This post recalls how fashion designer Lloyd Klein met John Arguelles, in 1999, and the circumstances that drew them into an extraordinary and symbiotic business partnership and friendship that continues till this day to defy the odds. There are always exceptions to every rule. The rule successfully broken in this case says, "don't go into business with friends". Actually, there are many in the fashion industry that have also ignored this otherwise smart rule and may claim that they would not have the level of success they have today without ignoring this standard strand of wisdom.
"BEHIND EVERY GREAT YING
IS A REMARKABLE YANG"
Eponymous Fashion Designer Lloyd KIein | aka the Ying (L) | Executive Director John Arguelles | aka the Yang (R)
YING | YANG - FASHION'S STRONGEST BOND
THE ULTIMATE COLLABORATION
Many of the most famous and successful designers in fashion history credit an individual that was instrumental in building their career. Most often they are the gatekeeper and spokesperson, keeping the designer from distraction, helping to reign in the creatives toward realism in the budget without destroying an artist’s vision. Rarely are they "yes men" and are often one of the few that the designer can trust on every level and in particular because the honesty, is key to mutual trust. It is the unique complexity of the Ying /Yang duality that while not unique to fashion is certainly one that is evident and important. They are symbiotic relationships that are often united on message but have a differing point of view on execution. Neither is usually predominant, but both depend on the other's opinion, to come to a final conclusion. The relationship between a designer and the business partner is often as strong as are familial blood ties, as devoted and steadfast as is marriage, and is the strongest and closest of friendships in business, typically crossing the boundary between the professional and their personal lives. It is as strong as the tie between parent and child. Most would say that all of those relationship dynamics exist at some level simultaneously, in various degrees. In fact, many of them are married, are family, and/or are all devoted and true BFFs and epitomize the definition of confidante.
See the list of Fashion's well known YINGS and their counterpart YANGS.
THE YING AND I
I LOVE PARIS IN THE SPRINGTIME
In 1998, I was in Paris, France, enjoying the last day of a 6-day mini vacation. The week prior, I had been in the South of France supervising a fundraising event called Cure by the Shore as part of the events during the Cannes Film Festival, on behalf of my employer at the time, The Entertainment Industry Foundation (EIF). I'd not had a vacation in over two years, so it dawned on me to extend my trip for an extra week in Paris before my return flight home. So I extended my business trip and decided to enjoy a planned week of adventure in one of the most enjoyable and beautiful cities on earth.
Time flew while I was having fun. In a heartbeat, it was already Thursday evening, the fifth and final night of my mini holiday. It was May, in Europe, and the sun doesn't set till almost 10 at night. I normally had dinner planned with Larry C, a friend of mine who summered in Paris each year. He'd generously offered to host my stay at his apartment. (I am a fortunate guy to have really great friends). That evening, I took what had been planned to be a short cat-nap at 5 pm, but woke up just as the Paris sun was setting about 5 hours later. I realized once I looked out the window, then glanced at my watch, that I had missed dinner with Larry, who ate at eight and was never late, like clockwork. He was already sound asleep and retired for the night. I was hungry and it was my last night in Paris. As much as I could have crawled back to bed and call it a night, I only had to remind myself that I was in Paris for g-ds sake and the next night I'd be back in LA. I could worry about sleep then. So of course went out, "S'il vous plaît!" Besides, it felt like something great was about to happen and it wasn't going to be revealed in the my hosts pied–à–terre, no matter how charming the decor was.
LAUGHTER IS CONTAGIOUS
Larry C, was the consummate, chic ex-patriot host. Each night, during my week long stay he had organized a small carefully orchestrated dinner party with 3- 5 of his Parisian friends, always at a different restaurant. He did this for my benefit but it was also a good chance and reason to see friends that he'd been wanting to corral for some time. On my first night in the city he had introduced me to a charming little bistro called, "Trois Petit Cochon", ( aka The Three Little Pigs), located in the heart of Le Marais. The menu was delicious, and since each night I used it as my litmus to divine which restaurant would be most favored, and it hadn't been defeated as the best in my opinion, I returned for seconds. I also loved the seating configuration. Rather then create the standard isolated tables separated from each other, the seating there was communal at long tables. This meant that an open seat could be filled by whomever was in need of one. I thought to myself, if I am forced to sit with strangers I could enjoy some unplanned interaction with someone interesting. Just as I had expected, I was seated at a nearly full table insinuated in one of two open seats not yet taken by already seated party of 7 who were celebrating something or another. They were friendly and made me feel welcomed immediately. We acknowledged each other with nods but no introductions other than a polite Bon Soir or two. I enjoyed trying to decipher what they were talking/laughing about in French. The term "eaves drop" doesn't really apply here since it's impossible to avoid hearing the conversation of your neighboring diner. Now I love Paris, but I don't, "parlez vous". I've picked up a lot more of the language in the last 18 years, but at that time, I was clueless when it came to French. My translation skills were limited to having to listen for words that that were similar to those in English or Spanish. I really didn't get involved with their conversation, although I enjoyed trying to figure out whether they were talking about a recent trip to Barcelona or if the topic was something about someones's mother-in-law, who didn't cut the grass, and only ate her biscuits without butter (proof that my foreign tongue was tied). I found myself laughing as hysterically as they did. Laughter comes easy to me and it's infectious, so I laughed heartily even though I didn't really understand what was funny. It became apparent that each guest had been asked to tell a humorous story. One by one they went around the table with the laughter becoming louder with each joke. Then apparently it was my turn. What? I didn't expect to be included as I was still a stranger to the group. All eyes turned to me, and as my cheeks flushed and my jaw dropped,I muttered that I didn't speak French. I hadn't revealed that I was a fish out of water enjoying my pretense of just being "Johnny from the block". I didn't need words to know that their faces were saying, "if you don't understand French why are you laughing with us as if you do? The host then said something to me in French for the benefit of the table and knowing I wouldn't comprehend. I was obviously set up to be the punchline and butt of his joke. Whatever it was he said sent the entire table into a "laugh so much, your sides will ache, your heart will go pit-a-pat", a la Felix the Cat, type of laughter. Nevertheless, I still joined them in the laughter because it felt so good. I want to say I laughed so hard, I practically pee'd my pants.
