Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Holdaway.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
At nine months old, I was adopted into a huge Mormon family in Gilroy California, the “garlic capital of the world”, population 7,00 at the time, where I was raised until I was 12 years old. The closest sibling to my age was my brother Steve, 10 years my senior, who was a Hippie and supplied me with the rock n roll soundtrack of my childhood- CSNY, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Hendrix to name a few. It was blasted through his bedroom door and into the family room where I covered every inch of carpet with my Barbie’s and Ken dolls. I had the jet plane, the dune buggy, the pool and every outfit available to the dolls.
I was particularly fascinated by hippie clothing and at 10 years old and insisted on only wearing bell-bottoms and tunics. It was my signature look at 10. My mother refused to make me pants because they were too difficult, but, made all of my shirts. She sewed her entire wardrobe from Vogue patterns. The sound of her sewing machine overlaid the Rock N Roll blasting from my brother’s room. Music and fashion were my childhood.
At 12 I was sent to reform Mormon boarding in Utah- Provo Canyon Boy’s School, because I had started to drink alcohol and smoke pot. As the result of horrific sexual abuse by multiple local sexual predators in Gilroy, physical abuse from my adopted father and then at boarding school, I suffered from what is now diagnosed as, PTSD.
My early childhood shaped me into a rebellious and angry young teenager preparing me for the New Wave/ Punk future I was about to embark on. I developed a strong disdain for adults and authority, which caused me a lot of difficulties early on. I was loved by my peers and loathed by educators and anyone with authority.
It’s worthy to note I was Born with a spring in my step, an authentic and wonderful sway, an attitude, blond locks (mimicking Farah’s feathers) and a strong affection for heels and women’s clothing. Surprisingly I suffered very little taunting, bullying or beatings, although they did happen. I had family protectors mixed with a lust for excitement, mischievous behavior and the ability to connect with my peers on a deep level. I also must credit Rock n Roll for saving my life. If it wasn’t for Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Rush, early Journey, Ronnie Montrose and Santana I know I would have had a different childhood. Rock N Roll brought me incredible joy.
I briefly returned to Gilroy after Utah boarding school and was quickly ejected from Gilroy high school, the only high school. I was then sent to live with my older sister, Denise her husband and three children in Palm Springs.
On February 14th, 1980, I snuck out my bedroom window to smoke a joint while listening to Journey- NEXT (I distinctly remember). In the distance, I heard the roar of a party, blocks away from my sister’s home. After climbing up on her fence to see where it was coming from, I hopped several fences, through neighbor’s yards to get a closer look. I was greeted by a party goer who invited me in, he said he was the host of the party (he wasn’t). I was terrified and felt out of place with my Utah ski parka and feathered hair. It turns out this was an annual Valentines Day party hosted by a man named Mark? (can’t remember his last name).
It became the night of many firsts. The first time I had ever seen or spoken to another gay man, let alone 200 dressed in pink, red and white blasting disco music. I did expensive white powder for the first time and went home with two beautiful older strangers (in their mid 20’s). Strangely, my entrance to this party, filled with joyful beautiful gay men, did not make me feel like “I had arrived”. After all, I had attended “Disco Sucks” parties and burned a few vinyl disco records and was completely anti disco. Disco, a genre of music, unbeknown to me at the time, I would never escape moving forward, and later to respect and love.
When I decided to go home with these two beautiful older men, I forgot I had left my bedroom window wide open for my sister to discover in the morning along with the needle on the turntable spinning on the Journey record. I had a spectacular time.
My sister was rightfully intolerant of my rebellious behavior and disapproved of my newfound friends.
A man by the name of Jim Slatin, in his 50’s who supplied me and many other teens with bucket loads of illegal substances and alcohol ( I now understand he was a predator and a ephebophiliac)
One night or day Jim asked me if I had ever been to Hollywood. I said “no.” He told me there were tons of kids my age who were gay and plenty of men who adored them. Two weeks later, I was living there.
Jim handed me off to the band Funkadelic’s manager LB (short for Larry Benjamin or pound which was the quantity of white substance he sold) who lived at 999 Doheny. My first night in L.A., predator/host, L.B. took me to the Odyssey night club (the “O”). This is where I felt “I had arrived”. There were 300 kids, adults, sexuality was fluid-gay, straight, bi and fashion, fashion, fashion! Everyone had on a costume, a look and an attitude. In 1980, this was the beginning of new wave in Los Angeles and a feeding frenzy of new styles and trends, new music and new wave culture. This explosion fed my craving for new style, fashion and music.
