From where we stand, it wouldn’t be the holidays without some of Eddie Borgo’s jewelry – if his punk-costume and gem-heavy pieces aren’t on our gift lists, we’re wearing them to parties. But you do denim, not diamonds, you’re saying. Well, turns out Eddie is a loyal jeans wearer, a fan of pairing exceptional Ralph Lauren RRL chambray shirts with Levi’s 510s, which he buys in boys’ sizes. That one can wear the designer’s signature Cone bracelets and pavéd Pyramid cuffs with jeans is a given – a look we’ve loved since he launched his namesake collection in 2008. But that Eddie is so sentimental about a certain Wrangler jacket, or that he made deconstructed denim separates when he first moved to New York – and that one of them found its way onto Sarah Jessica Parker in an episode of “Sex and the City” – that was delightful, heart-warming news.
If we could buy every woman on our list an Eddie Borgo jewelry box – easily one of the most perfect presents – we would (and you should!), even though it isn’t something one wears with jeans. It is, like Eddie’s story, just that cool and special.
We love that you came to our shoot in denim-on denim! What are the jeans you’re wearing?
I’m wearing Levi’s newer 510s. I used to collect old 517s, but I think I blew them all out. I have a tailor here in New York who will zig-zag stitch the holes closed when they rip – but then after the patches get too thick it starts looking really strange. You start having lumps in your legs. So these are new Levi’s. And what I’ll do now is, if I’m going to buy Levi’s, I’ll buy the kids’ jeans. The kids’ large sizes fit me. And they’re short, which is the way that River Phoenix used to wear his jeans, and I’m obsessed with it, so I don’t care that they’re short. I love wearing them short.
We were wondering how you find jeans that fit as a petit guy.
I think it’s hard for me generally to find clothes that fit. Jeans are obviously specific, because fit is so important. But I think that for me, I’ll find the places that I can shop in and I’ll just keep going back. And then I have an amazing tailor. It’s nothing fancy, he’s right here [gestures to street]. His name is Ramon. And I have another guy named Victor if Ramon is backed up. They’ll just nip everything in. They’re real tailors, and I’m terrified because of the way that Manhattan is growing and changing, there are so few of them left. I’ve used cobblers and tailors since I moved here, and I’ve watched a lot of them slowly disappear [from my neighborhoods]. All of the hat stores that I’d buy my hats at, they’re all gone.
Yeah, Arnold’s Hatters was the last real great milliner, and he’s gone. So now I have to go to Worth & Worth and they’re really expensive. A new hat is like $300.
How many hats do you have?
I only have two. I have my weekend hat, but that hat is really beat to hell. What happens with hats is that they get sun damaged – so a black hat turns brown. It’s kind of nice, but if I’m going on appointments I want the hat to be cleaner. So this is my work hat that I wear during the week.
Do you think about your hat when you’re buying jeans? In styling, do you consider one when you’re buying the other?
I just love denim. I’ve always loved denim, I’ve always worn denim on denim; I’ll come in to work at least once a week with a denim jacket on with jeans. I don’t mind that. I love chambray shirts. I have a ridiculous amount of them right now. I get most of them from RRL. The chambray that they do in 100% cotton is really, really, really soft. It feels like you’re wearing a t-shirt. It’s so nice. I wear those a lot in the summer. I have a heavier one that I wear in the winter. I don’t really think about the hat with the denim, other than the fact that it goes with the denim. I love the way that black and blue looks together.
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What about the 510 do you like most?
I like them because I’m not a low-rise person. I’m not necessarily into really high-rise jeans either, but I just like a jean that fits right above the hip. And I think the rise on these is perfect. And then I like that the leg – I know that there’s a trend with the leg being super skinny – but I like that the 510s are a tiny bit flared out at the bottom. They’re straighter at the bottom. They don’t keep going down into a V. I wear Oxfords and boots, so I like the fact that there’s room at the bottom of the jean. And they wear in beautifully. The belt loops are oversized, which is nice. I wear belts, and you can wear a really wide belt with them. Or a thin belt.
Is there something about denim that works especially well with what you do?
