adam selman takes us christmas shopping in the garment district
To buy galactic ribbon for the designer's friend Amy Sedaris.
On a recent afternoon, the designer Adam Selman stood in front of a rack of gleaming ribbons at M&J Trimming on 38th and 6th Avenue. He eyed a spool printed with miniature Saturns and moons. "She would die for that!" he said, snatching it to take a closer look. He picked up another embroidered with zodiac wheels and smiling suns. It's even better—more Susan Miller than Bill Nye—and Selman grins, putting it under his arm.
She is Amy Sedaris, the actress, writer, and longtime friend of Selman, who asked him to create a top for her for a holiday party. On another day, though, she might be Rihanna, another friend who regularly seeks out Selman's eye. (Last year, he created the singer's CFDA dress out of translucent mesh and 230,000 individually applied Swarovski crystals.) Olivia Jordan, the current Miss USA, wore a custom Adam Selman creation at the Miss Universe pageant this week. It features shiny wings made of 5,000 foil feathers, like what might happen if a bald eagle got lost in Studio 54.
For over a decade, Selman created stage costumes for musicians including Rihanna and Britney Spears. In 2013, he shifted focus to launch his namesake line, now in its sixth season. It's the ready-to-wear equivalent of freshly-popped champagne, effervescent but never simple. The latest collection, spring/summer 16, is full of long crinoline-esque skirts and proto pop-art prints, inspired partly by Selman's Southern Baptist upbringing, partly by a Hawaiian nudist commune. "Even when I take something as seriously as I can, it comes out playful," he told me one day in his studio, flanked by two delicate yet bawdy oil paintings of romance novel covers.
When we met in the Garment District, Selman wore Converse high-tops, a 70s 'stache, and a perpetual smile that charmed everyone. "This guy never ages!" exclaimed a fabric cutter at one of his regular spots. "He's been coming in here for 15 years and he won't tell me the secret." Selman, now 33, left his hometown of Belton, Texas, at the age of 18 to study at Pratt. As a kid, his family went to church five times a week and rarely watched cable or rated-R movies. Moving to New York gave him a chance to ravenously consume the pop culture he had missed. This bred obsessions that linger to this day — John Waters movies, true crime novels, the Supremes — and often serve as inspiration for collections.
At B&J on 7th Avenue and 38th, Selman handled fabrics like a chef would tomatoes. After finding out that a gold and salmon striped silk was out of stock, he settled on a liquidy silver lamé. Sedaris, who commissioned Selman to do the costumes for her book, Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People, shares his penchant for sparkles and well-measured pinches of camp. (The two originally met on the set of a Dolly Parton video.)
At the front counter, Adam stuck his credit card into a chip reader. He grabbed a Gobstopper from a candy bowl. "Do you hate this thing?" he asked the man ringing him up, pointing to the reader. One of Selman's recent obsessions is the future possibilities of mobile payment. On the walls of his studio a few blocks away hang sketches of retro-futuristic rings, clothing, and accessories designed to hold tiny chips. Earlier this year, he partnered with MasterCard to try to realize the prototypes.
Back at the studio, Selman set the lamé down on a sewing table, already covered with a bit of sparkly fringe. "The other day when we moved the table a million crystals fell on the floor, leftover from Rihanna's dress," his design director, Marley Glassroth, told me. From the ceiling hung a dozen flowing white gowns. The hemlines are a little longer than their counterparts from spring/summer 16—it's a capsule collection for D'NA, a boutique in Saudi Arabia.
What excites Selman the most is seeing real women wearing his designs. A few years ago, a girl ran up to him on the street to tell him how how much she loved a piece from his first collection, a boudoir-inspired dress with a thigh-high slit and fabric thin enough to preclude panties. As she recounted, "I went out at night and I had the best time. And I was feeling myself so hard that I destroyed—like destroyed—the dress. Tears, stains, walk of shame, like the ultimate... And it didn't matter because I had the best time and it was all about that dress." These kinds of stories, Selman said, are the ultimate compliments.
Text Alice Hines
Photography Kathy Lo