The first time I met my Fabrice Simon was perusing the racks at Vermillion in Raleigh for their festive House of Landor Vintage popup to celebrate the launch party for the North Carolina Museum of Art's 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair. Exquisitely curated by Mary Beth Paulson, House of Landor founder, my Fabrice was hard to miss. Hand beaded with loud amorphous blobs reminiscent of Joan Miro and harsh lines and joyful color blocking like a Mondrian, I had never seen anything like it before!
I wasn't surprised when Mary Beth told me that Fabrice had two looks in the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit. This introduction had me intrigued but is just the beginning of how I got to know this incredible Haitian designer and Studio 54 darling that has tragically been over looked as a key player in the fashion industry.
If you want to wear something that everyone will be talking about, then Fabrice Simon is the designer you’ve been looking for! I paired the dress with neon orange Manolo Blahnik’s to offset the orange beads on the dress. Everyone was asking about Fabrice and sadly I didn’t know much about him. Who was this flamboyant designer that had almost an aggressive sense of color and embellishment?
After the runway show I caught up with Sarah Bischoff one of the finalists who studied at Paris Academy and worked backstage at the Paris couture shows for Elie Saab and Alexandre Vauthier. She explained that her Paris experience was a lot of hard work and full of inspiration. She was eager to get home and start putting her creativity into her own designs including this fiery ensemble that won a prize at the conclusion of the show, hosted by contributing Vogue and Mirabella editor Audrey Smaltz.
I also bumped into Evita Loca, who designed DJ Zensofly's custom faux fur jacket and striped dress. Evita is a local designer who creates custom performance ensembles as well as ready to wear pieces to local clients. Blogger @baleighnotbailey took some brilliant photographs at the event and was wearing custom @sofiaenriquez!
On the Lyft ride home I was still so curious about Fabrice. You can google Fabrice but you won't find much. Born in Haiti and educated at FIT, Fabrice Simon’s glorious gowns were picked up by Bergdorf Goodman.
After I posted a picture from the party on Instagram, I got a ping from one of my friends and fashion mentors, Patrick McDonald, who you know as The Dandy of New York (you can read his interview here). "I had that shirt!" He told me, regarding the beaded Mondrian men’s shirt that is now part of the NCMA’s exhibit. While not surprised because The Dandy of New York has had pieces of his wardrobe in various museums and was a favorite of Bill Cunningham, this was only the beginning of the story. Patrick explained “I knew Fabrice. I know Fabrice very well. We were great friends and I was with him until the end.”.
The next day I was driving home and I gave Patrick a call having to get the details as soon as possible! How did this all begin? How did they meet? Like the beginning of most magical stories it takes place in Manhattan during The Dandy of New York's glorious Studio 54 days but that's not where they bumped into each other.
It was at the legendary Saint Nightclub, a fully domed nightclub featuring industrial spiral staircases and free beer to circumvent local liquor laws as well as dj booth elevated over the crowd of dancers. Built in the former Filmore East building it was said that the new night club would have patrons dancing on the graves of the 60's rockstars that had performed there in the past. After a night of partying at Saint Fabrice asked Patrick if he wanted a job.
With his Haitian French accent and towering good looks, Fabrice resembelled a male version of Grace Jones, Patrick remembered. He was just such a nice guy and a joy to work with. After partying until 8 am in the morning they became fast friends and collaborators! Being active participants of New York City nightlife (including Studio 54) deeply inspired Fabrice's glamorous design aesthetic. His clothes were created with clubbing in mind and to be conversation starters, something I personally experienced as soon as I had zipped on his dress!
One of his favorite memories was going with Fabrice to the Grammy Awards when he dressed Natalie Cole. The after party was amazing. Madonna was there and it was a different time. You just went around talking to anyone you wanted to see without any barriers. It was a very different time, Patrick admitted. He was wearing the Fabrice Mondrian shirt that evening. Apparently Luther Vandross loved the shirt so much he wanted to trade outfits! Patrick refused because the shirt was too amazing.
Fabrice Simon became wildly successful. He dressed Whitney Houston, Madonna, Jerry Hall, Christie Brinkley, Beverly Johnson and Iman as well as creating custom menswear tuxedos for performers like Peter Allen.
One summer in Fire Island, Fabrice drew a fleur de lis on Patrick's forearm and drew another design on his own arm. They proceeded to get the drawings permanently tattooed to commemorate all the fun they had that summer! For someone as fancy as I know Patrick to be I was surprised to learn that he has a tattoo! At the same time I know that Patrick is an extremely kind and loyal person so I can see why he went through with it! Fabrice designed the greatest Halloween costumes for Patrick who sometimes dressed in drag for the holiday with friends.
Fabrice Simon's story is incomplete at best. He died well before his time at the age of 47 from Aids. When Fabrice was very sick there were some people from his former life that were too scared or ignorant to continue their relationships with him. Patrick stayed with him until the very end. He is also the reason why The New York Times consulted Patrick on his obituary, which included a large photo and took up a full page.
When I put the Fabrice dress on it felt heavy because of it's traditionally Haitian employed bugle beads and shoulder pads that made me and all of the women he dressed feel tall and powerful. The history of the dress also carries its own weight, that of an artist that died too young and has been overlooked by fashion historians (Fabrice's work was inexplicably excluded from one of FIT's exhibit on Black Fashion designers last spring).
When I see the Fabrice Simon dress I'm reminded of the importance of making memories with good friends. Dressing up has been the start to some of the best friendships as evidenced by Fabrice and Patrick. If you haven't seen the exhibit already, get some of your friends together and go check out the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit! Stop by House of Landor downtown to go shopping for some one of a kind vintage pieces! Make sure to take lots of pictures, hand drawn best friend tattoos optional!