Richmond's stunning decade creams Gucci's 85th

Richmond's stunning decade creams Gucci's 85th, by Patty Huntington - 4th October 2006
(Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

Patty Huntington reports from Milan's fashion week.

Now don't get me wrong. It's not that the Gucci party wasn't nice. It was very nice. A series of elegant, ivy and bay leaf-lined black/transparent marquees had been erected on some vacant block or park in Milan's Via Melegari last Wednesday night to create a mini Gucci world. The R&B artist John Legend performed. The service was impeccable. People "got down" nicely – but not naughtily.

The music was nice – but not good, although it was definitely better than the music at Armani's One Night Only bash on the previous Thursday in London, after Beyonce, Bryan Ferry and 50 Cent left the stage. Some flicked through the nice new tome that has been produced to mark the company's 85th birthday – a book which, in spite of its distinctive post-1996 advertising imagery, seemed somewhat bereft of Tom Ford. That seemed strange given that Ford was the creative who put the brand back on the map after it had ventured off-road. Perhaps what the Gucci party really needed was Ford.

The following night's John Richmond party, by contrast, wasn't nice at all. It was packed. It was sweaty. It was rude, It was loud.

Not to put too fine a point on it, it rocked.

But let me just backtrack a little. I had been invited to the party by Adil, a London-based DJ who I had originally met on the previous Friday at the afterparty for Boy George's B-Rude label at London's Met Bar.

The Met Bar is located inside the swank Metropolitan Hotel, which is owned by the chic, and terribly cashed-up, Singaporean Christina Ong. Adil is the Met Bar's music director, who books the venue's music talent. He was also going to be DJ-ing at Richmond's show and after-party.

After chatting, it emerged that Adil already knew one Australian, funnily enough, Sydney jeweller Sarina Suriano.

Adil had also been able to partially placate me after I had been led by another Met Bar acquaintance – a London editor for Tatler Asia, Michelle Roberts – into the Boy George "sweet factory" that was tucked inside the hotel's lobby shop.

Apparently a Boy George party signature, the sweet factory was essentially one entire shop wall that had been converted into a lolly showcase: shelf upon shelf containing baskets of jelly babies, marshmallows and other confections.

After scoffing a half dozen cola jelly babies, I was suddenly gripped by a terrible realisation. What if Boy George had slipped some acid into the sweets as a special party favour for guests?

Having been the victim of a similar spiking at the Melbourne Cup marquee of a far bigger brand than B-Rude, I wasn't keen for a repeat performance – not with a plane to Milan to catch in the early AM at any rate.

Adil assured me that Mrs Ong would never be a party to anything like that inside her hotel.

I canvassed a second opinion via SMS with someone who isn't on Ong's payroll – but who knows a party favour when he sees one.

"Very unlikely unless it's a private party for a select few," came the immediate response. I calmed down.

Adil helped moreover ID something that had been bugging me for the past fortnight, ever since I first heard it at seemingly every second show in New York and then again in London. It seemed to be, at one point, the theme tune of the SS07 season. But noone had been able to tell me exactly what it was. Not Adil. Not even Matthew Stone – one of London's hottest DJs – who I had met at a party on the Monday night and to whom I found myself, somewhat awkwardly, whistling and singing the song. But to no avail.

As I was coming up the stairs from the Met Bar bathroom however, I heard whistling. It was THE song. I rushed out, grabbed Adil and demanded he grill the DJ as to its origins. As it emerged, the song is called Young Folks, from Swedish outfit Peter, Bjorn and John.

So, there I was, almost one week later in Milan, standing outside the Rotunda della Besana, a 17th century former church and cemetery. I had already been inside the venue that afternoon for the John Richmond show and the afterparty was in the same place. Richmond was of course part of London's 1980s new generation fashion boom and one half of a stellar hybrid label called Richmond Cornejo. I still have a black Lycra, cyclist-inspired Richmond Cornejo microdress. For some reason I've never been able to throw it out. Cornejo took off to New York where she runs a label called Zero Maria Cornejo. Ten years ago Richmond hooked up with Italian manufacturer and distributor Saverio Moschillo, hence the decade birthday bash.