I met Kevin H. that night and moved directly into his condominium in Marina Del Rey right on the beach at about 6am after the “O” closed and we were instant boyfriends.
Kevin exposed me to a new clothing store, in what is now, “West Hollywood” – “Maxfield Bleu.” Then located on Santa Monica Blvd, next to the famous live venue, Troubadour. Kevin turned me loose and I purchased my first Parachute Zipper pants and styled my first of many New Wave looks.
A few weeks later while recovering from a night at the “O”, one of my girlfriends, Solege Rahimi, AKA, Galexina reached over with a pair of scissors and chopped off the feathers from the right side of my blonde locks. Apparently this was planned. I was hysterical, but Kevin rushed me into an emergency haircut to clean up the damage and poof I came out of the salon with an incredible, what we used to call, an “Attitude bang”/ new wave haircut. I immediately abandon all of my rock n roll roots (later reclaimed). I was committed to New Wave as a lifestyle and movement!
I lived and breathed to discover new bands by scouring vinyl at Tower Records for hours on end and asking the DJ to play obscure bands from over seas. With a new band came a new style, fashion tips, a new interpretation of what was happening quickly in urban cities but slowly across the nation. KROQ (when it was actually underground) and mainly Rodney supplied us with the most obscure and up to date music, while MTV helped launch new styles and fashion trends by the same bands in the new music video format. So futuristic!
After a tragic and suspicious fire the “O” was burned to the ground and I graduated to underground clubs such as “Dirt Box”, “Bitter End”, “Don’t sit on the furniture”, “Ariel”, “Plastic Passion” and “Scream” at the Embassy hotel DTLA. These clubs were completely illegal, served alcohol to any age; often had punch mixes with psychedelics and anything goes as long as it goes.
Often abandon downtown buildings were rented, or, broken into to set up a club by ambitious club promoters. Furniture, lighting, sound and props installed overnight creating dozens of rooms filled with edgy décor and the latest underground New Wave/ Punk sounds. Scandalous performance art scattered the premises.
To get the location you had to know someone who had the phone number. You called the answering machine which directed you to a guy sitting on a beach chair on some obscure street after 10pm( a gas station at Wilton and Washington) who would sell you the ticket with the address to a parking lot downtown. You parked, entered a mini bus with blacked-out windows, and circled downtown streets so you were completely disoriented and then end up in front of this door where you entered the party of 300-1000 costumed wild cats each person cooler than the next. Everyone had a look. New wave, Rockabilly, New Romantic, Punk, Ska, Glam Rock and Madonna Wannabe’s were all exploding at the same time and were represented. There was a fashion/ style/ music and culture explosion happening right in front of my eyes. Culture vultures. The visual stimulation was at times overwhelming but I felt like I couldn’t get enough.
New Wave/ Punk Icons like Nina Hagen, Lina Lovich, Terry Nunn, Dale Bozio, The Cult, Gene Loves Jezebel, Malcom McLaren, C Farrow, Danny Elfman, members Devo and Echo and The Bunnyman were frequently seen or were performing live at these venues.
In 1986 at age 22, I tested positive for HIV I was told to get my affairs in order. I was told I had about six months to live. I had watched five incredibly close friends die horrific deaths and many other acquaintances; neighbors and locals of West Hollywood wither away and die horrific deaths. I was terrified.
For instance, one day at Safeway (now Pavilions) you would see a friend. They looked healthy and happy. A week later you would see them and they looked gaunt, dropped 100lbs, sunken cheeks, limping with purple spots from head to toe looking like death. A week later they were dead. This repeated over and over. Funerals and memorials were unbearably frequent.
In 1990, after a series of miracles and a lot of painful underground club experiences, I landed in a very early treatment program. Not knowing anything about treatment I started on what has been an incredible 30 years journey of recovery.
When I started in recovery I had prepared myself four years prior to the notion that I would die a youthful death. Every month when I had to get my blood work done to check the progression of HIV, I knew this was going to be the month. We were still five years away from any reliable medication, so death was a constant possibility and for most a probability. I expected it was coming any minute with a cold or sore throat, which it was for many. Very few friends knew I was HIV, we were all afraid of this kind of death and it was not shared openly. There was incredible shame and stigma attached to an HIV/AIDS diagnosis. There still is.
