Oh, Where Have You Been, BillyBoy*, BillyBoy* ?
In 1979, BillyBoy* took the decision to leave New York and moved to Paris. Preceeded by his reputation as an artist and designer and his eccentric looks, he was welcomed at his arrival on his Concorde flight to Paris by a TV crew and journalists. The immensely snobbish and trendy French magazine ACTUEL published a 14-page cover story article about him humorously titled "At Last, a Normal Young Man". He spends time with 1920s artist/designer Erté in Palma de Majorca which is featured in the article. He is compared to the famous artist and is considered the modern 1980s equivalent. His own clothes inspired Jean Paul Gaultier to make his first men’s collection of clothes. Another feature article about the life and work of Elsa Schiaparelli in the short-lived Condé Nast publication VOGUE Beauté (with a Guy Bourdin cover) includes documents and pieces from his collection and he is also quoted as a "young genius expert collector and multi-talented artist". This article was the first step which led to the first Elsa Schiaparelli retrospective in Paris, which was based around his already huge collection.
BillyBoy* meets Jean Pierre Lestrade, a.k.a Lala, at the time leader of the camp New Wave band Lala et les Emotions in which he is the singer and songwriter. BillyBoy* asks Lala to help him find an apartment in Paris and they move in together in October of 1983. They instantly start working on projects, notably creating jewellery in the kitchen of their apartment.
BillyBoy* met at the time Bettina Graziani, socialite and former high fashion model from the 1950s. The “surreal” jewellery he created were making a sensation in Paris and were immediately admired and noticed by Gerry Stutz, owner of Henri Bendel’s department store in New York City who ordered 100 pieces for her store. Greeted by an article in THE NEW YORK TIMES reviews the innovative and wildly eccentric, bright colored jewels. The collection is sold out almost instantly. They were showcased in the windows of the prestigious store.
In 1982, BillyBoy* was contacted by the City of Paris and the Musée Galliéra to organize the first official retrospective on the work and career of his muse Elsa Schiaparelli, for which he lends many pieces from his own collections and writes a text in the catalogue, interviewing some of the most famous people of the era of Schiaparelli, whom he befriended, such as Jean Schlumberger, Diego Giacometti, René Gruau, Bernard Buffet, André Beaurepaire, Eliane Bonabel and Hubert de Givenchy, Philippe Venet, Yves Saint Laurent amongst many others. At the same time he'd interview some of his various teenage year celebrity friends such as Marlene Dietrich, Arletty, Suzy Delair, André Courrèges, Pierre Balmain etc and other pre-war and post-war fashion and art stars who'd help him with his research on Schiaparelli. The exhibition was a big success and had a great impact on fashion world-wide, bringing the Surrealism he adored back into fashion again in a huge way. The Musée des Arts de la Mode, initiated by Yvonne Deslandres, welcomes an very important part of BillyBoy*'s Surreal Couture creations into its permanent collection.
In 1984, BillyBoy* opened with his companion/partner Jean Pierre Lestrade/Lala his own “Surreal Bijoux” workshop and showroom in the mythical Rue de la Paix in Paris. The official launching was organized at legendary decorator Jansen, Rue Royale. No less than 1000 pieces of Surreal Bijoux were displayed, announcing a new era in costume jewelry: cartoonish, luxurious, humouristic, pop and new baroque, they were all hand-made. This mundaine event gathered the “Tout-Paris” which discovered the young designer wearing hot pants and lilies on his Alexandre de Paris coiffed pink haired head. In the windows, go-go dancers in psychedelic clothes covered in jewels were dancing the frug dance of the 1960s in front of a huge portrait of BillyBoy* with a cowboy hat, dark glasses and his new motto signature:"Get Groovy!".
BillyBoy* has also created jewelry for different couturiers and designers such as Emanuel Ungaro, Thierry Mugler, Bernard Perris, Hanae Mori, Francesco Smalto, Charles Jourdan, and many others. His own collections are represented in the most fashionable shops in France, USA, Japan, England, Italy, Germany and many other cities throughout the world. Stars and celebrities wear them: Bettina, Lauren Hutton, Arielle Dombasle, Marisa Berenson, Jackie Onassis, Liz Taylor, Lauren Bacall, Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol and Ray Charles, Boy George, Guns N'Roses, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and The Communards.
On this occasion BillyBoy* created the “BillyBoy*, Nouveau Théatre de la Mode Barbie” which was the first Barbie doll bearing a designer’s name on its box, his own. He designed for Barbie a black sheath cocktail dress, black shoes, black sunglasses and black nails, and lots of gold chains “just like BillyBoy*”. A small revolution in the all-fluorescent pink world of the early 1980s Barbie doll - it completely changed the world of Barbie doll forever and children and collectors alike have never recovered from his influence (see full article in MODE).
In 1986, his book titled "Barbie, Her Life and Times" was published in the USA. It was the first book to analyse the iconic nature of the Barbie doll as well as its sociological connections to her times as well as the influences of the French high fashion on the supposed role-model fashion doll. The book was to become a best seller which has been translated in 14 languages and it too has been influencing doll books and doll collecting ever since.
For American Barbie collectors, BillyBoy* designed his new Barbie doll. Called "Feeling Groovy Barbie" by BillyBoy*, she had a revolutionary new glamorous look . Her box cover is particularly daring: she is illustrated sitting over the Arch of Triumph in Paris, holding a martini glass (with martini!) and a cigarette, a FIRST for the demeure Barbie doll! Of course, she is also wearing dark glasses, BillyBoy* jewels and black beauty case and accessories, his wildly designed psychedelic outfit and black nail polish, again, "just like BillyBoy*!".
See article on Fondation Tanagra : Please, Draw-Me A Barbie
This year, the British newspaper THE OBSERVER nominates him "Man Of The Year" for his jewellery. This a very prestigious yearly title given in Britain to people of merit or who've been noted for some unique achievement. Vivienne Becker, author of the article calls his jewelry "...uninhibited and irresistibly funny, larger than life, naïve, eccentric, rebellious..."
In 1988, BillyBoy* and Lala were invited by Absolut Vodka on the first Concorde flight New-York-Stockholm, along with other artists such as painter Kenny Scharf and writer Tama Janowitz whose best selling book “Slaves of New York” was just being turned into a movie with many stars of the time. In Stockholm, BillyBoy* received the Absolut Vodka Award for his limited-edition silk scarf and brooch he designed for Absolut. The promotion was called "ABSOLUT BILLYBOY*" and was initiated by Andy Warhol who was the first artist to do the campaign with his ABSOLUT WARHOL. Warhol was responsible for BillyBoy* getting the project as he insisted to the Absolut company BillyBoy* was a major force on the art scene of the time, along with Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, and Stephen Sprouse and Andy Warhol who also got involved with the project.
The next day, BillyBoy* and Lala flew to Moscow as guests of the the ..British Embassy. It was the beginning of the Perestroika initiated by President Michael Gorbachev. In a gathering of Ambassador’s and their wives from all countries, BillyBoy* presented with Lala a Surreal Bijoux exhibition and made a conference on the history of costume jewellery in high fashion. Each Ambassador’s wife received an copy of BillyBoy*‘s book on the Barbie doll as a gift as well as a BillyBoy* brooch. In the Embassy’s Rolls Royce (at the time the only one existing in the USSR), BillyBoy*, Lala, and Fiona Cartledge (the ambassador’s daughter and friend of BillyBoy* and Lala), were taken to visit the city. Once on Red Square, they created a sensation: BlllyBoy* was wearing 70s Pop singer David Cassidy’s cowboy jacket in silver leather and lamé (given to him by the pop singer himself, the suit created by Elvis Presley's designer, Nudie's), a cowboy* hat and a mini skirt! They photographed the crowd with polaroids which they gave away to the people along with Barbie Tour catalogues. BillyBoy* and Lala also visit Zeitsev who is the official couturier in the USSR. BillyBoy* offers him a bottle of “Shocking* de Schiaparelli.
Back in Paris, British VOGUE does a reportage on BillyBoy* in the "Modern Legends” issue.