When Cher, Madonna, Rihanna, Dita Von Teese and Lady Gaga rely on a designer to help them make an impact, you can be assured that that designer is someone special.
A large-scale installation at the Palms Casino in Las Vegas; a dress made from 3,500 razor blades for Blondie's Debbie Harry, which was also displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; a pair of torn chain mail hotpants worn by Rihanna on the cover of Rolling Stone... jewelry, accessories and interiors designer Michael Schmidt knows how to wow.
'I'm self-taught. I moved to New York City in 1983 where I supported myself by making jewelry from repurposed artifacts - a pleasant way of saying junk,' he laughs. 'I created a little metal dress that found its way into the window of a beautiful store in SoHo and one day Cher happened by and inquired about me. You could say she repurposed my life.'
Following that discovery, Schmidt and Cher built a relationship that would span the rest of his career to date, and bring him to the attention of other drama-loving superstars. Alongside the running of his own NYC nightclub, SqueezeBox!, he has created costumes for some of the world's biggest performers.
'Wardrobing is a collaborative effort, a process I quite enjoy,' he explains. 'An artist approaches me with a need and we assess the occasion, the mood, the rigors of an event, and then we tailor a look for it. A performer on a stage is a teller of tales. My intention is to help them inhabit a role, and in turn to persuade an audience to lose themselves in a fantasy. You can't cast a spell without magic, and Swarovski Elements are pure sorcery!'
And no chain-mail challenge or jewel-encrusted quandary is beyond Schmidt's considerable aesthetic skill. Anyone looking for evidence of his ability need look no further than some of his greatest creative achievements, including an Emmy nomination for his costume design work on Cher's Extravaganza: Live At The Mirage, a CBS special made in 1991, and the redesign of the VIP rooms of the Palladium nightclub in NYC, with black leather floors featuring silver studs that spelled out the lyrics to the classic Iggy Pop song 'Nightclubbing', in Braille.
But away from the drama of the nightclub and the stage, Schmidt creates a jewelry collection with an everyday appeal, one that 'can be worn by everyone'. And despite thrilling celebrities as varied as Tina Turner, Courtney Love, Bjork, Elton John, Marilyn Manson and Ozzy Osbourne, the designer's own favorite piece is something much simpler.
'A small something I once made for my mother,' he says. Some pieces, it seems, require a dash less drama.
By Lauren Milligan