Armen Ra On His Shocking Documentary, Favorite Nightlife Stories, & Theremin

In this holiday-shortened week, with the spring pushing and pushing and pushing its way to free us from this winter of discontent, I am writing about the unusual suspects who toil or play in the clubs as they define their crafts. Yesterday it was FLXX. Today it’s Armen Ra, the master of the theremin. The theremin is a rare, eerie-sounding musical instrument, with its foremost astonishing trait explained by Armen in our interview below. Right now, Aremn is raising loot on Indiegogo for a theremin-infused feature documentary about his life: one of growing up in Iranian aristocracy and, after going on vacation in the United States, being forced to stay there due to the Iranian Revolution. A man from wealth and in exile, his story takes flight when he discovers the magic of the theremin and its effect on people. The fundraiser has six days left, and $4,000 to go to get the feature released.

Armen Ra is a well-known face and figure in the posh NY nightclub scene. His story is of ups and downs and all-arounds. It will shock and awe you. I asked him to tell me all about it
It’s been a long road. You are an exile,  being forced to leave Iran and live in a foreign land. Tell me about that transition.
That transition was a complete nightmare. I literally thought it was a nightmare for years. Coming from a sheltered aristocratic background, growing up in the opera, traveling the world yearly, submerged in music and art and literature. Being stuck here was like Gilligan’s Island from Hell. I started making jewelry, doing puppet shows with sets and costumes, learning about the power of beauty. We had been to the US several times already, but I didn’t speak any English. My mother and sister were fluent though, so they helped. I adapted quite fast in every way possible. I had to. It was a sudden survival, and I was unprepared at that age, but you figure things out when you have to.

Drugs, prostitution, alcohol, a zillion demons – not exactly the American dream. How’d you get out of that?
Divine intervention, self discipline, and believing in my own intelligence to eventually conquer the demons that were in reach. The light is always there. We are all light. The substance abuse was knocking holes in my aura, diminishing the light. It was not easy to get a regular job for someone like me at the time, especially when the club scene collapsed. Sometimes I had nowhere to sleep and was living in my friend’s multi-million dollar mansion. I worked at Patricia Field doing make-up, did reception at hair salons, drag shows, and whatever else I had to do to survive. I even worked at Show World in the old Times Square! Until I found a voice through the theremin, I was spiraling downward. I wanted to be great at something, and drag and clubs and doing make-up did not satisfy that urge, that quiet knowing that something else is in store, but what? A gift from the gods…waiting for me to open my eyes, to look up.

Tim Burton, Andy Warhol, Vali Myers, Salvador Dali met you, checked you out… you guys rubbed shoulders.
Being in NYC at that time and living in the East Village, it was inevitable really. I’ve always been lucky in attracting interesting people, and I was just amazed that such incredible people and artists wanted me around. It wasn’t that I had low self-esteem; I was just coming out of years of school and abuse, so it was a fabulous shock. I tell the stories in the film. It really is like mythology, and thankfully its all documented and witnessed. Being 16 and spending hours a day with Vali Myers in her room at Hotel Chelsea with people like Ira Cohen,  Andy Warhol, and Debbie Harry coming and going was insane. Vali would constantly take Polaroids of me and send them to Dali. Befriending Leigh Bowery and Thierry Mugler, dancing with Grace Jones in the Limelight DJ booth,s itting on the floor of Frankie Knuckles’ DJ booth at the World… going to a tranny hooker club with Tim Burton and Francis Ford Copolla. Yes, really. Doing the 1999 MTV VMAs in the Madonna Drag Queens segment; I represented the frozen video, that’s a story! I COULD go on! 

The theremin. You have mastered it, and yet I’ve never heard of it.
The theremin is the first electronic instrument ever. Invented by Russian Physicist Leon Theremin around 1920, it is the only instrument that is played without touching, and one of the most difficult to play. Many people use it as a sound effect. I play it as a classical instrument and a voice. My theremin has an eight-octave range, so she is like the ultimate opera singer. She sounds like Maris Callas from beyond. The theremin was used in many sci-fi and horror movies in the background. I think it fell into obscurity because it was difficult to play properly and was not easily accessible. My intention is to bring this instrument to the foreground where it belongs. It has taken me all over the world and onto some of the greatest stages. The sound affects people, it brings out emotion, and touches the heart like a beautiful voice does.

What is the film about?
The film is channeling sadness and horror into beauty, and music is the alchemy. It’s about being clear enough to receive. We are in THE LAST WEEK of our Indigogo crowd-funding campaign. We’re asking anyone who is interested in seeing this fabulous film made properly to please help support us by making donations and/or especially spreading the word about the film and the campaign. We are working very hard to create a meaningful, beautiful, high-quality work of art. Any and all support is welcomed and much appreciated.

And thank you, Steve. You helped me when I first started working in clubs by believing in me and giving me work of all kinds, and you continue to support what I am doing. I really appreciate it. You’re a real gentleman.

