Industry Insiders: Roman Milisic & MJ Diehl, Style Warriors

They are not your average married couple. The dynamic and outspoken duo that call themselves House of Diehl has a daughter, a party-filled life in New York City, and an avant-garde fashion company. Roman and Mary Jo have redefined the American dream and cultivated their own cutting-edge vision of what life and fashion mean. To them, life is fashion, especially when it’s deconstructed and made into something revolutionary. Roman and MJ have taken their high-energy, one-of-a-kind show, Style Wars, on the road, dazzling fashionistas, style mavens, celebs and plain old party people across four continents. Style Wars kicks off with a whole new season of Scotch Tape binding, safety pin fastening, and jewel bedazzling this November. After watching the duo give a lecture on “how to cheapen your couture” at an event they call Glambulance at 92YTribeca in downtown Manhattan, they sat down with me for a vibrantly colorful chat.

Tell us about Glambulance. Roman Milisic: The Glambulance is about taking thrift-store clothes and turning them into high fashion. Some of the stuff we see on the road during Style Wars because people are doing this around the world in their bedrooms and basements. MJ Diehl: Some people think to shop at thrifts is a problem. No, it’s power.

What is Style Wars? RM: Style Wars is style battle championship tour. It’s a fashion competition. MJ: It’s a live competition. Designers go head-to-head MC-style to create amazing, off-the-hook high fashion in what used to be five minutes, but now it’s four.

How did you guys conceive of the idea for the show? RM: Mary came up with the new process for creating fashion that was called “Instant Couture.” Instant Couture was born out of the deconstructionist idea that there is more than one way to make fashion. This is to make it live and make it reflective of the time and the place where you’re at. And you can pull people up onstage and take off their hat, pull it upside down or inside out and make it something brand new and cool. Style Wars was us saying, “We’ve done this and we’ve done it well. Let’s throw down the gauntlet and see who else can do this.” MJ: Everything has been done, overdone. You want to see another little black dress? Fuck it! The only thing you can do that’s interesting is how we create art, how we create fashion and what the materials we reuse are.

Where are you taking Style Wars this season? RM: We’re starting in Miami on November 4 at LIV at the Fontainebleau. Then on November 7, we’ll be at Don Hill’s in New York. On November 13, you can find us at Opera in Atlanta. On November 18 we’re at Cinespace in Los Angeles followed by Mezzanine in San Francisco on November 21.

What does the winner receive? MJ: Each battle has a different prize. Typically their prizes are better than what we get paid to do the event. We always feel like we should be competing. RM: For the last show we did in London, the winner got a Vespa. We barely broke even. Also, Surface magazine is offering a spread to the winner.

Who have you designed/styled for? MJ: While we’re known for Instant Couture, we rose to fame quickly because of our couture collections that were nominated for awards and won for the Triumph International Fashion award. Our designs have been pulled by Madonna and Gwen Stefani. RM: We’ve done editorials with David LaChapelle. MJ: I think the main thing is, you can’t do fast fashion without doing real hard, long-form couture. We’d already quickly created a reputation for that that was very well respected, but the problem was that it’s expensive to produce your work and get it out there. A lot of my motivation as a designer, even an award-winning one, was create opportunity for great talent and get it out there.

What else does House of Diehl do? MJ: Besides Style Wars, we do buy-order couture, ready-to-wear, and also special events. RM: I’d say that we do events and we do fashion. Let’s not spread ourselves any thinner than that. MJ: We could. You can never be too thin, right?

Who are your favorite designers? MJ: Other than ourselves? Alexander McQueen. There are only a few people out there that do anything worth looking at or worth reproducing. RM:You know I’m always disappointed by? Martin Margiela. He plays the part of “I’m a deconstructionist,” but we throw away every idea he has. MJ: It’s this bullshit game that conceptual, intelligent fashion has to be ugly fashion.

How did you two meet, fall in love, get married, and start a company together? RM: We used to go to events first and foremost. If there was an open bar anywhere in New York City, we fucking knew about it. I was working with David LaChapelle as his editor, and Mary was one of his muses. I was talking to Mary at one of his parties. MJ: We would be at the same events, same parties. RM: Mary thought there was something more to be got from a group of people coming together, and that was the notion of “let’s create something meaningful from a community.” That’s where the community of couture events came about. MJ: I think a lot of House of Diehl is about loving fashion but being bored to shit with culture.

How is being married and working together? RM: It’s interesting. MJ: Working for yourself means you can never quit. You can’t really tell yourself to fuck off. The same thing goes with your partner or your better half. RM: We are our own posse. MJ: The fact that we’re always doing the same things at the same time allows our relationship to continue. RM: Sometimes I wonder how couples can actually do it the other way.

What are your go-to places in New York? RM: We always go back to Don Hill’s because it’s so down-and-dirty. It’s a gritty place where you are just going to have a lot of fun. MJ: Dirty, filthy. I don’t like pretension. I do like the old, classic Balthazar. We got secretly married there. Oh and of course, Blue Ribbon Sushi.