ASHLEY PRUITT: Where are you from?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Elmira, upstate NY.
ASHLEY PRUITT: What was your earliest memory of when you started to feel the vibe of Michael?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Rock n Roll started for me back in 1964-65 when I was just starting to learn how to talk. I remember listening to the Meet the Beatles record; it was the beginning stage of what at that time was underground. Rock n Roll was not understood in many homes but in mine cool Brit and Tiny Tim played through my head at such an early age when really back then everyone only listened to a school vibe. I also had a ripe upbringing and atmosphere my Mom was an artist that practiced all types of mediums, my Grandfather was an architect for railroads, and my Grandmother was an interior designer. I gravitated to the arts and more of a European culture, not that I had anything against my country but the culture in America just wasn’t doing it for me at the time.
ASHLEY PRUITT: I am still laughing from when you mentioned the Beatles cartoons earlier. I mean really?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Oh yeah funny enough they were on at 5:30-6:00 in the morning every day. I would go downstairs turn on the TV and watch it before school.
ASHLEY PRUITT: Was that the end of the Beatles mania for you?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Well with that being done I realized there were more than the Beatles when it came to Rock N Roll and that was the Stones.
ASHLEY PRUITT: Oh yeah the Stones were the bad kids.
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Even though I knew the Beatles were the inglorious bastards. The Stones knew how to represent themselves, they had a darker melody, and they made me want to be a bad school boy. From that I started looking at different album covers because the Stones made me look into something new, they really stole my heart.
ASHLEY PRUITT: Album covers; this was a more visual aspect for you at this point?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Yes along with the music, but album covers really started to be psychedelic and the colors started to pop. Satanic Majesties Request had a 3D kind of thing that I was really intrigued by and song titles like 2000 light years from home that just seemed more interesting to me then I don’t know a Beatles album like Rubber Soul. I was into the whole hippie thing but I thought this dark edge other band was taking it to another level hence the Rolling Stones. Till this day they are one of my favorite bands in a visual sense but also in a learning sense. They trained me to see a fashion slash magical lyric slash fucking unbelievable cool look. Keith Richards in the 60’s how he married velvet and everything really made me want to be a singer and look the part. So I think the Beatles always would be good for an ear and the Stones would always be good for an eye.
ASHLEY PRUITT: So your love and inspiration for the Stones, where did this lead your music Career?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: The first band I was ever in was in high school. That was the start but my first real band that wasn’t ya know karaoke and was more like “hey see you at the finish line” was my band called Vaudeville in 1978-1979. That’s when I realized I had something for the stage I mean I really loved it and it just progressed. Then I started a band with friends and family called Fright. It had the Stones rock edge but we also got into punk, The Dead Boys, in a town that was more pop and safe. As I got older and moved into the city I got into a band called Bender and we got signed to Columbia Records and then Sony. We were like the Cult meet Depeche mode it still had a very British influence which to me was music.
ASHLEY PRUITT: So when you were with Bender were you creating the costume and look for the band then?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Yes. I was wearing a boa and a suit every night on stage. I was mixing influence from T.Rex and other elements that visually made sense but still creating a new formula. We were together for a couple years it was fun we did some really cool stuff like opening up for James Brown in 96-97. That was probably one of my best memories. It was something that the Beatles and the Stones did, it was very much a goal.
ASHLEY PRUITT: So was it the industry changing that made the band end?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Yes I mean the hip hop was really making the money at the time. The rock n roll thing was dying, MTV was killing it. It just got more dance it was kind of like what disco did to rock n roll in a different era different time but it was still the same kind of enemy. Not that I disliked hip hop but I was truly a rock n roll a fanatic. So at that point it was the end of the band we lost our contract and unless you had the soul vibe you weren’t getting signed.
ASHLEY PRUITT: Were you in another band after that or was it a wrap?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: I really didn’t want to be in the business anymore. My band members saw this as there lively hood to live and support their families, unfortunately it was the power of the industry that really said “ok let this band get out of the gate”. It was all run by the suit at this point and non-artist just money bullshit. That’s what kind of killed it for me and I really started to grow up and say fuck it I am not going to be anyone’s slave.
ASHLEY PRUITT: Was that your biggest transition into taking designing more seriously?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: That brought me into heavy drinking “haha”. I was always playing with the look, being a visual guy and a sound guy I was somewhat schizo. I had the Beatles on one side of the brain and the Stones on the other. So I wanted to look and sound good. The visual was always creeping more and more into the picture being a Bowie or somewhat avant-garde I wanted to alienate what everyone else was doing. It was funny once I started finalizing a look someone would sense my vibe and say “hey you look like someone,” and I would say “damn I know”. It truly is survival of the fittest in music and see you at the finish line it really is a race. I just didn’t like what I was seeing around me so I went on a hiatus and then I started developing clothing. I was never getting out of the passion of music there was definitely something there. Eventually though you do find what you are meant for but you need to travel a bit and maybe it’s Alice in Wonderland. You need to go down that rabbit hole and find out where it is. So fashion was my rabbit hole it happened on a kind of a mistake but it was a pleasure. After a gig someone would say “you sound great.” Design was different it was “wow you designed that? The fit look like it fits and also comfortable.” Same feeling but different genre to me it was still rock n roll and the high of walking off stage.
ASHLEY PRUITT: You found your rabbit hole, now how did you make the development of the product come alive?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Back in my Bender days my management said “you should design you should do this you should do that.” You never want to hear “you should” you want to be. I needed to come to my own terms of following this path of design. When that happened I started experimenting and went out to look and research. I found a sewer and where to find fabric which was easy for me because at the time I was living with a guy that owned fabric stores. The room he put me in was surrounded by rolls and rolls of fabric and I’m thinking “wait what is this?!” I lucked out, his family owned fabric stores all over Soho which then started my production of doing piece by piece first a hat then a couple hats then a pant and it kept going. I also always was really into the fit. I saw that as a huge element of the design process of my items. I would always yell at my band members and say “what are you doing that doesn’t fit right!” I would also look at other bands and think to myself “what are they wearing?” It was almost like the movie Rockstar with Mark Wahlberg. I know it’s such a stupid fucking movie but his character was so passionate about getting his band members to do it right. Ya know you do it right or you don’t do it all! I laugh to myself and think Ive been there. It’s a passion thing it kind of takes over.
Exactly it’s either right or nothing. So let’s stop being all nostalgic here I want to talk now about Michael in the present. Your line of clothing ROCK PUNK COUTURE.
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: I like our whole walking and talking that we are doing now. I feel like we are walking forward in time. This is a new shoe boot collection I am working on, look at this vintage Gucci shoe when they were fucking cool. I am taking old shoe styles and re-doing them. Moving on let me show you RPC in the closest. This is my prize piece my alligator jacket I made this for Gregg Allman and many other rock fashion folks. This is all true alligator.
ASHLEY PRUITT: So where do you source your materials?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: All here in the states believe it or not. I find dealers that farm it and tan it then I go to someone else that makes it he’s a top guy. Then we go down from here into snake that I paint on I only use acrylics. I am also really into repurposing vintage putting imagery on it and using special oriental linings for the jackets. Denim is also very strong for me I call this category the Raven. You should feel the hand on the denim the acrylic paint instead of becoming stiff wears in to make the raw texture of the denim softer. As you can see we don’t want everyone wearing it it’s more of an underground specialty market. Since the price point of one piece could be at $35,000 dollars retail such as the alligator jacket, I am not going into any production on these pieces at the moment I am keeping it purely custom and specialty for that certain consumer. There are so many pieces and examples of my inspirations for garments in the future but you get the vibe. Also lot of my art from The Smoking Series I did have had influence on the collection as well. Let’s go to the kitchen and get our drinks.
