May 16, 2010
BM: How did you get your start in Fashion?
R: I met my partner in 1979. At that time Jerry (Skeels) was working with Bob Mackie and I was working with other designers and we decided to get together and open our business in 1982. 1983 is when we did the cover of Playboy with Joan Collins and the rest is history. 1983 is when the Christmas cover came out with Joan and that got us on 97 talk shows. Then six years later it became the Jessica Rabbit dress for Roger Rabbit.
R: It was based on the Joan Collins Playboy cover. Are you going to the event?
R: I have four exhibits at the (Hollywood) museum. The Hollywood Graffiti Gown is one exhibit. The Joan Collins Playboy dress is another exhibit and a there is a salute to The Price is Right, which I designed for 23 years, and then Lost Spirit, which is my musical.
BM: I do want to talk about Lost Spirit, but first I’d like to know how did the idea for The Hollywood Graffiti dress come about?
R: It was my vision in 1980. My partner and I were sitting in the Jacuzzi, having a glass of wine, and I closed my eyes and I had a vision of this gown that was high necked with dolman sleeves and had a train. I jumped out of the water and I said, “Jerry I just had this vision of this gown. It’s going to end up being the most famous gown in the world. It has signatures on it that are hand-beaded.” At that time I wasn’t sure if we were going to go with…I knew we were going to go with celebrities because all of our clients were stars—male and female—mostly women. We decided to focus on the women because 95% of our clients were famous women, so I’ve collected signatures since 1980. Bette Davis was my first, Rita Hayworth was second, and my third signature was Lana Turner. Then I went ahead and collected more signatures. In 1981 there was a headline in the Times on the front page that read “The Gay Plague” and I thought, “Oh, my gawd. What’s that?” They announced that there were thousands of men dying in all the big metropolitan cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. I kept collecting signatures for this gown, and then in 1983 they announced the name of this disease called AIDS. Shortly afterward Elizabeth Taylor jumped on board and then Sharon Stone and I just thought, “That’s where I want the money to go to – for AIDS Awareness.” The most current signatures on the gown are all the Desperate Housewives.
BM: Did anyone ever turn you down for a signature?
R: No. Not at all.
BM: I’m happy to hear that. Whose signature was the easiest to obtain?
R: There were so many. That’s a hard question to answer. My most favorite signature on the gown that gets a lot of attention is Mother Theresa.
BM: How were you able to obtain that?
R: Harlan Böll. Do you know Harlan?
BM: No, but I’ve heard a lot about him.
R: He has one of the biggest PR Firms in Los Angeles. He is the PR Guru. Every person that is going to be at this event is his client. He is huge, and he helped me get signatures quicker. I think he sent me about 189 signatures. There are 17 names in the gown that are done in Platinum at $30 a bead. I’m the one that did all the hand-beading and all the signatures by hand. Jerry and I kind of put it together. We had the unveiling on March 13, 2004 at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
BM: How long does it take you to hand-bead a signature?
R: I’m pretty fast. I would never let people know how fast I am, but I’m as fast as a sewing machine. It’s all crochet beaded and when you feed the beads…I feed the bead between my fingernail and my thumb and push it towards the front of the fabric and then crochet it on the reverse side of the fabric. I can probably do a name within a minute.
BM: That is pretty impressive.
R: I’m really quick. If it were needle and thread it would be about 10 minutes and it wouldn’t look as graceful either. When you see it up close. I know you have probably seen pictures of it.
BM: I have. It’s beautiful.
R: Wait until you see it in person. Oh my gawd it is magnificent.
BM: I’m very excited to see this dress. I’m sure it is stunning.
