lydia rodrigues helps me understand

john surico

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As an average guy, with perhaps sub-average clothes, I’ve always felt distant from fashion. The dimly lit runways, the stoic models, Zoolander, anything involving Anna Wintour: it’s an industry I’ve never felt much a part of, nor knew what drove its billions of dollars of sales each year. I’ve seen The Devil Wears Prada and been to the Meatpacking District, but even as a college freshman, drinking the free champagne at New York Fashion Week events, I didn’t quite understand what I was doing there (or why the champagne was free). And when I worked as an intern at GQ, the Bible of Men’s Style, it struck me as odd that people wanted to know the best $100 pocket square to buy, and still does. Just fold a tie, people!

That’s why I sought out the expertise of Lydia Rodrigues, a New York-based collector who travels the world over to work with the best designers and sell their looks back here in the city. Immediately following our interview, she got on a plane to Milan Fashion Week and to Paris soon after. I asked her about what was in fashion, especially in this anti-culture we’re living in, and what being a designer in New York is all about.

Please, bear with me:

Let’s speak more broadly first and start with an obvious question: where is style at right now in New York City?

That's such an interesting question. It is definitely in a very particular place. After Fashion Week, and having seen some of the shows, and after going to some parties—the queer parties that are happening, even—I was actually trying to figure out where a particular style was coming from that I hadn't really seen, or known, because I haven't been going out at night as much.

But I did notice going out to Fashion Week. And I couldn't put my finger on it for two weeks, because a lot of things do roll around, like the Nineties, which is my era. I saw that a lot last year. But whatever's happening right now, I hadn't ever seen. I couldn't even describe how it was that people were dressed, and I found myself in this weird position of being, like, “I don't understand what they're wearing.” I thought that was something that I'd never say. But I'm actually kind of excited to, because I felt like this was something new happening. I don't know if I like it, necessarily—and I'm talking about a younger generation, and smaller pockets of people.

There's one designer called Eckhaus Latta, that has definitely influenced a lot of the style that's coming out right now with younger people, who are generally the people who appropriate style and really push the boundaries of it. They apparently had a lot of interns who've gone out and done lines of their own. So they've spawned this new, emerging, designer DIY thing that we haven't had in New York for a really long time, which I think is also exciting.

Then you have Helmut Lang, Lou Dallas, with Bridget Donoghue—people collaborating more with galleries as well. I think a lot of people are sort of interested in being part of the art industry in some way, but fashion has always sat sort of separately from it. I wouldn't say it's totally integrated, but there's this desire to, from designers.


For someone like myself, who hasn’t heard of those people, how would you best characterize that style?

It's really hard to describe. And that's what my problem was, when asking other people what this was. There's a deconstructed-ness to it. With Lou Dallas, for example, it looks sort of like a hippie Victorian thing happening. I find it really hard to put my finger on it. But it spawns very much from what Eckhaus Latta is doing. They're doing a lot of knitwear, and they're being quite experimental with clothing in general.


Do you think it's reflective of the time in any way?

When you say that, you're saying maybe politically?


A part of it, yeah. I think there are also themes of money and power decentralizing from Manhattan—and we’ve seen that with the art world, leaking out to the outer-boroughs.

In general, when we're in this moment, there's a lot more creativity that is going to spawn, because people are wanting to rise up and have a voice and say something. I do wonder how much those people—because they are so consumed with their work and they're doing it 24 hours a day—how much they are a part of that. But it might just be a part of a collective thing that does happen in general. When these kinds of things happen in the country's history, I think that it might be part of the collective conscience. But it's harder to tell with these guys. Because it's a scene, but a scene that didn't really exist in fashion until about five years ago. And it's really spawned. It came from one designer, and now there are five or six of these smaller people.


How has that scene changed in this more tumultuous era, and what kind of purpose does it serve?

Style, or fashion?


Is there a difference?

I would see fashion as the commerce, it’s trend, as things that are about what people are into right now. I think that's valid. I think style is a nicer word for it, because it's about it being personal, or what you're interested in, and suits you. Which is really interesting and beautiful, because that's the whole point of living: figuring out who you are. And we do that through clothes, as well. It's the most attractive thing to watch someone walk down the street who looks like themselves—and looks great, or understated—and just looks like themselves. I think that's really interesting when someone can play around with that idea. I think America is very good at being fashionable, like appropriating things that are really over the top, but don't go together, necessarily. It's not as interesting to me, fashion.

