Trash and Vaudeville
Trash and Vaudeville has in business since 1975. Tell us about your roots and how you became an icon of the punk rock community.
When I was a young kid in grammar school, I really liked fashion. I liked music, but I LOVED rock ’n’ roll. I was an individual when it came to dressing, even as a young teenager. I loved sneaking out of the house and going to shows. Ever since I saw The Beatles and the Stones on Ed Sullivan, I tried to see as many shows as I could. It meant a lot to me. At one point I hoped to be a drummer, but I guess that didn’t work out [laugh]. I always stayed really close to the scene. I realized I probably wasn’t going to make it in a band, but I still stayed on top of the fashion and what the musicians were wearing. I wanted to stay a part of that scene, and fashion let me do that.
I got a job working for a store on St. Marks Place, which ultimately became the original home of Trash and Vaudeville. Then I ended up going to the Fashion Institute of Technology and going to work in London for my internship. That really opened my eyes wider to what was going on in the fashion/music scene. When I first opened Trash and Vaudeville in 1975, we sold new clothing and a good amount of vintage clothing from the ’50s; I thought it was a good mix. I always had an eye for style, especially if something was a little bit more extreme or flamboyant, or trying to make a statement. Just like how rock ’n’ roll made a statement, we were trying to make a statement through the clothing. Relatively early on, we started getting a reputation of having more unique clothing than a lot of other stores, and we developed a clientele of musicians and entertainment people. It started to slowly progress, and then when the punk scene really exploded in the UK and in New York around CBGB’s, which wasn’t far from us, we started to get more and more people in. It was a natural progression.
I decided I needed to go back to the UK again to experience the punk scene there for myself. Early on, we started bringing things back from the UK. We were the first ones to bring Dr. Martens to the US. We’ve been carrying them at Trash since, and more recently we did a collab with them. We brought back winklepickers [pointed-toe shoes] and Beatle boots and other great footwear. It evolved into bringing back some clothing as well. I remember early on trying to find black jeans and being told that the manufacturers can’t even make enough blue denim, so I found a small manufacturer in Brooklyn that was willing to make me black denim jeans. That was the first thing I designed and made for Trash. That took it to a whole other level. One thing led to another, and then we were carrying everything from safety-pinned T-shirts to specialty hair dyes, studded belts and collars and more.
Do you still manufacture your own products?
I still make shirts, jackets and black jeans under our Trash and Vaudeville line, and then when I met my wife, Daang, in the early ’80s, we started our brand Tripp NYC. She designs, and together we make everything from bondage to knitwear. To this day, Tripp is our best selling brand at Trash. And we sell to stores around the country and around the world. Daang’s always helped me keep the momentum going.
Where do you find inspiration for what you sell in the store?
It’s a combination of a lot of things. Sometimes we have something in our head that we’d like to wear or think would be something cool to see but we can’t necessarily find it, so we try to create it ourselves. Sometimes it comes from bands. Punk bands each had their own individual look, whether it was The Clash or the Sex Pistols or the Ramones or the Dead Boys. We took and still take inspiration from them. We get inspiration from what our customers and the people hanging out in our East Village neighborhood are wearing. A lot of inspiration also comes from what we liked and wore in the past too. If we like a look, we think other people will like it too.
Where did you come up with the name Trash and Vaudeville?
I grew up in Jersey City, and I was always a creative dresser. Sometimes people would refer to me and say, “What is that trash that you’re wearing?” Somewhere along the line, I was either reading something or heard someone say something, and Trash and Vaudeville just popped into my head. And when the opportunity came for me the start the store, I went with Trash and Vaudeville. It just stuck with me.
In 2016, you moved from St. Marks Place to your current location on East 7th Street. How has the new location affected your business? Do you still see regular customers from your old location?
I live in the East Village. I love it. I went down there for the first time when I was 13 years old. My mother brought me to see the off-Broadway play “Man of La Mancha.” I remember saying to myself, “I don’t know what’s going on around here, but this is it. This feels right. This is where I want to be.” To me, there’s a flow that goes up and down that street. There’s magic in the air.
I love St. Marks Place, but when we made the move, it was time. It was like starting with a new canvas. We were at St. Marks Place for 41 years. The store was 6,000 square feet on two floors. The world was changing, and we were changing. It was 2016, and things were very different than 1975. The hardcore punk scene was not as intense. Most of the clubs that were around at one point in the area were not around anymore. It was changing. I always loved 7th Street. It was a great East Village block. It had a great energy. When the opportunity came to get the space, we took it and decided to move. We didn’t need 6,000 square feet anymore, but we set it up with a similar vibe. It was perfect. It really clicked. Our customers stayed with us, and we got new customers who didn’t even know we existed before. Overall, it was a very positive thing for Trash and Vaudeville. A lot of our Trash family came with us; my store manager, Diane, who has been working with me for over 26 years, is an extremely important part of Trash and Vaudeville today. We all really like it on 7th street.
You have more than 30,000 Instagram followers. What do you contribute to your social media success?