Remembering Beastie Boy Adam Yauch

The passing of Adam Yauch saddens me. I wasn’t going to write today, as food poisoning has debilitated me beyond the patience to sit and type. Adam’s passing has me here. I didn’t really know him as a Beastie Boy, although I had a coincidental meal with him at the airport when they signed their big deal. They were off to Vegas or someplace like that to celebrate and we were off to Paris to pick up my wife’s wedding dress from Thierry Mugler. I met the crew when they were youngins tooling around St. Marks Place on skateboards. There were four that I remember; Shadi was still alive. I was holding meetings at the Holiday every day as my new promo business couldn’t afford an office. I had a table in the back and, for the cost of a few drinks a day, Stefan the owner was happy to have me.

I guess they heard I was doing a show, a hardcore punk show featuring The Undead and Khmer Rouge, two bands I was managing into obscurity. The Undead actually got signed by Stiff Records just a few weeks before Stiff closed down. It was like that. They asked me if they could open. They called themselves the Young and the Useless and for that alone they earned a spot on the bill. I’m not sure what the deal was, but I think I paid them $15 and they had to help load in the gear. It was like that. The space was some second-floor dance studio or loft on, I believe, 2nd Avenue just above Houston. It’s unimportant. What was important was they weren’t a joke.

I wasn’t surprised when I and the rest of downtown was invited by Vito Bruno in’83 or’84 to see them perform in some club…maybe 21st Street. You must forgive me as I am really ill and my mind cannot focus. I seem to remember being surprised that Kate Schellenbach (drummed for Luscious Jackson) wasn’t on drums – maybe it was Rick Rubin who was. They weren’t punks anymore, not physically and not musically. The Beastie Boys came to be what they are famous for. Maybe Shadi had passed by then, I can’t remember. I remember a sadness hung over the scene for quite some time. I remember how much fun he was but I strain to remember his face. I do remember seeing his tag all over town for quite awhile. There was one by the Midtown Tunnel that lasted forever. Over the years, I would see Adam in a club or on the street and he would say hello. He was way cool and I know a great many people who can’t deal with this news.

I can’t really speak to this or much of anything more today, so in their words:

"All I wanna know is when is checkout time, So I could be in heaven with the rhythm rock rhyme, And when I’m with my man Shadi rock at the gates, We’ll be rockin’ rhythms over disco breaks."

Are You Ready for Mugler’s Sexy, Sci-Fi Cabaret in Paris?

You know how Nicola Formichetti left Mugler for "something major" with Diesel? Well, Thierry Mugler aka Manfred (that’s his new name, really) is taking back the French fashion house as creative advisor and is also whipping up "something major" himself: a zany, erotic cabaret in Paris.

WWD reveals that "Mugler Follies" will premiere at the Théâtre Comédia in Paris this December. "Word has it that among the cast of dancers, acrobats, singers, actors, models and performers will be former Balmain designer Laurent Mercier, or rather his cross-dressing alterego, Lola," the fashion trade journal adds. As for the show’s theme, it features a blend of "glamour and sci-fi," which should look pretty interesting on stage.
According to the cabaret’s official website here, it’s a story of "a young woman looking for her inner balance. As a result of her unpredictable and unusual encounters, she discovers and asserts herself, transforming into a sublime and blooming creature." Aren’t you so excited?

A Closer Look at Thierry Mugler’s FW11 Footwear

Oh, to be a high-powered fashion blogger! Yesterday, Bryanboy posted a series of delectable footwear images taken at the Mugler showroom in Paris. Within seconds, the fashion house’s creative director, Nicola Formichetti, tweeted at Bryanboy asking what his shoe size was, to which the blogger enthusiastically replied with his size and, presumably, his order. Talk about instant gratification.

And while we, too, love the above ankle boot Bryanboy’s a fan of, the rest of the otherworldy heels are beyond covetable. We especially love the juxtaposition of a delicate shade like periwinkle with a daring sky-high heel: image

This breathtaking raven-like pair were apparently made especially for Mugler by Chanel haute couture shoemaker, Massaro: image

See the rest of the shots here.

Highlights from the Thierry Mugler FW11 Livestream

Today’s Thierry Mugler womenswear show in Paris was as theatrical as we’d hoped it would be. And thanks to the French fashion house’s livestream, which included four rotating cameras backstage and a front-row-center view of the show, we felt like we were right there with first-time runway model Lady Gaga and Mugler Creative Director Nicola Formichetti. Save for a few stumbling models, the production itself was staged like a French techno music video, and Gaga looked right at home. There was a lot going on both backstage and during the show, so we jotted down some key moments caught on the all-access livesteam.


