Photographs by Cass Bird
Geordon Nicol is sitting in the backyard of his East Village apartment, hiding out in tight black pants. It’s six weeks before the last night of MisShapes, a downtown Manhattan dance party he started with two friends in 2002, when he was only 19. “None of this was planned,” he declares wearily in his flat, affectless drone, chewing gum tucked into a top molar. Though as it turned out, the MisShapes phenomenon couldn’t have gone better if it had been rolled out by the most talented branding experts in the world.
And in a way, maybe it was: Nicol, the group’s impresario in waist 26 jeans, who is looking less like a vampiric English sheepdog these days, and his partners, Leigh Lezark, also 23, whose beauty recalls Linda Fiorentino by way of Edie Sedgwick, and Greg Krelenstein, 28, whose heavy-lidded gaze reminds you of a cheerful Muppet, were never bedeviled by some outsider notion of selling out. Like many raised on (or possibly by) MySpace, the peddling of a self-created notion of themselves comes naturally. They would of course become insiders, famous in some way, and probably rich.
“We started MisShapes to have fun, because there was nowhere to go,” says Nicol. But now he mostly goes nowhere. He watches Law & Order reruns off his DVR at home instead. “It was the best time in our lives. But as it got bigger and we had to do more, it’s not fun. It’s work.”
Which is why, on September 8, they decided to pull the party’s plug, with a night that also was designed to launch their 228-page photo book, a retrospective look at their five-year climb to becoming increasingly mass-market pop-culture darlings. Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, legendary punk journalist Legs McNeil, and Vogue fashion-news editor Sally Singer wrote forewords. With friends like this, they aren’t going to go begging for drink tickets even if they’re no longer hosting a dance party.
This summer, they have D.J.-ed with the True Colors tour, which featured Debbie Harry and Cyndi Lauper, and opened for Courtney Love. At the moment, there are elaborate promotional displays of pictures from the book at Henri Bendel here and Colette in Paris. Looking forward, they’re negotiating to get a show on Sirius Satellite Radio (although the contract is not signed), and planning a spring 2008 fashion line for “a global brand” they refuse to name (but that has been reported to be H&M), as well as some remixes and film soundtracking. Nicol has secured advertisers to turn MisShapes.com into an online fashion magazine, with features on people such as their “really good friend” Sienna Miller. That’ll start later this month. But the party’s over.
It all began in the fall of 2001, when an underage Nicol snuck in the side door of Tiswas, a Britpop party. Krelenstein, an NYU senior who was interning at a publicity firm, and Lezark, who’d just moved to town two weeks before, had met that night at the club. Krelenstein spotted Nicol and told him he resembled Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes; Nicol was disgusted. Plus he’d been dating the same guy that a high-school friend of Lezark’s was dating, and so she vengefully attempted to light his eyebrows on fire. In spite of these rocky beginnings, soon enough they became roommates. “We decided all the parties were lame. We were already over it and jaded at 17,” says Lezark.
Lezark jaded early. She grew up in Toms River, New Jersey, daughter of a fiberglass plant manager and a mother who did “crafts.” She was the kind of arty teenager who made her own clothes, eschewed MTV for Full Frontal Fashion, and started going out to Manhattan gay bars—“If it was a weekend, it was a gay bar! Don’t know why!”—and CBGB at age 14, with a fake I.D. made by a girl in her French class. Apparently, her fashion sense was forged early. “I’ve looked the same since I was 16,” she says. “I didn’t say, ‘This is the persona I’m going to put on for the media.’”
After high-school graduation, she moved to the Lower East Side and took photography classes at Hunter College. “I had no idea what I wanted to do when I came here,” she says. “Art, I guess.”
Of the three MisShapes founders, only Krelenstein, who grew up in Marlboro, New Jersey, has a good relationship with his parents, a dentist and a homemaker; they’ve been known to attend some MisShapes events and provide the trio with dental care.
The legend of Geordon Nicol, as described by Geordon Nicol, begins with his birth in suburban Toronto. His father worked for Air Canada; his mother’s an accountant. They divorced when he was 4, leaving him shy and withdrawn (he first dyed his brown hair black at 8); when he was 9, his grandmother enrolled him in acting classes to bring him out of his shell. This led to TV commercials for Nerf toys and Imperial margarine (in which he was dressed as a child Elvis in an all-Elvis family), and small roles in Canadian kiddie shows. But he was unpopular: “I was beaten up every day.” When he was 14, he ran away to Los Angeles to the apartment of an uncle. When he was 16, he dropped out of a professional high school and followed a boyfriend to New York, where they lived on his royalties. They broke up. He got into cocaine, which necessitated a return to Canada in the fall of 2002 to clean up a little. But he was back in New York for that fateful night at Tiswas.