That’s definitely not my forte. A lot of it comes from word of mouth and our customers coming into the store and posting what they’re wearing. We’ve been around so long that we’re on third-generation customers. We have grandparents bringing their grandkids in. We have people come in who have been shopping here since 1975. That’s what I love about it here. We have customers come in from all over the world and from right across the street. It’s a great mix of people. I think it is the biggest compliment in the world that we have customers who want to follow us and post about the store and keep the name out there. There’s nothing better than seeing a young kid come in for the first time and say “Wow!”
When you come in, there’s never a hard sell. We want people to come by and feel like they can just say hello. We want it to be a social experience. We never wanted it to be intimidating. Definitely not. We want everyone to feel welcome. And we want them to come back with their friends and family. We want them to think, “I want to go back there.”
How do you keep customers coming into your store now that online shopping is so popular? Do you sell mostly in-store or online?
Definitely in-store. And I think it’s because a lot of our customers still want to try it on and touch it and discover new things in person. There’s still the social aspect. Customers who come in regularly know our staff and value their opinions. Customers want to know what shows are going on and what shows they can go to when they’re in town. They want the in-person experience. And of course there’s that hope that maybe you’ll run into someone in the store that might be your hero. We’ve had people freak out because they come in and there’s Marky Ramone or Alice Cooper or Prince shopping next to them. We’ve been very fortunate. People enjoy coming into the store and having the full social experience, as opposed to only shopping online.
Trash and Vaudeville has been mentioned in many major publications like Vogue. Do you see an uptick in sales when a major story gets released?
It’s great. We so appreciate it when we get into an editorial and when people write about us. We might see an uptick for sure. If it’s a photoshoot and Billie Eilish is wearing a pair of pants and they see that we have the credit or that you can find it at Trash, you’ll definitely see an uptick in the sales of those particular pants. Even Madonna — she still wears the fishnets we have at the store.
When the World Wrestling Federation did a photoshoot at the St. Marks Place store for the WWF magazine, it was pure insanity for two weeks after that came out. I guess we have a big WWF following. It makes you feel really good. For me, it’s great because I’ve gotten to meet so many people that I admire that have come to the store over the years. That’s always been the icing on the cake for me.
What makes punk fashion so unique? How has punk style changed over the years?
In some ways, it hasn’t changed. The basics are still the basics. We still sell a lot of bondage pants, punk band T-shirts, pins and patches.
What makes it unique is that it really allows people to be individuals. You get to interpret your style in so many different ways. I think for a lot of kids it’s a way to help them be an individual. Punk is a way to express yourself. A lot of people use fashion as a way to connect to the bands they like or the music they like. Besides just listening to the music they like, they can connect on a whole other level through the clothes that they wear. That’s a great thing, watching people come in and watching them transform and express themselves. We had a guy come in once who was wearing a suit and tie and he left wearing all of our clothes. He asked, “Is it okay if I wear it out?” so we put his suit in a bag and when we went to hand it to him he said, “no thank you.” He didn’t want it anymore. It’s about being a rebel, an individual, doing your thing. It makes you feel good. It’s great that we can contribute to that.
Customers like Joey Ramone made your store famous. Can you share a memorable story or two of a celebrity shopping in your store or wearing your clothes?
Joey would come in with his mom shopping for jeans. Marky Ramone is still a great customer. He comes by quite a bit ,and we’ve developed a friendship over the years. He’s even lent us his MTV Moonman award for us to display in the store.
Back in the day, pretty much everybody came into the store at some point. The Clash would come in anytime they were in New York. Mick Jones said we have the best black jeans in the world. There’s a great shot of Mick Jones on a misty, cold, rainy day in the city, standing under a lamppost clutching his Trash and Vaudeville bag. We have the photo up in the store.
For The Ramones “Leave Home” album, Joey was wearing a Trash and Vaudeville T-shirt.
Iggy Pop has been a great customer. Bruce Springsteen, Blondie, the Talking Heads, Carlos Santana, Lou Reed, Stiv and the rest of the Dead Boys, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Echo and the Bunnymen, Elvis Costello, Guns N’ Roses, Patti Smith. Keith Richards used to come in all the time with his wife Patti Hansen. And other bands too like Green Day, My Chemical Romance, Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, Pink. It goes on.
John Belushi had a Circle Jerks cassette he asked us to play while he was roaming around the store.
We’ve had a lot of photographers come in too. Lynn Goldsmith, Mick Rock, Bob Gruen, Mark Weiss. Lynn Goldsmith brought Bob Dylan to the store. Lynn’s become a great friend as well.
It’s the biggest compliment in the world to have these people come in the store, and come back.
I can’t remember what the award was for, but Lady Gaga was getting an award, and they asked her what her five major influences were. She wrote them out with marker on her fingers, and on one of her fingers she wrote “Trash and Vaudeville.” That photo ended up being on the cover of Women’s Wear Daily.
It’s nice to feel that we can influence all different kinds of people a little bit or help contribute to their individuality. People always came to the store to be who they wanted to be, even if it was only to dress a certain way for a few days or go to their favorite club or see their favorite band. Good is good, and I appreciate all types of music, so the goal was always to make a comfortable place for anyone to find something that they like. We’ll put it all out there, but they can create it and paint the picture they want for themselves. We give them the tools, and they can put it together however they like.