Andy Hilfiger and TwistedLamb’s Mary Lee team up for edgy Bethel Woods fashion show/benefit/exhibit about the influence of music on style
For Andy Hilfiger, music has always been synonymous with clothing: When he was a teen growing up in Elmira in the 1970s, he played bass guitar in a band that rehearsed in the boutique clothing stores started by his older brother Tommy. “Tommy used to dress us,” Andy recalls. “He’d put us in bellbottoms and go to New York to buy and sell. I’ve gotten my whole design aesthetic from music.”
Tommy’s first stores were located upstate – in Elmira, Corning and Ithaca – and when he left for the City in 1979, Andy and his brother and bandmate Billy followed. Andy toured with members of the Ramones, Kid Rock and Blue Öyster Cult; in the 1980s, he played bass guitar in the band King Flux with brother Billy, Richie Stotts of the Plasmatics and Marky Ramone. Currently he plays with the X Brothers, along with Joe Bouchard of Blue Öyster Cult.
Besides making music, by the 1990s Andy was dressing famous rock ’n’ rollers and Hollywood stars in Tommy’s clothing and sponsoring concert tours – in effect, bringing the “Hilfiger company into the music world,” as he puts it. When he dressed Snoop Doggy Dog in Tommy’s rugby shirts for his performance on Saturday Night Live, “The youth went crazy, and the shirts were in all the stores,” he said.
A decade later, when Andy discovered that many celebrities wanted to start their own brands, he left Tommy Hilfiger USA – where he’d also launched a multi-million-dollar accessories business – and went out on his own. His job is helping his clients meet the right manufacturers, learn other facets of the business and figure out whether they want to sell at the top of the pyramid or cash in and sell at the bottom, in chains like Kmart.
“We sponsored Britney Spears’s tour and she wanted her own fashion line. It never came out, so instead we launched Jennifer Lopez,” he recalled. The “JLO by Jennifer Lopez” line, as it was branded, was sold in Macy’s and was followed by a fragrance. Other clients include Adam Levine and Nicki Minaj. (“She’s colorful and stretchy and crazy; I take the DNA of her and expand it into product categories,” he explained). Now a partner at Star Branding, Andy collaborated with Steve Tyler of Aerosmith and launched his own menswear line, called Andrew Charles. The clothing, which includes a line of Tyler-inspired scarves, is sold at Macy’s.
It’s hardly surprising, having styled everyone from the Ramones, ZZ Top, Kid Rock and Michael Jackson to the Rolling Stones, that Andy has accumulated one of the world’s coolest collections of vintage clothing. Now he’s taking his 1970s platform shoes, leopard-print jackets and fringed vests out of the closet and showcasing them on the runway at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. In a nod to the seminal festival commemorated by the venue, the runway show, held at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 25, is called “Festival Fashion: Bellbottoms and Butterfly Wings” and it’s a benefit for the not-for-profit Bethel Woods Center for the Arts. Co-curator Mary Lee, whose blog, TwistedLamb, launched her career as a highly sought-after creative fashion director and stylist for Kanye West, CCP Games, Norisol Ferrari, The Glitch Mob and Nicola Formichetti, will pair Andy’s authentic vintage wear with the modern-day tribal aesthetic rooted in the EDM (electronic dance music) festival fashions of today, modeled by the fans who created them.
“Usually fashion shows are for the buyers and press, but this is for the public,” Hilfiger said. The clublike party atmosphere – beer, wine and light fare will be served – will derive from a soundtrack that weaves in the ghost of rock ’n’ roll with a techno beat. “It’s a remix of the classics. You’ll hear a familiar song by Jimi Hendrix with an EDM beat behind it. We’re mixing Led Zeppelin with Kill Skrillex.” The eclectic sound will doubtless make Andy feel at home: When he was a kid, “Hendrix was playing in one room, Crosby, Stills and Nash in another and the Sex Pistols were down the hall.”
Hilfiger, who owns a weekend house in Sullivan County, will also be curating a rock ’n’ roll fashion exhibition in the Museum at Bethel Woods, which opens June 11. “There’ll be all these different looks from the 1960s and the 1970s,” he said. “There’ll be lots of vintage stuff: great Mod velvet jackets, American rock ’n’ roll, with denim, leather and lots of red, white and blue, and other vignettes from different periods.”
