If you haven’t heard of Michael Schmidt, it’s because he’s a kind of secret celebrity—and secret weapon—among the entertainers, fashion designers, stylists and costumers who’ve tapped his talents for one-off statement pieces to boost their singular superstar status. And these artworks in metal and crystal end up worthy enough to be on permanent display at, say, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.
Lady Gaga wore little else than his oversized plexi bubbles on a recent Rolling Stone cover. For Madonna’s current world tour, he set fire to metal to craft a bustier with a fish scale texture along with many other accessories. The 2008-09 touring season has, in fact, been especially demanding on Michael and his studio with commissions for Cher, Janet Jackson, Steven Tyler and Dolly Parton.
And that doesn’t even include the bags, jewelry, clothing and furniture he designs and hand makes exclusively for the haute metal cult house Chrome Hearts. Or the many editorial projects.
Personally, two of my fave Michael Schmidt works include the Braille-like installation at the Palladium in NYC of Iggy Pop's lyrics to "Nightclubbing" spelled out in silver studs on the black leather floors. In terms of fashion, the floor-length gown fringed in 3,500 razor blades for Deborah Harry of Blondie, and featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute in New York City.
After a long-time mutual admiration, Michael and Dita Von Teese finally stopped talking and teamed up on creating a costume for her new spectacular in Hollywood, debuting tonight at The Avalon. It’s Dita’s first public show in her hometown in two years, and Michael was only able to catch a rehearsal last week before jetting off to Vieques.
But we kept our chat brief, not because the surf beckoned, but because, really, when it comes to Dita, it’s all about the big reveal.
LVER: How do you and Dita know one another, and is this the first time your are collaborating?
Michael Schmidt: Dita and I have known each other socially for several years. But we've never worked together until now. We first met years ago as I was friendly with her ex-husband [Marilyn Manson]. I had seen her perform a number of times and was, of course, completely entranced by her. So when she asked me to collaborate on this number I was thrilled. It's rare to have the opportunity to work with an artist with such a trained and sophisticated eye for detail.
LVER: Without exposing too many details before the show, what can you tell us about the costume? How involved was the project?
MS: The pieces we did together are for her new "Opium Den" number, easily the most elaborate one she's ever done. I created an ornate beaded and crystal headdress, panties, bra and pasties, opium pipes and an enormous crystallized fan. The fan alone took my assistant and I a month to crystal. This was the most extensive project with crystals I've ever done. All Swarovski, of course!
LVER: How was this commission different from your previous with other entertainers?
MS: Dita embodies, to use an overly used bit of phrasing, a certain feminine mystique: She's unapologetic in her pursuit of perfection in her art. She's glamorous and terrifically stylish. But it's in a uniquely elegant and disciplined sort of way. She's secretly a bit raucous and hilariously bawdy but never vulgar or unkind. She's quite simply the very best at her craft anywhere in the world.
LVER: Any last words?
MS: Just one additional thought, Catherine D'Lish also did fabulous wardrobing on the "Opium Den" number. She did the first half, and I did the finale. Hate for anyone to think I was taking credit for her incredible work!
LVER: Always a gentleman, Michael.
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