I knew I did not have enough time on this planet to consider college, a career or the possibility of aging. My mentors/ spiritual advisors- Matt Masterman and Tom M. would encourage me to stay in the moment, keep doing what I was doing and to pray to my higher power for a job or career “divinely picked for me.” That is what I did for four years while I recovered from substance. Meanwhile I continued being fired from every fine dining establishment in Beverly Hills and West Hollywood for having a big mouth and a spontaneous middle finger. I always thought the “rules” for employment were ridiculous and the people enforcing them were too. I’m not sure I was wrong.
One day I was sitting eating lunch with my friend, Pony Pratt. While I had known Pony for four years, I did not know what he did for a living. I had always been told that, in recovery, I was to focus on recovery not what people did for a living and how they could help me. I was actually to focus on what I could do for others. During our lunch Pony said to me, out of nowhere
”You should be a stylist.”
I had no idea what a stylist was. There were no TV shows with stylists and “celebrity stylist” had not yet arrived. Pony explained what a Stylist was and started feeding me information that would help me get a start.
I intuitively knew that this was the “career divinely picked for me.” IN retrospective, I know I was divinely directed.
In less than three months I was assisting incredible stylists/ costume designers Kim Bowen(@threrealkimbowen), Franck Chevalier (@franckchevalier), Mona May(@itsmonamay), Tracy Walker and the infamous Patti Wilson (@patti_wilson), now editor of Italian Vogue. I got the privileged of assisting Patti on most of the pages photographed in David La Chapelle’s (@david_lachapelle) book “Hotel La Chapelle.”
I continued to assist amazing stylists and costume designers for the next few years while putting together test photo shoots with photo, hair and makeup assistants that I had worked with while I was assisting. Every image from my nights at the “O” and at the underground clubs were stamped in my brain and used as reference material in my work. We did not yet have the Internet. The resources available were public libraries, fashion magazines and coffee table books.
We did not have personal web sites yet, we had physical portfolios that had to be sent by messenger, or, mailed to clients. There was a lot of tracking down negatives from photographers and printing involved and gorilla fashion photo shoots in the streets of Los Angeles or on rooftops.
Meanwhile my spiritual advisors Matt Masterman and Tom M. continued to express by example the importance of service work. I got very involved with Aids Project Los Angeles and Project Angel Food for personal reasons and this gave me a great sense of being able to contribute to my community.
I worked on huge shows like APLA’s Commitment to Life, APLA Back-lot party on Warner Brothers back lot and a series of Playboy events, which I lent either my styling or costume design services to. I helped raise money for the West Hollywood Drug and Alcohol center. Later I was a co-founder of Katrina Campus Relief and the new West Hollywood Recovery Center (@thewhrc).
Simultaneously, my friends and I were constantly protesting in the streets and attending rallies often organized by ACTUP LA and various other local activist groups. I still had an angry streak and discovered a constructive way to express it.
Though it was not my intention, as I look back, Nothing forwarded my career more than the people I met while I was being of service or volunteering. I always seemed to, unintentionally, meet important, solid business contacts when volunteering. To this day service is a pleasure. Bill W. wrote something like ”the question is not if I should be of service , but when and how” Something beautiful always comes of it.
Through an incredible chain of circumstances I met my biological father, Bill Shewman and his incredible wife Tania. What an incredible and joyful experience. To add to the joy, he had seven children, my half-siblings. I share distinct personality traits with all of them even though we grew up in different environments and I have excellent relationships with them.
I became extremely close to my father and had an amazing and healing relationship with him for 15 years right up to his passing four years ago. I miss him terribly. I am still very close to Tania and my bio siblings.
Simultaneously to meeting my father, in 2001, glitter rock genius, Robbie Quine and guitar genius, Bernard Yin ( @bernardyingram) approached me and asked me to be a “Lurchette” in their band “Sex With Lurch” –SWL(#sexwithlurch), one of three drag queen performer/dancers and glitter bitch rockers. SWL was considered a must see local live show to at the time – a performance art, sci-fi, surf, trans glitter rock band (coined by an LA Weekly review- https://www.laweekly.com/they-came-from-the-sea ) with our own 7’4” Richard Pilowski always dressed as Lurch and playing the Theremin, keyboards or sporting a 7’ long surf board as a serving trey while zombie surf dancing.
