Return to MICHAEL SHYKA WRITES

  

Arriving at the loft the following morning, A young man named Bobby greets me. He is busy painting silk on one of the tables. Bobby tells me that James has left a note for me on the front desk. Upon reading it, I see it lists my tasks for the morning and states that Bobby will train me today.
I go about my tasks, including cleaning up J.A.'s work table, giving the zebra print its final coats of black, and helping Bobby with his new designs. James soon enters, greeting us all good morning with a sly smile; he sits quietly at his desk, going through papers.

I get from Josephine the garments to ship. There are two incredibly groovy, quilted silk jackets in bright psychedelic colors, both quilted with gold thread. Next, I pack up three ensembles with a black and white zebra print. Each has wide slacks and a long, calf-length kimono of the same pattern. The jackets are trimmed in rhinestones. I cover them in plastic dry cleaner bags and pack them in two large, flat boxes with tissue paper. On the desk are the invoices with shipping information. I address the card-board boxes to Fred Segal in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, a lady named Joy arrives. James has described her earlier as being "a big Yenta." Joy enters the loft in a full-length fur coat; she barely greets us, even after Bobby and I coyly attempt to welcome her. She heads straight to Jame's desk and gets into a heated conversation with him. From the sound of it, she is negotiating her sales commission with James.


When her clients arrive, both Joy and James end their conversation immediately. Joy is still fuming as she kisses her fussy, looking, uptown friends. The new arrivals are quite a sight, clad in floor-length mink furs and highly lacquered Palm Beach crash helmet hairstyles. I cannot help myself from estimating the number of minks slaughtered for each coat. After we greet them, they quickly dismiss us working boys and go straight for Jame's jugular.

Bobby and I try not to pay attention to the unwanted air of dreadfulness now flowing through the loft. Together we mix the colors of Bobby's choice. I buff while Bobby paints, focused on the overwatered ficus trees across from me.

James does his best job schmoozing them, but as soon as Josephine brings their outfits out, trouble begins. Neither of the ladies seems pleased with their enembles. Josephine is busy pinning and re-pinning their hemlines and seams. One lady has the zebra look fitted while the other is in a similar cut, but of dark chartreuse, painted silk. They both keep looking in Jame's huge rolling mirror with apprehension. They complain that it is a trick mirror, a "skinny mirror," and fuss with the details of their new outfits. Josephine and James try to be reassuring; both are now looking to Joy for her approval, which she does give. All seem discontent and disparaged.

Their new ensembles look lovely to me, at least much better than what they came in wearing. I move over to the table where James has painted the "Sunset Tree" print and begin to give all colors a second coat of dye. Meanwhile, James is pacing around, making broad sweeping gestures with his arms.
Finally, they seem to settle their affairs, James and Josephine, reviewing pages of notes on changes to be made as the ladies head to the back of the loft to change in privacy.

 

While waiting for the elevator, the two clients watch me work. They examine the almost finished table of painted silk I am giving second coats of dye to. The blond one purrs,

 

" James, you must make me up a smock and slacks in this print, exactly like the one I was fitted in today. Joy will add it to my bill." James seems to be mumbling something under his breath.

Joy does not leave with them but gets back into the original money argument. Before lunch, she exits, barely saying goodbye to us and looking a bit defeated. I feel for her.

At lunch, James and Bobby get into a heated conversation, possibly a lover's quarrel? I leave to run errands for James, mainly to make a bank deposit, and pick up a prescription of valium for him. When I return, I'm happy to see Ed has arrived; all is much calmer in the loft. Edward, Bobby, and Josephine are all captivated listening to Jame's gossip about his afternoon appointment. The Contessa Ariana- a nobility of Italian descent. I immediately recognize her name, as I have previously read about her "Return from the Amazon" party at Studio 54 in Interview magazine.

 

When the Contessa arrives, it is an entirely different scene than the morning. She enters with her mother, who she quickly introduces to Bobby and me. Both ladies are dripping wet with melting snowflakes on their collar to heel Blue Russian Sable fur coats. I try to refrain from being judgmental as the tall Contessa with long luxurious, dark, brunette hair, smelling of expensive perfume, gives kisses to all of us.


