Christian with an E

Fashion Design 101 / Part I

To teach myself fashion design I began by repurposing old clothes. At first I started with t-shirts but fairly quickly moved onto old 1980’s prom dresses that I found at the Salvation Army near my apartment. I hacked them up, covered them with paint and glittered them with ex boyfriend’s names. I used packing tape, staplers and hot glue guns to add strips of newspaper, toy dollar bills, fake flowers and nipples from baby bottles. At the time I was always broke, living off pizza slices, beer and Little Debbie Snack Cakes. The dresses were a reflection of my life. They were waiting for the G train at Hoyt Schermerhorn at 4:30 in the morning, bad dates, hangovers, dance parties, wrestling matches with friends on dirty streets and breakfast cart coffee and buttered rolls in the morning to start it all over again. And they were love, pure love for New York City, the place I always wanted to be.

It was the prom dresses that started my collaboration with Karen O. I had made a dress I called the Teenage Car Crash dress, a ravaged, black, strapless number bloodied with red acrylic paint and stenciled with the words Teenage Car Crash across the front. (This was one of my many odes to the filmmaker John Waters.) Karen saw it and asked for one to wear to a show the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were playing at the Cooler in the Meat Packing District. The dress I chose to destroy was a royal blue, one shouldered, tea length gown. I had one night to make it so I shredded it, stenciled it with yeahs and added some fake flowers. It was a hot mess, but she rocked it like it was Gucci fresh off the runway.

At the show I suddenly found myself embraced in a moment I had been waiting for ever since I was a little kid. I’d always had this feeling that I needed to get to New York because I was meant to do something special and out of nowhere here it was. It was happening. This was that thing. “I’m wearing Christian Joy!” Karen howled from stage. Watching the band perform that night I knew immediately they were going to be famous and images of Karen O on magazine covers flipped through my head.

I continued making prom dresses for Karen, one ended up on the cover of NME, another, The Money Dress, in one of the last issues of The Face and one more that was so ugly that when Karen came out onstage wearing it all I could do was stand in the audience and laugh. After the show she kindly asked if I could never make her a dress that looked like it again. That was the “What’s Eating Karen O?” dress. It was inspired by Yayoi Kusama’s, Phallic Dress, but it came out looking like a matte fluorescent mold was eating away at her body while limp dicks grew out of the waistline. That kind of ended the prom dresses. I was ready to move forward in my pursuit of fashion design.