I think what we do sort of follows, maybe, that sort of ethos – that we’re taking the production of the jewelry seriously and we’re taking the inspiration very seriously, but at the end of the day we want the collection to be really approachable. We don’t want it to be too serious. There are some pieces in the collection that are more serious, mainly because of the price point that’s attached to them, but we want it to be everyday. We definitely want to see women and men wearing the jewelry with denim. There’s sort of an effortlessness and attitude to that.
You brought some really cool things here to show us. Tell us about this jacket.
This jacket is really, um, it has a really long history [laughs]. I’ve had this jacket since I was a kid growing up in Atlanta. Like, it was huge on me once. And now, it still fits. But this is a good example of a jacket that I’ve had since the late 80s. I don’t remember exactly when I got it. I’m assuming it was just a purchase for school. I wore it all through elementary school, high school. I still wear it.
When I moved to New York, I remember, I wore it to that club Sway, for, like, what was one of [designer] Ben Cho’s parties. I was really drunk and I lost the jacket and it fell behind one of the booth’s at Sway. It was one of those nights when I just couldn’t deal with it. I had to get home. So I left, and then the next morning I woke up and realized that I’d lost it, or remembered that I’d lost it, and I sort of panicked and went back to Sway and they were closed. Do you remember Sway? It was on Spring street and it was across the street from Don Hill’s. People didn’t get there until one A.M. and it would go until 4:30 in the morning. I think the good party was on Thursday nights. So, my jacket fell back there behind the booth, and I freaked out. They let me in the next morning, and I searched and I couldn’t find it. And so – I don’t know what I was thinking – but I went downstairs, which I didn’t have permission to do, and I saw this dude with my jacket on. I swear to you. And I got in his face and demanded that he give it back, and he gave it back to me. So I almost lost it…
That would have been really lousy.
Yeah. It would have been horrible.
What do you remember about how you wore jeans growing up in Atlanta?
I remember I had one of those stretch belts with an infinity closure. It was khaki-colored and said “jeans” in lowercase in red going all around, and I used to wear that with all of my jeans. I wore a lot of Osh Kosh [B’Gosh] when I was little, then I moved on to Wranglers and Levi’s and Lee.
I remember I just did not ever want to get dressed up. My mother is Catholic, and I didn’t like getting dressed up to go to events. I just always wanted to be in jeans. There was just something about them that I associate with freedom, and being able to be myself and get dirty and run around and jump in a pile of leaves. I used to wear jeans with t-shirts in the summertime and sweaters. I had overalls. And I wore corduroys, and they would get worn in and get holes in them, too. But it wasn’t the same. With corduroy’s, holes were just never as cool.
My mom used to sew. She’d make Vogue Patterns, but then she also was a huge patch person, so she would – like, the minute my brother and I got holes in our jeans she would patch them with those horrible iron-on patches [laughs]. They were like the shape of an oversized pill and you would just put them over the hole and iron them on. They were made of denim with some sort of adhesive that attached to your jeans. But now, when I feel like my jeans or getting too holey, or like the hole is not in a good place, I’ll have them cross-stitched, or zig-zagged, like a darn, until the holes close.
When I think of denim, truly, in its spirit… If I had to associate my biggest emotional tie to it, it has to do with history and specifically the 70s. I’m not thinking about the 80s or greasers in the 50s. When I get nostalgic about denim I’m thinking about 70s style.
You were born in the 70s?
I was born in ’78. I think of my mother in denim – high-waisted denim, bell-bottoms, high-waisted slacks, denim blazers. Yeah, I think of it as a lifestyle, that easiness of the 70s. Also because of other fabrics that were being paired with denim, like polyester and all of the sort of acrylic knits that stayed really sharp and clean and never pilled. All of that looks really sharp with denim. All of those butterfly collars…
You go to a really retro place.
