Michael Schmidt's pioneering design spirit translates into elegant-yet-edgy stagewear and luxe accessories, garnering an impressive client list that includes Madonna (for whom he created the astonishing crystal-encrusted glove that she wore to the recent Grammy Awards), Debbie Harry, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, and Ozzy Osbourne.
A veritable Renaissance man, Schmidt’s CV also details an impressive line in sculpture, furniture, and interior design. In January his stunning ‘ceiling installation’—brought to life from salvaged rusted-metal chains and ex-theater lighting fixtures—took pride of place at the new ACE Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. So influential is he that in 2010 the Pasadena Museum of California Art honored him with a career retrospective.
Michael Schmidt was already well known as a designer to the stars when his latest innovation hit the headlines. Alongside architect Francis Bitonti, Schmidt created a 3D-printed nylon dress for burlesque beauty, Dita Von Teese. The black-lacquered outfit (the first fully articulated 3D-printed gown of its kind) was adorned with around 12,000 Swarovski crystals—in terms of breathtaking audacity, it’s completely unequalled. If you want to catch sight of the futuristic frock, swing by the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) in New York, where it’s on display until June 1, 2014.
We took advantage of a rare window in his packed schedule to grab five minutes to talk about a career marked by high-voltage, show-stopping glamour.
I moved to New York in 1983 and supported myself by making jewelry and clothing from unusual materials. One of my chainmail dresses found its way into the window of a store in Soho.
One day, Cher happened to come by, and we hit it off. She began giving my things away as gifts to musician friends—that's how I started working with entertainers.
The first garment I ever designed was my date's dress to my senior prom. She was incredibly beautiful—and very trusting!
I tend to gravitate toward more somber tones—I call them 'minor notes'. That said, it’s nonetheless really helpful to have a vast palette of colors to choose from when you’re at the drawing board.
Each commission is bespoke to that particular individual. I don't impose my own style—I try to embellish theirs. I'm inspired by integrity of character and motivated by the desire to make anyone who wears my work feel dazzling.
I only take on projects where I feel I can contribute something new. I feel that I've failed if someone recognizes an ensemble as one of mine.
Swarovski crystals have featured in my work for over thirty years. They’re perfect for stagewear, as it's imperative that design details can be seen from the rafters and have impact from one side of a packed arena right across to the other.