This is the tenth installment in HuffPost Gay Voices Associate Editor James Nichols' ongoing series "After Dark: NYC Nightlife Today And Days Past" that examines the state of New York nightlife in the modern day, as well as the development and production of nightlife over the past several decades. Each featured individual in this series currently serves as a prominent person in the New York nightlife community or has made important contributions in the past that have sustained long-lasting impacts.
HuffPost Gay Voices believes that it is important and valuable to elevate the work, both today and in the past, of those engaged in the New York nightlife community, especially in an age where queer history seems to be increasingly forgotten. Nightlife not only creates spaces for queers and other marginalized groups to be artistically and authentically celebrated, but the work of those involved in nightlife creates and shapes the future of our culture as a whole. Visit Gay Voices regularly to learn not only about individuals currently making an impact in nightlife, but those whose legacy has previously contributed to the ways we understand queerness, art, identity and human experience today.
The Huffington Post: What did your journey to becoming a fixture in the New York nightlife scene entail?
William Noguchi: To start off, I lived in New York City for about three years before I experienced real NYC nightlife. I moved to the city for school to study theatre and was too busy with studio work to really go out. At that point, going out for me consisted of v-necks and skinny jeans.
Through school, I was exposed to artists like Lypsinka, Leigh Bowery and Nelson Sullivan. I became fascinated with old New York nightlife culture. I obsessed over any visual archive I could find that documented the beautiful people who have passed through nightlife. I realized that nightlife was a much more suiting arena for me to express myself and create my form of theatre.
My first night out I went to Vandam at Greenhouse, wearing all black with an aurora borealis rhinestone necklace and a simple pair of lashes. Somehow, throughout the course of the night, I managed to get into the VIP section and found myself sitting next to Amanda Lepore and Kenny Kenny. From that moment on I was hooked. There was an excitement being in the middle of all these fabulous people that I had never experienced before. Studying theatre I was always watching the stage; here I was able to be part of the entertainment and be exactly who I wanted to be -- whatever that looked like that night.
How does your work as Visual Manager at Patricia Field intersect with your identity as a nightlife personality?
Working as Visual Manager, and at Pat’s in general, was one of the most amazing and eye-opening experiences I’ve had. I really feel like I discovered who I was while working at the store. I finally found a store I wanted to shop at and really got invested with styling. That self-understanding helped me be successful both at Pat’s and in nightlife.
In terms of how the two jobs intersect -- I would say from nightlife to being visual manager, all of the tips and tricks I learned from one allowed me to push forward with the other. As I learned more from styling my own personal looks I was also learning to work with garments at the store that I had never encountered before. I was able to create more interesting looks for mannequins based off the tricks I had learned from going out the night before. I was constantly studying queens' looks and trying to figure out what their look was actually made of. Seeing how creative people got allowed me to break the boundaries I had about style.
Nightlife taught me that whoever you are is a beautiful thing and you should let that shine. If that means wearing twenty-five straw hats stapled together as a dress then so be it -- whatever makes you feel good is what you should wear.
Why do you think so many prominent people in nightlife either are or have been involved with Patricia Field?
To put it in so many words Pat, and the House of Field, have a reputation for being a safe house for young creative people. Pat is always searching for new talented and passionate people to turn a look at her store. I think she really loves seeing how the younger kids bring new energy to New York and shake things up a bit.
Creative minds are drawn to the store and when they take a bite from the forbidden fruit they feel the House of Field fantasy. That’s why so many people get their start at Pat’s. It is a place where you can dress how you want and sell what you wear. What more can a creative style junkie ask for? So when you think about the fact that she has be cultivating creativity for over fifty years there is no doubt so many people have been involved with her.
How do you conceptualize your ideas and aesthetics for both your looks and window displays? Do you ever feel like you're wearing your windows?
My windows and looks both start from some single point of inspiration. It might be a necklace, a designer, a painting, an editorial or whatever I'm interested in that week. There is always something visual in my life that inspires me to replicate it somehow into a look. Often that one dot of inspiration connects to another dot of inspiration from last week and so on and so on until all I have to do is connect the dots and my outfit is a complete cross-referenced dream!
For my personal looks I tend to base my outfits off an accessory. I might be walking through Chinatown, see a boat that really grabs my attention, glue it to a headband and I've got a headpiece. From there I find an outfit that compliments the headpiece and tells a story.
The same idea is how I style a window but on a much grander level. In a window everything needs to have ten times more impact than a typical look so that it will catch a person's eye on the street and draw them into the store. I take a great amount of inspiration from the windows at Bergdorf Goodman. I love how they create a shadow box filled to the brim with utter fantasy. I like to think that I am able to achieve that same thing on a smaller scale at the store.