R: There are halogen lights all over that are shooting down on the beads, and the beads look like a galaxy of stars. It’s just amazing. You can’t describe it until you see it in person. When we unveiled the gown in 1984 we got a standing ovation at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. There were 1500 people in the audience, and we turned away 1500 people from seeing it because there was no seating capacity. We traveled all over with the gown. I’ve been to La Paz, Bolivia with it. It’s been at Paramount Studios with Donna Mills wearing it for AIDS project Los Angeles. Lindsey Wagner wore it in San Francisco for the Academy of Friends Gala, which is another AIDS organization. We went to San Francisco the day after Cate Blanchett signed her name to the gown, and Katherine Hepburn’s goddaughter Kat Kramer was actually wearing the gown at the time that she signed the dress. It was quite impressive.
BM: That is impressive.
R: And, she won an Oscar the day after she signed the dress.
BM: Signing the dress was good luck for her.
R: Yes it was.
BM: When you first designed the dress did you envision one particular person wearing it?
R: No, but we had a cattle call of models and Katelyn d’Estes…Have you seen the image of Katelyn on the couch?
BM: The dress will be up for auction next year, correct?
BM: The starting bid is $1,000,000, and what charities will the proceeds be donated to?
R: The money will be distributed to different AIDS charities like the ones I mentioned. One is Project Concern, because they sent us to La Paz, Bolivia. AIDS Project Los Angeles with Paramount Studios, Academy of Friends, San Francisco, and then there is TV Cares, which unveiled the gown in 2004. What we are planning on doing shortly after this event is get the gown to AMFAR, which is Elizabeth Taylor’s AIDS project. If the gown makes an appearance for AMFAR then they will also get a portion of the proceeds. Heritage Auction Gallery is going to be handling the auction. It will either be picked up from the museum in November or from me.
BM: This dress was a labor of love for you for the past 30 years. I’m sure it is going to be hard to let it go.
R: Yeah. Heritage is going to very strongly talk The Smithsonian Institution into purchasing it so it will go into the Smithsonian, which it rightfully deserves. They are going to demand that if they do put it in the museum that it has to have its own room with nothing else around it because of what it represents and all the stars that are here today and gone yesterday that have contributed to it. It really does need to have its own room.
BM: I have to agree. The dress is an important part of history. I had read that you planned to start work on The Hollywood Tails. Has that happened?
R: I’ve collected quite a few signatures. I have almost 200 men. As soon as this gown gets done…I have a pattern of my long tails that I wear sometimes. It’s really beautiful. The Hollywood Graffiti Tails is going to be pretty dramatic because the tails are actually going to drag on the ground. It will be kind of over the top and a little bit theatrical but when you have all these male stars that are lending their names it should be like the gown. It should drag on the ground just like the gown does.
BM: What is the final count of the signatures that are on the gown?
R: I think it’s like 395 or so. There are at least 100 names that still have to be added.
BM: Will those be added before the dress is auctioned off?
R: Most likely, yes.
BM: Is JERAN Designs still operating?
R: JERAN was a combination of Jerry Skeels and McLaughlin and we came up to Lake Arrowhead to semi-retire. We were focusing on doing our musical call Lost Spirit, which is a period piece that was performed at The Grove Theatre in Upland. It’s a period piece set in 1810 and it deals with ghosts and you don’t know who is alive and who is dead until the very last scene. It was fabulous. Jerry and I wrote the music, the lyrics, the book, the costumes, and the set. You’ll see that on exhibit at the museum as well.
BM: What are you doing now?
R: I’m concentrating on my book, which will be coming out at the end of this year. It’s called The Glamour Kings of Hollywood. It will be a 10 x 13 with 350 color photos spanning 30 years of our career. We have received numerous awards. We got The Golden Needle Award, The International Spirit Award from the United Nations, a best International Documentary Award, and a Humanitarian Award. I’m also the Ambassador of Lake Arrowhead so I have the Ambassador Award and Jerry and I have received two Emmy nominations.
BM: That’s an impressive résumé, especially the Humanitarian Award. I think you definitely deserve that for all the hard work and dedication you put into the dress and using it to raise funds for AIDS awareness.
R: Thank you very much.
BM: At one point you had the JERAN Foundation. Is that still around?