Rock photographer/ musician- Dawn Laureen (@dawnlaureen1)) was on bass, Roy Staley ( @roy7665 of Green Jello) on drums and Aniela Perry on Viola.
Brandy Warhol ( @kellymantle Rue Paul’s –drag race ), The Lady Dante and Legacy were also Lurchette’s while the infamous author/professor/performance artist- Paul Koudounaris ( @hexenkult) was our show mascot and audience performance artist. We were a traveling village and delicious spectacle for about 6 years providing scandal, music and fashion to Angelonians and Hawaiian locals, we ere huge in Hawaii. Robbie’s spiral target tattoos on his butt cheeks became fan favorites.
Vicky Hamilton (www.vickyhamilton.com founder & mgr of Guns N Roses) managed us and is shopping around a scripted play with Robbie based on Sex With Lurch.
Every life experience has influenced and continues to influence my work and how I see fashion, image and character. I have never been one-dimensional.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Looking back it seemed effortless to build my career in Los Angeles. Was it luck or fate? I choose to believe it was fate. I also believe my difficulties were fate. I’ve learned much from both.
When I was 21, I had befriended my gorgeous Brazilian neighbors, who were models and siblings, The Monteiro’s- Tereza, Fatima and Odonny, when we lived on Palm Avenue in West Hollywood.
After a couple of decades of obsession with everything Brazil, Tereza and Fatima talked me into moving to Rio (there may have been a man involved in the decision). Upon my arrival the Brazilian economy crashed, the currency changed and there was zero opportunity to work as a foreigner. I had an incredible experience. One highlight was discovering and meeting Alexandre Herchcovitch (@alexandreherchovitch ) , the Gaultier of Brazil and his beautiful Mother. I attended the incredible Sao Paulo fashion week,then called Modem B.
There is nowhere on earth, I would rather be but after a year of trying to work and getting nowhere I returned to the U.S. and decided to give NYC a try. I love N.Y.’ers and I loved working in N.Y., but, walking and extreme weather were not for me. After one year and one day, I moved back to Los Angeles.
I realized the momentum I had built with my business had suffered with each move. I still have zero regrets regarding either move.
After a brief time had passed, I built up my business again. I felt like I had the perfect balance of work.
When IMG and Smashbox partnered up and purchased Fashion Week LA, I started producing and styling fashion shows when IMG and Smashbox partnered up and bought LA fashion week. I innocently started a new part of my business. Heatherette, Louis Vuitton, Dior and Kenzo were some of my clients.
I found myself producing and styling 3-5 fashion shows per season, was working on commercials, print advertising and an occasional celebrity. I would design a TV show here and there and every once in a while a great indie film and music videos (yes, when there were budgets for music videos). I became very confident, cocky and very grand…. quite unbearable.
When the economy crashed in 2008 it took about a year to affect my business, but when it did it was devastating. Many of the people responsible for hiring me were fired, moved or got out of the entertainment business entirely. The following years were tough. Technology was changing, cell phones arrived, personal web sites…. it was a lot.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Michael Holdaway Productions – what should we know?
I continue to work in print advertising, commercials, TV and film, which I love all of those mediums because of the different processes you go through to create the imagery.
Over the years, I had noticed that many of my highly successful friends in their given professions did not match the same level of success when it came to their professional or personal wardrobe.
I then found it to be true everywhere I looked. I would ask people how they felt about style, shopping, etc.. Some hated shopping, others had body issues and for others choosing wardrobe caused intense anxiety. Often they just gave up on having a wardrobe they loved or did what I call – “turned to black.” Everything in their wardrobe was black.
I wanted to create and be able to offer affordable styling services to mid-level and top tear professionals who were having difficulty matching their professional success with their professional and personal image. I created three Professional Styling Services to offer the same level of shopping/ styling services I provide my celebrity and musician clients. Sometimes I reduce my rate for eager, willing clients in need of my services. They just have to ask.
The same skills I use to create images in film and television to communicate a character through subtle wardrobe choices have been invaluable skills that translate to my professional clients who were having trouble communicating success professionally or personally through their wardrobe.