I've never put a full look I've worn in a window or on a mannequin, however I do test things out to see how people react to a new styling of something. In that sense I don’t wear my windows, but I do wish that I could be in them -- killing it with a perfectly styled look 24/7! That’s the turn up, as they say [laughs]. For now I'll just leave it to my mannequin girls to carry out my fantasy.
How do you see what is happening now in New York nightlife today as building on a historical legacy of artists, performers, musicians and personalities over the past decades?
I have a theory that there are always certain types of people in nightlife. If you look at nightlife now, nightlife ten years ago and nightlife twenty years ago you always see these categories of people. For example, butch queen, camp queen, fem queen, glam queen, andro queen, body queens etc.
I like to think that whomever had the first party in New York invited all the people that were the pure raw forms of these different styles of people and everyone has been trying to recreate that fabulous party since then.
Because of this set up there is somewhat of an apprenticeship in nightlife. As new people come into nightlife they learn from the old, and as the older ones start to go out less the new kids fill that place. The beauty is looking at how the “glam queen” was glam in the '80s and what it means to be a glam queen now.
The various genres of queens all find a way to relate to the current culture they live in and respond to that in some way.
Leo GuGu talked in his feature about nightlife spaces as art galleries/community centers/wreck rooms. How have you seen this play out in your own nightlife experiences? Why are these kinds of spaces important?
I totally agree with GuGu. Nightlife is just the P.M. version of all those places bundled together. One of the coolest things about nightlife is, depending on who comes to the party, the venue can change from being an art gallery to a community center to a wreck room -- or all three at once. For example, there are people like Muffinhead who give you living art realness with their looks and make the club their gallery. I love that about nightlife.
Do you consider yourself to be a creative team with Danielle Mahoney in any capacity? How do your looks and work inform one another?
Oh totally, we are sort of like Sunny and Cher mixed with Ken and Barbie mixed with Thelma and Louise. Danielle was the first person I really became friends with after I moved to New York and we have basically been inseparable ever since. We have seen it all together. Because of this we sort of have a third sense about each other. Even if were getting ready to go out in separate rooms, we always seem to go together.
There have definitely been nights when we coordinated looks and shopped in the wholesale district together though. Lord knows we like to plan a look [laughs].
Usually we end up looking like sisters or mother and daughter. Who plays who always changes from night to night, but one way or another we always seem to match. I think it's because so many of our inspirations come from fabulous women. Often both of us might have the same inspiration but just might go different directions with it. Like I might go for a Oscars Cher moment and Danielle might go for "Half Breed" Cher.
What do you want your legacy within the consciousness of New York nightlife to be?
I think I would love to leave behind the idea of glamour at the club. That might sound stupid but I feel like the art of glamour is slowly drowning in a cyber wave. I have nothing against that look at all, I'm just more drawn to glamor.
I'd like to think that my small contribution to nightlife has been the rebirth of the rhinestone. I'm not trying to say I started wearing rhinestones out, but my girls and I definitely brought them back. When I first started going out the most rhinestones people would wear were just a necklace -- maybe the full set if you were a drag queen.
We would wear rhinestone harnesses, multiple tiaras and a small village of necklaces in one look just to give you that added sparkle. Afterwards people started picking up on this and the rhinestone hit the scene again! I love it. I want everyone to have some rhinestones [laughs].
What do you see as the future of nightlife in New York City?
I think there is a cycle New Yorkers go through where they make nightlife all-inclusive and then shift to more sectioned off and back and forth. After nightlife died down in New York for a second I feel like people stayed in their own corners and didn’t mix. Now people are tired of the same old bitches turning the same looks every week.
As more and more promoters host parties together, the crowds change and the parties become more interesting. People are always looking for something new and mixing crowds is always going to give you something new.
With more and more performance art-based nightlife people, nightlife will become, I think, more of an all-inclusive performance gallery space.
Missed the previous installments in this series? Check out the slideshow below.
