On the first New Year’s eve after they met, the three new friends threw a party in their apartment. They made fliers, filched two cases of vodka from a friend’s father’s restaurant, and filled gift bags with V magazines and condoms from a Harlem AIDS clinic. Three hundred people showed up. “It was insanity,” says Lezark. “Someone joked, ‘You should be doing this for real.’”
So they did: Lezark and Nicol made up a résumé and lied about their ages in order to take over a former lesbian bar on Seventh Avenue South on Saturday night. “When this started, I was hanging out with friends and having fun,” Nicol says. “I was doing a lot of drugs. I had an idea that I could be good at a number of things, but I didn’t know what I was doing.”
MisShapes turned the club, Luke & Leroy (and, later, nearby Don Hill’s), into an exuberant Never Never land, where Wendys were welcome in many shapes and sizes, but the Peters were almost invariably pubescently thin. It quickly became a hit with an asexual crowd of lissome, wired-up kids in complicated vest-and-scarf arrangements.
And, crucially, the celebrities were plentiful, thanks to Krelenstein’s job at Starworks, an agency that serves as a kind of liaison between editors and celebrity publicists, coordinating interviews and cover shoots. Boy George D.J.-ed the second night, the Rapture after that. Though the party flattered itself that it was democratic—the postnerd emo crowd didn’t want to think of itself as snobby—the doorman kept it free of the overfed West 27th Street nightlife contingent.
“We were pioneers of certain media tools,” brags Krelenstein. Inspired by the book We’re Desperate, for which L.A. punk-club attendees were photographed police-lineup style in the eighties, he instructed MisShapes’s house photographer, an intern at V magazine, to take similar photos. “We had the first Website of party pictures that I was aware of,” he says. MisShapes.com gets 10 million hits a month. It launched an entire genre of nightlife-photo blogs, not to mention the book.
“Guest D.J.’s” included Madonna, Chloë Sevigny, Yoko Ono, Cocker, and just about anyone cool who was passing through town with a record or movie to promote. “It was a return to kids dressing up,” says Christopher Bollen, editor of V. “And their pictures were put on the Website as a self-generating way of comparing looks. There wasn’t really that kind of institutionalized checking-each-other-out before.”
The party echoed throughout cyberspace. “People were shooting images all over the world, which is not something that would have happened ten years ago,” says Singer, rhapsodizing about the ubiquity of camera phones. “So kids all over the world could have a moment in that scene. It was virtual reality: It was happening in a tiny club in downtown New York, but it was also happening everywhere.”
And in this way, it became a second life for those who, like Nicol, got beaten up every day. “One 17-year-old kid wrote to me on MySpace,” says Krelenstein, sitting in pajamas in his bedroom—which looks much like a 17-year-old’s, with its messy twin bed, clothes-strewn floor, and pictures of a topless Courtney Love tacked to the wall. “He’s in Seattle, but in his profile, he put location as ‘Not at MisShapes, Seattle.’ What does that mean? I wrote him, and he said, ‘I really wish I could be at MisShapes, and I’m not there.’ And I thought, He’s identifying his whole world around not being at a certain club. That’s what’s most inspiring.” Krelenstein didn’t have that when he was that age. “But kids all over the world can look at our pictures and realize there’s a world apart from where they’re growing up.”
It was also convenient for the hungry merchants of what’s next. A stylist friend at Vogue dressed them for photo shoots. The features editor of Teen Vogue visited the party and wrote about them. Paper did a huge fashion spread on them in fall 2005. The Times Sunday “Styles” section covered them, and that paper’s fashion critic, Cathy Horyn, invited them to go shopping. Singer popped by and became a booster: “They have a great look—the kind that people who work in fashion love,” she says. “Extremely lean, extremely graphic—it photographs well. It’s not grunge.”
“The feeling around the office was that you had a party that combined the celebrity and the semi-celebrity and the Internet celebrity,” says Jon Durbin, a former managing editor of Paper. “At the same time, it was also sort of a focal point for downtown art, fashion, and music.” Their bleak presentation secured them a place in a long tradition of New York’s Great Blanks—think Warhol and Blondie—attractive screens onto which fashion editors could project their fantasies.