NEW YORK — Stefano Tonchi darted around the basement of Housing Works’ East 23rd Street store Wednesday morning, dressing mannequins in Eighties attire and pausing occasionally to admire his finds.
“Look at this belt. Paloma,” he said, extending a black belt with Picasso’s signature gold Xs. “This would make a nice gift. Feel how heavy it is. It’s not cheap like what they make today.”
That eye for detail is one of the reasons why Housing Works, a nonprofit organization that helps homeless people with AIDS, tapped Tonchi for the third installment of Editor’s Choice. In that role, The New York Times Magazine’s style editor has livened up window displays at Housing Works’ four thrift stores here and has set up Eighties-inspired boutiques at each location.
Co-editor of a new book, “Excess: Fashion and the Underground in the Eighties,” Tonchi noted that fashion as part of mainstream culture, the cult of celebrity and women’s place in society all were solidified in the Eighties. Proceeds from copies sold at Housing Works will benefit the organization.
Tonchi also has written a column in the current edition of The Week, sponsor of the ongoing Editor’s Choice, listing his six favorite books about the Eighties: “So80s: A Photographic Diary of a Decade” by Patrick McMullan; “Scavullo: Photographs, 50 Years” by Francesco Scavullo; “The Bonfire of the Vanities” by Tom Wolfe; “I’ll Be Your Mirror” by Nan Goldin; “Slaves of New York” by Tama Janowitz, and “We’re Desperate: The Punk Rock Photography of Jim Jocoy” by Jim Jocoy.
As for the clothes, a zebra-printed Gianni Versace wool men’s suit, a black Thierry Mugler belted dress with bright green cuffs, a bright pink Stephen Sprouse wool motorcycle jacket, a Keith Haring kerchief and a jean jacket with a spray-painted image of Madonna’s face were some of the prizes he found after a day of fishing through Housing Works’ Long Island City factory. But Tonchi didn’t pocket anything for himself.
“I have enough from the Eighties,” he said.
These days, Housing Works is making a push to get fashion-minded people more involved by donating clothes, shoes and accessories. Allure’s creative director, Paul Cavaco, and Tuleh’s designer, Bryan Bradley, are next up for Editor’s Choice, whenever time permits for each of them.
For now, there’s something to be learned from the club cult days of Area, Danceteria and the Palladium, Tonchi said. “It was about being a personality and not just beautiful.”
“The message should be, ‘Be original and individualistic. Do not be afraid to be different.’ That was the message from all the Eighties designers. They followed their instincts even if they were stealing from the streets,” Tonchi said. “They weren’t following market research. They weren’t under the control of a big conglomerate. It wasn’t about the sales reports in stores daily.”
— Rosemary Feitelberg