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Design, construct and style an entire look in less than 5 minutes. Go! Imagine doing that live on stage against another design house, in front of a cool partying downtown crowd. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Style Wars. Like Project Runway on methamphetamines, it pulls back a twisted curtain to reveal the juiciest part of the fashion industry: the creation. Encouraging spectacular theatrics, less about the drama. Founded and run by the House of Diehl, the high energy power couple MJ and Roman Diehl, the Wars grew out of the Diehl’s ambition to bring fashion to the people in a cool way. They challenged themselves first, with Instant Couture interactive performances, even so big as opening for Sonic Youth! Then they welcomed others to challenge them.
I visited them in their Chelsea apartment, where no surface is safe from deconstruction. And we talked about what it takes to wage War.
Five minutes to create a garment?!
MJ: A vision isn’t about time. You can go 20 years and not have a great idea.
How did you first get the idea for Style Wars?
Roman: We started Instant Couture in 2001, before Style Wars. It was the idea that the process of creating fashion is just as exciting as the fashion itself. Anyone who’s been backstage at a fashion show knows that the craziest stuff is going on back there. Draw back the curtain and letting people see that.
Explain Instant Couture.
R: It was a demonstration we used to do at art institutions.
MJ: I wouldn’t call it a demonstration, when we actually used the audience as model and muse.
R: Fashion was created live. Anybody could be pulled out of the audience and turned into instant models down the catwalk. We used to change people’s lives with this! We’d get this 15-year-old kid following us around, or this 45-year-old woman with like 3 kids, and they would have their moment in the spotlight.
What problems in the fashion industry are you trying to solve with Style Wars?
MJ: In the fashion industry, whether it’s politics or product, you’re part of the solution or part of the problem. We wanted to solve 3 problems.Nightlife sucks. I mean it really does. It sucked in 2001. It sucks now. It’s always the same thing: The goodie bags are full but the parties are empty. It was about not going to another whack fucking party. Fashion. You know it’s like the fashion world is wonderful, exciting, fabulous, but do we really get to be a part of it? We do this to let them experience the best part of fashion. And I’m not talking about this bridge line at Target. Which is kind of like the shit line. Even Alexander McQueen, I thought it was a shit line at Target. I wanted to buy it, but it’s crap. It’s about having the fashion made for you. One of the other things that was fresh about it, was that there was no deconstructionist fashion movement in America. In Europe you had Martin Margiela, and all of those cats from Antwerp, but what we created here in America was fashion that was made live.
Why did you make the transition from Instant Couture to Style Wars?
R: You know I think it’s interesting how many frustrated performers there are in the design community. They only have that one moment when they walk out after the show, do a little bow. But we find they all want to be out on that stage. So with Style Wars, we give them the opportunity to get up there, and show people what they’ve got.
MJ: I grew up in Brooklyn, and my first goal was to be the first good white MC. MCA’s death was really a shocker to me, I mean, please. They call Style Wars the 8 Mile of Style for a reason. It’s that you get up there, and it is truly about talent. Take no prisoners talent. It’s not about how much money you have, or who you know.
R: [Instant Couture] was also the way for us to force our way into the fashion world. Then, when we were really good at it, we were like, let’s just fucking throw the gauntlet down and see who else can do this. Let’s battle it out. And Style Wars was born.
Who is the most exciting style battler you’ve had on your stage?
R: I love the current NY champion, Dominique Auxilly, she had this Whitney Houston look, but she’s not even the most colorful of the style battler we’ve had.
MJ: Buenos Aires is insane and off the hook. They’re all insane. I adore them. What are their names, in the wheelchair… They’re very cool, super awesome. They go there.
R: She just had something in Italian Vogue, last week. Ailin Bisi.
What about your designs? What are three things you need within arms’ reach when designing?
R: I’ve got my 3, because we work totally differently. Pliers. Drill. And a Hammer.
MJ: Magazines. I need a shitload of candy head pins because I drape, I’m not a patternmaker. And my mood board, and the soundtrack. We’re very into music.
What are you listening to these days?
MJ: I want to go to see Das Racist concert tonight, but I don’t think I can make it. I like to mix old school shit that you don’t hear anymore with new shit.
R: Die Antwoord. You know that music video for Evil Boy and all the erections…
MJ: I have to be honest, if I was not in fashion, I’d be in music. Which is why I like to do the music for Style Wars. There is something in the experience in music that I’d like to bring to fashion. I think Style Wars is really a fashion concert. Crazy fucking awesome looking freaks, burning and cutting shit, and great sounds. It’s like every sense; we engage them all!
R: At our shows, we sometimes get our friends to spin. Roxie worked it out for us at the last show. We’ve also had Diplo, A-Trak, Steve Aoki, Larry T, Rapture.
Have you thought of turning Style Wars into a TV show?
MJ: You know, people actually get mad at us, like, Why isn’t this a TV show? And I’m like, hello, buy a network. But we’re actually it has been optioned as a TV show. In fact, I was writing our episodes. I mean it will be the most fabulous and entertaining TV show out there. What you shouldn’t do, is what we’re doing on this TV show.