Some six hours after the fashion show, the gates were shut and a large number of people had gathered outside waiting to get in. At one point it seemed there were several hundred people standing there. And they were becoming increasingly agitated. Understandably, they were pissed off that they had been invited to arrive at a party at 11.30pm only to find themselves still locked outside one hour later. At one point some people near the gate started shouting loudly and it threatened to turn ugly.

I should note that these were not fashion people. They might have been going to a fashion party but unlike the internationals who had been populating the Milan shows all week – there were no black platforms, opaque black tights or early adopter sack dresses. There didn't even appear to be any skinny jeans. Instead "good" jeans, "good" shirts, "good" suits and some fairly non-descript women's clothing. If this was a snapshot of Milanese youth, it struck me how terribly conservative it was. Some wonder why there's no revolution on Milan's runways.

Breaking through the sartorial monotony however came a troika of – non Italian – supermodels. The Lilies Cole and Donaldson and Irina Lazareanu. Cole was channelling Lady Macbeth in a loose, full-length, strapless black dress and both she and Lazareanu were sporting black headbands – but not Prada-style Alice bands, rather in the er, Jimmy Hendrix vein. I had to assume the supes were there to see Stunners International. But more on the Stunners later.

I contemplated leaving. After spending three weeks in three cities hanging around for shows, it was the last thing I felt like doing. Then the gates suddenly opened, the crowd surged forward, I found myself at the gate and eventually, inside the venue.

Yet more people were inside on the lawns. I later heard that some 2000 invitations had been sent out. The Richmond/Moschilla camp must have spent a motza on the party, which included a dinner for 300 after the show.

I ventured inside the main room. You could hardly move there were so many people. It was unbelievably loud. Under the central cupola structure a swagged canopy of lights had been suspended over a central black stage.

At this point I should just briefly backtrack again, to something that happened in the middle of the dancefloor at the One Night Only do in London exactly one week beforehand. Just as I was blogging, I received an SMS from a Sydney publicist who I have never met:

"I like yr burlesque dita coverage. Bq fever has hit Sydney".

Dita Von Teese in action

I was blogging and trying to concentrate. Von Teese is the world's most famous burlesque artiste – and the wife of Marilyn Manson – and I had profiled her on two recent occasions. "Que?" was all I could think to text back, before asking for the publicist's email address.

Funnily enough, one week to the day after that cryptic SMS, guess who turned out to be Richmond's VIP entertainment? Dita Von Teese.

By far the most amusing aspect of Von Teese's energetic "Girl in a glass" performance however, was not Von Teese but rather, the looks on the faces of Cole, Donaldson and Lazareanu as they watched gobsmacked. They were directly facing me on the other side of the dancefloor and as Von Teese performed, they stared wide-eyed at the spectacle, with the kind of embarrassed smiles that you see at hen's nights. It was as if they had never seen a near-naked woman in a G-string before. This struck me as odd given the volume of same with which the backstage area of any fashion show is usually littered.

I followed Adil to the DJ's booth which was located at the back wall of the main room. Elevated to about three metres via four very steep stairs – which were difficult to negotiate in a pencil skirt and espadrille wedges let me tell you – the booth resembled a three-storey eagle's nest overlooking the entire room and dancefloor.

We arrived in the booth to discover Stunners International in action. Yes that's actually their name. A London-based collective of professional – male – models who DJ and nightclub-promote on the side, apparently there are five Stunners all up. Only two had been booked that night: the tall blond, androgynous – and seemingly very sensitive – Christoffer Fagerli (whose campaign credits include Dior Homme) and the equally tall, brunette, hyperactive exhibitionist Wade Crescent. They are both, apparently, Swedish. They were wearing a "uniform" of matching skinny tuxedo trousers, braces and no shirts. And they looked like they were having fun, hooting it up as they spun the decks. Considering that modelling is about the only profession in the world where women outearn men, I say good luck to them.