ASHLEY PRUITT: What is the significance of the Raven?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: The Raven has always been my sign or let’s say symbol. I used to freak people out and have a painting of a whole tree of Raven’s. I guess in some way it’s bringing my heart over to the love of my life Geri. They really are a fascinating bird, you should watch this documentary of them on PBS, you would see how smart they are and why they have gotten such a bad name. In London the raven was once an ascot and if it left the world was going to end. The rest of the societies looked at the bird as a symbol of death. In some way they are the punk rockers of the birds.
ASHLEY PRUITT: I think I am starting to become obsessed, a possible high on your fabrications. Who is your favorite musician that has been fortunate enough to be dressed by you and rock your product?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Dressing my teachers of rock the Rolling Stones. Ronnie Wood fit into my samples perfectly, I mean all of them did. A stylist purchased a yellow motorcycle jacket that I made and it was really different. He wore it the first show of the tour they were on at the time and from there he wore it constantly. I then made the same jacket for Keith Richards out of snake but I never saw him wear it. One night I was backstage at their show and I turn around and I see Mick Jagger wearing it! I think that was the highest praising for me to see him standing there with it on and not getting the heads up. Witnessing that moment was just so beautiful.
ASHLEY PRUITT: There seemed to be some kind of fate of crossing paths for you and The Stones, incredible. The obsession of the punk rock look that has taken over from Zara to Margiela in today’s society. How do you feel about this being the biggest trend in fashion at the moment when you have such a rich history of actually living in it?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Well think about how cool Elvis Presley was, pirates, the bad side of the Indians, they were the rockstars. It was the dark side of life then and it’s always been cool to be dark or cool to try and be cool. So you think it’s a simple formula wearing black leather, smoking a cigarette, having your hair in front of your ears. People ran out of ideas and started using this same aesthetic. Everyone now just wants to be a full blown rockstar. Hip hop artists want to be titled as rock n roll stars it’s hard for me to digest. I feel like I can be a Sunday school teacher and teach rock at this point. What people don’t understand is that you need to pay your dues to be a fucking rocker.
ASHLEY PRUITT: I need to get over the cool factor for a minute and tell me a quirky story.
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Let’s see I designed a white baby whale cord pant and single button jacket that was presented to Scott Weiland to buy but it needed to be sent to LA to Steven Tyler’s stylist first for a photo shoot. Scott loved it so much that I let him wear it that night when we were having dinner at Raoul’s. Afterwards we went to the Mercer and got fucked up. In a haze I spilled red wine all over the jacket I freaked out and for some reason I thought dry salt and Seltzer would fix it. I woke up the next day thinking it’s a lost cause. I take a look at it and the stains turned into a light blue and then disappeared it was a miracle. I’m thinking “what the fuck is this I don’t understand!” I shipped it out that day to LA to Steven’s stylist and told Scott “sorry you are not getting the suit back!” Steven loved the suit so much he bought it on the spot. I kept thinking that’s cool really cool.
ASHLEY PRUITT: How about something funny?
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: Oh boy when I first moved to New York City I was helping Hilfiger out and he gave me a job to research for design. Back then the trend was bicycle shorts and cowboy boots. I was sent to go find some cool western gear, so there I go on the subway in my spandex shorts, cowboy boots, and long hair to Christopher Street and 7th. When I got off the train I see a sign that says “boots and saddles” I thought to myself “bingo!” I walk in and it’s a gay bar! I’m telling you, everyone in spandex and the cowboy boots. That was my first shopping experience in this city.
ASHLEY PRUITT: I listen to all your stories and I just find such fascination of how each memory still lives in you to form a true identity when we are surrounded by so much fake. People don’t know how to run alone anymore there too scared.
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: There are people out there that are just getting away with doing things that are just awful. They are wrong teachers for our culture. We need organic humanness again; people need to become hands on. I have always thrived off of old New York and I feel we are the only culture left to truly weed out the bad and bring in the detailed minds again.
ASHLEY PRUITT: This is your time Michael to begin the cycle of reality again.
MICHAEL HOUGHTON: I am so glad that I made you late for your shoot instead of wanting to leave early. There is just so much to talk about.
ASHLEY PRUITT: Oh believe me we are just getting started.