He’s funny, he’s fabulous and he’s every woman’s gay best friend. Simon Doonan, the creative ambassador at large for Barneys New York, has always been a trusted name in the fashion industry. And although he won’t claim the title of style guru, just last year he was given the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “I don’t think people think of me as much of a guru,” Doonan says. “From me, I think they can rely on a kind of humorous take on what is going on.”
His comicality carries over in his latest book, Gay Men Don’t Get Fat (Blue Rider Press, $25), in which Doonan stresses self-acceptance to the “straight women of the world.” During a recent visit to Las Vegas, the former New York Observer columnist chatted it up about everything from his book, this season’s must-have item at Barneys to his most important fashion tip and favorite thing to do when he’s in town.
What was the inspiration behind your book?
I noticed that all my straight woman friends were becoming increasingly self-critical and narcissistic and holding themselves to incredibly bizarrely high standards. Women now feel they have to be perpetually successful. They feel they have to look like Angelina Jolie. The having-it-all nightmare is making women nuts. I wanted to say, “Chill, it is OK to be groovy and fun and loose.” Women are engulfed by what other people think. They are constantly asking other people’s opinions. You can paralyze a woman with a simple comment about her appearance. You have to learn to live your life not caring about what other people think. Gay men have learned to do that, and I am sharing the gay with them.
What do you suggest women do to be able to say, “Hey, I am happy with me”?
The most important thing is to develop your own look—a signature look that is beauty, style and self-expression. Having your own look, not caring about fashion, trends or what you think other people think you should wear.
Who did you learn everything from?
There is a collage of people that I have always found very inspiring and interesting. Like Andy Warhol. He was really smart, funny and weird. He said, “If everybody isn’t beautiful, then nobody is.” There is a message in there about accepting yourself and accepting everybody.
What is one thing we don’t know about Simon?
I am completely nutty and inappropriate, and I am also very, very organized. I am always five minutes early for appointments. I am like a little Girl Scout—very conforming. When they say turn off your phone on the plane, I am the first one with the phone turned off. I am outraged if people aren’t listening. If it’s form, then we all have to do it.
Have you ever told your partner [designer Johnathan Adler] you didn’t like something he is wearing?
Jonathan is usually very meticulous about his appearance. He has little uniforms, white jeans or black T-shirts. I am the one that goes off the rails a little bit. I’ll come down the stairs and he will be like, “Really?” Lately, I have taken to wearing Ed Hardy T-shirts, well, because I think it is the last trendless thing you can do. I enjoy it as a social experiment. I’ve always liked high-low trash couture.
What is the must-have item at Barneys this season?
I’d definitely say a Celine bag. Do whatever it takes—sell your grandmother, pawn everything. I don’t think I am a helpful person. You know how gay people are supposed to be really helpful, like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? I am inspiring, I think, but not helpful.
What is the No. 1 fashion tip you live by?
The only real faux pas is not expressing yourself. Use clothes to say something about yourself. Otherwise, what is the point? Conformity to me is a big no-no. I live by and am anti-conformity.
What do you do when you are here in town?
I like to walk around and look at people. People watching is so good here. It’s fun to look at people and try to figure out what their deal is.