Personal favorites from his collection? “I treasure animal prints, such as leopard and zebra…I have a pair of snakeskin shoes from the 1970s and leopard-print jackets made for the Rolling Stones, I think from 1997.” His favorite style? Mod, with its velvet jackets and wide-swale corduroy pants. “It’s fitted and sophisticated, but also very rock ’n’ roll.”
The festival theme is obviously related to youth, although Hilfiger says that, at age 53, “Fashion style is ageless. You don’t have to be age 17 and a size 2.” He enjoys casting the models, each of whom inspires his or her own look as he sorts through his racks of clothing. “I do it by theme, but I’m not sure of the themes until I’m dressing everybody,” he said. After Hilfiger gets a look, “I’ll accessorize him or her, with top hat, jewelry, boots, shoes or sunglasses. Whoever wears the leopard jackets has to have spiked hair.”
Complementing Andy’s collection will be clothing epitomizing the contemporary festival scene, curated by Mary Lee. Lee’s aesthetic is cultivated from years of attending Burning Man, which she describes as “first and foremost about survival. You need to drink and you need to pack out your trash. At night you have to have lights on. There are no rules. It’s a free-for-all, but you have to have safety.” The desert location also means that “If you don’t have water and a covering for your face, you can injure yourself. My aesthetic is an apocalyptic, Mad Max sense of style. It’s got a lot of leather, fur facemasks and hats and gloves. In the background is a CamelBak,” a type of portable water container. “Overall it’s a very tribal aesthetic. It embodies the feeling of being out in the desert.”
Lee is choosing from ten to 15 authentic outfits created by other festivalgoers and designers, as well as showing her own “dark leather aesthetic.” The clothes and accessories will be well-worn and bear the imprint of each individual. “All were worn in the desert or in the woods,” but some outfits will be playful, particularly on the male side: “Men like to take suits and decorate them with neon lights and a disco ball.”
Lee’s points of reference reflect her extensive travels. She lived with tribes in Africa while working for the Peace Corps. Originally from the West Coast, she is an accomplished SCUBA diver and loves horses. Last year, after living in New York City working in the fashion industry for many years, she saw the Mongol Derby horse race advertised online, signed up and got accepted. She moved to Florida to train and then, last August, traveled to Mongolia, where she raced 1,000 kilometers over eight days in what is the world’s toughest and longest horse race. She ended up finishing in the top five.
Lee’s sense of adventure translates into her business. A month after starting her TwistedLamb blog, Lee was working as a stylist with Kanye West. Her work has also crossed over into cyberspace: She dresses avatars and has the distinction of being the world’s first digital fashion editor.
Lee said that the festival theme of the fashion show is hardly a moth-eaten remnant from the 1960s, but completely contemporary. “Music festivals have taken off. Mysteryland will now be at Bethel Woods for a second year in a row, and it’s huge. [The Mysteryland festival, which also takes place in the Netherlands and Chile, will return to Bethel Woods on May 22-25.] The music festivals across Europe are now branching out to America. EDM is massive and in every major city.” Her take on the trend? “It’s wonderful. It gives kids a chance to express themselves. Kids are free to dance all night with friends. With technical music, the sound is amazing.”
What’s fun and adventurous isn’t just for youth, she added. “I’m 39, and all of my friends still go to Burning Man. There’s a camp of older people who’ve been going there for 25 years. It’s incredible: the art that’s out there, the innovation that goes on the buildings – and then they just burn it all at the end. It’s a very intelligent, forward thing, which is creeping onto Main Street, as more people go and experience the freedom of it.”
Lee marvels at how the Internet and mobile technology have transformed lives. “There’s more power for each individual. There’s no limits these days to what we can do. Everybody can be a photographer, thanks to apps with filters, enabling anyone to make beautiful photos. People will become stronger creatively. You won’t need to have a nine-to-five job to survive. You can be and do whatever you want.”
In line with that philosophy, “Festival Fashion” will include a few submissions made by the public. “I want the people who are submitting their outfits to really put it together themselves,” Lee said. “I want them to be proud of who they are.”
Andy Hilfiger/Mary Lee’s runway show/benefit for the not-for-profit Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, “Festival Fashion: Bellbottoms and Butterfly Wings,” presented by Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Saturday, April 25, 8 p.m., $50; Museum exhibition, “Threads: Connecting ’60s & Modern Rockwear,” June 11-December 31, Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, 200 Hurd Road, Bethel, https://www.bethelwoodscenter.org.