Before fashion week was a corporate sponsored affair and before the internet made it possible for just about anyone to get in on the action, there was Lauren Ezersky, the host of cult series Behind the Velvet Ropes, who gave viewers–as in old fashion television viewers–an inside look at all the shows.
As the host of Behind the Velvet Ropes, which ran from 1989 to 2012, Ezersky has interviewed everyone from Michael Kors, to Marc Jacobs, to Ralph Lauren (whom she refers to merely as “Ralph”). Her enthusiasm for fashion is infectious–whether she’s gesticulating about how Henri Bendel once had the “hippest and coolest designers that you never heard of” and how “Bloomingdale’s was fabulous. Now it is a big mall.” Her unmistakable, eccentric look is mesmerizing: Her arms clang with rows of Deco rhinestone bracelets, several gold hoops contour her upper ears, and her eyes are charcoaled with a Cleopatra-heaviness. Ezersky remains fashion’s fabulous gypsy-harbinger.
To kick off New York fashion week and get a taste of life pre-SEO and social media, we sat down with Ezersky to talk about how she got into the biz, and what makes a good interview.
How did you get into fashion?
I’ve always been into fashion. You’re either in it or you’re not, you either love it or you don’t. I remember taking my grandmother’s sheets and making a dress out of it. I always loved fashion, I think it is always something that you have inside of you. When I went shopping I’d always pick out a ridiculous outfit that I loved, I wasn’t just “muffy muffy” at school.
When did you start Behind the Velvet Ropes?
It was 1989. There were three of us that did it. I did fashion, someone else did music and bands and someone did movies, movie makers and actors. We did it for five years and no one made any money. We did it for the love of it, and we’d shoot it ourselves. At that time there weren’t many shows but we got really good content, even though the show wasn’t produced with graphics and stuff–it wasn’t slick. It was really raw, which is now what they are going back to, having the handheld cameras. We were like kind of TMZ , we had our own equipment and would kind of run around and shoot stuff. That’s how it happened.
What was your first interview like?
For my first interview I was terrible. It was with Francesco Scavullo–he was a legendary photographer. Somehow I got the interview because I knew his stylist at the time. I walked into studio and there were pictures of Madonna up there, Cindy Crawford was there–she was just leaving. There were pictures of Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell and all of these top models. I was like, “Oh my G-d, this is fabulous, wooo!” I sit down, I’m a mile away from him [Scavullo], I have the microphone, and I’m like “How do you like your job?’”. It was the most mundane question but he was very gracious and answered my questions and didn’t make fun of me even though I sucked as an interviewer. The rest is history, you keep doing it and you get better and better at it.
How did you end up in New York?
I was raised in New York and I came back after school. I just got a job. I actually went to the top of one of the buildings, like 1407 Broadway, which was kind of a junior sportswear building. I went to the top floor and walked into every showroom and asked if they needed somebody until I got a job. I don’t even know if you can do that anymore because security is so tight. It is just so different. You used to be able to walk into a showroom and go up into any building without showing an ID. Now everybody is human resources, you have to send the resume through email, you don’t even meet anybody until they OK you to have an interview. It is just another world now, and it is way more impersonal. But I think for young people there is more opportunity because there are more outlets and you have so many websites and fashion sites. On one hand it is good because you have more opportunity but it is more impersonal.
What do you think about bloggers today?
I don’t know. At first I wasn’t thrilled. But you know, if it gets fashion out there, and whatever gets fashion out there and sells clothing and keeps designers in business is a good thing. On the other hand, a lot of the people that consider themselves fashion experts really are not. They don’t know history–if I mention a designer like Schiaparelli or something, they don’t know who that is. I think there is a point of reference, if you really love fashion and you’re in the business, there are things that you should know. You should know more than just Chanel, because there were people before Chanel. There are a million designers–there were people that made style and beauty popular, and I think a lot of people don’t know who they are. But they should if they are going to call themselves an expert.
What are your tips for interviewing people?
Just have a good time, enjoy yourself, ask what you want to know and just try to be comfortable and make your interviewee comfortable to talk about whatever it is. It takes time. Like I said I was really nervous the first time I interviewed somebody, I was horrible, it was the worst interview! I’ve watched [my interviews] over the years and I think I’ve gotten better and better… I hope!
If you weren’t around for Ezersky’s show, luckily there’s YouTube: