01/03/2012 12:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Pin Code: The Eighties, East Village and Coco Chanel

Receiving gifts (especially this time of year) is on my list of favorite things in life. For me, the best ones add value to the most important aspects of my life -- those being my work and wardrobe. This year, while visiting the Chelsea apartment of my former boss and mentor, I was lucky enough to receive a priceless present of two Chanel-inspired buttons. They were more than just plastic, glue, thread, and a famous logo, though -- they had a story to tell...


The East Village could be described as a lot of things in the early Eighties, but the word "chic" most likely wouldn't come first to mind. It's fascinating, then, that Coco Chanel's eponymous logo (a universal symbol of all-things-stylish) would pop up in the most unexpected little shops of horrors, namely Einstein's on East 7th Street between 1st Ave and Avenue A. It was around 1984 that the outpost, founded by Paul Monroe, Greer Lankton and Julia Morton, became an East Village hot spot. "The walls were quilted in black faux leather to mimic the bottom of our granny's Chanel bag," is how Monroe once described the atmosphere. Climbing up a set of stairs to the first floor of a classic New York brownstone and passing through a red door signified your arrival. Upon entering, one could expect to see a variety of downtown characters chit-chatting and smoking under the Cocteau-esque cloud ceiling that set the ambiance.

Not to be mistaken with the real thing, the CC-emblazoned baubles and knick-knacks that filled Einstein's were not made by Karl Lagerfeld, they were handcrafted by two of the shop owners, Paul and Greer. The couple would make imitation Chanel broaches, t-shirts with the logo safety-pinned on and dolls to sell to their frequent clients and friends, including drag queens, DJs, young fashion designers and local street artists. Clothing and accessories from Einstein's started popping up at the Palladium and Studio 54, and Chanel's name was no longer reserved for the uptown social-set that could afford to pay for the authentic wears.


Here, the pins take on a new life among other broaches on my favorite sequined DVF blazer

From that point on and throughout the eighties, the East Village, and Paul and Greer, would continue to evolve, change, and move on. Bill Cunningham would cover the East Village's rise, the shop would eventually close, the NYPD would start to clear out the drugs that once filled the streets, and the rents would start to go up. The faux Chanel broaches that once represented a life of careless fun and flamboyant artistry would later start to collect dust. And then they would be re-gifted, remembered, and ready for another generation.