- Or as the French might say - I laughed like a crazy and almost made the pee-pee in the trousers!
FAVORABLE FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Just then, a debonair gentleman approached the table wearing a powder blue leather jacket and carried a white motorcycle helmet under his left arm. I could see that he was the hosts plus one and although he had had a seat waiting for him earlier it was now filled. The host's body language indicated he disapproved of the man being for tardy for his party. He gestured to the newcomer with a wave of his hand and pointed to the empty seat directly across from mine. The new stranger sensed his friend was angry at him and wanted to avoid exchanging words. So as he sat down, he introduced himself to the table made a short apology and then the host went around the table introducing each guest and how he knew them. The host apprised him about me and of what had just occurred before he arrived and obviously explained that I was an American who laughed at jokes like a hyena. He introduced himself very warmly to me and said in a sincere tone of voice that he loved meeting people from the U.S. He said he was sort of fed up with the attitude of snob that the French seemed to specialize in and that Americans lacked that kind of pretension. His focus never returned back to his friends at the dinner party. He had a way of allowing me to me feel as though I was the only person in the room and that my words and thoughts had great value. Although, in hind-site he did more of the talking and since I am very good at it, I listened intently to him with fascination. He had a very thick French accent, but spoke an English that was easy to understand. Dinner ended, guests had long departed, and the restaurant was closing and we hadn't noticed any of that. It was 3 am, and the banter continued as we walked for the next few hours up and down the quiet streets of a sleeping Paris. We talked about things that had to do with our ambitions, the people we admired, and especially about the importance of living life abundantly and with honesty. We had a lot in common even though we were worlds apart.
It was nice to encounter a 28 year old since I hadn't really met with anyone closer to my age range during the trip other than a few of Larry's friends, who were decidedly two decades older than my 37. I was really enjoying meeting someone that was so engaging and to hear about his world in fashion. It was foreign to me, but I was intrigued, and wanted to learn more. With the hope of not sounding trite or inauthentic, It honestly felt like I knew this guy from many lives ago, if that's even a possibility. In fact, it still remains so, even now. By 5 am I knew I had to get back to Larry's as I had planned to pick up a few things to bring back to friends and family and time was in short supply. We had spent the last hour talking about our levels of happiness or lack thereof with our careers. He was a fashion designer and was somewhat obsessed with a relentless desire to live in the US and particularly in Beverly Hills. He'd envisioned the details of what each day would included, the type of house he wanted to call his home and the type of car he wanted to drive. He yearned to work with the glamorous starlets of Hollywood.
WHO WAS THAT GUY?
I went on to explain that I loved my work but was ready to start something new. I confessed that I wanted to build on the connections and experience I'd developed through my work with celebrity wrangling and special event production. I wanted to work from the client's perspective, rather than through the mindset of the vendor's. I have always been aware that my joy is connected to projects that allow my entrepreneurial spirit to be exercised. I'd rather direct than act, produce than install, orchestrate rather than observe as a bystander.
By the time I got back to Larry's flat it was 5:30 am and my flight was at 1 pm. My new friend, the fashion designer, offered to come back in a few hours with a car and take me to the airport. Since I hadn't thought about my ride to the airport yet, and since it seemed like the conversation was far from over, I accepted. So about 18 hours after having met the French guy who's vibe was almost unbelievable, or as the French say 'c'est incroyable', and quite unlike any other I'd ever encountered, I was on the plane and heading home. It seemed like a very long flight and although I was sad to leave the City of Lights, I was delighted to be returning to 'Beverly. ...Hills that is, swimmin pools and movie stars...'
