Volume 76, Number 11 | August 2 - 8, 2006

Photo courtesy of Brrandy Wine’s Archives

Michael Torres & Ryan Lance, who made a name for themselves in the ’80s as the drag duo The Fashion Patrol, still perform at charity events and fashion launch parties, like the one above.

From club kids to kitsch: Michael Torres & Ryan Lance

By Scott Harrah
Michael Torres and Ryan Lance have been fixtures in the Downtown scene since the mid-1980s, when they made names for themselves in nightclub circles as the drag duo The Fashion Patrol. Torres, whose drag alter ego is Brandy Wine, and Lance—known as Brenda A Go Go when wearing a wig—both hosted parties and hung out with countless boldfaced names, and made TV appearances on MTV and VH1. They regularly interviewed celebrities at the city’s hottest clubs for their cable TV show “On Patrol.”

In the early 1990s, they opened the kitsch emporium Howdy Do on East 7th St., selling everything from “Brady Bunch” lunchboxes to Farrah Fawcett dolls. Numerous celebrities, from Chloë Sevigny to Tim Burton, frequent the East Village store, and big-name stylists and prop managers often shop at Howdy Do for costumes and items to decorate the sets of Broadway musicals and shows like “The Wedding Singer” and “The Sopranos.” We caught up with store co-owner Torres to talk about the Fashion Patrol’s glory days in the New York club scene, how the Village has changed over the years, and the evolution of Howdy Do into a Downtown staple.

Why did you open Howdy Do in the early 90s?

We were tired of working for large companies and having them make money off our ideas and creativity and wanted to work for ourselves in an environment where we could make our own hours, dress code, and rules. At that time there were few collectible kitsch shops in New York. Of course, kitsch was what we liked and our take was certainly different. We wanted to specialize in having the unusual and hard-to-find things from the past, with a heavy concentration on film and television properties. We got to cherry pick things that interested us and pass them on to others. When we opened, we sold mostly collectible toys and home furnishings. When the Japanese stock market and Wall Street crashed in 2000, and then 9/11 occurred, compounded by eBay mania around the world, we were forced to take the store in another direction, and now we focus on mostly past-season luxury goods, clothing and accessories, and luckily this has really worked out for us.

You started out in the ’80s as the club kid drag duo The Fashion Patrol. What was the club scene was like back then?

Going out in the ’80s was about creating a look, being different. The clubs were more of a melting pot of celebrities, kids, artists, and onlookers.  Area was amazing with their whimsical installations. Art being created there was presented in a gallery style, but it was in a nightclub. It was a club frequented by Andy Warhol and Grace Jones and a trail of celebrities that followed. There was the Pyramid, Roxy, Danceteria, the World, Save the Robots, the Underground, Palladium, Red Zone, Mars, Quick, Twilight Zone.  Each club brought a different flavor. There were seven clubs that we went to every night of the week, and each club had a party that would out-trump the last. There was always a party that you would remember because of the “who’s who” that was there, and there were parties with so many costumes. The open bars were endless.

How has the Downtown scene changed? 

The Downtown scene is constantly changing. There is an element about Downtown that creates separation from reality. Downtown can be a platform for anyone to step into and be something that they dreamed of or want to try out. Downtown creates an environment for all those who have similar dreams and would like to connect. It can be a park, a bar, a dance club, just about any venue that a promoter can bring an interest and difference to.  It just takes a few friends to form a team of “word of mouth” to spread the word. There were clubs then and clubs now. The bars and clubs have changed a lot because of the constant flow of new kids coming to New York for school. The kids today do not seem to put much effort into a “look.” There are current clubs such as Happy Valley on Tuesdays, and nightlife veterans such as Larry Tee and Suzanne Bartsch who are still cranking out the nights for the freaks and their admirers, and believe me we know because we like to get freaky.  

And the East Village —has it changed much since you moved there 20 years ago?

The East Village has changed dramatically. We originally moved to the East Village because we wanted difference. Now, New York University has acquired so much property for housing due to their popularity. For countless years before, they had more than enough property to accommodate their student body. Now they have just acquired another space on East 11th Street between Avenue B and C. The rest of the city has busted its gut. Hotels have opened up left and right, including a Howard Johnson Hotel on Houston Street. There are more and more chains like Starbucks opening up...

You’re both big theater fans. What are some upcoming shows you want to see?

We plan to see “Mary Poppins” on Broadway. Wouldn’t it be great if they cast Charlotte Rae from “Facts of Life” as Mary? [Laughs.] But seriously, we hear this new version from London is much darker than the old movie starring Julie Andrews. We can’t wait for the musical adaptation of John Waters’s “Cry Baby.” We will probably go to “Sweeney Todd” because we love Patty LuPone. We have very quirky tastes, like 16-year-old girls. We are also into the restaurant scene. We love La Esquina, Paris Commune, Morimoto, Dinosaur BBQ, Adrienne’s for the best pizza in the world, and Financier for desserts. We also enjoy the new Asian restaurant Buddakhan, which is a big celebrity hangout.

You once had a cable TV public access show called “On Patrol,” and you’re working on a DVD of highlights from it. When is it coming out, and who are some of the celebrities you interviewed that are featured?

Reese Witherspoon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Fran Drescher, Barbara Eden, Joan Rivers, Molly Ringwald, Donald Trump, Dr. Ruth, Naomi Campbell, Rip Taylor, Don Knotts, Brooke Shields, and Martha Plimpton. We are still in the preliminary stages of getting the DVD ready, but we hope for it to be out in early 2007.

Howdy Do is located at 72 East 7th Street, between 1st and 2nd Avenue. (212) 979-1618.

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