really loved.”
It has panned out: A freelance fashion designer and seamstress, Warner, 29, creates apparel for pop royalty, including Madonna (whose daughter, Lourdes, shops at Warner's store), Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Cher and Rihanna. Next month, she will showcase her namesake line at L.A. Fashion Week.
Vasquez, 27, runs Records Ad Nauseam, perhaps most famous for releasing a Charles Manson record. Other releases include outré material from Jeff McDonald of L.A. punk veterans Redd Kross. A split between The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black and Youthquake drops this year.
Then, of course, there's their co-owned store and art gallery, Glitter Death (formerly called Beauty Is Pain). Vasquez calls it the place where “the underground meets the mainstream.”
“The store is me and Rio combined,” Vasquez says. “We have the bright, beautiful and pop alongside death, darkness and the streets of Hollywood.”
The couple only last year moved into their own apartment, in Los Feliz, after five years of secretly living in the loft above the Glitter Death space. “We walked by it and just decided to rent it,” Vasquez explains – even though the unit lacks air conditioning or even a proper shower or kitchen. They later got “a weird Craigslist creep,” in Vasquez's description, to install a makeshift shower. “You had to hold your weight the right way or you'd go through the floor.”
Of their lives, Warner says, “It's not all art galleries and Madonna and Charles Manson. We've worked really hard at this for the last 13 years.”
They've been together longer than many couples. Warner considers his sisters her own and even served as bridesmaid for one.
Their reasons for forgoing marriage thus far are entirely practical. “I want a really extravagant wedding,” she explains, adding, “I'm only getting married once.”
“Maybe after we make our first couple million,” she says without the slightest trace of doubt in her voice.