● The show was set in a custom-designed cathedral in a Paris gymnasium. ● Fans were screaming “Anna! I love you!” in the streets as Anna Wintour walked inside the venue. ● The mood was busy backstage, but cheery for the most part. ● Formichetti’s Mugler inspiration sculpture made an appearance backstage, hanging on the main wall leading to the catwalk. ● When asked what he might expect of Formichetti’s debut Mugler womenswear show, designer Jeremy Scott said, “My mind is completely free of expectations.” ● Terry Richardson was backstage taking photos of a nervous Gaga, following her every move. ● When asked if she’s nervous, Gaga quips, “If I vomit on the stage, it’ll be good press.” ● A few models exclaimed “I love you!” to Gaga as she walks past them backstage. ● Formichetti and Gaga embrace prior to the show, both a little on edge. ● As expected, the show opens with Gaga’s new single, “Government Hooker,” setting the aforementioned French techno mood. ● Models have an animated walk, attempting to strut in sky-high heels. A few models almost fall. ● Gaga emerges on the catwalk, wearing a sheer top and latex pencil skirt, smoking a cigarette, and strutting fierce. ● Lots of black, strong shoulders, sheer tops, latex, leopard accents, with some white and cobalt blue numbers. ● Gaga’s hit “Born This Way” is played twice—once after the opening track and again for the finale. ● Only one male model walks the show, which is none other than Zombie Boy – Formichetti’s skull-tattooed muse. ● Coco Rocha walks the show, as well as other top models Jessica Stam, Ruby Aldridge, Liu Wen, and Joan Smalls. ● Gaga returns for the finale, wearing a white veil and aggressively waving a white sash, wraps it around one of the catwalk columns, and disappears. ● Gaga re-emerges, this time with a relieved Formichetti, and the crowd goes wild. They walk backstage to a crowded room of press, well-wishers, and massive bouquet of white roses.

Photo: Huffington Post

Designer Roll Call for Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ Video

To gear up for Lady Gaga’s runway debut today during the Thierry Mugler womenswear fashion show in Paris, we’re highlighting the roster of talent featured in her latest music video. The piece was directed by Nick Knight (who also shot the Alexander McQueen tribute film for the 2010 British Fashion Awards) and fashion directed by Gaga’s stylist and Mugler creative director, Nicola Formichetti. Naturally there was some Mugler, like the fierce his-and-her tuxes above, but the otherworldly video is heaving with other designers from all walks of life.


The above still features work by 2010 CFDA Accessories Designer of the Year winner Alexis Bittar, designer duo Erickson Beamon, BlackBook favorite Pamela Love, and multi-hyphenate London artist Petra Storrs. The video also includes pieces by fetishwear designers Atsuko Kudo and The Baroness, specialty footwear designers Natacha Marro and Kobi Levi, recent Tron collaborator TomTom, as well as a few looks from Gaga’s own fashion collective, Haus of Gaga. The rest of the designers (yes, there’s even more) are listed on Formichetti’s blog.

Watch Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” music video here.

Watch Nicola Formichetti’s debut Mugler Women’s FW11 show here, today at 9pm Paris time/3pm EST.

Photo: Nicola Formichetti’s blog

Rumor Mill: Gareth Pugh to Thierry Mugler

Rumor has it British designer Gareth Pugh might be headed to Thierry Mugler. The brand, founded by its namesake back in 1975, has since come under the creative directorship of Paco Rabanne alumnae Rosemary Rodriguez. (Mugler has kept busy designing custom costumes for Beyonce’s tour as well as launching books and collaborating with Cirque du Soleil.) Pugh, having garnered loads of critical acclaim and frenzied fashion followers since his own brand’s launch in 2003, is apparently in talks with Mugler. Women’s Wear Daily reports, “according to sources, the Paris-based fashion and fragrance house has held talks with the London-based wunderkind, known for his out-of-this-world silhouettes and theatrical shows.”

It isn’t the first time that Pugh has been rumored to be in talks with a major fashion house. Following Alexander McQueen’s death, many outlets were speculating that Pugh could be poached as the icon’s successor. Before that, many had their money on Pugh taking the reigns at Dior Homme. Now, “it is understood Mugler is mulling a change in fashion direction and has approached several potential candidates,” WWD adds. (It’s about time as is definitely not cutting it.) In other Pugh news, the designer isn’t slowing down at all with his own label. In fact, in addition to adding makeup and footwear, he’ll soon open his debut boutique in none other than Hong Kong.

Thierry Mugler Launches Cheesy Women’s Site

Thierry Mugler is making a comeback but not in the way one might expect. The namesake label from the French fashion giant– synonymous with bold, dominatrix-appropriate styles– is launching a web endeavor called “Womanity.” (Mugler himself has had no involvement with the label since its relaunch in 2008.) The name is an illusion to community (the site’s tagline is, “the invisible bond between women”), which isn’t surprising given that Mugler has long been a champion of female empowerment through silhouette. Launched yesterday (international women’s day), beware that the site’s homepage mosaic is potentially seizure inducing.

The site is a “new website designed to reach out to women the world over and provide a platform for exchange,” says The Luxe Chronicles, who recently attended a preview presentation. There’s a lot going on… a lot of cheesiness, like inspiration quotes about leaving one’s soul ajar. There are short films, an interview with Mugler, and input from women around the globe as to what “womanity means.” The idea may be worth commending, but sadly the execution… not so much.