Sitting in creative sessions with top ad agency executives discussing image, messaging, branding and marketing angles, as it relates to wardrobe on a model or actor, has also helped shape the way I work with my styling clients. But, I feel my greatest asset and the key to success with my styling clients is the ability to listen and be honest in a kind and loving way.
All of my clients want to be comfortable, stylish, sophisticated and look their best whether at work, dropping the kids at school, in a social situation, at the supermarket or working out at the gym. I really think everyone has that same desire; some people just need help achieving it. You hire a landscape artist to design your property, an interior designer to furnish your home, why not a stylist to add to your success?
I know from experience that having a wardrobe you look forward to wearing, you feel great it and looks great adds an incredible level of confidence and self esteem for anyone not matter their shape, size or body issue. I have worked with every personality type, shape and color of beautiful human beings and achieve the same goal. There are designers who design just for your body type, fit and particulars.
I start every client off with a thorough closet edit, which frequently leaves them with little in their closet. This is often an emotional experience. I’m very aware and sensitive to my client’s level of vulnerability during this process. I’m very careful not to appear to be shaming or judgmental. The environment has to be safe.
A closet edit also helps me get a better idea of what cuts, fabrics and designers might work best for a particular client. We have a fluid conversation as we go about style, cuts and fits. The process is very revealing and gives me a lot of information before we shop. I NEVER give color charts. This is so ridiculous to me. There are so many shades and variations of each primary color, I think it is criminal to eliminate a whole spectrum of color from someone’s possibilities.
We follow the closet edit up by discussing budget, stores we will shop at and then immediately schedule a shopping/ styling session.
With the “INDIE STYLE” package, I pre- shop for them In every store we decided on and I set up fitting suites for a well organized fitting/ styling session, before they ever arrive. A tailor marks all clothing if alterations are needed.
If they choose the “Executive Style” packadge , I shop for them at the stores we discussed but bring all clothing to them at their home or office. All clothing is set up on rolling racks with shoes and accessories properly displayed for a super organized fitting/ styling session. This is optimal for my busy executives or socialites with limited time. We can often accomplish a whole season in one session.
I am always baffled at the extreme distaste my clients have for shopping or faced with having to make wardrobe choices. I never get tired of shopping. I love assisting my clients in discovering their own personal and professional style and helping them create a wardrobe they love and are excited about. Creating their own “Indie Style.”
After I have worked with someone they are able to have me shop online for them. My clients are able to pre purchase a bank of “Flash Hours.” I use their “Flash Hours” when the stores they love have flash sales on items or brand on their list that we created together. When there is a flash sale I create a shopping cart, send it to them and they purchase it. We schedule a brief styling session at their residence to integrate the newly purchased items into their wardrobe or decide to send some of them back.
The newest focus on my business has been designing non-profit fashion events in Palm Springs at incredible iconic locations. I love producing fashion events. I am excited to be able to announce two amazing events very soon. I look forward to this new chapter. I’ve only just begun!
I am still as excited about my work and opportunities for personal growth now as I was when Pony Pratt suggested a life-changing career direction!
To check out my Prof. Styling Services, go to my web site and click on the Prof. Styling Service menu item.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I could not give enough thanks to my higher power who had Pony Pratt suggest that I become a stylist. I also have a deep sense of gratitude for the people I assisted- Kim Bowen, Frank Chevalier, Mona May and Tracy Walker. But, no one was as influential and fun to work with than Patti Wilson. I have incredible gratitude and respect for Patti who has managed to stay at the top of her game since at least the 70’s. Very few have her eye, style and level of skill. I also admire how she has continued to position herself as a businesswoman of color in a crazy and sometimes insane world of fashion and entertainment who has the pulse of fashion.
I would also like to thank my favorite assistant Anne Clendening (@anneclendening), now LA Yoga guru and author (How Yoga Saved My Ass) , who worked with me for years and put up with me when I was at my most difficult. Of course Matt Masterman and Tom M.
- Professional Styling Services – $150 per hour
- Production daily rates range from $800- $2200
- Website: www.michaelholdaway.com
- Phone: 323.385.6113
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/michaelholdaway1
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/michaelholdaway
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/michael-holdaway-productions-west-hollywood
Pete Carter – https://pjcarterimaging.com