Contessa, examing our tables of silk drying under fans, "Oh my...absolutely gorgeous! JAMES! It never ceases to amaze me the beauty and talent in your loft!
Baroness, "So true, just amazing!"
A brouhaha of gossip soon sputters up in the rear of the loft—the two divas luxuriating around and trying on everything that appeals to them. I hear catty laughter and hushed whispers, more laughter, hisses, and sneers.
The Contessa looks stunning in everything she tries on. She abandons the hassle of re-dressing behind the curtains; slipping silks and more silks over her black lacy lingerie, I try not to stare. I am soon called to pack up all their pieces in garment bags. At the elevator, the Countess and Baroness exchange double cheek air kisses with all of us.

 

 

Contessa, "Thank you, James, for l o a n ing us so many of your fabulous designs." She blushes and arranges her hair over her coat with the opening of the elevator door.

 

 

"So much for a profitable afternoon from those two," I think to myself. "They certainly were fun, and charming nonetheless." James has slipped into a pair of black clogs that he is not quite steady in, I notice as he shuffles loudly back and forth on the lofts wooden floors working with Josephine. I think to myself. Maybe his valium has kicked in.

I have been working on finishing up the Tree print and re-stretching more tables of silk. Bobby has me heat a mixture of paraffin and beeswax for a polka dot print - white and black. While mixing up the black dye for the background, a new boy arrives- Mark. "James' new boyfriend," I think.
Mark is very friendly and extremely interested in everything I'm working on; he hardly speaks to Bobby, who may be giving him "The Cold Shoulder." Mark and James retreat to the privacy of the loft's rear area.

 

 

Bobby, Josephine, a new seamstress Josephine is training, and I continue with our work. At nearly 5:00, an older male friend of James drops by unexpectedly. He is the most "regular "person I have encountered since I began work at the loft. Immediately, he starts to scheme with James on how he should be "raking in more doe."

 

 

I've had it for the day; I say my goodbyes and leave.

The next morning, I arrive at the loft to find it quiet, with just James, Josephine, and her seamstress there. I am sad and dis-hearted. I have heard from my mom last night that Pehr, my dog, hasn't returned home yet. It has been over two weeks since I let him free from his run when I left my home in Maine after Christmas. I explain this loss to James after he asks me if there is anything wrong. He feels for me but quickly dismisses my moodiness and offers me the freedom to start two new tables of silk on my own design, "Whatever I want to paint."

Together we gather images for me to work from by diving into his stash of tear sheets, postcards, printed memorabilia from the '40s and '50s. He recommends I look at his bookshelf for his favorite books of Monet, and Renoir, featuring old paintings of floral bouquets in vases. I decide on a mostly blue and green floral bouquet in a glass jar from a Monet painting. On the other table of silk, I consider going "shotgun"- without any reference material. I just want to paint from memory, and my imagination, a floral landscape featuring one of my favorite spring flowers from Maine, purple Lupin.

I start with the Monet, first by mixing up many shades of blue, from pale, too bright, and dark. Cobalt, Ceruleum, and teal blue. After testing these colors at the edge of the stretched silk, I mix up a medium violet, two shades of lavender, one warm, the other cool, then greens as well as a silver, "straight from the can, with vinegar, no alcohol." As Ed and J.A. previously taught me. Confronting the blank, massive table of white silk, I jump in by outlining with a Chinese brush silver dye for the bouquets, placing them "Ying, Yang," as James has directed me to do. James, "It offers better placement possibilities for Josephine's process of arranging her patterns."

Once I get the outlining done, I begin filling in colors into their appropriate flowers, petals, leaves, and jars. James encourages me,


"Work fast, as it will look much fresher, address the entire table, equally with shapes and color, then move on to your second table to do the same, giving the first one some time to dry." - The best silk painting for production advice I've ever had.

 

 

Left alone to work on both tables I started painting my second table of silk by sketching Lupine and Hollyhocks's with the Chinese brush dipped again in the silver dye. Immediately after I sketch them out, I drop in Lavenders' shades, Violet for the Lupine, and a Rose Quartz and Pale Pink for the Hollyhocks; I realize that I want to add some Roses for the Pink and Scarlet shade, it seems to need. The Lupine is upright, coming from the base of the length of silk. I then add mint and celery green for the stems and leaves. Sensing that the design needs something a little somber, I add giant Blue Bells in an icy Pale Blue.

James, taking a break from his phone calls, comes over to take a look."Absolutely STUNNING!"

 


"What color do you imagine the ground having?

"Butter Yellow, It will be for Suzy! She loves roses and that coral color; the Lupin is so beautiful!"

 

 

I must have had a perplexed look on my face, having no idea who "Suzy" was?