R: I ended up dissolving the JERAN Foundation. It was too much for me. I did three concerts. All of which were in Lake Arrowhead. Our musical was also involved with the JERAN Foundation. All of my concerts and my musical were played by Dale Kristien. She was in Phantom of the Opera opposite Michael Crawford. It was overwhelming. When Jerry passed I had to take all of that on and there was a lot of commitment because I already booked Dale and Bill to do my concerts and next thing I know I was in charge of selling tickets, promoting the concerts, the live auctions, and the silent auctions. It was just overwhelming for me so I thought, “I need to start concentrating on me.” I had put so much emphasis on the foundation, and after Jerry passed away it was very hard for me to even think about keeping my house. If I go back into producing shows again I’m going to produce them myself and the proceeds will go to me. There is only so much charity work you can do. You get burned out.
BM: I read that you were in a skit with Bruno. How did that come about? Did you know you were a part of the skit?
R: I did not know that I was going to be lied to. Somebody told me that they wanted me to be interviewed and I did the interview and I thought he stopped the cameras and he said, “Oh no, you can’t be positive you have to be negative.” I thought, “That’s not me.” Then I thought if I don’t cooperate with him he is not going to pay me to do this interview. He promised me and the guy that was being interviewed with me that everything that was being filmed in the studio was only going to be shown in London—not in America—and the next thing I know a month later I’m on HBO. I’m on all those shows and my sister called me and said, “Randy, did you just do an interview with a red suit on?” I said, “Yeah, why?” “I saw it,” she said. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” I’m so close to suing this guy. I’m doing my best to get it off of YouTube because that is really damaging to me because that is not me.
BM: I didn’t see the clip. I was curious if you were aware of what he was doing. A lot of people who end up in his clips seem to say the same thing that you did.
R: He is totally a scumbag. When the other guy, that I did the interview with, and I were going to our cars in the parking lot we both looked at each other and said, “What the hell did we just do?” He felt really, really bad about it. He said, “I have a feeling I’m going to be getting a hold of my attorney to go after this guy because I don’t feel comfortable.” I felt so bad and so dirty after doing this interview with him. I may have to go after him to either pull it or sue him. But, that is my past so what can I do.
BM: At least you were able to clear that up here, and you have done many good things that overshadow that one incident. That is just a small blurb.
R: Yeah, that is true.
BM: What has being a designer taught you?
R: It has taught me to be a leader in fashion. One thing that Jerry and I were always known for was the epitome of glamour. We were the top of glamour in the United States along with Bob Mackie in the 80’s and 90’s. There was nobody that could touch us as in terms of being at the height of glamour. I’m going to be coming out with my next book after this one, which will be called Made in the USA. I’m going to talk about how so much of fashion is being done in China. Everything that Jerry and I had done in 30 years was strictly American made and couture and made in house. Nothing was sent overseas. Nothing was made outside of our business. We were total couture.
R: It was Nikki’s wedding gown on The Young and the Restless. Melody Scott Thomas at the time…she still on the show. She’s married to producer Ed Scott. Melody knew that they were writing a wedding about her and Victor on The Young and the Restless and she wanted to have a new designer that was up and coming, that wasn’t a Valentino and a Bill Blass and all of those names, to do her wedding gown. She wanted an unknown. She talked to the producers and we met with them and they said, “Melody is insisting that she would like to have you design her wedding gown.” We thought, “That’s great.” We had done this elaborate wedding gown. It was quite extensive. It was quite long. It was on display in the New York Metropolitan Museum for 2 years. That should tell you how beautiful it was. It was the most talked about wedding ever for daytime soaps. So, the producers came into our shop and saw the gown for the first time and they said, “Oh my gawd, it’s breathtaking.” Then they asked us if we would be interested in playing ourselves on the show as fashion designers from Hollywood, so they actually wrote us in the script. There was a lot of pressure because at that time Diana was getting married and some of the lines were “Diana eat your heart out.” There was a lot of pressure going on with making this gown, but it was so weird because when it aired in 1984 we went home and our answering machine started with all the people from the East Coast, then it was the Midwest, and then it was the West Coast. It was so funny because at the end of the show it said “Nikki’s wedding gown designed by JERAN.” They had to hire a whole staff of people to take calls regarding that gown.
