NYC designer Geoffrey Mac talks fashion, dressing Debbie Harry and his Colorado roots

Internationally renowned designer Geoffrey Mac began his career in fine art, working as a painter and photographer. Eventually shifting his discipline to fashion, he's now a couturier for famous clients like Lady Gaga, Debbie Harry and Britney Spears. The New York City-based designer will be in Denver tonight showing his brand-new Spring 2014 GMAC collection at EXDO Events Center as part of Fashion Feast 2013, a locally produced fashion show and fundraiser featuring RuPaul's Drag Race winner Sharon Needles.

In advance of the Denver debut of his accessible streetwear collection, Mac spoke with Westword about how he started, his friend and muse Needles, and his own personal connection to Colorado.

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Westword: How did you begin designing clothes and jewelry?

I went to the Art Institute of Chicago and was a fine art painter and photographer. I sort of became obsessed with the aesthetics -- with paintings, I would just keep painting them and painting them and I could never find an endpoint. Originally, I became interested in shoe-making and the idea that you draw something and you make exactly that and then you're finished. It was a form of art that allowed me to be able to release it into the world for once. It was really gratifying when it came to clothing and accessories, I guess.

Out of school, I started a full line of high-fashion rubber clothes. But they ended up with a fetish market focus, which I never wanted. I wanted to see it more in boutiques. It was never fetish; it was high fashion. All the sex shops and magazines like that wanted it and it really blew up. We were doing great, but I wanted to be able to break into a non-fetish market. The clients were people who just wanted, like, a catsuit. It wasn't that gratifying. Then I sort of transferred into regular fabrics for clothing quite a bit more.

Jewelry was my old assistant's idea. We had always been playing with stuff in-house and design details for garments, etc. She was the one who really wanted to break it apart and push making jewelry out of silicone and resin. So we developed that and ran with it. It was super fun -- we learned a lot about casting. Everything is made in-house: all the molds are done here and the sculpting is done here. It made the studio feel complete.

Your collections and the models you choose go well together -- they are like space-age and kitsch, but without being either of those things directly.

We try to do an unplaceable, vintage kind of look. It's like vintage mixed with future. We're launching the GMAC collection at the Denver show, and it is really good. Very tangible items -- pieces are around $30 to $150. We have bags, T-shirts and leggings with cool prints on them, and pop art, and drug references. I'm really proud of it as our first kind of streetwear line.

So the GMAC collection is more ready-to-wear than your more runway-oriented work?

Yeah. We've had such a great response from our clients and fans with the GMAC collection. It's what they've all been dying for -- something more day (wear) and more affordable. I think people aren't into throwing down as much money and are more into wearing day looks these days. I know I shop that market more -- you won't really be catching me in a dress shirt and tie.

I've launched a line for Sharon Needles -- her merch section will be launching really soon. I worked with her on prints and some dresses and stuff. It's sort of just an extension of the GMAC line, but tweaked for Sharon. She's just so inspirational for me as a friend and client. I really understand her style -- it's easy to follow, but she's always on some new tip of what other people aren't doing. As soon as people catch on, she's on to the next. It is inspirational to see someone on the forefront of fashion, as opposed to trying to look like the girl that she wants to be, or whatever. Sharon is really her own thing. We'll have a couple of pieces available immediately after the show at our website -- a couple of Sharon Needles pieces, T-shirts, bags, that kind of thing. We'll have quite a bit of stuff. We're kicking off the spring collection early this year. We'll be putting it in stores pretty soon -- it is just such a new concept and we're still sort of testing the market on it.

How did you come to work with Sharon Needles?

When she won Drag Race, I styled her next magazine cover. I brought in a bunch of dresses and we kind of just clicked, design-wise. I loved her whole dark persona. I think it is refreshing to see a drag queen come from the dark side -- she's edgier and a lot more masculine, but still super-hot, sexy and feminine.

That was exciting because I've never really had that big of a muse before -- I've been inspired by clients, but Sharon really gets our design and I really get her. It is a great match.

You've worked with people like Lady Gaga, Debbie Harry and Ke$ha. How do those collaborations or connections come about?

With Gaga, I actually do a lot of work with Zaldy. I do a lot of custom latex for him for performers. Blondie was actually through a friend of mine who I do custom work for -- it was recommended that I get a hold of Debbie, because she needed some stuff. We just kind of hit it off -- she's quite a lovely woman. Very hardworking, really talented. That is inspirational to me, to see someone still working and singing live. There's so much bad, over-processed talent out there these days -- you know, people who just shouldn't be on stage, but they have a good PR company or whatever. So, it's exciting to see someone like Debbie still bringing the house down.

You're based in New York City. What is your Colorado connection, exactly?

I went to school there off and on. I was born in Boulder. We moved away -- my family is military -- and then we moved back to Boulder when I was in fourth grade, then to Denver, then to Georgia and then back to Denver again. I moved out when I was seventeen and moved to Capitol Hill. I got a scholarship to go to school in Chicago.

But definitely all of my crazy, early teens time was happening in Denver in warehouses, and parties and in LoDo.

Ah, yes. I remember the old Tracks 2000 and going to warehouse parties before LoDo was fully realized.

It was amazing. Such good spaces, such good parties. You know, back in the days of map points.

Map points! Back when you bought tickets to a rave and had to call a phone line the day of to find out where it was, and then get directions to a map point where you would eventually get the address to the party.

Yes! And you'd meet the party promoter's mom who was screening people to give them maps. (Laughs.) It was so great. I loved it.

Tonight's Fashion Feast starts with cocktails at 8 p.m. and the show at 9 p.m. at EXDO Events Center. Tickets are $10 to $30; a canned-goods donation gets you a discount, and a portion of the ticket sales will go to Feeding Colorado and Food Bank of the Rockies. Geoffrey Mac's new GMAC collection will walk the runway, along with work from local designers and a special live performance by RuPaul's Drag Race winner Sharon Needles. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the event's website.

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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies