ON A RECENT AFTERNOON I MET WITH MY PAL KEANAN DUFFTY IN HIS SOHO STUDIO TO CHAT ABOUT CLUB DAYS GONE BY, FASHION AND THE THINGS THAT INSPIREHIM. KEANAN WAS BORN IN YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND IN THE SWINGING '60S. HISINTERESTS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN FASHION AND MUSIC. AT THE RIPE OLD AGE OF 14HE FORMED A SCHOOLBOY PUNK BAND NAMED SORDID DETAILS AND ACQUIRED HISFIRST PAIR OF BONDAGE TROUSERS. AFTER A FEW GIGS, THE GROUP SPLIT UP,BUT HE KEPT THE BONDAGE TROUSERS! HE WENT ON TO FORM ANOTHER GROUP, ANELECTRO COMBO CALLED WONDER STORIES. IT WAS A NEW ROMANTIC BAND. IN THEEARLY '80S, KEANAN WENT OFF TO STUDY FASHION AT ST. MARTIN'S SCHOOL OFART IN LONDON, THE ALMA MATER OF SUCH LUMINARIES AS MALCOLM MCLAREN,ALEXANDER MCQUEEN AND JOHN GALLIANO. KEANAN WAS INFLUENCED BY THE FACTTHAT THE SEX PISTOLS PLAYED THEIR FIRST GIG THERE. HE GRADUATED WITHHONORS -- I WOULDN'T EXPECT ANYTHING LESS FROM HIM. AFTER GRADUATION, HECONTINUED HIS FASHION AND MUSIC PURSUITS BEFORE COMING TO THE U.S. THE KEANAN DUFFY MEN'S COLLECTION WAS LAUNCHED UNDER THE SLINKY VAGABONDLABEL - A MONIKER THAT COMES FROM A LYRIC IN DAVID BOWIE'S SONG "YOUNGAMERICANS." LET'S HEAR WHAT THIS FASHION REBEL HAS TO SAY:
PAPERMAG: Let's start by having you tell us about your fashionphilosophy.
KEANAN DUFFTY: It all boils down to subversion in the sneakiest sort of way. I grewup being influenced by things that I didn't really recognize as fashion.The subversive sort of things -- I'm always trying to sneak a bit ofthat into what I do. I call it "sneaky fashion!" I've always tried tosubvert the neighbors.
PM: Were you always interested in fashion? What were some of your styleinfluences?
KD: When I was a kid, I loved to watch music on television. The firstmusic that really excited me was glam rock. I didn't realize then thatall the bands were wearing clothes by fabulous designers. Like, RoxyMusic was wearing Anthony Price and Queen was wearing Bill Gibb, but Ijust knew the bands and thought they were wearing their own clothes. Ithought Kanzai Yamamoto was knitting his one-legged jumpsuit at home! Itwasn't until years later, when the punk thing was happening, that I knewMalcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood were dressing the Sex Pistols. Irealized that the bands were being influenced by fashion designers interms of what they were wearing. So that was when I realized there wasthis big link between music and fashion.
PM: Did you emulate these band's outfits yourself?
KD: Oh yeah. I used to draw with glue on clothes and then sprinkleglitter all over. Of course it would all fall off! But I used to wear mymom's platform boots.
PM: Were the boots Terry de Havilland?
KD: Oh, no. I'm sure they were knock-offs. My mum had no idea -- shejust loved them... the crochet tops and all that.
PM: Did she ever go to her closet and find her boots missing and think,"Oh, Keanan is wearing my boots again..."
KD: Oh yeah. My dad was from a family of eight brothers who were allcoal miners, but [he] just let me do whatever I liked.
PM: They never called you the coal miner's daughter, did they?
KD: I'm sure they did! [Laughter]. In retrospect, they werereally easy going about letting me do what I did. They wouldn't walkdown the street with me -- but they were very easygoing.
PM: But your friends dressed like you, didn't they?
KD: No, I was actually the oddball.
PM: How did you get into the whole New Romantic period?
KD: During the glam thing I was making a few bits and pieces here andthere. But when the punk thing happened, I was about thirteen, Irealized you could go out and buy some of these things. You know, PVCtops and pants. It was part of that crossover between glam and punk. Ireally loved it. I'm still very influenced by that whole period.
PM: Did you get into the club scene?
KD: Fortunately, our town was only an hour by high-speed train fromLondon. You couldn't get back at night, so we had to sleep overnight inKing's Cross station in our full makeup and Cossack coats. When wearrived in London before heading out to the clubs, we'd go into thestation's toilets and change into our Little Lord Fauntleroy outfits andgo out to clubs like Blitz and Hell. It was like heaven -- we lovedit!
PM: So Hell was like heaven?
KD: Definitely. The clubs all closed at 2 a.m., so we'd have to go sitin a cafe with our one cup of tea, waiting to head back to sleep in thestation.
PM: Wasn't it dangerous?
KD: Oh, no. It was filled with prostitutes and hustlers. They left usalone. It's interesting that the people in provincial towns took to punkand glam much more than people in London did. Because, you know, peoplein London had to be very, very cool, and this was all so new. Whereas inprovincial towns we were all really going for it. We would all get on aminibus and go see all our favorite bands.
PM: Freaks on the bus!
KD: Exactly. It was a great time.
PM: What happened from there?
KD: I desperately wanted to leave my hometown, so I applied to collegein London. I went to St. Martin's to study fashion. I was on a crashcourse in this world, all the other kids really knew their stuff - [theywere] very sophisticated.
PM: So, were you a serious student? Or were you out on the town andenjoying your freedom in the big city?
KD: I worked really hard, but I also went out all the time. St. Martin'sis in the middle of London so it was easy. It was a great place tobe.
PM: After you graduated college, you decided to come to New York? Whatled to that?
KD: I started my own line in London called Keanan Duffy. The firstcollection was all based on Arnold Schwarzenegger. It was towelingfabric stitched with muscles with "Macho" written on the back. It wasall very ironic because the people wearing this were wearing full makeupand platform shoes. The great thing about doing that was that one of thegirls on the cover of Roxy Music's album Country Lifewas wearingmy designs. The business part of it was a disaster of course, but theexperience was invaluable. I got a lot of press in places like TheFace and i-D.
PM: When did you move to New York?
KD: Well, in 1989, my friend Liam had moved here and I came to visit. Ifell in love with the city then and it took me four more years to movehere. In '93 when I moved here, I lived in the East Village, which Iloved. It was very lucky, because the location suited me so well. Istarted by working in the corporate side of the business. It was hard, Ididn't like the politics, but it was very educational. I hated having toexplain a creative idea.
PM: Tell me about Slinky Vagabond.
KD: I was doing some music stuff and working at a British-themed storecalled Nylon Squid. I was really inspired to be doing my own designsagain. That led to my designs being bought by the store I had worked in.The label was called Slinky Vagabond at that time. It was small. I onlysold to about 12 stores.
PM: Is this around the time you won the Rising Star award?
KD: No, that happened in 2002. That's the only award I've ever won foranything!
PM: I know there'll be many more to come! So now you're here in Sohodoing your designs.
KD: I'm trying to do what I love to do but keep things grounded.
PM: What keeps you grounded?
KD: That would definitely be my wife, Nancy. We met 10 years ago. She put up with me being so difficult, and I finally saw the light andrealized I'm the luckiest person in the world to have her. I definitelywouldn't be able to do what I do without her. She's so supportive andshe's my partner in the business.
PM: So what's on the horizon for you?
KD: We've already done things with Doc Marten and Reebok. We're working on a fragrance with Aveda that should launch in September.
PM: You've also worked with Kid Robot.
KD: I really love working with people who are like-minded.
PM: What about your goals, your dreams?
KD: I'd like to be a household name doing what I love to do so that Ican reach out to people no matter where they come from. Whatever onedoes in life, I really feel like if you follow your dream, you can getthere.
PM: As the great Steven Tyler from Aerosmith once sang: "Dream on, dream on, dream until your dreams come true!" Thank you, Keanan.