BM: WOW! That is pretty incredible.
R: It was incredible.
BM: So where is the gown today?
BM: Do you still design for special requests?
R: Not really. My focus is on my book. I told someone that asked me if I would go back into the business that I might consider coming out of retirement and start all over again because I have every pattern that we had ever done in the past 30 years. So, I literally can open up my business and go another 30 years. (After this interview Randy announced at the reception for The Hollywood Graffiti Gown on May 6th that he was coming out of retirement.)
BM: Are there any designers out there that influenced you?
R: My favorite designer that I really look up to, and not only because of the fact that he was basically on the same level as Jerry and I throughout the years, is Bob Mackie. Not only do I look up to Bob but he is the nicest designer that I think that I have ever known. He is so unpretentious and so real and so giving of his time to the colleges. He is a mentor to a lot of up and coming fashion designers and he speaks a lot at fashion colleges. I will also be doing a lot of speaking and book signings at the fashion institutes because a lot of these kids who are studying to be fashion designers weren’t even born at the time that I was at the peak of my career, so I’ll be looked at as a mentor also in the eyes of these young students. So, that’s exciting.
BM: It’s very exciting.
R: My book is very safe, which is great. I could do book signings at all the book stores, the fashion institutions, even on cruise ships. It’s that kind of a book and it’s going to do very well, especially in the Asian market because the title has Hollywood in it.
BM: When is it supposed to come out?
R: This year. I have all my images together. There are 10 chapters. The first chapter is ‘Celebrity Fashion’ then ‘Celebrity Sketches,’ Model Fashion,’ ‘Costume,’ ‘Costume Sketches,’ ‘Television and Film,’ all my magazine covers, all of my awards, concerts, plays, and musicals and it ends with 'The Hollywood Graffiti Gown.'
BM: I’m looking forward to checking it out.
R: It’s great.
BM: Is there anything that I may have missed that you would like to add?
R: Basically, I’d like to say how proud I am for living this wonderful journey of 30 years. I was with my partner for 30 years, and now I feel so honored to have the support of all these female stars who have lent their names to this cause.
BM: Is there something that you would like to say about Jerry since he is not with us today but he was a contributing factor to the gown and its cause.
R: Yes. My partner was the love of my life; he was my soulmate, and my best friend. All he had to do was walk into a room and people were drawn to him. He was 6’3”, blonde, and he had an aura…I’ve never seen anyone with such an aura. He was such a gentleman. He was such a class act, and everybody loved him. I know that he is looking down at me and he is really pushing me to become myself and finally get in the front seat because for 30 years I took a backseat to him because I wanted him to be the star because of our age difference. Now, it’s my turn to shine, it’s my journey now, and I’m in the front seat. I know his guidance from up above is promoting this gown, promoting my book, and just making sure that everything is in tack and then he will go on the other side.
BM: I’m sure he is very proud of you.
R: Yes, he is. And, what is so funny is my friend Nancy–she’s kind of intuitive–she sees him a lot. He comes to visit her a lot and sits at the foot of her bed. So, the day that we delivered the gown both Nancy and I saw Jerry standing next to the gown and he was smiling.
BM: I’m sure he was.
R: And he’ll be there that night.
BM: I’m sure he will be.
You can see The Hollywood Graffiti Gown in addition to Randy’s other gowns at The Hollywood Museum located at 1660 North Highland Ave, L.A. CA. 90028
Interview by Nikki Neil, Photo of Randy by J, Nikki's Wedding Dress and Marie Antoinette Gown photos courtesy of Heritage Auction Gallery, Photo of Katelyn in The Hollywood Graffiti Gown courtesy of WireImage