Like many fixtures of New York City's fashion and nightlife scenes, Mickey Boardman, the irrepressible editorial director of Paper magazine, is a self-made success. The peripatetic personality—and, boy, what a personality—hails from a Chicago suburb, taught English in Spain and once worked the production line at a suntan-lotion factory in Florida. Despite such a worldly background, Boardman—better known as Mr. Mickey—was always drawn to NYC. After a stint at Parsons two decades ago, where he designed apparel collections he called “The Supremes Go to Shanghai” and “Jackie Ho” (inspired by visions of Jacqueline Onassis going hip-hop), he began an internship at Paper. He rose through the magazine's ranks and created his signature column, “Ask Mr. Mickey,” which features a pithy mix of fashion advice, inspirational life lessons and humorous (but stylish!) non sequiturs. We sat down with him to discuss why he loves Fashion's Night Out, his Paper column and how New York City has never been better than it is right now.
How do you feel about Fashion's Night Out? What are some of your favorite FNO moments from previous years? Mickey Boardman: I love the concept of Fashion's Night Out. I wish it wasn't all on one night, because there are so many fun things to do. Bergdorf's always does something so great. Saks has done great things. I remember seeing Karen Elson perform at Balenciaga, and that was fabulous. We did a thing with Intermix and Sienna Miller that was super fun. Last Fashion's Night Out, I hung out with Wendy Williams for a story. I asked her to interview [the Gossip's] Beth Ditto, who was performing at M.A.C., which is two doors down from Dash, where Pauly D from Jersey Shoremayhem.
Sounds like a typically magical New York City evening. MB: The magic of New York usually happens when it's not planned. One of my favorite nights ever was a night when I had no money. I was working super-late at Paper's old office on Broadway and Spring with my favorite intern, Hugo. I had been invited to see Nancy Boy—at the time that was the hot band. The members all went out with models, so anytime you went to their shows it was all models and Sofia Coppola and the cool people I wanted to hang out with. But when Hugo and I got there, I didn't know if I was on the list. We walked past to scope it out, and the doorman yelled, “Hey, Mickey!” and let us in. Someone gave me drink tickets. I was waiting at the bar—I'm sober now, but at the time I drank—and the person sitting next to me was John Kennedy Jr. Hottest man ever. I ended up meeting Ann Dexter Jones, whom I idolized. Nancy Boys started playing and Ethan Hawke was dancing. Meanwhile, I didn't spend a nickel the whole night. I came home thinking, “I love New York City.” You couldn't plan that.
I've read that you're the type who hates when people say that New York used to be better. MB: I do dislike when people say things used to be better. Michael Musto, the fabulous writer for the Village Voice, said it best. [He tells a story about how] at Studio 54, which everyone regards as the pinnacle of nightlife, there were people saying, “This is nothing compared to Max's Kansas City.” When you're young and in your prime of going out in New York, whatever place you're at seems like the best place. Of course, there are places that are great and places that are not, and times that are better than others, but as long as there are fabulous, cute people coming to New York, there's going to be fabulous, cute nightlife happening.
You grew up in Hanover Park, Illinois. Did you know you would wind up in NYC? MB: I love Hanover Park, and I love going to the strip mall. But I was just meant to go other places. Everybody should be super-excited to be who they are, to be doing what they're doing, be wearing what they're wearing. If you're not super-excited a lot of the time in your life, there's a big problem and you need to rethink.
Where else did you work before you came to New York? You had a job at a suntan lotion factory, right? MB: I did. Hawaiian Tropic. I had gone to Purdue, had a BA in Spanish, lived in Spain my senior year, and, afterward, had been accepted to this German-intensive summer program at Middlebury College where you speak nothing but German for nine weeks. I had time to kill before that started because I had ended school a semester early. My parents were in Daytona Beach, Florida, and my mom was like, “I hope you don't think you'll just be watching Oprah and eating bonbons. You're gonna get a job.” I did random things, like climbing into giant tubs of aloe vera that were almost empty and hosing them out. They saw leadership qualities in me and after three days offered me a full-time job working on the night shift. My only other real job before that was at an aluminum-siding factory. I try to act fancy with my Stella McCartney handbags, but I've worked the line in the factory.
Did you always want to be a fashion journalist? MB: I never had any writing aspirations, although I was always a fabulous storyteller. But when Rupert Everett, whom I loved, had a book coming out, the editors at Paper asked me to write about it. I said, “I'd love to, but I don't know how to be a writer.” They had me pretend to write it before the interview to see how I did and they liked it. Kim Hastreiter, who cofounded Paper, always said that if you can talk, you can write. So I went to meet Rupert Everett on the roof of the Peninsula Hotel. He was in a swimsuit and mesh tank top. We talked about jock straps. It was a dream. I wrote the story, got it published and was paid like 40 bucks for it. Then someone quit Paper, and they asked me to answer the phones until they figured it out. That was 20 years ago. And here I am.
Tell us about the start of “Ask Mr. Mickey.” MB: About 18 or 19 years ago, there was an online community called Echo. They asked Paper to host a forum, so we would all log in a few times a day. I would write about doing spontaneous makeovers on people like Pope John Paul II. I'm horrible about deadlines, but with this, I would just sit down and do it. Kim said that we should run a column where [the community members] asked me questions. That was the original concept. Kim thought of the name “Ask Mr. Mickey” and it caught on.
Do you have any advice for aspiring fashion types? MB: Be yourself and do your thing. Fly your freak flag high, and if you're not a freak, fly your normal flag high. I hate any kind of exclusionary or judgmental thing about what people are into. I say be yourself, and be happy to be yourself.
For more of Mr. Mickey's advice, visit papermag.com. To read about some of his favorite New York City spots, see below:
I love their jeans.
A great Indonesian restaurant on Ninth Avenue. I love it for after the theater.
Bishops & Barons
I host parties there on Tuesdays. It reminds me of Nell's, which I used to love back in the day. It's in a cockamamie location on 14th Street, two doors down from the IHOP. It's straight, gay, lesbian, black, white… I love places where you get a cross section of people.
Diane von Furstenberg
Love her store. Love her.
I love eating at the bar. It feels so grown up and business-y.
The Hispanic Society of America
This is my favorite museum in NYC. They have crazy Velázquezes, Goyas and El Grecos. Also it hasn't been redone in decades. I love old-fashioned stuff that doesn't look restored. The Frick is also magic.
This is the most glamorous restaurant in NYC. I do my birthday here every year. The food is delicious, and the crowd is always the most fabulous.
I love doing photo shoots there because you always see the cutest people.
I worship his store even though I wear no leather. It's so chic and vampire-ish.
My favorite vintage store. They have an entire sparkle section.
The 18th Floor at The Standard
It's the most gorgeous room in town. It really feels like you're a VIP.