But the fashion industry itself is changing a lot. Retail is dying, basically, and people are going about buying their clothes differently. Probably because most people are overwhelmed by going into stores, so they're very happy to go online and buy their clothes. But there’s also the desire for it to be more personalized, to connect with someone. For someone to be like, “What suits me?” Or, “what should I get?” Or, “I'm this size…” And we're going back to the way things used to be made, which was your mother made them at home, or you learned how to make your own clothes. With haute couture, if something needed to be made, you made it for that person. So a lot of that is happening.


With politics, I see it more as living in this time period where identities are in crisis, whether it's LGBT rights, immigrant rights, those who are refugees; that identity, and that idea of style, being under attack.

I think a lot with the fashion, smaller offshoots of designers that are happening right now, they're heavily involved in the LGBT communities. The trans community is getting a lot more visibility from these designers, for example, because one girl is trans and she has her own line. And a lot of trans girls are modeling for these smaller designers, and a lot of trans models are becoming more visible as well. Muslim models, too.


As we all know, New York is more expensive than ever. Have you noticed that squeeze on designers?

I have. But the squeeze has always been there for fashion designers. It's a really strange industry for that reason. I think, for some reason, there's a drive to be a designer no matter what. So in so many cases, a lot of it ends up being a hobby for most designers. There are very few designers who actually make money from being a designer. And they have been around for a long time, and probably have a lineage of fashion design in their family.

But absolutely—the squeeze is probably more so now, even with retail dying. I think it's an opportunity for designers to give themselves leeway to new forms of selling things. Because I work with smaller designers, it's so interesting to watch: there's this one girl who just graduated from Pratt, who sells from her house. She sells everything one of a kind, gets the fabric from this larger designer who she works with full-time, has a fantastic Instagram, and just runs this all on her own. Her seasons aren't four times a year, so there isn't that crazy time crunch that designers are under. There are no runway costs, which are through the roof. And she's giving herself the time and space to have a collection come out every eight months, or every 13 months, rather than every four months.

I think there's an opportunity to give way to this structure that's in place for fashion, which doesn't totally make sense for most designers. They're not happy about it. So when something bad comes, there's opportunity for good, I think. It just depends on whether the designer feels flexible, or creative, and wants to take that risk to be part of that change.


Are there still institutional barriers for them?

What I'm always interested in is if the work is being sold. Because ultimately, the wonderful exchange with clothing and style and fashion is you present something, and the idea is that it gets sold. It's not just a pretty picture. All kinds of art gets sold, but fashion doesn't always get sold on that creative level. With the smaller designers, their barrier is that they might not be selling. They might just be showing. And I think that's the biggest strain.


If retail is disappearing, but at the same time, you’re able to sell online and have a social media presence to show it off, how does that change the industry? When you no longer, perhaps, need big splashy premieres, or thousands of dollars for runways.

I don't know. I guess that's what we're gonna see. We don't really know. This woman who I mentioned is really small, and does it on such a small level. It's not even thousands of people who get to see her work. I think we're just at the cusp of seeing where it might go.

And I think it will go into a more personalized setting, a little bit like what I'm doing. I do this salon, which in layman's terms is a multi-brand trunk show. I have a list of designers, I sell their work from samples, and people get to pre-order for the season ahead. So people come in, we play dress-up, and people are ordering what's going to get made, rather than a whole order going through, and hoping that it all gets sold.

I know these people quite well. I know their wardrobes, they know me, and I just think things are going to become more personal.


What would you say gets you most excited about fashion—or style—right now?

There's just an opportunity for customers to buy on different levels. You can buy like, really emerging fashion, like something that was made by someone, or by someone who curates something, like me. Instead of feeling like it's this one-stop shop, there are all of these different activities that can somehow sit on the same level. And we can connect to them so easily.

Again, it’s more personal: which is why it's so exciting. America is great for that. We're supposedly becoming better people, although I wouldn't necessarily say that for everything. But so much of that thing creates some really great stuff. There's so much opportunity, and we really are in our country where there's so much opportunity, as much of it is a mess.

But New York is conservative, in terms of fashion and style.


How so?

Being able to afford to live here, most of the people live and work in corporate America. They pay quite a lot, so the way they dress at work... I'm sure a woman still has to wear stockings to work, or something ridiculous. It's conservative, what they have to wear. So they don't get to express themselves, and if they do, I don't know if they have enough time to find out what's going on.

It's awful! Stockings? That's terrible. Unless you want to wear them, of course. But the fact that you're forced to...