It's not often that the fickle world of fashion crowns a new king. After showing only two collections, Miguel Adrover became the most talked-about, sought-after designer in New York. In the midst of fashion's current revival of '80s-style greed and trendy selfishness, Adrover's earnestness and social consciousness set him apart from the herd. His avant-garde clothing boutique, Horn, which was forced to close its doors last winter due to financial troubles, was a breeding ground for new talent including As Four and Markus Huemer.
Adrover's tangles with the house of Burberry, which schizophrenically harassed and courted him, were daily gossip amongst editors and stylists. Why are fashion's heavy hitters so fascinated with this newcomer? Is it his use of unusual materials, such as Quentin Crisp's ancient mattress, his famed, and perhaps romanticized, state of impoverishment, his friendship with Alexander McQueen? I recently sat down with the in-demand Spaniard to sort the whole thing out.
GLENN: Your first collection was inspired by the plight of Amazonian refugees. Have you been to the Amazon jungle?
MIGUEL: I made a trip there about twelve years ago. It was a lifetime dream to visit the Amazon and the rain forest. I have a friend who used to live in São Paolo and he introduced me to a German anthropologist. She gave me the address of one of the Yanomami, an Indian of the Amazon. He was living in the rain forest city of Manaus, and giving tours, but not like "tourist" tours. They were more like expeditions deep into the jungle. So I flew to Manaus, then we took a bus into the Amazon, and then a motorboat and then we were just left in the middle of the jungle with no food, no nothing.
GLENN: Was it dangerous?
MIGUEL: At night the jaguars came around hunting for monkeys. It was a great experience of being disconnected from the material world. I lost all the meanings that society puts in your mind because we were there for two weeks, and we had no contact with civilization.
GLENN: Is that how you came upon the story of the refugee, the woman who's forced out of the rain forest and became the persona of your first collection?
MIGUEL: No. Last year I heard the news of how the rain forests of Manaus were being industrialized by petrol companies. American companies have come in and built roads and factories in the middle of the jungle. I was shocked to hear about it because no one here was talking about it. Money doesn't care about the environment.
GLENN: In the '90s, the fashion industry tried so hard to be politically correct the whole "Fashion Cares," models posing for PETA. A lot of fashion's political posturing came off as disingenuous. With your rain forest collection, it was different you were telling a story that maybe a lot of people didn't know about, and it was presented in an unpreachy way.
MIGUEL: It's kind of like these things are really bothering you and you just want to put them out in the open. I've always liked clothes, and I liked the idea of using them to tell this story.
GLENN: In the second part of the show, the refugee travels to Chiapas, Mexico after she's kicked out of Brazil. And those clothes were accessorized with guns and ammunition belts.
MIGUEL: That's because there is an hysterical fight going on between the Chiapas people and the government. And it's been going on for a long time. When I saw those women on TV with their guns, I felt like no one was paying any attention to them here, so I was very proud to represent them on my catwalk. I wanted to put some reality into fashion by showing their struggle.
GLENN: At the end, when the refugee ends up on the streets of New York, she still seems to be fighting for her life
MIGUEL: I think that all three places Manaus, Chiapas, New York are connected in some way. They are all places where people are fighting for something. In Manaus and Chiapas, it's people fighting for their environment, for their land. In New York, people are fighting to not be on the streets. The idea is also an evolution of my personal story, how I came from this tiny village of two hundred people in Mallorca, and I moved to a big city in Spain, and after that I moved to New York.
GLENN: Does that mean you relate to the Amazonian refugee? Is your catwalk also telling your story?
MIGUEL: No, no, no. Her struggle is much more severe than mine, and I could never compare my life to hers. I'm being who I want to be here. I'm just trying to represent that woman, not be that woman.
GLENN: I thought it was interesting that when the refugee arrives in New York she is wearing clothes made from an old American flag and cloth screen-printed with newspaper print.
MIGUEL: The newsprint is meant to represent the streets of New York, like the posters that people wheat paste onto buildings. They are ripped off and put up again, and ripped off
I made a dress, sort of like a prom dress, that is meant to appear like those postered walls. And the flag is like a hundred years old. We made a suit out of it on the Fourth of July. I was using it to cover my couch and I called my friend May and said, "You have to come over because we have to do this suit out of the American flag today." Putting the suit in the collection was my idea of representing America.
GLENN: I'm interested in you as a designer, and as a person because I think we come from similar backgrounds. Neither of us went to college ...