 

 

James, "What?"

"Who's Suzy?"

"Aileen Mehle, the gossip columnist from The New York Post! Ed, Josephine, come look at this; wouldn't it be perfect for Suzy? She absolutely loves that Mellon color. Butter yellow background - it's her favorite color."

Josephine, "I have a length of feathered marabou in a similar Mellon, wouldn't it be fabulous on a cocoon jacket for her!"

Ed, "That would be so fabulous, Josephine! Nick, I Love it, good job! You're so talented!"

Josephine," I can't believe how talented you are, Nickolas!"

James, "Yes, he is."

"Thanks!" I reply, not keen on James' choice of a "Butter" yellow for the background color. I prefer Pale Lemon. I think to myself. I'll mix up a pale yellow, a lemon, and butter-like yellow and show the different hues on the edge of the table for James to choose from.

James, considering the shades of yellow, "I love them all ... you choose."

 

 

"The other table is wonderful too. It's pretty. I just want to add some other colors and give it the feel of my hand ." He goes about mixing his colors in a blitz of excitement, drops flying everywhere.

 

 

"Nicky, please mix me the darkest hunter green possible."

After painting in the lemon yellow background, I stand back and inspect the progression, balance, color scheme, and general effect of the two pieces. I light up my cigarette, knowing I have earned my break. James joins me with a lit roach slightly blushing; he confides in me, "I had the most amazing sex last night with- (a with a very famous Russian Ballet Dancer) all in the back of a sex club."

 

 

I show no interest, considering his story inappropriate for our work environment; I excuse myself to pick up lunch.

After lunch, with both the tables dry, James tells me, "The Butter Yellow background is absolutely perfect. Lift it." James has me pin the large hanging frame with 55" silk satin charmeuse. It is an exquisite and luxurious 2ply silk; we discuss what I'll paint next. James asks If I can paint ballerinas.

"Sure," I say, I'll look at your book of Degas."

"Make them the size of a hand, or a little larger, and place them, Ying Yang, all over." We both agree instantly that I should use all pastels for the male and female ballerinas outfits." Indigo, or maybe better yet.. a black for the background."

 

 

I start drawing out the figures with his Chinese brush, then I fill in the poofy skirts with pink and yellow pastels, celery, and pale blue. I start to add shades of skin tones for their outstretched, arching, kicking, and jumping limbs and steady faces.

 

 

 Josephine comes over, she giggles uncontrollably, comments on her favorite poses, and jokes with James and me," Why don't you draw some squatting, or in more obscene, ridiculous poses? You can remove anything! If I were you, I'd take advantage of that - unbelievable talent!"

We all talk about how great they'll look when I give it a background of black. I feel so satisfied that I'm able to create something of so much value and beauty. I can't imagine any other job where I would have so much freedom and encouragement to do so.

Soon, the mixture of beeswax and paraffin is heated, I begin to apply it - a resist on top of the figurines. Once covered entirely twice, I give the first coat of indigo dye to the background, all the time laughing with Josephine, Ed, and James, about how silly and lovely the ballerinas are.

 

James, "Quilted winter coats."

At the front phone desk, I hear James announce to everyone he will call his favorite Vogue editor. As she answers, he puts her on speakerphone; he then proceeds to boast about his conquest from the last night. He soon has to take her off the speaker - as to the nature of her inquisitions?

 

 

I Try to work on in oblivion yet feeling very judgmental about the conversation going on next to me. The buzzer from the front door goes off. "Snake!" a close friend of James arrives. Snake turns out to be a hilarious queen named Kevin; he has us all in stitches for his entire visit; from his cunning and cutting comments, I realize how he got his nickname. Meanwhile, Mark, the new boyfriend, shows up. Everyone admires my work from the day, we break to chum around and take photos of each other.

 

 

After hanging up the drying frame of ballerinas, James has me pin down another table of silk, this time to paint stripes on. Snake jokes with him and myself about how much of a "slave driver" he is, we all agree.

 

Painting stripes with James is fun, intimate, less stressful than the previous ballerinas. James asks, "What do you think of Tommy Hilfiger's stripes?"

I reply, "I think yours are much more unique; we're using more exciting colors, better shades, more diversity of hue, value, and tone."

What is so fun about painting the stripes is that we work in unison, one of us at either side of the table, handing the brush to each other to finish where one of us can not reach. We choose our colors spontaneously, agreeing instantly on everything. We spend After five o'clock. I'm amazed by the vividness of the table of silk. "Amazing, Fabulous!" We all agree.