"The whole point of the Club Kids was, I thought, to subvert the establishment. But it’s actually impossible to subvert the establishment because once you reach a certain point you become the establishment. Then, by definition, you haven’t subverted it –- it’s just assimilated you. It’s impossible to subvert the establishment... In 1995 things had become so utterly decadent -– it really was 'Mad Max' almost. Walking through a luxurious nightclub like Tunnel that was decked out to the nines and everybody beautiful, young and high on drugs at 8:00 a.m. -- literally stepping over people laying on the floor and ignoring them like it’s the most normal thing. I can’t think of many things that are more decadent than that. But I really did think, 'It really can’t go any further than this. Further would be death.' And it really was for a lot of people." --Michael Alig, The Original Club Kid
"Nightlife is a huge influence on me and the art I produce. The whole idea that you can change your appearance and become something else was demonstrated to me by the nightlife community, who also encouraged my own exploration of ideas. Nightlife has motivated and supported my development. The people I’ve met have inspired me and many have influenced and changed my perspective of the world, gender identity and personal style. I hope to inspire and motivate others by what I do in the same way." --Ryan Burke, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"Patti Smith once said in an interview that there are always these pockets of time where everything sparkles, and things are done because people believe in something... My time as a punk kid, and as one of the Club Kids, is elemental. It informs all of my work as an artist. The commitment to integrity and authenticity that stems from street and scene culture is reflected in the formal qualities of my artwork. It can be seen in the materials, and the objects feel occupied. There is a sense that life has been experienced within the work, fueled by personal narrative. When I compare pictures of myself, as a Club Kid, to my current artwork and jewelry, there does seem to be a lot of continuity. The cycling, the concept of life as one master work, permeates." --Walt Cassidy AKA Waltpaper, Artist And Former Club Kid
"The worlds and the outfits and the scenes we create are primarily elaborate escape routes from a reality that we didn't create and most of us want less and less to deal with... so in time we build our own reality. In this type of expression there is also a subconscious push for truth and evolution. A lot of times it's hard to deduce men from women in a nightclub. And that's a wonderful thing because we are heading into a time in which we'll depart further from gender roles, which also gives way to compassion and acceptance. It's a microcosm that I'm happy to be part of." -Muffinhead, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"Queer nightlife has been an ongoing cultural hotbed for decades, if not centuries, if not from when time began and a small group of outsiders, queers, artists, and madmen took a corner of a cave for themselves and "carried on" as we used to say in the 60's to the 80's... What is called queer history is really just a part of countercultural struggle that was not striated by sexual orientation. That was a '70s concept to divide people up into separate groups. Queer History is a history of Bohemia -- it is a history of resistance to mediocrity, injustice and assimilation." --Penny Arcade, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"I see a lot what is happening today in nightlife as a representation of the past. I find a lot of work in the museums from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s being reflected into today's kids -- though I am not sure if they are aware of it or not. It seems pop culture has slowly infested the queer waters and the only music performed to is Top 100. I love that music myself, but I go out into the nightlife for the second-better-life. The mirrored reflection of pop-culture. The perverted royal finger to what is normative. Now you have to search within the nooks and crannies to find anyone brave enough to be honestly queer." --Acid Betty, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"I would want the kids to know that even though we assume things must have been horrible for gays in the past, that’s not 100 percent the case. When it came to nightlife in the 70s, for example, to me it was the peak of gay nightlife. It was a fabulous time to be gay in New York City. Sure, things like "Don’t Ask Don’t Tell" or gay marriage weren’t on the table -- they weren’t even conceptually thought of as ideas yet. But beyond that if you were fairly affluent and doing well, you had a hell of a time being a gay New Yorker. The clubs, the bars, the opportunities were enormous and it was just a wonderful celebratory post-Stonewall time of exploring different freedoms." --Michael Musto, Cultural Critic and Nightlife Personality
"[The club] is like going to an art gallery/community center/wreck room... that’s what keeps nightlife alive, in my opinion. All of these different tribes of people just coming together like a community center or a wreck room at these places that are only open at night, that you have to sacrifice your next day for or your health even sometimes. But it makes it better because everyone wants to be appreciated, everyone wants to be loved and nightlife is the shit with no make-up. It’s like a founding father of art. Like that club Area way back in the day and how they did all of those installations. Studio 54 still rings a bell, the Sound Factory is still making noise. These places they don’t go unnoticed." --Leo Gugu, Stylist and Nightlife Personality
"Over the course of just several years, drag transformed from an underground art form into a mainstream phenomenon. In the mid ‘80s, drag was thriving in the East Village, including the annual outdoor festival Wigstock. Then drag expanded to the entire nightlife scene; all of the clubs were clamoring for drag queen hostesses, go-go dancers, door people, etc. When RuPaul hit it big in 1992 with her song 'Supermodel,' it triggered an incredible amount of pop culture attention for the entire downtown drag scene. Every magazine and television talk show was heralding this new “trend,” and there were a zillion drag-themed music videos, movies, television shows and fashion shoots. It was the first time that drag really broke through to the mainstream. Out of that era came the club kids, 'Paris is Burning,' RuPaul, Susanne Bartsh, Amanda Lepore, Leigh Bowery -- all of these things and people that are still iconic on today’s nightlife." --Linda Simpson, Drag Queen Celebrity and Nightlife Personality
"I have a theory that there are always certain types of people in nightlife. If you look at nightlife now, nightlife ten years ago and nightlife twenty years ago you always see these categories of people... I like to think that whomever had the first party in New York invited all the people that were the pure raw forms of these different styles of people and everyone has been trying to recreate that fabulous party since then.. The beauty is looking at how the “glam queen” was glam in the '80s and what it means to be a glam queen now. The various genres of queens all find a way to relate to the current culture they live in and respond to that in some way." --William Noguchi, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"The very first time we ever saw RuPaul he was wheatpasting pictures of himself all over Atlanta that said 'RuPaul Is Everything.' What, at the time, seemed a brassy hyperbole has proven to be prescient. Because today we are all Everything. We are all brands. And not just artists and celebrities -- all of us. That original punk promise of Manhattan Cable is being made good on: You can have your own TV channel on YouTube. Yes, Kodak has gone bankrupt but without a doubt this is a golden age of photography. Just look at people's Instagram accounts. This is the golden age of content." --Randy Barbato & Fenton Bailey, AKA The Fabulous Pop Tarts and World of Wonder Founders
"I think the truly innovative people that I'm seeing are playing around with gender and sexuality. I think that's what our generation has to offer -- the idea of acceptance and blurred lines of gender. It's causing discussion, debate, new laws to be made and it's causing more art. THAT is the movement that's happening and I'm so glad that The Huffington Post is seeing it. It's groundbreaking and I'm grateful that you're not afraid and I'm grateful that you are present for the incredible change I hope to see. The world is changing and I hope that the bigots jump on this evolution because you're going to get left behind." --Domonique Echeverria, Fashion Designer and Nightlife Personality
"I think NYC nightlife is in good hands at the moment. It's a different time. We can't expect everything to be like it was yesterday. Yesterday is gone! Tomorrow is waiting for all of the young new artists to take hold of and create something new and wonderful so that we all can continue to grow and experience art, music and an exciting nightlife scene that will hopefully once again make NYC the center of the universe. NYC nightlife is here to stay. It can sometimes go up and down like a roller coaster but it will always keep right on a rolling. Long may it reign!" --Jayne County, Transgender Musician and Nightlife Icon
"There's a movement amongst nightlife "personalities" to identify as artists. We approach our nightlife personalities as living art, and often have conversations on how to expand what we do in the club to a gallery setting. For many of us there are aspects of our work that just aren't for the club -- that's why there's the push to blur the lines between art and nightlife. To take the emphasis off the booze and sex and put the artists and personalities at the forefront -- to create happenings. Moving the work into a gallery setting allows me to present work that does not always fit into a club setting. There are aspects of my work, such as the live collage/painting performances, that require a more focused environment to experience the work in it's entirety. A gallery gives us, as artists, more control over the details and participation with the audience. It the next step in the development of the work as a whole." --one-half NelSon, Artist And Nightlife Personality
"We live in an age where people are becoming increasingly detached from social interaction. No matter how loud or messy, nightlife spaces are some of the few places left where conversations happen. People can put a face to different viewpoints and lifestyles. With the ever-increasing number of queer subsets standing up to be counted, it is essential that we all know what's going on within our own community. The queer community coming together for any reason is important and, unfortunately, very rare. Nightlife spaces are a sort of neutral ground for communication to take place -- even if that communication is through a haze of drugs and alcohol, muffled by thumping base." -Erickatoure Aviance, Artist and Nightlife Personality
"Look at your history and you’ll learn more about who you are inside. Then look inside yourself and ask yourself who you really are. Are you the boy that really wants to go to bottle service clubs? Or do you have more to offer? And a lot of people learn these things as they go along and I think it’s important to realize we are much more powerful than we think we are. We are selling ourselves short by fitting into what society wants us to be. It’s great that you have marriage -– but what could you really be? We are the shamans of society. We’re here to show them you don’t have to go by the conditioned way of living. We’re here to show them you can live your life in a very authentic way. That’s what I think gay people are here for. And of course, to enjoy sex as well. Why not? [laughs]" -Kenny Kenny, Visual Poet and Nightlife Icon
"The most important thing coming out of nightlife today is that it’s still coming out. With all the dramatic changes politically and financially over the last 30+ years, the legacy of New York nightlife still exists. And even though our parties are often held in some of the most elitist “bottle service” clubs, for one night a week the door opens and you don’t get in because you are rich, famous or work in PR -- you get in because you’re a radical weirdo dressed to the tens, or friends with someone who is. Yes, it has changed, but we’re all here together committed to keeping New York weird." --Daughters of Devotion, Artists and Nightlife Personalities