Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stephanie Handler: The Calm in the Eye of the Sparkly Tornado

Stephanie Handler, Johnny's long-time costume creator,
makes some adjustments during Johnny's photo shoot
with Matthew Rolston for
Be Good Johnny Weir, Season 1.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Channel, who is kind enough
to still have all their Johnny photo albums available
for us to browse in utter desperation whilst we await
BGJW Season 2 on Logo....

So to recap: Yesterday Original Media casually tweeted, "'Tis the season… what OM show do you want for the holidays??" to which of course the only possible answer would be "Be Good Johnny Weir!" which reminded me anew how long we've languished in this BGJW-less no man's land between seasons which has seemed only slightly less long than the millennia it took man to learn to walk upright and then discover tools and then realize they're more effective if you sharpen them and then decide to affix said sharpened tools to his feet for some completely incomprehensible reason that surely springs from the same gene that today brings us the Jackass movies, and yet somehow balancing on blades and gliding across the ice became a thing of beauty best expressed IMO by one Johnny Weir who I hear has this reality show in which we get the insider view on what it takes to become an author, a recording artist, a designer, a fixture at NYFW, an occasional runway model himself, and oh yes also a World medalist, a three-time US champion, and a two-time Olympian almost as well-known for his costumes as his skating which reminds me: I love Stephanie Handler. And she graciously let me interview her last week. And here's what she had to say.

I actually got to meet Stephanie at Ice Dreams earlier this year, and she was as unassumingly awesome in person as you might expect from the show. She also has a wonderfully wry sense of humor. She is the member of Team Weir who has been with Johnny the longest, and her incredible costuming skills--particularly as showcased in his two Olympic appearances--have very much contributed to his "daring fashionista" reputation on the ice. Surprisingly, her path to skating-costume stardom began in--music school... ?    

How did you get started making skating costumes?
I was a musician, at a good music school and all, and only partly because I had a crush on this one guy, I started working on the operas at school, mostly set design and lighting work. Which led to a crush on another guy, which somehow led to my doing costumes for the operas. LOVED that. Dumped music, went to grad school for costumes, moved to NYC to do that. Ran into an opera singer whose daughter was a skater, and I've been doing skating costumes ever since.

Which is easier to design / create, men’s or women’s costumes?
Design is the same, really, for either one. There isn't all that much difference. Different restrictions, but overall you still have to capture the music and each skater's taste / style and body type.

How do you define whether or not a costume worked and was successful?
Is it comfortable (or at least can they skate in it)? And does it work with the choreography and the music? Which is completely subjective. If I like it (and they pay for it), it's successful. One thing I have to face is that I have to pay for rent, for anyone who works for me, for all the fabrics and trims, for all those little sparkly things... oh, rhinestones, yeah, that's it... and for everything and anything else that is involved in making the costumes. So "successful" DOES hinge on whether the skater likes it.

Is it true that those costumes can’t be cleaned?
Some can, some can't. Because many (most) fabric paints need to be heat-set, and because one can't completely trust that it's all been perfectly done, many painted costumes can't be cleaned easily. Some rhinestones are heat-set, but if that's not done right, they can't be cleaned either, and most of the glues won't survive much more than handwashing or spot cleaning. So you should ask in each case--and be careful anyway.

Stephanie and Johnny confer on a design.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Channel.

When and how did you first meet Johnny?
I think he was 13. We were introduced by his coach down in Delaware. What was he like then? Somewhat less outspoken, but able to say when he liked or didn't like things we suggested. What was the first costume that you created for him? From scratch? The Spanish-themed shirt. With tassels. [I think maybe that's this one... ?]

UPDATE: Nope, not that one. After she saw today's post, Stephanie kindly sent me a photo of the aforementioned shirt! And here it is:

Thank you, Stephanie!
(And OMG how adorable is he?)

And here's another look,
courtesy of my fabulous friend Jen Bee,
whose treasure trove of Johnny pics
clearly has no equal...