 

 



 

I prepare to head to the dry cleaners, James and Mark, to Chelsea Gym. I agreed to meet James and Mark that evening, at the loft, around 10 p.m. to go to the Boy Bar. It is Thursday night, and there are drag shows every Thursday," Everyone will be there! You really must see it!" James urges me.

That night I take a cab with James and Mark to Boy Bar, in St. Marks Place. Upon entering, I notice that Debbie Harry holds court at the front bar, surrounded by a considerable entourage. Next to her is Jean Paul Gaultier. We order our drinks while a whole cache of brazen, young, handsome men begin to surround my boss. Mark and I make a toast together about James Fabulousness.

When Ru Paul recites her "Chantele" skit on stage, everyone is in hysterics! I get home at 2:30. Before leaving, James tells me, "It is okay if you're a little late for work tomorrow."

The next morning at 9:30, I arrive for work to find Josephine quietly pinning patterns to painted silk. The rest of the loft is empty, except for all the artwork of the previous day's creation. It all does look fabulous, the Ballerinas, the unfinished Monet Florals, the vibrant stripes! I Look to see the list of appointments for the day and see that a client, Julia Meade, is scheduled for 11:00, and Michelle (James illustrator) is coming at 2:00. James had told me last night about how talented Michelle was for drawing fashion illustrations. I do a quick clean up and prepare the desks for the morning. The phone seems to be ringing, off the hook, and I take messages the best I can.

James enters around 10:00, with cups of coffee, animated with anticipation, for his visit with the movie star. He tells me how "wonderful" Julia is, and that "probably, she'll bring her daughter, who is also stunning, A Knock Out."

I continue to give further coats of indigo dye to the ballerina print until it is entirely jet black when dry. Then I address what needs changing of the Monet inspired floral. I add some warmer colors and extra flowers until I am pleased with it. I turn the hot plate on for the wax to heat up in preparation to sell it for introducing a background color.
I look forward to seeing how James' spontaneous brushwork will liven it up.

Julia and her daughter arrive promptly at 11:00 and are delighted to see all the new work in progress. Julia loves her ultra glamourous jade green gown that Josephine fits to her body, "Divine James...so perfect."

 

James is glowing all morning; we are all happy to see Edward arrive at noon, hands full, with a delicious lunch for everyone. I help arrange it onto plates, as Ed takes control of the crazy, constantly ringing phones.

After lunch, I tend to the packing and shipping needs of the day. Packages of new designs to Henri Bendel's, Ed insists he'll hand-deliver, and a box of "Ungaro" like draped, large flower print image dresses going to a boutique in Dallas.

After Julia and her daughter exit, Ed and I clean up from lunch. James asks me if I would try on dresses from the line so Michele will have a model to sketch from. I flatly refuse, knowing I had no shower from running late this morning.

When Michelle arrives, I am charmed by her low key, down to earth nature, I agree to drape new designs over my frame for her. She starts by laying out all her art supplies, wetting her watercolors, and reviewing the pile of W.W.D. Covers James has given her to reference new design ideas. James and Michelle work together as a team on their design ideas. Her knowledge of what was happening in the New York high fashion scene is as "insider" as it gets. She tells me, "I have just been sketching at Bill Blass's design studio. He is doing above the knee, puff skirts big time for fall." James has her sketch silhouettes of short Kimono tops, over short skirts, oversized "painter smocks" over Capri pants, and a series of Y.S.L. inspired "Smoking" suits. She fills her sketched silhouettes in with the colors and imagery of our new silk designs. I am amazed by her ease of skill, swiftness of hand, and talent for rendering the fashion croquis. James is enjoying getting into his creative process of designing. He lets his flamboyance and imagination come out. He is continually interrupted by the parade of handsome boys and young men dropping by to say hello this afternoon. A typical Friday afternoon at his loft, I realize.

After Michelle finishes and leaves James with ten to fifteen new croquis, James leaves with the most handsome of his boyfriends for the Chelsea Gym. I'm exhausted, l lay down to nap on the bed in the rear end of the loft. Before I fall asleep, I tell myself, "spend the weekend at home coming up with design ideas for James, Fall Line. Plan for both new prints and fashions, and put them down on paper in full color, to show James on Monday." While I nap, China snuggles up on top of me, only to dig her claws in when I try to get up.