NEW YORK — From the moment Tara Subkoff burst onto the scene with Imitation of Christ in 2000, she gave fashion folks plenty of fodder on which to chew.
She created conceptual collections often made from recycled and reworked clothes, but the theatrics she chose to present them with were, at times, annoyingly irritating (remember the mind-numbing tap dancer that wouldn’t stop?). Subkoff also dabbled in acting and came with a high-profile group of celebrity friends such as Scarlett Johansson, Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny, but bust-ups with other friends and partners garnered her almost as much ink in newspaper columns. She sold her brand, then departed shortly thereafter. Last year, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and friends publicly rallied around her to raise funds to pay for the surgery and treatment.
With the decade behind her and a clean bill of health, Subkoff is now to return to making clothes, and this fashion week, she will be reviving her Imitation label with a show at MAC & Milk on Sept. 15.
“I am supergood,” Subkoff said, speaking on the phone from Los Angeles, where she has been spending much of her time since her surgery and recovery. “It’s definitely very different than before. I am completely deaf on my right side, and have no balance, so I have vertigo all the time. Besides that, I am lucky to be alive. I have more energy, because I was in so much pain before. I think I am just a better person. I am back in the land of the living and getting ready to relaunch Imitation, and making it better than ever.”
For this comeback kid, rebuilding Imitation is particularly meaningful as she is coming full circle in multiple ways. Subkoff has regained control of her trademark after she sold it to Rockwood Management Group in 2006. She is now in a financial partnership with Showroom Seven, which worked with Imitation in the early days until a very public falling out with Mandie Erickson, the daughter of Showroom Seven partner Karen Erickson, who runs its Seventh House public relations division. Subkoff also rekindled her friendship with Matt Damhave, with whom she launched Imitation of Christ but fell out a year later. She now is working with him on the Imitation men’s line, which she plans to tease at the show and fully relaunch for fall 2011.
“I thought of Imitation as an art project, but it ended up being something very different,” Subkoff said. “It’s nice to have the people that I started it with in my life again.”
Subkoff said she hasn’t been actively involved in the brand since 2006. She was full of expectations when she sold the label to Rockwood in 2006, but like many young designers, realized the situation played out very differently from how she had imagined it, resulting in her departure.
According to her, Rockwood, which shuttered Imitation and Imitation of Christ in 2008, failed to complete payments for the brand, so the trademark recently defaulted back to her.
“That coincided with me surviving brain surgery and getting back on my feet,” Subkoff said. “I thought it was important to have something to do so I started making jersey T-shirts, which then evolved into cotton jersey trenchcoats, army jackets and dresses.”
Karen Erickson said, “I think she will bring an edge to contemporary that is sorely needed. She is a real talent and it’s exciting that the world will get to see it again.”
Erickson said first-year sales projections are at $1 million, targeting specialty stores.
Imitation will carry suggested retail price points of between $60 and $250, though Subkoff plans to pepper her show with some made-to-order pieces under the Imitation of Christ moniker.
“We are in a different time now,” Subkoff said. “It’s a completely different world since 2001. People are focusing on different things that are important to them. Right now, we are in a terrible economic decline, so I think it’s important to make some beautiful pieces for people that do not want to spend a lot of money.”
Times may be tough, but Subkoff has no plans to step back some of the signature theatrics of her early days. “I still want to have that flavor, whimsy, fun and surprise element,” she said. “We are in a time when it’s not necessary to have a fashion show anymore. We moved way past the Fifties where the girls carry numbers. I feel like the whole reason to have a show is to put on a show. I haven’t done it for four years so I want to do something fun that people enjoy — though in a more mature way so that it doesn’t irritate everyone.”