Where did you grow up?
I’m from Great Neck, Long Island. It’s actually the town “East Egg” from The Great Gatsby is based on. The Gatsby house is in my town. It’s a beautiful town, a beach town. I think Frank Sinatra and that whole crew used to go there on vacation before the Hamptons became the next getaway place. I lived three-quarters of a mile from the train station, so when I was 16, I could go into Manhattan whenever I wanted.
When you were in high school were you making your own outfits?
Absolutely. I have a cellphone from when I was 16, I bedazzled with three red X’s onto it.
Because nothing says straight-edge like…
Like a bedazzled flip phone? I was the only straight-edge kid I knew. I’d wear X’s on my hands and get in trouble because my parents were like, “Are you in a cult? Do you do drugs?” My Mom threw out a bunch of stuff I wanted her to keep, but she saved all my old Barbies. They’re all wearing crazy punk make-up and have their hair markered. So I’ve been doing that since I was however fucking old. I was in high school when I started modifying my own t-shirts – cutting them and re-lacing them and doing all of that. I actually wanted to go to fashion design school but my parents told me they wanted me to get a “real education.” My Dad’s not from here. As an immigrant, there was a certain mentality about how you’re supposed to go about becoming successful. Which was fine because I’m very much an academic, so going to New York University made a lot of sense. I’ve been painting the longest that I’ve been doing anything. I started taking painting lessons when I was five and I took piano for ten or twelve years. I also play guitar and violin.
What did you think you were going to do when you were in college?
I really wanted to be a music journalist. I wanted to write for magazines. Then I fell into music marketing, and I worked at Sony and Universal doing college marketing. But I was sick for a really long time. When I was 16, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I was diagnosed in 1999 and didn’t go into remission until 2008, so my options were limited. I needed to do something easy. And because I was pretty sick and couldn’t concentrate all the time I got fired a lot. Then I went into remission; all of a sudden I felt better and I had the equivalent of a quarter-life crisis when I was 25. I got fired one morning, and went straight to NYU and there was a graduate program for a Masters in Costume History. I figured that would be a really great way to merge my love of academia and my love of history and costume in general. I got into that program and coincidentally started working at Patricia Field a few days a week, killing time until school started. I was just being really free and enjoying being healthy for the first time in my adult life. And that’s when all of the eyewear started. I started working at Patricia Field and shortly after, I bedazzled a pair of glasses and it was a wrap, my life was over. And now I’m here.
Can you explain, for those non-New Yorkers, who Patricia Field is?
Patricia Field is most famous for styling the TV show Sex and the City, but her boutique has been around since 1966. It’s just sort of a haven for club kids and trannies and these really glamorous misplaced youth. It’s a really eccentric place where a lot of young designers got their start and just sort of a focal point for emerging trends and fashions.
Do you have any ridiculous stories from working there?
RuPaul rode in on a bicycle once, as a man. He was buying a candle and he was like, “Yeah, I really like the smell but I can’t place it,” and I was like, “Oh… That’s what vaginas smell like.” He laughed very hard at that. I rang up Ice-T and Coco once. They dress in the same colors everyday to show that they’re in love. Ice-T was very cold and stoic — what you would expect him to be like — and it was right around the time when he and Soulja Boy had YouTube beef. This was a period in time where I wore no pants so I was in, like, a girdle and thigh highs and a blouse. I said to Coco, “You know, I really admire you. I think you’re so great” and she was super sweet. And to Ice-T was like, “Listen, I’m really glad you told Soulja Boy what’s really up, because I feel that way, but I’m in no position to say anything to him.” I don’t know why, but he thought it was the funniest thing – I guess because I looked like this little pin-up punk rock thing and I was thanking him for dissing Soulja Boy. Right after they said goodbye, he runs back into the shop with a signed poster of Coco in a thong crouching in front of a car, throws it on the cash register and goes “BAM! There ya go!” and leaves. I’m sad to say I left his poster in the trunk of a rental car in California.
What’s your favorite era of costumes or clothing?