A FAIT ACCOMPLI
As promised he showed up exactly on time in a Mercedes Limousine to get me to the airport on time. Between the time we had said goodbye that morning till his arrival 4 hours later he had managed to bring about a dozen different gifts for me to take home to give to those on my gift list. He figured I would not have the time to do the shopping I had hoped to squeeze in before leaving. I was blown away at his thoughtfulness and it certainly made a great impression on me. On the way to the airport, My generous and new French friend had proposed that I assist him in finding opportunity to bring his fashion to the U.S. and asked that I please give it some serious thought, I figured either this artist was either out of his mind, or his offer was that rare opportunity, knocking at my door. We had barely met and 18 hours was normally not enough time to make any serious plans or decisions of any importance. To fiddle with the idea of leaving my job to work with someone I'd just met, felt dangerously ridiculous. For that matter, it was probably naive, but I didn't care. His sincerity resonated with me and his honesty was clear and it felt like it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing for some reason. Making calls and using my network on his behalf of the brand was natural for me, and I had nothing to lose, except for some time. On the flip side, I had everything to gain. His trust in my ability to prevail fave me energy and momentum and had a fast growing interest in succeeding with this project. It was was way outside of my normal area of concern, but I love that kind of challenge. It only made it more appealing.
FASHION ON THE PERIPHERAL
It dawned on me about 6 hours into the flight that I hadn't seen his work yet and realized that that had to happen soon, in order to make the pitches. I had barely learned the gentleman's name and even had had to pull out his business card several times to refresh my memory. Lloyd like the London bank, Klein like Calvin, but no relation. Up to that time, I had been involved with fashion only peripherally. I had helped to produce several major fashion events like: Calvin Klein at the Hollywood Bowl, Isaac Mizrahi at the Chinese Theater, Macy's Passport, and about 10 others. However, my involvement had always been related to logistics, public relations, celebrity handling or catering. I had observed the runway production so often from the sidelines or from backstage and the back of the house and was extremely intrigued by the formula . Fashion and my interests in it has never been so much about the clothes as much as it is about the artists that have had the prowess to inspire cultural movements that have the power to define an era.
Just as I was about to doze off on the flight, since I hadn't slept the night before, I decided to put my headset on and catch a bit of the next in-flight movie that was about to begin (on-demand was years away from being standard). It looked like fun and since it was about Paris, I thought why not? I just hoped it was in English. I had been surrounded by foreign tongue for 14 days and ready to understand what was being said without having to translate. The movie was called "Ready-to-Wear", and if for some reason you haven't seen it, it's a hilarious and somewhat realistic fictional film by Robert Altman that covers the world of Paris Haute Couture. After seeing the movie, I was really excited about the possibility of being a part of that world. The movie helped me envision my future in fashion and that inspired me to go forward full speed with the Lloyd Klein project.
Was it Serendipitous that of all flight movies this one would be playing? Was it Coincidental? Perhaps it was a Twist of Fate? Then I thought, is this part of a conspiracy theory? I brushed that one off shaking my head. But seriously, it can't really get any more apropos than that, can it? Like a bit of deja vu moment I remembered that Lloyd and I had spent at least an hour the night before talking about how we both believed that everything in life had a purpose, and things happened in response to destiny, more than they happened by accident. Some things are just meant to be! So I dove in head first, as soon as I returned back to LA.
A little more about the event that fortuitously placed me in Paris in the first place...
It was the kind of event that most anyone I know would love to attend. Imagine if you will, just down the road from Nikki Beach in the park with the carousel toward the end of the busy section of the Blvd de la Croisette. 4 pm Cocktails under whispy optic white chiffon draped canopies placed around the perimeter to provide a bit of cool filtered shade to guarantee of privacy, a hot commodity at the Festival. Most everyone is in Cannes during the festival to promote careers and projects. Being photographed is standard and expected. After all, it's the largest photo-op in the world. That being said, it's a coveted moment for the those under the spotlight to attend a tres-chic no cameras allowed private party. It drew every major celebrity in town. The whimsical sounds of Pink Martini as they played live made it the coolest spot on earth for those few hours. Ooh la la, just magnificent!
What was exceptionally wonderful was that QVC had partnered with my employer, The Entertainment Industry Foundation, to raise funds for it's National Colo-Rectal Cancer Research Fund and for the National Alliance for Women's Cancer Research. This was an inaugural joint venture event and has been celebrated in various formats and at different locations since that time. The premise of the event as fundraiser was based on QVC's live on-air sales of donated designer sunglasses and accessories. Brands from across the spectrum donated 500-1000+ items of merchandise for resale with 100% of proceeds to the charity. The on-air sales took place live from the party on a set, unobtrusively tucked away in a corner of the event space. Attending celebrities were given opportunity to show their support of the effort by stopping by the set to model a pair of sunglasses and say a few words on camera which played live in the U.S. It was a huge success and one I'll never forget.