FIFTEEN MORE MINUTES OF FAME
Byline: Jessica Kerwin
NEW YORK — Only a few blocks away from Andy Warhol’s famed Factory of old, Anna Sui has gathered her own cast of characters. They’ve been culled from the fashion demimonde and East Village cult rock bands alike to star in a short film she’ll project as a life-size backdrop for her runway show next week. It’s Saturday night, and on a cavernous sound stage on West 15th street, Sui and director Zoe Cassavetes sit nervously watching a monitor as an assistant whitewashes the set’s seamless backdrop. Tonight they’re filmmakers, but they’re also hosts. As in Warhol’s static films “Chelsea Girls” and the infamous “Couch,” which captured the artist’s debauched friends in 1964 at play on the Factory furniture, the two have planned the most brightly lit cocktail party in the history of cocktail parties. They’re about to turn on the camera, train it on a group of their friends and see what happens.
“I went to the Yoko Ono exhibit [recently at the Japan Society] and I loved her happenings,” says Sui. “I wanted to create that whole energy so that when people see the runway show they feel like they’ve experienced something that’s just a momentary thing.”
It starts out as many parties do, as the first black-clad cast members emerge from hair and makeup and step tentatively into the empty white space. Missy Rayder quietly flirts with James Iha while stylist Bill Mullen looks around for someone to talk to. “Bill!” Cassavetes screams from the sidelines. “Bill! Flirt with Jenny!”
Sui and Cassavetes stare at the monitor. Nothing is happening. The Velvet Underground plays mournfully in the background. “Can we have something a bit more lively, you guys? It’s a party,” Sui calls out. She runs across the stage to the turntable. “OK,” Cassavetes shouts, “now get drunk!”
As if on cue, a waiter strolls into the frame balancing a silver tray crowded with drinks. Things don’t stay tame for long. “Welcome to the land of the living!” shouts Karen Elson from the studio’s door. Elson, Marc Jacobs, Maggie Rizer, Carmen Kass, Rufus Wainwright, Erin O’Connor and Duncan Sheik are all corralled into the 20- by 6-foot area taped off on the stage floor. Artist George Condo escorts Danita right into the fray while scruffy rockers from the Star Spangles stick to the fringe looking like lost members of the Clash.
Mere minutes later, the dangerous-looking lead singer of a group called Daddy steps into frame wearing a glitter-encrusted bra and a pair of tux pants. The singer dances with lewd abandon while spitting champagne at the camera like the Courtney Love of days gone by. Veruschka steers clear of the wild thing and dances alone, hopping first on her right foot and then on her left. A no-nonsense rocker chick from the band Mz. Pakman grabs Yves Saint Laurent model Nicholai McKinnon by the wrist and pulls him in close to dance.
“If everybody knows each other too well, then it’s too comfortable,” Sui says. “There’s got to be some sexual tension and there’s got to be some irritation. You need to walk in and say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to talk to that one,’ or ‘Oh-oh, this one looks like trouble.”‘
Trouble indeed. While a go-go dancer in a top hat and not much else writhes beside her, the girl from Daddy smashes her champagne glass on the studio floor and hurls grapes toward the monitor. Now it’s a party. Carolina Herrera Jr. keeps her distance, watching the action on the monitor over Cassavetes’ shoulder. “When those crazy band guys got there, somehow the energy changed,” says Cassavetes, whose short film made its debut at Sundance last year. “They’re like weird crashers. It worked really well.”
The revelers are interrupted when assistants rush in to repaint the white floor, but Vincent Gallo arrives just in time to join in a rousing, hands-in-the-air rendition of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Everyone, except Veruschka, knows the words. “Can you imagine if there was a script to contend with and people acting out emotions?” asks Sui. “It was hard enough to get them to stay behind the tape.” Zoe and Anna sit in their director’s chairs sipping champagne, the hardest working wallflowers in the business.