James Goldstein: The Man, The Legend, The Designer?
If you’ve been attending fashion shows these past few decades—or even have just been spectating along as others have—you will have noticed James Goldstein. It’s hard to miss a man dripping in python, always in his signature hat. He visits maybe a dozen fashion weeks a year—a practice he began at the encouragement of his close friend Tommy Perse, owner of Los Angeles’ Maxfield—and has been on the kind of fashion-buying binge for the last twenty-five years that would do Buzz Bissinger proud. He goes for the boldest and most extravagant pieces, including that famous [hyperlink] red leather safety-pin jacket from Balmain (“the most sensational piece I’ve ever owned,” he says). At the time of my visit he was debating the camo moto jacket in python that Alexander McQueen sent him, thinking he might like it, but ultimately he decided on the iridescent silver version Belstaff made especially for him. He also likes the work of his close friend Gaultier. His custom closet, with a dry cleaner’s mechanical revolving rack, holds a collection the Met might like.
This season, Goldstein is making the leap from customer to designer with the launch of his line James Goldstein Couture, which will be revealed in Milan this week (though an exclusive sneak peek debuts below). Style.com stopped by his astonishing space-age house—designed by John Lautner, a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright—to hear a little bit about why he’s throwing his famous hat in the ring.
Before we begin, I have to say that this house is extraordinary. Had you been a Lautner fan and enthusiast before you bought it?
Because I grew up in Wisconsin, my parents made me very aware of Frank Lloyd Wright. They were big fans of his. On top of that, one of my best friends in school lived about a block away from me in a Frank Lloyd Wright house—I was there all the time. As a teenager I was immersed in that kind of architecture. At a pretty young age I was living in a high-rise apartment, here in L.A., and I started looking for a house because I’d gotten an Afghan dog who needed lots of room to run. My dream was to find an attractive modern house with a view and a pool. After a long search I found this house, which was in horrible condition at the time.
Has your interest in fashion been there as long as the appreciation of modernist architecture?
It has. My father owned a department store in Racine, Wisconsin, so he was clothes-conscious, even though he didn’t take it in the direction that I personally have gone—he was a really well dressed, conservative businessman. He tried to start me at a very young age wearing things like that. He took me to New York when I was 6 and I had an overcoat and a hat, you know. When I got to high school I was always trying to be the leader of my class when it came to dress. Everyone would jump on the latest trend and end up wearing the same thing. I would try to be one step ahead. When everybody started getting pink shirts, I got a pink suit. Though I was pretty limited at that age in terms of what was available in Wisconsin. But I tried to stay aware of everything, reading magazines. Then in my early twenties I started going to Europe and that really changed my whole mentality.
You’ve certainly become a presence on the fashion week scene, such as it is.
For years now I have been attending all the fashion weeks and doing what I have always done: trying to find unique pieces to wear every season. I try to get a whole new wardrobe for each season. I like to be seen in unusual, high-quality, well-designed pieces no one else has. For years I have been wearing those to the shows…As a result of that I have gotten, not by design, pretty well known in the fashion world. For years people have been coming up to me and telling me I should start my own line. I would say, at this point in my life, I don’t want to start a new career; I don’t have any formal training in design…
But now you’re doing just that—starting your own line. What changed?
A few months ago, two of my best friends who live in Milan called me one day and said, “We have decided to start a new fashion line. We want you to be a part of it. We’re naming it James Goldstein Couture. We want you to be the head designer and face of the company.” I wasn’t sure about the whole thing but these guys are pretty persuasive and they are my best friends, so I had to do it.
As far as you can tell us before the launch, what will it look like?
The spirit of the clothes will be similar to what I wear myself. My partners have come up with the words to describe the mentality to be “chic rock ‘n’ roll.” I don’t think we’re the first ones to do that, but we’ll try to do it a little bit differently. We’ll start with the women’s collection in September. But I will be very enthused to start the men’s line next year. For me, women’s fashion goes so much further in terms of creativity, beauty, and style than men’s clothes. And in the animal world it is the other way around. I don’t think that’s fair. I think men should have more choices and not be as inhibited as they are. That is the spirit I have adopted for myself.