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The Crack-Up—and Future—of Downtown’s Kookiest Fashion Collective

The As Four three are in the silvery loft where they still make their clothes. To gain entrance, you must catch a key thrown out the top-floor window in a leather pouch. They have been busy preparing for the September 9 presentation of the Best of As Four—a reworking of their greatest hits (skirts, pants, even the circle bag) in . . . denim, and at a much lower price point (starting at $111 rather than $1,111.11). They’ll have a “pirate” storefront downtown during Fashion Week to sell the line, also known as As FourDenim. Why denim? “We always wanted to do it,” says Adi, “and we got a big order from Japan.”

A line of clothes they made for Kate Spade—including capelets—is doing well, and they’ve just finished a unisex perfume in collaboration with Parisian boutique Colette: ThreeasFour, which has a nice, gingery smell. The working environment is “not the same, because Kai’s energy is not here,” admits Adi. “But now the most important thing is the product. It’s more and more like a label, and that’s what we want. It’s not the conceptual As Four. We did that already.”

Kai and his fiancée, Melissa Burns (carrying the famous circle bag), at an Air Tahiti party.  

As it turns out, Kai has also created a fragrance. Its working title: Balloon. “The inspiration is making love with me in a field,” he explains, “and feeling safe. My favorite thing is when I meet certain women and smell their cheeks and there is a scent of a balloon.” He says it reminds him of his childhood. Balloon kicks like a mule, the scent both rubbery and synthetic. “It smells like a used condom,” observes Ange.

If As Four seem determined to mellow the drama, Kai is caught between courting it and squashing his more outré instincts. He showed up for the photo shoot for this story in a relatively restrained outfit (docksiders, even). Yet he can’t help becoming tabloid fodder. “Kai has joined that hallowed pantheon of self-destructive celebs,” says Chris Wilson of “Page Six,” “like Andy Dick and Tracy Morgan, where every time they go out, something crazy happens. When Kai goes clubbing, you know you’re gonna get a phone call or three the next day.” The most recent item was Kai’s alleged attempt to set Gabi on fire at a store opening. “Like all of these stories,” Kai says, “there is a piece of truth and a piece of misinformation.”

And then—in what may be another odd bid for attention—there is his engagement to Melissa Burns, an ex-model best known as the Beyoncé of the disbanded electroclash girl band W.I.T. (which stood for Whatever It Takes). It’s the Lower East Side version of The Surreal Life. “He asked me to marry him and I couldn’t think of a reason to say no,” says Burns. But isn’t he gay? “Umm, yeah.” And aren’t you already married? “Yeah, but I’m getting divorced.”

The nuptials are scheduled for next spring, but Kai already has children on his mind. A couple years ago, while in the mirrored tent As Four made for a Downtown for Democracy show, he had a vision that it was his mission to have them. He’s already donated sperm to a friend in Israel. “She liked my genes. I give sperm for babies and sperm for, like, whoever. Sperm for everybody.” And now “I’ve been chosen!” exclaims Burns. We’re all in a chauffeured Explorer heading downtown, and she’s showing some of her drawings, which are mostly of women performing oral sex. Kai considered incorporating them into his new line, Myself, but they were deemed a bit too “out-there.”

With Myself, Kai says he’s “aiming for everybody. To satisfy the spoiled couture bitch, the crazy pop star.” But he also claims to be toning things down. “After doing something very conceptual in As Four,” he says, “I’m focusing on classical clothing that I believe are basics—and on the commercial.” Myself, Kai e-mails later, will be a women’s line but “with a unisex touch,” incorporating “equestrian influences, graceful time travel, colonial Africa, beachy Sahara, horses in the ocean . . . light silks, taffetas, cottons, and subtle curves in classic shapes.” There’s also a T-shirt line, priced under $100. Stylistically, the whole venture is about “returning to where I come from,” Kai says. “My family are cool but bourgeois.”

Kelly Cutrone no longer represents As Four, though she and the three members express genuine affection for each other. But she recently signed on to rep Kai, and she’s hoping for his success for all sorts of reasons. Not least of which is that he—like his ex-comrades, still sewing away in their lovely silver cage—is an awfully good urban character. Fistfights aside, he walks that fine line, one that still gets trod every so often in fashion, between maddening and entertaining, destructive and creative.