At one point Cole entered the booth and for a moment I thought she was about to make some Von Teese moves on Crescent. No such luck – they just enjoyed a bit of brief fullbody frottage, like two stick insects brittily greeting each other. Cole and her model mates then disappeared, presumably to get some beauty sleep in before the Friday shows.

The night kicked on. Richmond popped in and out of the booth with a microphone in hand. Next thing he was down on the stage asking people to clear the area. At one point he reverted to his punk adolescence and pushed someone straight off the stage.

Dita Von Teese emerged to commence another striptease. As she began however, something distracted me: Stunners International started taking off their own clothes directly in front of me.

They were changing out of their uniforms and into their regular jeans and T-shirts. The Stunners had clocked off. But they didn't go downstairs and join the party. Instead they hung around the DJ booth. As became increasingly obvious to all concerned, that was where the real party was that night.

Adil played Young Folks – apparently now his fave new track. We all got down. It was getting funkier and hotter by the minute. I wondered precisely how I was going to file a news story at 7am the following morning.

At this point a black man with dreadlocks and a small entourage arrived in the booth. Someone handed Adil a CD and the black dude, a microphone. I was told his name was Julio. I'd never heard of him and figured, he was some crap Italian rapper. Although Richmond must have invited him to the party apparently it was news to Adil that anyone would be performing like that.

The black dude sang to a couple of tracks from the steps of the DJ booth. Then a terribly familiar track came on, the room went off and I suddenly came to my senses.

It wasn't Julio, it was Coolio.

And he was mouthing off to Gangsta's Paradise in Milan.

"Mate, you're definitely in a gangster's paradise," I felt like telling him.

A cameraman who had been following Richmond around for most of the evening came up into the booth and started filming Coolio, filming Richmond and filming both of them singing to the crowd.

Julio quit singing and yes, you guessed it, stayed put in the DJ booth. The booth's population now consisted of a delinquent-turned-rap star, two models-turned-DJs, a DJ-turned DJ-wrangler, a journalist-turned-blogger, Richmond, the cameraman and a few sundry hangers on.

A diminutive woman in a nude-coloured satin bustier and unattractive black bootleg flares climbed into the booth and started boogying with Coolio, thrusting her ample – and quite unsolicited – bottom against him right in front of me.

Coolio copped a quick feel of the merchandise.

I said to Coolio, [pointing to an attractive black woman in a long dress sitting on the upper stairs] "Isn't that your woman over there?"

He shrugged his shoulders and replied, "I don't want it – I just like to know that it's there."

But I couldn't help Coolio with his booty predicament because I was about to have my own proposition to deal with.

Crescent suddenly started furiously gesticulating towards me, then back to himself and Fagerli. He did it a few times and mouthed a few words. I was pretty sure I had gotten the gist of it but just for the purposes of clarity I asked him to confirm, and from memory no less than two times.

The proposal was exactly what I had suspected: a Stunners International menage a trois.

My head reeled back in laughter.

"That's a little bit too Gonzo," I replied.

In politely declining of course, I'll never know whether Fagerli had any inkling that he was being included in Crescent's deal. Or whether in fact, "Would you like to bonk two musically-endowed male Swedish supermodels?" was merely a rhetorical question in no need of a sensible answer.

The music bopped on. The temperature rose. The DJ booth continued to go off. I looked at Adil and he looked at me. We both seemed to be thinking, "What the hell is going on?"

At that point, I discovered the long-haired cameraman who had been filming Richmond all night, madly dancing on the booth's middle podium, to my immediate left. Still with camera in hand, he turned it around so that the lens faced his head and started filming himself head-banging to the music, with hair swooshing up and down.

"Yes, this is definitely Spinal Tap," I thought to myself.

Then suddenly the lights came up. The music stopped. The magic evaporated. It wasn't Last Drinks, but Outta There pronto folks. The Stunners, Adil and I walked outside into a melee of taxis and removal trucks that were dismantling the venue and went our separate ways in the cool, autumn Milanese morning.

I'll never look at that Richmond Cornejo microdress in the same light again.


The Burlesque Ball