Tuesday, November 1, 2011

This » Simon Doonan at Fashion Group International’s 28th Annual Night of Stars

"Normally, I kick off this event with a little frivolity. Brace yourselves—tonight will be a little different. It’s going to get a little heavy, but in a good way, in a meaningful way.
30 years ago, I took my boyfriend to the doctor. “It’s just an ingrown hair,” I said, pointing to the purple mark on his neck.
The doctor had a different diagnosis. “You have AIDS,” he told my friend.
“Can you give my friend a referral to a specialist?” I asked.
“There are no specialists. There is no referral… Are you guys religious?”
Within two years, my pal was dead, and so were many of my other friends and colleagues. To date, over 600,000 people have died of AIDS in the U.S. alone.
30 years ago, when AIDS arrived, it hit the fashion industry—our people—like a sledgehammer. Many of you will recall how bleak and ghastly it was. Like me, you can only remember those dark days with a mixture of horror and sadness. To those of you young fashionistas who were not around, I can only say this: You have no idea how lucky you are.
One after another, the brightest and boldest succumbed to this horrifying disease. Our creative pals—some famous, some infamous, most unknown and just starting to hit their stride—all perished after being unwittingly infected by the disease of the century. Many died agonizing deaths in the hallways of hospitals, without hope or familial support. Back then, in the early days, AIDS really was just like a medieval plague: “Who is next?” was the question on all our lips.
AIDS decimated a broad spectrum of the fashion universe, including Patrick Kelly, Angel Estrada, Isaia, Adrian Cartmel, Fabrice, Clovis Ruffin, Halston, Antonio Lopez, Juan Ramos, Tina Chow, Peter Lester, Tim Hawkins, Sergio Galeotti, Robert Hayes, and Laughlin Barker.
We also lost photographers David Seidner, Barry McKinley, Tony Viramontes, Herb Ritts, Bill King, Stephen Arnold, and Kenneth McGowan.
[And we lost] so many of my window dresser pals: Bob Currie, Michael Cipriano, Colin Burch, Bob Benzio, and Stephen Di Petrie.
At the height of this dark and horrible period, I recall visiting a sick friend named Jeffrey Herman. He was a model-turned-photographer who had just begun to receive some recognition for his pictures when he fell ill. During Jeffrey’s agonizing last days, he expressed a very pessimistic conviction: “This is the end. We are all headed towards oblivion… Nobody will remember us. We will evaporate. We are dust. We are the lost generation.”
I often think about what Jeffrey said and sometimes I wonder if he was right. Fashion is ephemeral by nature. Fashion is about what’s next. Today’s peacock is tomorrow’s feather duster (there, a bit of humor).
And now the fashion industry has become this massive ever-expanding juggernaut, with 400 shows instead of the mere 20 we had back in 1981. Now that we have the 24-hour madness and fabulousness of the Internet bloggings and tweetings,  it is conceivable that we might forget.
When AIDS struck, the fashion world rallied as never before: Kenneth Cole, Anna Wintour, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren—and yes, Barneys. I am proud to say we did the first retail AIDS fundraiser at our 17th Street store in the mid ‘80s. The philanthropic effort was unprecedented. And the effort continues…
But tonight, I am not talking about fundraising. I am talking about something else.
I am talking about remembrance.
When I saw how beautifully the victims of 9/11 were memorialized this past September, I could not help but think also of our fallen heroes. I thought of the bright lights of fashion who were cruelly snuffed out in the 1980s. And I thought about how important it is for us to keep the flame burning for our friends who slipped away from us over a quarter of a century ago. Not just for ourselves, but also for the upcoming generation—many of whom were not even born in 1981.
The next generation needs to know that Perry Ellis was a real person, not just a brand name, but a beautiful, generous man with long hair and a uniquely poetic vision. They should know that Moschino is not just a made-up name on a label in the neck of a frock. Franco Moschino was a true innovator, an Italian surrealist with a wicked wit. We need to share our memories of talented and inspirational eccentrics like Klaus Nomi, Tommy Rubnitz, Leigh Bowery, Way Bandy and Ricky Wilson (of the B-52s). And we need to share the magic and the bravado and positivity of great fashion designers like Willi Smith.
So let’s prove Jeffrey wrong. Let’s always speak their names and pass on their passion and their legacy. Thank you."

Speech reposted in its entirety from Barneys blog, The Window.

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