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NEW YORK — For those seeking a real fashion moment this week, maybe it’s time to hop a plane to Germany, where “Party Monster,” the notorious Michael Alig biopic starring Macaulay Culkin and Chloë Sevigny, is screening at the Berlin Film Festival. Remember how fun club dressing used to be? Costume designer Michael Wilkinson does. More than 700 outrageous looks give the film its look, from frilly to fetish and from a copy of James St. James’ plaid spandex bodysuit to Alig’s lederhosen get-up.
“The characters were all stylemasters and eccentrics,” says Wilkinson, who also assisted with costumes for “Moulin Rouge.” “The challenge was to make sure that the audience doesn’t just sit and gawk at the costumes, but that they’re able to empathize with the characters. It couldn’t be an endless fashion parade.”
Of course, the film’s over-the-top makeup, done by original club kid Kabuki, earns equal praise. “It was a spooky reunion because the actors were dressed like people I knew then who were either dead or in jail,” says Kabuki, who applied six pairs of false eyelashes to each of Seth Green’s eyes to achieve a realistic club kid look.
But as old-school scenesters like Kabuki well know, the scene — which peaked at Palladium, Limelight and Club USA but died in the mid-Nineties — has never again matched that fabled intensity. “You had old people, you had young people, fashion people, downtown performers like Lady Bunny, the pierced techno robot kids,” Kabuki says. “That mix made it exciting. There was always a surprise.”
Former club kid Richie Rich agrees. “It used to be socialites and celebrities and drag queens mixed together,” says Rich, co-designer of Heatherette. “Now it’s more like high school, with the cheerleaders over here and the stoners over there.” Rich, who, back in his clubland heyday, once stepped out for the evening with 20 vanity mirrors hanging around his neck, thinks it’s high time a new, younger contingent took over the nightlife scene.
“All the kids who have moved here and are going to Pratt or Parsons or FIT are waiting in the wings, but New York is run by old-school people,” he says. “The bars and clubs need to give the kids a break. We got a break from Peter Gatien (of Limelight, Tunnel, Club USA and Palladium fame), but now everybody is afraid of scandal.”
While the much-hyped and recently faded electroclash scene of Berlin (Germany) and Williamsburg (Brooklyn), offered the younger generation stylish nocturnal options, according to pro partygoers like Rich and DJ Embe, for them, electroclash nights never boasted the passion of those club kid years. “We call it electrocuted,” says Rich. “It was kind of fake and there were so many poseurs doing it.”
Embe first hit the New York scene as a baby raver in 1992, then got out as rave went mainstream. Now, he says, those who love to dance all night long have formed splinter groups and rely on an underground party circuit. “There are no major venues,” he says. “There are dress-up-and-do-drugs parties, but the clubbing heyday is tragically dead.”