Did Johnny design his own costumes from the beginning, or did he become more involved over time?
No, he didn't start out designing costumes. I've always shown him fabrics and colors, different options, trimmings, etc. I try to do this with all the kids. As I told his coach, eventually, with luck, he'll be working on shows and such and will have to work with other designers. By then he should have a basic knowledge of fabrics and what lines look good on him, so no one will be able to just push him around or give him the drawings other skaters rejected. His decision to design his own costumes to express HIS ideas on what he's skating to makes things easier on me, because I don't have to try to guess what he might have on his mind.

How have Johnny’s costumes evolved over the course of your collaboration?
He has taken over designing them. We still work together when we can, to make everything work as he wants, of course... one always does. But by now I could take one of his drawings and get it done and out without a fitting or a consultation, and be reasonably sure he'd be OK with it.

Fitting, and more conferring. 
Photo courtesy of Sundance Channel.

Which one of his costumes was your favorite to make? Which was the most challenging?
Probably the Swan was the most complex, and thus one of my favorites. Also his first real design, the Cirque one, and an early exhibition one to a piece by Moby.

Do you enjoy being filmed for Be Good Johnny Weir?
I'm not much into being photographed or filmed. David [Barba--Butch"] and Jamie [Pellerito--"Grämz"] know this and have been very accommodating.

What's it like seeing a skater perform in the Olympics in something you've created?
It's nice. Knowing that my parents can see it on TV is very nice, as they've been very supportive of everything I've done (that they know about, that is. Oops!)

The famous "I love You, I hate You" costume
from his 2009-2010 season.
Photo courtesy of Sundance Channel.

Every time I see this costume, of course I think of
his brilliant short program performance in Vancouver.
And I also think of the very first Facebook post I ever read
by my dear friend Maggie Strasser:

Hey Johnny! I don't follow figure skating at all.
Had the TV on the Olympics while I played computer games.
Watched here and there when suddenly this gorgeous man
in a tight black-and-pink corset outfit glided onto the ice.
     In a heartbeat I was hooked,
and I simply had to find out who this person was
and I wanted to know... everything about him.
     I am thankful that my G-d works
in strange, mysterious, and glittery ways,
and made me look up at the TV just then.

Yes. This. Me too.

HEY!!! We did it!! 
Johnny is a finalist for 
"Must-Follow Athlete on Social Media" 
in the 5th Annual Mashable Awards!!

IT'S KIND OF A BIG DEAL. Mashable gets more than 50 million page views per month, and has been named by Time Magazine as one of the top 25 blogs on the Internet. 

He's up against some stiff competition from Yuna Kim and John Cena, among others, but hey--we're really good at voting, and since he tweeted about it and is promo'ing it on his website,  let's make it happen!

He's also in some amazing company: As Megan Gusinski pointed out, finalists in other categories include The Trevor Project, NOH8, GLAAD, and Ellen Degeneres, so you might want to do some additional voting while you're on Mashable's site.

Voting ends on Friday, December 16, and the winners will be announced on Monday, December 19. Just click the graphic above or at the top righthand side of the blog to be taken directly to the voting page for Johnny. 

You can vote once per day per Twitter and Facebook account. Please VOTE VOTE VOTE!!!

Bonus pic: My absolute all-time favorite photo
ever tweeted by Johnny is here.
But I especially love this version of it,
posted by the lovely @MJunkoj.
I think the caption just says it all.

So there was a thing called Not Your Standard Bingo
that happened over the weekend.
And there are photos on Facebook
here and here.
Like this:

Many thanks to @dapperderp, @ler_che
@SvetVin1 and @JoeRHarris
(the guy in the picture above with Johnny, 

and with the awesome amount of glitter 
on the side of his head)
for pointing these out to me!
And enjoy more from Joe on JRHTV!

Johnny's Glitter and Ice collection 
with MAC is selling out fast! 
Don't miss your chance to sparkle--
visit a MAC retailer or order online ASAP! 

