With a lineage that starts with Max’s Kansas City and ends with The Cock, New York: Club Kids (2019, Damiani) is a visual journey down the psychedelic rabbit hole that was club culture in New York in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, occupying a specific time and place that left an indelible mark on cultural history. Riding off the coattails of a formative nightlife scene cemented by the likes of Studio 54 in the late ‘70s, the Club Kids entered the ‘90s with an outlandish take on fashion that stretched the limits of convention and imbued the doldrums of daily life in New York with a biting, incisive sense of humor.
A far cry from their counterparts of the minimalist ‘90s, for the Club Kids, every night was an excuse to serve looks of the highest order, donning costumes that ranged from demonic party punks to body-painted dominatrices carrying saws that made Halloween look like child’s play. In fact, in a 1993 interview on the Joan Rivers Show with Club Kid ensemble Michael Alig, Amanda Lepore, James St. James, Leigh Bowery and Ernie Glam, Rivers closed the segment by asking them what they do on Halloween. In unison they responded, “We don’t go out! It’s the most depressing time of the year for us.”
While a seemingly careless joie de vivre possessed the Club Kid persona, the attention to detail and elaborate planning that went into their after-dark attire tells a story of meticulousness that fed into grandiose personas and grander ambitions. Anchoring the scene were the barons of cool-kid culture, whose freedom of expression and fluid approach to conventions surrounding gender, sexual orientation, music, drug culture and style paved the way for future generations. Everyone from Björk and Chloë Sevigny to designer Patricia Field, costumer Zaldy Goco and Lady Miss Kier were regulars, with club owner Peter Gatien providing the playground in which they played. Gatien, who owned such legendary nightlife institutions as Limelight, Palladium Club USA and Tunnel, seemed to pick up where Studio 54 owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager left off, providing the setting for an entire era of free-spirited hedonism.