MIGUEL: I'm not against schools, but if you don't need it, you don't need it. Of course, there were many things I wanted to be as a child, like an Egyptologist, but there was no opportunity to learn them.
GLENN: And we both grew up on farms
MIGUEL: Yes, I grew up on an almond farm in Mallorca. We also had cows, chickens, lambs, and pheasants. I was there until I was seventeen, and then I did my military service. After that I had an opportunity to travel and I started hanging out in London, but I was not really a big club person.
GLENN: Not like a certain magazine reported.
MIGUEL: No, that's bullshit. But I was really into the music in London of that time, in the '80s.
GLENN: Which bands?
MIGUEL: Bow Wow Wow, Virgin Prunes, The Cult, Bauhaus, and all the New Romantic stuff Visage, that kind of thing and I was really interested in the clothes.
GLENN: I see a little bit of that New Romantic and punk feel in some of the things you've done, but you're not "doing the '80s" like so many designers are now.
MIGUEL: I have so many feelings from my life that go into the clothes, and I pull in different things like the story of Chiapas.
GLENN: There's something organic about the way you incorporated that story into the those pieces. There are designers who will do a collection inspired by a place merely because they "summered" there. It's like, "This collection was based on my recent safari in Africa," and you know they stayed in a luxury hotel and went furniture shopping the whole time.
MIGUEL: Or they were inspired by the "color of the water."
GLENN: In your second collection, "Midtown," the idea was to bridge the sensibilities of the uptown girl and the downtown girl
MIGUEL: Yes, that show was not really political, it was my way of representing the streets of New York, and the uptown lady and the downtown lady. It was not meant to criticize them in any way. My point was to do the uptown thing. That's why I used a lot of fashion label elements in the clothes, such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Burberry.
GLENN: I sometimes work and socialize with Park Avenue ladies, so for me it was hard not to see a bit of spoofing going on in that show, subtle as it was.
MIGUEL: Really? I'm not trying to laugh at anyone, I just want everyone to look their best. I wanted it to be a very serious show. I mean, I grew up on a farm and these ladies grew up on Park Avenue, but no one is in control of where they're brought up. Sometimes society puts you in a place that you don't want to be in. So I don't put anyone down for that.
GLENN: The beginning of that show was a surprise to a lot of people because you sent out these very wearable looks and played classical music
MIGUEL: I love classical music! I thought it was funny to use that because people weren't expecting it. There were people who had heard about the first show and expected some kind of "young designer" thing, but what it really was was a show by a growing designer.
GLENN: I knew as the show progressed you wouldn't be able to reign in your quirkier side. So out comes the now infamous inside-out backwards Burberry raincoat, and the Burberry blanket that was cut up and re-pieced in what I like to call "Frankenstein-style." So you also sneak in that little bit of fashion commentary.
MIGUEL: Yeah, I'm about that too. I'm about both things. One of my dreams is to do clothes for a lot of different types of people with a range of prices. I want the downtown lady to be able to afford the clothes too. But I don't want to downgrade my collection to a cheap bridge line or a jeans line.
GLENN: So we won't be seeing Miguel Adrover Couture Jeans in the near future?
MIGUEL: No, no, no. I want it all to be under the same label. I want to be the new modern classic. I don't like to throw away clothes, like the way you can't wear something that's "last season."
GLENN: There's a classic Absolutely Fabulous moment, when Edina didn't want to give her Vivienne Westwood clothes away to the homeless. "They have enough to deal with without bearing the humiliation of having to wear last season!" But there are designers who make clothes you can wear almost forever, like my personal favorite Jil Sander, even though I have to go to a loan shark to afford a pair of her shoes
MIGUEL: I don't like to use luxury fabrics like cashmere. I want my prices to be very different depending on the piece.
GLENN: Maybe you can sell things on a sliding scale like services at a community health clinic. But you mention fabrics and I think it's important to note that you've become known as a designer who uses unusual materials, like the snakeskin you fashioned into a long, unlined coat.
MIGUEL: That was a forty-year-old python skin from a fifteen-foot snake.
GLENN: Which ended up being stolen from the loan closet at Vogue!
MIGUEL: Thank god! If it weren't for the money Vogue reimbursed me I wouldn't have been able to do the second collection. I have to say "thank you" to Vogue.
GLENN: It sounded like a well-organized ring of fashion thieves who were dead set on acquiring your first collection.
