22 July 2008

Hot Tea

Writer Michelle Tea is hot, cool, and vicious. Most people recognize her from the autobiographical Rent Girl. She also does spoken word tour Sister Spit and keeps the writing community in San Francisco a hot mess. Michelle Tea is also into fashion. If you haven't read the anthology from Seal Press that she edited, It's So You, go buy it before you do your next paper about fashion--you'll be highlighting if for years to come. The Church caught up with its No. 1 Lesbian Crush and talked jeans, Beth Ditto, and how knowing your outfit is cute makes the world a better place. Photo by Robinberg Photography.

Was the anthology (It's So You) your idea--or were you approached by Seal Press?
I'd been toying with the idea of exploring the social, cultural, and political dimensions of fashion via an anthology for a while, but I wasn't ready to take it on as a project. When Seal Press approached me with the idea it felt like the universe knocking at my armoire—and I figured I had to do it or they'd ask someone else and I wouldn't be able to live with myself!

What has been the reaction to It's So You within your community? (E.g. Is it seen as some sort of departure for you?)
Well, people's first reaction is that it's totally weird, frivolous, and shallow. They're like, ”What?” But that's exactly the reason I wanted to do this book: to knock people's weird prejudices about fashion around, get them to question their assumptions and bias, and to see how fashion, in a sense, is a portal for getting into everything interesting — sex, class, bodies, ableism, gender, work—really—everything. Plus, it's fascinating in it's own right, I think. I'm a huge fashion fan—next to literature, it's my favorite art.

Do you think your clothes can help you become a better person?
I feel like a better person when I like what I'm wearing. I think looking good increases self-esteem, and people with good self-esteem are healthier and kinder. So, yeah, I think it shouldn't be overlooked. I have a friend who is in a recovery home for women who've been through hell—to qualify for the program you need to be a survivor of domestic violence, prison and the sex industry, and have a problem with drugs and alcohol. One of the things this program does is take the women out for mani-pedis, and get them hairdos and new outfits. And it makes a huge difference in how they feel about themselves.

In which outfits do you feel your best self?
It varies. I have mood swings. Even though I'm super-femme-y sometimes I just can't wear dresses and heels. I think I'm in one of those phases right now; I feel like my best self in jeans and a pair of crazy fringed Minnetonka boots that make noise when I walk, and a head string. I am still feeling the head string.

Where do you shop?
I think everything I am wearing right now I got on the sale rack at Urban Outfitters. They mark their shit down super-cheap. For new clothes that's where I go a lot, and, like, H+M. Sorry to be so regular. There are great boutiques in San Francisco I also love for new clothes—Seventh Heart for jeans and t-shirts, and Minnie Wilde for that—plus hot jewelry and umbrellas and feathered headbands. Recently, I lost my mind and got a Barneys card. I'm working out my class issues in new and bizarre ways.

Do you wear jeans?
It's all I want to wear right now. I recently got out of a sort of dumb relationship, but one wonderful thing [about it] was my ex introduced me to Earnest Sewn jeans. They really are a superior jean. Whoa. They're the top-tier of expensive—like $200. I have seen jeans more than that and think, Anything over $200 [means] someone is just fucking with you. A pair of jeans is only going to look so good, but the Earnest Sewn jeans look real, real good. I can't stop wearing the pair I have long enough to take them in the get hemmed. I get separation anxiety thinking about it. I'm going to wear them out tonight and I'm actually excited to put them on.

How would you describe your style--or what kinds of stuff do you not wear?
I really don't know—Aquarius with a Leo rising? Meaning, weird, but not so weird that I won't get laid. I don't like wearing a lot of black and I'm more sensitive to the quality of fabrics lately. If something looks really cheap I won't want to wear it. Weird! Also, I won't thrift torn [or stained] pieces anymore. I guess I'm finally a grown up. I'm really into my clothes actually fitting me, after, like, 15 years of wearing ill-fitting, stained, and torn thriftware finery.

Describe the perfect outfit(s)--money is not an object.
Geez, okay—um, right now, maybe a new pair of Earnest Sewn jeans with a pair of Chloé heels, a giant Philip Lim purse, a Philip Treacy headpiece, some great top—maybe Rick Owens—with a hugely chunky necklace from Marni, and maybe a Rick Owens leather jacket. For day. For night, a dress from Rodarte with Christian Louboutin heels and a crazy Viktor and Rolf coat.

Do you have a cat?
I did, but I released her to retirement at [my] grandmother's house where she can hang out in a backyard and dominate all the other cats.

What [have you been] reading?
I just finished an amazing unpublished manuscript, Switch by Rhiannon Argo. It's totally wonderful! I'm in love with all the characters and sad that I can't hang out with them. Otherwise, I'm in the middle of a bunch of books:Salt by Mark Kurlansky; a fantastic novel called Finlater by Shawn Stewart Ruff; rereading Dangerous Angels, Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat book ‘cause I needed some romance; The Keep by Jennifer Egan, who is truly a genius; Pigeons by Andrew D. Blechman; No Time to Lose by everyone's favorite Buddhist nun, Pema Chödrön; and the new Eckhart Tolle book with the embarrassing title because my mother told me to read it, and I was trapped in an airport and needed something, and there was a giant table full of them—and it's actually really excellent if you like books about dismantling your ego and trying to be less of an asshole. Which I do.

What writing projects [have you been] working on?
Um, I have a pre-apocalyptic David Bowie-inspired novel in progress—plus a fantastical sort of young adult novel about a girl who is so empathic it hurts her. That one has mermaids and griffins, so I'm super having fun with it. I'm adapting my memoir Rent Girl into a screenplay just for the hell of it, and I'm writing a totally unpublishable fictional memoir featuring an unreliable narrator. It's titled I'm Writing A Book Called How You Did Me Wrong. I think it might be my diary, but I'm so warped from writing memoirs that I don't know it.

Do you have style icon? Sorry--that's pathetic. Whose style do you admire and why?
In real life, Chelsea Starr, a writer and DJ who lives in San Francisco, is my number one icon. She just has this ease with wearing huge risks—things that might look just insane on anyone else look totally fierce and natural on her. I just accidentally marked her style because she's been wearing those Minnetonka boots forever, and I, like, blanked it when I bought them. It was totally her influence—subconscious. Beth Ditto has amazing style and keeps looking hotter and hotter and more incredible. She's always been an icon, and now she's getting increased access to high fashion. I love seeing what she's in. I just saw the performance artist Taylor Mac and felt really excited by his costume. I love costume! The late Isabella Blow was so wonderful to see pictures of. I love women who can rock a crazy headpiece. I worry that because I wear eyeglasses; it really limits the accessorizing that can happen around my face.

What creative outlets do you have besides writing?
Honestly, getting dressed in the morning! It gets me out of bed. And then all day I get excited wondering what I'll wear that night. I feel like I felt like when I was a kid playing Barbies, but now I get to be the Barbie.

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