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Simon Doonan [Photo: Bryan Steffy/Getty Images]
Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for Barneys New York and self-described "bon vivant," was in Las Vegas last week to sign copies of his juicy new memoir The Asylum: A Collage of Couture Reminiscences... and Hysteria. We caught up with him — at Barneys, natch — to hash out discover his thoughts on Vegas fashion, the nebish deejays here and wedgies from Tom Ford.
Do you come to Vegas very often?
Yeah, I came when we first opened. I come fairly regularly. I've been coming here since the '70s. So I'm very familiar with how Vegas has evolved over the years.
How do you think it's evolved from a fashion standpoint?
I think every year it gets more groovy and fashion-oriented. I think it's become more and more and more stylish. When I first started coming in the late '70s, it really wasn't about fashion. It was a little dusty back then. Well, the world wasn't really about fashion. The sort of global obsession with fashion started in the late '90s and now we're sort of used to it. That's what culture is.
It was about show business. And show business wasn't about fashion. Now it is because of celebrities but back then, celebrities were about glamour and sex appeal.
You call your book a love letter to fashion. What's the second spiciest story you can tell from it?
I guess having Tom Ford give me a wedgie. That was pretty note-worthy, right?
You write in your book about cities like Tokyo, that are just bursting with eccentricity. Now here you are in Las Vegas. What's the craziest thing about Las Vegas?
Yeah, I think there's always been creative, eccentric people involved in Vegas designing costumes, maybe doing sets, maybe doing makeup or wigs. You know it's a creative town like Hollywood, to create the spectacle that drives the traffic.
Like Liberace was such a creative person. What he did was strange and so extraordinary and so full on. That's what we talk about today even though he had no legacy in movies. It was the costumes and the presentation that was so noteworthy and taking us to this really crazy level.
There's no shortage of spectacle here.
It was a smaller universe then. I remember coming to the Riviera to see Liberace. Vegas was a hokie little place compared to now. There's no comparison. It's has been through four or five reinventions you can't really compare it. Now there are 50 Liberaces. It's a much more complex landscape.
Do you have any favorite shopping haunts in Vegas?
But are there other places you've found here?
When I first used to come here there were great Western stores that you could go to off the beaten track and where you could buy boot-cut Wranglers in different colors, great groovy cowboy wear. Vintage stuff. But I don't know if those places are still here.
I've watched all these reinventions of Vegas and I'm fascinated by it. It was a family place, then it was super sexy, now it's into this whole deejay music thing. I read that article in the New Yorker about that. I'm fascinated by that. I saw all these billboards with these different guys who are the deejays. They're not particularly exciting looking. They're kind of nebish-y. It's just kind of hilarious. That adds to their mystique. Their mystique comes from them looking like Brooklyn hipsters rather than looking like Rip Taylor. They almost avoid the typical trappings of show business to look like anonymous Brooklyn hipsters.
I'm fascinated by people thinking that they can buy fun. If you spend 10 grand you can actually buy fun. I was always sort of resistant to that idea, but maybe I'm wrong. Maybe you can actually buy fun. Maybe you can. Obviously the statistics prove that you can.
It's part of the evolution of Las Vegas, just like Miami Beach has gone through all these iterations. It's fun to watch.
I think the big food revolution was probably 10 years ago when all the big celebrity chefs came in. When [Barneys] opened, that was all peaking with the celebrity chef. I think that's going to stick around for a while, but that's not the dominate message. The dominant message is table service.
I guess coming from England, which is built around pub culture, the idea that you'd have to pay $750 just to go to a pub is ridiculous.
They key to Vegas is you have to surrender to it. It has it's own force. You can have all the opinions you want about it.
Did you go anyplace fabulous while you were here?
It's such a treat for me to walk around and watch people. Especially at night. These girls get all gussied up in heels that, in the past, women would only wear when they were lying down. They're walking around the casino kind of smashed.
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