MIGUEL: I was flattered actually to hear that my pieces were taken, because the thieves left behind very expensive ones from Fendi and Gianfranco Ferre. I was happy to get the money but I was also sad because that python skin was given to me by a friend.
GLENN: And you just used the whole fucking snake as if your model had wrestled the beast to the ground, ripped its skin off and punched some arm holes in it. And then of course your whole take on the Burberry plaid craze. On the evening of your "Midtown" show, I first popped in to see Diane Von Furstenberg and her new collection
MIGUEL: Who's she?
GLENN: You don't know about her? She invented the wrap dress in the '70s!
MIGUEL: I never heard of her. I don't follow fashion. I used to freak out about not knowing much about fashion but I'm not embarrassed to admit it anymore. It's like when someone mentioned Rei Kawakubo to me recently
GLENN: Actually people were comparing you to her after your last show.
MIGUEL: I know Comme des Garçons, and I know what they're doing, but I don't follow anyone's work.
GLENN: Rei is the most famous obscure designer in the world. A lot of cynics were saying about your last collection, "Oh it's just like Kawakubo," "It's just deconstructivism again," or "It's like Martin Margiela
MIGUEL: Actually I like what Margiela is doing, but I don't feel connected to him. When people don't have something to compare something to in fashion, they don't know what to say about it.
GLENN: That is so true.
MIGUEL: So what were you saying about the wrap dress designer?
GLENN: Oh, yes, so at Von Furstenberg's cocktail party, almost all of the guests in the room seemed to be wearing those damn Burberry plaid scarves. It was so overdone!
MIGUEL: She had a cocktail party? Were people having sex?
GLENN: No, I wish. But being at Diane's is always like being in an Eyes of Laura Mars time warp! Except for those Burberry scarves and coats that were like this insider status thing worn by editors at the shows that week.
MIGUEL: You know the inside-out Burberry coat in my show was an old coat I pulled out of my own closet. So I'm allowed to put it the way I want it.
GLENN: That's what I said when I heard about your Burberry lawsuit imbroglio! A runway show is theater and an artist has a right to manipulate things as he sees fit.
MIGUEL: That's how I felt about that coat. If I just want to put it on my catwalk and I'm not planning to sell it, why should that be illegal? I think it's sad that these other fashion companies would try to squash a person's creativity.
GLENN: Well, Burberry is trying to be hip, like using Kate Moss in their ads, and I think they glommed on to what you were doing and tried to exploit it for their own benefit. And at your expense, unfortunately, by instituting that lawsuit.
MIGUEL: I think it was a normal reaction, actually, from a company like that especially after seeing my plaid, a similar one to theirs, on the cover of Women's Wear Daily. They were freaked out because they thought I was going to be selling pieces made from their plaid. The plaid I used for the non-Burberry pieces, the trousers and coats and so on, was fabric that I found at a flea market. I don't think it's the same plaid they use. Their plaid has three lines, and mine has five.
GLENN: It sounds like the whole thing can be worked out over a few wheat grass martinis at Donna Karan's juice bar. I think it's cool though, how you're able to simultaneously distort and potentially sell the latest trends, like the whole logo thing. I loved the mini-skirt you made out of the vintage Louis Vuitton bag which was also stolen by the way.
MIGUEL: It was as if an Amazon Indian woman found that bag in the jungle and, not knowing what it was, just decided to cut it up and make a skirt.
GLENN: My other favorite design of yours is the Victorian-style coat made from Quentin Crisp's discarded mattress.
MIGUEL: That was also part of my theme of portraying the streets of New York. Quentin was my neighbor for nine years and I would see him every day eating eggs at that same diner. I always said hi to him but we never talked. It was that kind of feeling you have with people you see all the time you know them, but you don't need to talk to them ...
I was sorry to hear Quentin passed away, and I miss seeing him. But one day about two weeks after he died, I was walking home and there was a mattress on the street, and someone told me it was his mattress. So I dragged it into my hallway and started cutting it up, and it gave me and all my friends this terrible rash because it was so old and dirty
GLENN: Of course you got a rash! He was known for his caustic barbs!
and then it became the coat that I used on the runway. I think he would have been very proud to have seen his mattress end up like that.
GLENN: Amused, yes. Proud? I'm not so sure. But it is a beautiful coat.
MIGUEL: Thank you. I like giving a little bit of history to my clothes.