An Insider's Look At The Nightlife of Nineties Supermodels
It’s been more than twenty years since the ’90s began, but they’ve seemingly never gone away. Just when it seems that nostalgia for the time period has hit an all-time high, something new (yet old) and fascinating comes along. We can still watch My So-Called Life and read Sassy and blast TLC, and who among us hasn’t taken some inane Buzzfeed quiz involving personality types and ’90s trivia?
In the fashion world, there is so much love and admiration for the style of the decade that it borders on fetishization. ’90s style was bold and bright and exciting, incorporating everything from Seattle grunge (as infamously seen in Marc Jacobs’ Spring/Summer 1993 collection for Perry Ellis), to Aaliyah’s still-massively influential athletic gear, to the candy-colored fantasies of stars like Lady Miss Kier. We’re partial to the latter, which is why a new book by British photographer Nick Waplington, based around both New York clubs and the fitting room of the legendary fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, has us so excited.
Released in accordance with Mizrahi’s retrospective at the Jewish Museum, The Isaac Mizrahi Pictures: New York City 1989-1993, is an inside look at the designer’s studio and shows, featuring glamorous cameos from Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Veronica Webb, André Leon Talley, and more. Waplington paired fashion images with pictures from wild clubs, creating, as he said, “a work which describes the vibrancy of a vanished moment in New York’s cultural history.”
Waplington, who was discovered as a student by Richard Avedon, creates work of all sorts, from a current show at the Brooklyn Museum focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to an upcoming painting exhibition in Los Angeles. We spoke to him as he drove around LA, talking about life in ’90s New York, supermodels, and the time he met a goat at the club.
Richard Avedon introduced you to Isaac. Do you remember what your initial impression was?
Well initially I was intrigued. I had no knowledge of fashion or the fashion industry at all, so for me it was all completely new. And I’m kind of interested in any things in life and all things in life. So it was something new, it was interesting. It’s always interesting if you take photographs—it kind of gains you access into someone else’s world.
Yeah, that’s a great way of being exposed to it. The club photos are amazing. Could you tell me a little bit about what the scene was like back then?
I was really into techno music. There were kind of two things, and they did merge. One thing was the kind of club kid scene which was going on in New York at the time, with the various different clubs like the Limelight and Save the Robots, and Sound Factory and all those kinds of people. And I knew quite a lot of those folks, and I used to go to clubs, cause I really liked the music.
And then, you got the kind of crossover with the gay world as well, and at some of the clubs, you would get the club kids, like Michael Alig. And kinda young, clubbing people like me would go to the gay clubs. The Sound Factory on Sunday morning was a big party for everyone. It was a very joyous atmosphere in there. I’m very fortunate that I got to take photographs in there, because they didn’t want photographs in there, you know? It was very difficult to get permission to do it.
I’m very glad you got to do it too. Could you tell me a bit about what your lifestyle was like?
I mean, the Sound Factory was only open on Sundays during the day. It only opened one day a week, and it would kind of get going at around six or seven o’clock on a Sunday morning. So I would go to bed early on Saturday night, get up at around 5:30 or six AM, have a shower and take a cab over there. So, that was kind of my routine. Now, the clubs during the week, like Save the Robots was on a Thursday night, then I’d go to that. You know, I was the kind of person who would have a couple of beers, but you know, you’re turning 21, 22 years old, you can certainly be up until four or five o’clock in the morning, having a couple of beers and work in the day. It doesn’t really make any difference.
“Everything is more controlled nowadays. We’re living in a much more sanitized world.”
True. You’re currently in LA. Have you been to New York lately? What do you think of New York today?
Well, I was in New York. I have a show at the Brooklyn Museum, and I was there for the opening. I’m just living here temporarily for work at the moment. I’m coming back to New York, I live on the Upper West Side normally.
It’s sanitized, it’s cleaned up–I wouldn’t say I dislike it. At this age, it’s actually quite nice. But I wouldn’t like to be 21 and being priced out of Bushwick, trying to figure out where to move to next. 25, 30 years ago, I could live very comfortably for very little money.
Things are not what they used to be. Everything is more controlled nowadays. We’re living in a much more sanitized world. I think about things we used to get away with…Who knows, maybe kids do get away with them now? I don’t know, I’m not that young, I’m not going out that much anymore.
There are so many photos of Linda and Christy and Naomi. Do you have any good supermodel stories that you would be willing to share?
I’m the same age as the models. In the pictures, we were in our early 20s. They were interested in my work. A lot of them came to my Living Room show at Aperture, and they bought the book, and I signed the books for them. Sometimes I would go out with them, if Isaac was having an event or something we’d go to a bar together afterward. I can remember a long night of drinking with Michael Hutchence [of INXS] once when he was dating Helena Christensen.
I remember when Spike Lee was dating Veronica Webb. He would phone up the fitting room on Isaac’s phone, and Veronica would put it on speakerphone. She would tell everyone to be quiet, and then have these intimate conversations with him that everyone could hear.
I wanted to ask about one photo I absolutely loved. There was a goat! There was a goat at the club. Do you happen to remember why the goat was at the club?
Yeah there was a woman, Susanne Bartsch, and that was a party she put on, at one of the Chelsea Piers in the summer. It was outside, and they had animal petting with transvestites. There was like live sex and stuff, and animal petting. There’s a picture of people having sex on a poll.
Amazing. So, people of my generation are so obsessed with the ’90s. There’s so much nostalgia on the internet. Why do you think that is?
Well the ’90s were a fun time. You’ve got to remember The Cold War [had] just ended in 1989, 1990 and the War on Terror was yet to start, so there was this sort of optimistic feeling that the world was going to be a better place. Nuclear weapons were going to be history, people were going to come together and build a better planet. And [it] was also a time when music was still everything to young people. Now, kids have computer games.
All photography by Nick Waplington from The Isaac Mizrahi Pictures: New York City 1989-1993. All images courtesy of Damiani.
See more of Waplington’s photography and sculpture work in This Place, running through June 5th at the Brooklyn Museum, and his drawings and paintings in A Display of Panic at a Moment of Absolute Certainty, opening on April 2nd at THESE DAYS gallery in Los Angeles.
Don’t forget to check out Isaac Mizrahi: An Unruly History, a retrospective at the Jewish Museum in New York, running through August 7th.
Stay tuned to Milk for more noteworthy ’90s nostalgia.