NEW!! The Sheraton Philadelphia University City 
is now the official Holiday Dreams On Ice hotel!! 
Book your rooms before December 9 
and receive a special HDOI-only discount! 
The Sheraton also will be hosting the VIP after-show party.
More info on the Holiday Dreams On Ice website!

"Like" HDOI on Facebook
and use promo code "philadelphia" 
for 50% off your general admission ticket!!

New Q and A! Go read it now!

Yes! Johnny's dresses are now available
for purchase only on eDressMe.com!

At last: Pop Star On Ice is now available on DVD!
Order yours today from the Pop Star On Ice website!

Johnny tweeted:
"Buy my single,'Dirty Love' via iTunes.
Tell all your friends to as well. The more copies sold
takes me one step closer to making a video! №1!"
You know what to do.
Please buy the song from Johnny's website,
or just click the "Buy" button on the player
at the top of the blog!

Hey, Welcome to My World also is available
as an eBook! More info on Johnny's website!

Bonus video via The Advocate, from their post titled:
"Possibly the Most Beautiful Ad for Marriage Equality We've Seen." 
The video was produced by an equality group in Australia, 
where nearly two-thirds of voters favor legalizing
gay marriage, according to The Advocate
but prime minister Julia Gillard remains firmly opposed. 
I agree with The Advocate
This is one of the most eloquent illustrations I've seen 
of this simple concept: Love is love.

copyright 2011 / Binky and the Misfit Mimes / Lynn V. Ingogly / all rights reserved


Peace said...

I think the crux of the entire Johnny experience of every one of us has been summed up here: It all started with a crush on a guy. :O) xo

Maggie St. said...

ILYIHY is the best use of black & pink ever. Now, off to rustle up Estrellita and her friends to go vote for Johnny (and Anderson Cooper!) on Mashable!!

Oh, and you used my quote! *squee* :)

aaaack said...

Stephanie is an interesting mix of both artsy and no-nonsense-because-I-have-enough-to-deal-with-from-all-these-clients-and-deadlines business woman. Have admired her invisible zipper skills and her real feel for artistically placing those Swarovskis so they look like nature sprinkled them there (versus human hand placing them).

Think that Stephanie has a nice intuitive feel for quality, classy and pretty. In the wrong hands, some of those designs might have turned out "off" or "outre." The all-gold costume is the only one that hits me as excessive.

When I look at Johnny's costume's I ponder "what's going on psychologically here or what's burning in this guy's soul?"

When I see other skater's costumes, I briefly think, "Oh, a nice costume of the xyz historical period," or "a costume that goes with this piece of music." Big difference.

By the way, I'm fixated on recreating Fortuny pleats right now. Does Stephanie have any ideas on how those would best be done?

aaaack said...

On second thought, the golden outfit was very very deliberately over-the-top to mesh with the humongous Faberge Egg and Johnny's sly, cheeky emergence from it.

Princess Johnny-Love ♥ said...

ooooooooooo! love LOVE that big beautiful Vote for Johnny button!

and lovely interview, ty so much for sharing!! can we have more, pls? how about interviewing Butch and Grams?

bingo looks awesome, but where's Vitya? was he still sick, snuggled up in bed with Ping? if so, i'm sure Dr. Ping-chan took very good care of him!

Johnny and Vitya are being so kind to us, tweeting all these beautiful pics of themselves!! ♥ ♥ ♥



stephanie said...

Comment to aaaack - Neither Johnny nor I designed the gold costume, but it was done for a commercial, specifically to call up the images of Louis XIV, often called the Sun King.

WheresMyKoppy said...

'Not your standard bingo'? I'll say! The bingo we have on employee appreciation day doesn't look nearly as intersting as that, lol!

Thanks for the interview! You have to love Stephanie. I was thinking about in Be Good Johnny Weir when Galina is saying who needs all these other designers, we have Stephanie! And she's like, Oh God! And I loved her response to the whole fur controversary also.