Yeah, it’s a very specific place. When I moved to New York, the city was still really full of that. I feel like that, for many different reasons, has sort of been taken out of New York. I moved here in ’98. So I hit the sort of tail-end of old New York, maybe, if you even want to call it that; it was already really at the end. But there were a lot of vintage stores and thrift stores in the the city. You had these big vintage places where you would pay for a trash bag and just collect things. There was Canal Jeans on Broadway that isn’t there any more. And it wasn’t Céline discounted… It was really vintage 517s or bell-bottoms, and butterfly-collared shirts, and fur chubbies, and 70s sort of pimp-y jackets with big metal closures on them. Amazing Beatle boots. There was a heavy aftermath of the 70s in New York. You couldn’t avoid it. And now it’s different. To find those things you have to get on ebay and search for them. It’s different.
I was a big thrift store shopper for a long time, and that’s where I got most of my denim. Not vintage stores. Like real savers, cheap stuff. Digging. I had a bunch of places in Queens and in Long Island City, and in Jersey. My best friend, Jamie, and I, we would just get a car and go around and go thrift store shopping. A lot of stuff that I still own is from thrift stores.
And I used to work at Donna Karan. I did visual, but visual meant a lot of things. I wore a lot of hats, and part of what I did was buy vintage. There was a really huge vintage archive at Donna Karan. I did it for extra money; it was one of my jack-of-all-trades jobs before I decided to get into jewelry. There was this woman named Shelly Bromfield who was Donna’s good friend, and she would do all of the vintage buying and I would help her a little bit. We would go to vintage fairs, the Metropolitan Vintage Show…
Is that what you came to New York to do?
No, I came to finish school. I transferred into Hunter, and then I took continuing ed at The New School. I thought I was going to make clothes. Well, I was making clothes and they were awful [laughs]. They were really ugly and bad. It was sort of that time when deconstructed clothes were really cool. Daryl K was on Sixth Street, Ann Demeulemeester…and Imitation of Christ had their show in the funeral home. It was just a different time. I would buy all of these things at a thrift store and deconstruct them and reconstruct them. Do you remember that magazine Honey? So Michaela Angela Davis was the editor in chief, and she shot one of my denim pieces.
Wait, you’re saying you made denim clothes?!
Yeah. They were sleeveless, crew-neck denim shells, with raw edges, that you were meant to wear over everything. So you could wear it over a dress, or over a sweater, or over whatever, and there was just a zipper – like an industrial zipper – all down the back that opened. So you would go into them, they would zip up the back. They were all raw-edged, but then were stitched so they didn’t fray to pieces. And then I studded them, which is really funny now that I think of it because that’s what we started my jewelry line with – studs. Then I painted them, too.
Do you still have any of them?
I don’t. It was at a time in New York where I was so broke I thought I was going to have to leave. And so anything that I made, I sold.
I became friendly with this women Rebecca Weinberg, who was Patricia Field’s girlfriend at the time. And Patricia and Rebecca were doing “Sex and the City,” and so they put some of my shirts on the show – which was a really big deal. There was one dress that I made, sort of like the shell, that Carrie wore to the gay club when she was dating Aiden. “Sex and the City” at the time was just really big deal – it felt really reflective of New York in that moment because it was. Bungalow 8 was a really big deal. And for some reason I ended up becoming friends with [the owner] Amy Sacco, and that is the only reason that I could get into Bungalow 8. It’s when everyone was smoking, putting their cigarettes out in the palm trees [laughs]. It was just a different time.
Patricia had this amazing buyer, Maria, who now works at Agent Provocateur. She bought my clothes for Pat Field’s store on Eighth Street and they put them in the windows. I was so excited. And then we sold to Hedra Pru. And Steven Alan, when he was on Wooster and it was a multi-brand store (he didn’t have a showroom or the shirts, yet). We sold to Bond 07 which is still there. I had a little business, so I thought I was such a hotshot and I quit Donna Karan. This was before LVMH [bought the company]. Gabby, Donna’s daughter, was the designer and Trey Laird was the creative director, and it was different. And I quit to make these clothes. I was getting denim from a fabric supplier on lower Broadway, I think, below Canal Street. A lot of it was from Japan – it was beautiful. Those fabric stores had bolts of fabric in a bin out on the street, I don’t think any of them are there anymore. It was really a different time.