By Judith Frankland
HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD
This week I'm taking a trip down memory lane to the LA years. Accompanying me to set the glamorous tone are the witty and vibrant collages created by Jon Cooper, AKA renowned DJ Jon Pleased Wimmin. I asked Jon to send me some of his old Hollywood works in which he lovingly transformed a myriad of famous faces, and you, too, could be one of his subjects as he does bespoke commissions. Jon also has a monthly night at Dare in Edinburgh - a man of many talents! You can see more of Jon's work at poparttart.com.
OUT IN LA
The year was 1986, the city LA. I was a newly married, party-loving adventurous gal and it was a great time to live in The City of Angels. After a brief stay up in Hollywood we met some of the downtown glitterati and moved into the heart of the scene into a loft near Little Tokyo. Downtown LA at that time was heady, fast, experimental and decadent. Life for us revolved around after-hours underground clubs - sometimes held on dangerous gang turf - and a thriving art scene bursting with openings and happenings. The players in this world were bright young fearless and fierce, as some of them used to say "funky fresh", and barely an actor in sight. One was the young, smart, beautiful and funny Alexis Arquette, who would go on to become a legend of the LA club and party scene and a darn good actor.
Clubs would spring up anywhere possible. One particular night there was no location for the club Plastic Passion, run by Brett Boreman, Joshua Wells and Steven Ernst, also incredible characters, who decided it would go ahead in the loft on the floor above us. As the music thumped, the ceiling moved as beer dripped through the floorboards onto our bed! They were hilarious, carefree days when a man on the roof with a gun was entertainment. We dressed and acted outrageously, while through the day I worked on my good old Bernina making clothes for men, women and a bit of both. A fabulous giddy year passed in a flash and it was time to return to London.
WARHOL'S SUPERSTAR AND SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS
Now a separated party-loving, still adventurous gal, I moved on a whim and through a twist of fate, to Hollywood. It was a very different scenario that awaited me . The downtown scene had dissipated along with that 80's experimental edge. Don't get me wrong, LA was still exciting and unpredictable. It was zany, not avant garde, with an urgent "gotta make it" feel. Fame was the name of the game - you know, the "I'm only doing this between acting jobs " mantra.
At first I flung myself into partying, but in retrospect, the heart of the scene was not beating as fast. One fabulous person I got to know was the fascinating Holly Woodlawn. Holly had been one of Andy Warhol's Superstars and was the epitome of glamour with a lovely, witty personality that I was drawn to immediately. Sadly, as fate played its hand again I became ill and had to move away for several months in which time we lost touch, something I have always regretted.
While getting better I had an amazing experience, coffee with Anthony Hopkins - a couple of hours of bliss. The word "charisma" defines this man. The day he walked into the kitchen of the house I was living in and opened his mouth, and spoke with that voice, made my life. He was everything you would expect - the eyes, his mannerisms, wit, charm - gush gush gush. He told me he had worked in Newcastle, my hometown, with Richard Burton. He was a down to earth, class act. As he was leaving, someone daringly asked if he would make a sequel to Silence of the Lambs, and to my delight he turned to me, and in chilling Hannibal Lecter style, he said "Clarice". He was good enough to eat!
Finally, I entered a party free, very productive period of my life with fierce determination and drive. To start the ball rolling, I helped a designer who catered to Rock n' Roll's elite - Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, and Marilyn Manson, to name but a few. I was kept firmly in the background, sewing away every hour possible and plotting my escape to start my own line. My workmate was a lovely Vietnamese lady who had escaped the horrors of the Khmer Rouge by boat and had ended up as a seamstress, a brilliant one, in LA. She taught me so much and to my delight I got lots of gossip, innocently, from her. She had measured many an inside leg that many gals and guys would have relished doing! She wasn't fazed one bit by a famous name and half the time had very little idea who they were. As we toiled away, I discreetly interrogated her and she would nonchalantly tell me "Alice Cooper, narrow shoulders, large head, very friendly. Keanu, real tall, real nice. Marilyn Manson, lovely guy, very quiet" and so on. About the closest I got to any stars was designing and making some superhero costumes for The Monkees which actually gave me a thrill as I had worshipped them when I was a kid! Alas once more I was in the shadows and didn't get to do the fittings - drat!
At last it was time to set up on my own, and this I did in the shape of a line called Nice Nelly. LA is not the place for avant garde fashion and I battled to calm my designs down, I'm a "more is more" kinda gal! I recall one very prestigious shop on Melrose declaring that no one would ever wear rhinestones on denim when I presented my embossed patched and frayed skirts. Battle on I did, the glorious weather keeping spirits up when sales were sometimes slow. I put my hand to everything to keep the wolf from the door. Outfits for Goth to strippers, a thong for a life-size bear puppet, and clothes featured on the extras in the Josie and the Pussycats movie and in several TV shows, including Buffy and Charmed.
Judith's Nice Nelly designs as styled for Glue magazine, Sept-Oct 2000
I rarely ventured out at night and was happily chained to the Bernina. I was also one of the only people I or anyone else knew of who would take the bus downtown to the fabric district, sometimes a hair-raising experience as it passed through one of the dodgiest areas. However, one party I couldn't resist was Leonardo Di Caprio's, I wasn't a fan but my expectations of a star-studded night ran sadly high. We got ludicrous directions to go to a parking lot on Sunset, leave the car, go through a metal detector and onto a mini bus that ferried us up to a haunted mansion in Los Feliz. The place was teaming with strippers, young wannabee anythings and a dash of bemused folk like me who also made a hasty retreat back to the mini bus and down the hill.
It's very normal to spot famous faces in supermarkets or just cruising Melrose, or in restaurants, even ice cream parlours - after all they are only human. The one star that made me self-conscious and get a silly walk as you do was Al Pacino - yummy! Seeing films such as one of those volcano movies being shot nearby was an every day event, and Biggie got shot just down the road - in fact it was quite normal to hear gunshots or helicopters overhead with the police on loud hailers shouting "put the gun down". And once in a while the earth would move in the literal sense, but that's LA!
VANITY SIZING AND DIVA BEHAVIOUR
I couldn't leave you without touching on the Size O debate and a little gossip. First, size certainly does matter in LA, even if it constitutes size fraud! Here's a wee story that will either fill you with glee or have you running off to purchase a tape measure to keep in your bag. I got an order from a very "hip " LA boutique with a fab clientele. As always, after delivery, pessimist that I am, I sat by the phone. It did indeed ring and it was the shop saying there was a problem with the skirts and could I drop by. Fearing the worst, I put on my bravest face and walked head held high into the shop. Well, lo and behold, it was the sizing! I had used small, medium and large labels. The owner exclaimed, "No one will buy anything with large in it", saying that even medium was pushing it. Could I please go and change them, preferably to XXS, XS and S. The best I could do was XS, S, and M, as they were the only tags I had on hand. No wonder LA is sometimes called the Land of Make Believe.
Now for the gossip, which I've whittled down to one item in the spirit of politeness. I met a very nice, very creative florist who told me the tale of how a large order had been made from the PA of a very famous singer/actress who was known to be extremely tight with her millions. The order was for lots of blue flowers for a dinner party. The job was done beautifully and the flowers delivered. The next day the PA returned to the shop and declared that Miss S........ would not be paying for them. Why? Wrong shade of blue. Guess that's just the way she was...
After a few years I could no longer attempt to conform to the restrictions imposed on me. I craved the creative freedom of the avant garde world of fashion, so I had a garage sale, packed my bags and said goodbye to the circus that was LA. Off for the delights of Paris! However, the fabulous experience of living in LA was well worth it, I love that city!