Couturier Garo Sparo epitomizes the downtown aesthetic — his clothes are bold and unconventional and they often sacrifice comfort for fashion that triggers triple-takes. Sparo often utilizes corsets in his work, cinching the waists of women, and sometimes men, down to 22 inches. Sparo's zany East Village workspace and his motley crew of clients make up the six-episode Sundance series Unleashed by Garo. The first episode, airing Friday at 9 p.m. Eastern, has Sparo fashioning outfits for a drag queen, a bereaved mother, and a drummer in recovery. We emailed five questions for Sparo, who opened up when he got to talk about his fashion heroes.
The Advocate: Garo, on your show you describe corsets as female empowerment. Don't you think a lot of feminists would disagree with that assessment?
Sparo: First, I would like to say that my patterns are not period patterns. I have developed my corsets from scratch to enhance the female form in the most comfortable way. I see my corsets as a celebration of a woman's curves, not as a device used to deform them. The corset is one of the many powerful ways a woman can enhance, reclaim, and love her shape. I am very pro-woman regardless of shape or size. I am inspired by them. I often design with them and always for them. I love female energy. It would be very hard for me to hear that any woman felt like I was objectifying or degrading the female form. FYI, I also make corsets that enhance the male form.
You've designed for everyone from Madonna to Hedda Lettuce. Who is more demanding — pop stars or drag queens?
Honestly, it is really hard to say who's worse. They're all entertainers, and entertainers by definition are difficult.
Much of your work is about personal transformation through fashion. Is it harder to create a dramatic outfit for a man since their fashion choices are more limited?
Not really. I am inspired by people. If they are coming to me, they are expecting my vision. Male, female — my creative process is not affected either way.
What do your rates start at for regular, noncelebrity folk?
This is a difficult question because we work so closely with our customers. Our rates are contingent on fabrics, embellishments, and detail. We are potentially attainable to the average consumer, depending on their demands.
Whose style do you admire and why?
I'm not going to answer this quite like I think you want me to.
Marilyn Monroe: DUH!!!; Jayne Mansfield: I'm a whore for a blonde bombshell, obviously; Janis Joplin: I would have loved to have been there to witness her groundbreaking style and genius.
Daphne Guinness: I've been working with her for the past few years. Her style is impeccable; Florence Welch: Going out on a limb — I love blonds — but redheads are next level for me; Sia: So inspiring — so quirky — SO TALENTED — I would love to dress her; Lyyke Li: Has such an amazing aesthetic in all her videos ... she is fearless. I love that.
Roots (people who inspired me in my youth):
Grace Jones: Need to say more? She has and is still pushing the boundaries. She made me believe anything was possible; Amanda Lepore: My very first client in New York City . She and I still work together and she continues to inspire me every day. I just saw her a few hours ago. Her album, I... Amanda Lepore, is so amazing. I run to it every day. So proud of her; Suzanne Barch: Suzanne Barch reinvents New York at every turn. The first time I ever went to one of her parties I met Iggy Berlin, a house muse, personal friend, and Garo Sparo hand-beader. He was wearing an 18th century–inspired look made out of an inflatable baby pool complete with floaty puff sleeves. I was smitten. Suzanne continues to host parties that bring the crème de la crème of New York City's creative personalities to nightlife in the city.