It’s really hard! It’s not necessarily that it’s the one that is my favorite but the one that’s stayed most constant in my life is the ’77 punk era – like the Vivienne Westwood/Malcolm McLaren Sex era. I’m really into glam, biggest showgirl, drag queen dressing as well. I think there’s something really wonderful about – I want to say exploiting, but it’s really more just celebrating – being a glamorous woman. The giant hats and the 17 layers of clothing and men in kitten heels. Bring it on! Men in kitten heels. Marc Jacobs tried it. Maybe it’ll catch on.
This is totally unrelated, but what’s the story with this building? Why does it look like the Disneyland food court?
I don’t know! This building used to be an ice cream factory, so each of the apartments are shaped really differently. They’re all at different heights and the layouts are completely different. I don’t know why it’s called Penny Lane. But I grew up loving The Beatles, so I had to live here. I spend a lot of time at home so I need to be happy with it.
So you made the first pair of sunglasses… what happened from there?
It took me nine months from making my first pair of glasses until I was financially independent only on that for income. I’ve always been very business-minded and I have always thought quite practically. I saw where it was going; it was turning into this boat and I just understood how to steer it. The first thing I did after I made a few pairs was to put up a really shitty online store, so that if people wanted to find me they could. And then the whole celebrity/pop star attraction happened very organically. It was probably the zeitgeist that somebody was going to start doing what I was doing – I was just the one who happened to do it. It took me about two years to take it seriously. It was really hard for me to say, “Yeah, I’m an eyewear designer.” Katy Perry wore my stuff early on, and following that, Rihanna found me because a friend of mine was wearing the chain glasses out somewhere and her personal shopper saw them. When Rihanna is your unintentional brand ambassador goes on TV shouting you out and wearing your stuff in music videos with Kanye and Jay-Z, it’s going to do a lot for your career. I just made sure that when that happened, I was ready. One of the best showrooms for emerging, high-end designers and I wound up having a conversation also, and they said, “If you want to show with us, you have to have a collection.” So I was like, I guess I’m designing collections now. And that’s how that started.
What are some horror stories? I just imagine a lot of funny stuff happening.
I’m usually kind of stressed and very Woody Allen about everything all the time. I’ve worked with food a lot. I made glasses covered in movie-theater candy for Katy Perry, which are now in the Hard Rock in Vegas. I made a giant French macaron hat for Lady Gaga; that involved 200 macarons and scooping out the cream inside and hot gluing them back together over a 24-hour period. A lot of the time an element is meant for something and turns into something else. For example Lady Gaga’s pearl-and-ant covered teacup. I was on set for a MAC campaign photo shoot for her and they didn’t wind up needing me for anything. But I brought ants and pearls and spray paint and I had this whole kit and I turned out puting something together quite spontaneously on a teacup. As a result she ended up using it a lot. She drank out of it at the MTV VMAs and on her Anderson Cooper 60 Minutes interview. I was really proud of this.
What was your prized possession when you were young?
There were two. I had a pair of flared jeans, light denim. I have a pretty big ass – it’s good, but it’s big – and in the 1990s they weren’t making jeans for white girls with big asses. So it was the only pair of jeans I found that fit and wore them to death. I embroidered and patched the shit out of them and they are still at my parents house. When I was 16 I started going to ska and nu-metal concerts. I went to either eighth Street Lab or Trash & Vaudeville and found these five-inch platform boots. I bought them so I could wear them to concerts and not get hurt, because you get stepped on all the time. The toe box even goes up so they look like gothic Frankenstein clown shoes. I really loved them.
What are the funny concert t-shirts you used to wear?
Oh man. Reel Big Fish, Linkin Park, Mighty Mighty Bosstones a lot of really random ska music shit. Probably a lot of ska shirts where the band’s name also had the word ska in it: Mephaskapheles, Skabba the Hut – which was the original band of the dude in The Bravery when he was fat and had dreads. I saw a lot of nu-metal. I’m sure I had a Limp Bizkit shirt.
