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Simon Doonan

A condensed version of this interview appears in the print edition of our Spring 2012 issue, on stands now.

"Nicki Minaj is definitely courageous and creative," Simon Doonan gushed over the phone about his recent PAPER interview subject while promoting his new book, Gay Men Don't Get Fat, on the West Coast. We could say the same about Mr. Doonan, the creative ambassador at large of Barneys New York, who, to us, is the foremost expert on fabulous, freaky style. Here, the author of Wacky Chicks and Eccentric Glamour chats about interviewing Minaj, why he loves douche bags and his new book, which argues that gay men hold the secrets to living life to its healthiest, most glamorous potential.

Despite the title, would you say this book is mostly for straight women?
Yes. I want to liberate the women of the world and show them how to live with the fearless stylish bravado of us homos. I see gay people as charismatic deviants. We have an eccentric world view and we have a creative way of seeing things. We, and only we, know how to enhance your tawdry, lackluster lives. Gay people are the bloodhounds of fabulosity.

You also have some good fashion advice for straight men in this book, even though you're not interested in making them over. 
I'm not one of those gays who wants to 'Queer Eye 'everything in the universe. I enjoy the spectacle. I see fashion through a Diane Arbus sort of lens, where everybody should look extreme and everybody should look well-differentiated. I'm anti-conformist. If a straight dude is really a straight dude, he should wear a belt pager and a Tommy Bahama shirt, because then we can recognize who he is.

You break down some looks that you think work well for straight men. What are those styles?
That's the one vaguely helpful part [of the book]. I don't have the helpful gene that a lot of gay people have. I'm more about inspiring people to break rules and buy a blue stripper wig. But, yes, there's one chapter where I outline the fact that for straight guys and gay guys, there's really no need for them to dress differently. So I outline three contemporary styles that work for both: Perverse Prep, Heritage Henry and the Douche Bag.

And what is 'the Douche Bag' look?
I love douche bag clothing. It's Ed Hardy, it's Abercrombie & Fitch, it's the costuming of reality show television. It's hedonistic and unpretentious and flamboyant and it's actually kind of great. It should be celebrated. I myself have a whole bunch of Ed Hardy t-shirts that are boys t-shirts, not the big baggy ones. I like to wear them and just horrify people.

People recoil when you wear Ed Hardy?
Yeah. Fashion people are very predictable. They have a prescribed reaction to things. With the exception, of course, of fabulous people like [PAPER editorial director] Mr. Mickey, [fashion people] seem sophisticated on the surface, but that sophistication and their understanding of fashion doesn't go beyond designer clothing. Where as I see it as this incredible landscape, a cavalcade of conflicting styles and ideas.

Earlier you said that there's no need for gay men and straight men to dress differently. Where does the idea of 'the metrosexual' fit in with that?
I think we're at a point in history now where gay men and straight men don't need to recoil at either ends of the room. Since the advent of the metrosexual, since gay people are now integrated into society, there's no need for gay men to be associated with the pouffy guy in the fluffy sweater on one end of the room while the super-straight guy in a hoodie's on the other. It's no longer a meaningful differentiation because of the metrosexual revolution, which is also not a past-tense, by the way. People tend to think 'Oh, the metrosexual -- that was in the early aughts.' It wasn't really. It arrived then, but now it has become pervasive. It didn't go away, it just sort of proliferated and gathered momentum.

Were you concerned the title of your book would offend gay men who do struggle with their weight?
I'm not fattist at all. The title of the book may suggest that, but as someone who's freakishly under-sized myself, I'm very size-inclusive. I've always written about plus-size clothing for women and I have many friends who struggle with their weight. In a way, the title makes fun of the well-toned, chiseled gay physique and super weight-conscious gays. I'm that generation of gay -- the gym obsessed ones who are determined to fit in to the same size for the rest of their lives. But it's a complex landscape today. You have a lot of people struggling with their weight in increasing numbers and the impulse to be sedentary is stronger, more people are stuck in front of their computers all day. I've always been more Sporty Spice. I like to go outside and skip about in a field.

You have a whole chapter on gay food versus straight food.
Yes. As you can tell, I believe in making sweeping generalizations. I think there aren't enough of them. There's nothing worse than being tentative.

What is gay food and what is straight food?
The basics of my philosophy about food is quite simple. Macaroons are gay food and
Aberdeen Angus Steak is straight food. You have to learn how to balance your straight and gay foods in order to have a healthy diet. But in applying my theories, I also noted a very big paradox: the biggest, hairiest, butchest chefs are also producing the most prissy, nelly, dainty food. Dishes like tiny little scallops with tangerine gelées on top of a miniature rice cracker are done by chefs who are astoundingly butch! I was a judge on Iron Chef and that's when I noticed this. Looking at these bign hairy chefs competing on the show I thought, 'Oh, we're going to have a leg of lamb and mashed potatoes.' Instead it was this Marie Antoinette kind of food --  all prissy colors and exquisite bon-bon-sized morsels. I found it very hilarious.

You describe simple, local food as being 'lesbian.'
Yes. Basically, I love lesbian food. I hate contrived food. Right now I'm in Seattle on my book tour and I was just in Portland yesterday and there's a million places to eat where you're going to get a much purer, more lesbian approach to food.

There's also a lot of 'lesbian food' stuff going on in Brooklyn.
Yeah, absolutely. Thank God for Brooklyn.

What was it like interviewing Nicki Minaj for us? Were you nervous?
I was because I'm such a fan! She's such a force of life and such an extraordinarily, exciting new performer. Being of a certain age, I remember when Grace Jones first had her moment and how exciting it was to see her and David Bowie and glam rock and Culture Club. Any performer who combines musical innovation and an incredible visual style is always exciting.

I also think that Nicki Minaj, Gaga and Katy Perry are all examples of girls who are under such an extraordinary amount of pressure. I was really conscious of not annoying her or taking up her time because I keep thinking of the daily onslaught she must get in her daily life. [These performers'] lives are a deluge of demands and crazy stuff and I wanted us to have a very frivolous and fun chat. I thought, 'Girlfriend could use a laugh,' so I told her about the chapter in my book about being a stupid hoe. She was quite amused by that. We bonded over Mob Wives. It was really a delight. I told her that if I see her at Fashion Week again sitting next to Anna Wintour, I'm going to come up and fluff her wig for her.

Nicki Minaj's style seems like such a fabulous rejection of the conventional, midriff-bearing pop-stars of the early 2000s.
The Nicki Minajs, the Grace Joneses, the Gagas of the world -- they're fearlessly unconventional in a society where it's not easy to be a female performer and so "out there." In a way, I'm sure [performers like them] use all that costuming as an armor, to create some fence against all the attention. It's a lot to take on and it's so much easier not to succeed. But, once you have their kind of success, you've really bitten off a lot. And you have to chew it with your pale blue lipstick on.

You mentioned bonding over Mob Wives.  Are you a big reality TV fan?
I make sure I have a healthy helping of trash TV. I think it's important to be au courant.

What do you think is so attractive about over-the-top women on Mob Wives or Real Housewives? Are they the Nicki Minajs of reality TV?
I've always been attracted to women who are over-the-top. For me, what I love about Nicki Minaj, is that she's un-pretentious. Fearlessness and un-pretentiousness is a very appealing combination. Her style is not some form of snooty couture, it's more like Mardi Gras. 

Let's end with a question you asked Nicki -- what is the freakiest song on your iPod?
Probably anything by Yma Sumac. She was the Peruvian Nicki Minaj circa 1950. Young kids who discover her go crazy. She growls over this exotic music and makes all of these warbling noises. There was a rumor going around at one point during her career that she wasn't from Peru at all and that her name wasn't Yma Sumac, it was Amy Camus, and she was really a housewife from Brooklyn. She would perform on stage with Styrofoam totems next to her doing this strange squealing. Definitely someone for PAPER readers to check out.

Hey Nicki, You're So Fine
Nicki Minaj, Scene Stealer
Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler Talk Paisley Ping-Pong and other 'P' Words

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