What are all these hands by your door for? Are they good luck charms?
Yeah. They’re called Hamsa or the Fatima. Hamsa means the number five in Arabic, They’re the hands that protect you from evil. And these little blue things are b’li ayin hara, which in Hebrew means “against the evil eye.” I personally don’t believe in organized religion but culturally I’m very much a New York Jew and I’m also very attached to my Israeli culture. I don’t believe in the concept of kabbalah that has been commodified by Americans. In order to practice real kabbalah, you had to get to the highest level of learning in Judaism; it was so mystical and difficult to understand that until you fully understood every single thing about the Jewish religion you couldn’t even touch it. So it’s funny that here you just have some red ribbon and some water and you’re a kabbalist. There are a lot of little concepts like this that have been woven into the tapestry that is my personal history.
Do you have any other items that you have saved since you were young?
Yes. I have a deep love for Jim Henson and these are my childhood Sesame Street bath toys. There are audio cassettes of me and my father where I would pretend to be Kermit the Frog doing Sesame Street news. I would interview him as all the different characters, he would be Elmo, Grover and Miss Piggy. He’s a good sport that man.
You have a very fun family, it seems.
They’re great. I can show you my most recent lookbook that they’re in.
How did that come about?
Anytime they’re in the city, my parents will stop in and say hi. My Dad always comes in and gives me a hug and then very silently and stoically goes and looks at everything that’s new. He will go into the studio, put things on, hand me his phone and make me a picture. He does it with every single pair of glasses. I’d just finished a collection and was trying to figure out what the campaign would be, so I sent some of these photos of my Dad to some trusted friends in the fashion industry and they were like, “That’s fucking genius”, and thought it would make an awesome lookbook. My mom hates being in front of the camera and she only agreed to be involved if my Father was also. My Dad’s response was, “If you think it’ll help your business, we’ll do it.” And they killed it! My Mom called me lfive times a day the week leading up to the shoot, worrying about what she should be doing and what to wear; I’ve never wanted to kill her more than the week leading up to the shoot. Jess Jubilee DJed the entire eight hours and played, really grimy shake-your-ass reggae and gnarly hip-hop and my Dad would not stop dancing. Kareem Black shot the whole thing.
What are some of your prize possessions?
It might be Cher’s signature and my Cher “Turn Back Time” doll. Two Halloweens ago I dressed as Turn Back Time Cher. A friend of mine sews runway gowns for a living and he made me the sling-shot bathing suit. It was awesome. This board game, called Just Say No!, is also kind of a prize possession. I have a really bizarre collection of board games and this might be my favorite. The best thing about this is that it looks like it was made by someone who was fucked up on E. Also, somewhere in my parents house is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Saved by the Bell board games. Another prized possession is the book, The Picture of Dorian Grey. This was one of my favorite books as a child, I don’t know why I read it as a child, but I did. It has beautiful raised illustrations. It’s pretty fucking great.
Since you’re Jewish, I have to ask. What was your bat mitzvah theme?
Well, I wanted a Beatles theme or a Muppets theme, or a combination of the two. My parents said no. They were like, “You’re not going to like those things when you get older.” And guess who still loves The Beatles and the Muppets now? So my theme was the twelve tribes of Israel because it was related to Judaism. I don’t know what table I sat at. If I’d sat at the Kermit table or the Sgt. Pepper table I would have remembered that. I’m still really bitter about it!
Are are you into baking? I heard you make food with glitter.
I proselytize edible glitter. There’s really no occasion in which it isn’t appropriate. I usually carry a little canister of it around in my bag, so if I’m out at a restaurant, I’ll just sprinkle it on. Because there’s no flavor to it you can put it on anything. I’ve put it on steaks, I’ve put it in coffee. My motto is, if you can make something more fun, why not make it more fun?
Kerin it has been great to find out more about your colorful world of dress-ups and brushes with fame. Find out more about Kerin’s hand made sunglasses here
Interview & text: Vivian Host
Photography: Francesca Tamse