Cheap Date: Bay Garnett
Interview: Bay Garnett
Garnett tells Lou Stoppard about founding Cheap Date with Kira Joliffe in London in 1997.
‘I think magazines can make you feel a bit excluded. I think magazines are kind of predicated on that in a way, because exclusion is what sells things. It’s aspirational.’
Lou Stoppard: So first question: what was happening at the point of your life when you started working for Cheap Date? Why did the idea come to you?
Bay Garnett: Well, I think it’s really important to know that Kira Jolliffe [founder] and I were really obsessed with thrifting. We were really really passionate about thrifting and we felt sort of – well, I always felt like a bit of an outsider. And I don’t know why because I had no reason to, but I did. I think thrifting was a way, certainly for me, of enjoying being an outsider. I remember Kira sitting down at the kitchen table in my old house and saying, ‘I want to do this and I promise you it will be good - let’s do it.’ So it was very much Kira, who is incredibly stylish and the cleverest person I know basically. I think things come from a reaction or a feeling that you’ve got something to say but you don’t know where to say it - I know that’s where it came from with her.
LS: That’s interesting. So tell me, did you feel like the magazines that you were working with or even just reading didn’t respond to thrifting?
BG: I wasn’t working with any magazines. I was actually at college doing Art History and Modern History. I think magazines can make you feel a bit excluded. I think magazines are kind of predicated on that in a way because exclusion is what sells things. It’s aspirational. If you felt like you were chumming out, if you felt completely included, then where’s the aspiration? But, I enjoyed looking at the pictures. I did. When I was little, I remember my Dad ordered me W magazine. He’d been in America and he said, ‘Oh this is an amazing magazine, it’s really big and I’ve got you a subscription to it!’ I was just in Somerset, I was ten and I was looking at this high magazine. He was brilliant like that because he would see something and just take it as something - he’d just see that it was amazing and cool and glossy, and he celebrated that. So I grew up looking at that because he’d got me a subscription. Plus my mum wrote the Vogue Book of Fashion Photography and was an editor at American Vogue under Diana Vreeland and at British Vogue under Beatrix Miller. I very much grew up with that. So I never, in one sense I never felt excluded, but I just felt I was more into thrifting and hunting stuff down and that side of life.
LS: How did you and Kira meet?
BG: Kira was at St Paul’s with my sister Rose, and Kira was always incredibly stylish. I remember she’d come into the kitchen in really high eighties jeans and cowboy boots and like a Tom Cruise leather flying jacket when everyone else was wearing a bootleg. She was three years older than me but we just really connected on lots of different things. Yet, she was very much my sister’s friend because they were at school together.
LS: Why do you think you had conversations about thrifting?
BG: We just did it, we just really really did it. Kira was very tapped into it - her boyfriend at the time was a musician. Then I learnt a lot about that too through her - so yeah it was not something that we ever talked about, we used to just find shit and compare it and love it and it was just very much a part of our lives. When I went to New York and started doing Cheap Date there, that’s when my passion for thrifting just took on a whole new level, because the stuff was really incredible. I just found amazing stuff and it was my life. Nothing made me happier. I’d get the subway out to the Bronx and find amazing, amazingly good ideas.
LS: What did you gain the most from thrifting, garments or ideas?
BG: It was all ideas and I just buzzed off it. I think I just loved the ideas. I genuinely didn’t understand why you would go to Barney’s. Why would you want to spend a thousand pounds on something that someone else had? It was a totally freaky thing to me! I genuinely didn’t understand it. And actually me and Sophie Dahl - me and her, we were kind of best friends in New York, really really good friends - she hated charity shops, hated them. She hated old clothes! She was always very swanky and very clean and she could never understand how I could wear a jumper from a thrift store having not washed it. I’d just put it on and that would be it and she’d be like, ‘But you just bought it’, and I’d be like, ‘I don’t care!’ We had a deal to spend the day together and she was going to come to the West 26th Salvation Army which was huge and very dirty and then afterwards I’d go to Barney’s with her. We had the funniest time because she was just in there, disgusted. When I was thrifting, fashion was a different thing. It was Helmut Lang, it was different. Now you see all that revival stuff being kind of used and copied. I love it but I think if I’d kept all my stuff I’d have all these collections! But I got rid of a lot. Often I’ll be looking through an old photo album of mine and I’ll be like, ‘Ahh! That was so amazing!’ Or like a friend of mine will wear something and I’ll be ‘Oh my God, did you nick that? I wouldn’t have given that away!’ And I did.
LS: What were your aspirations? That conversation with Kira about starting Cheap Date, was it because you were you thinking about working in fashion or magazines.?
BG: Not at all, no. I mean it was genuine. I wasn’t confident. No, it never occurred to me really. Someone said to me, ‘Oh maybe you should be a stylist’, and I’d be like, ‘Well…’, and then stylists would ask to borrow stuff from me for shoots and I’d be really happy to lend it. It was very pure, I have to say that. Working on Cheap Date and thrifting was just purely for the love of it. I think that’s what passion is isn’t it? You’re not doing it to make money, you’re doing it because that’s just what made you happy. I look back on those days as being the happiest of my life in lots of ways. I mean having a family and having a career that’s different and is great too in lots of ways but doing that, with my walkman on, going to Steinway Street in Queens was great. You’d go into stores surrounded by recovering alcoholics – there’d definitely be a lot of strange people in there - but they’d have the radio on. They always had this brilliant radio station with American rock, and I’d just be happy.
LS: How long would you spend in one?
BG: I’d do it all the time and when I had an office job I would do it during lunch breaks. Actually Marlon Richards who art directed Cheap Date in New York drew a picture of me - I found it the other day - with headphones on with two bin-liners. He’d drawn an arrow pointing to the bin-liners saying, ‘other people’s old smelly clothes’ and one to the Walkman say, ‘can’t hear shit.’ It was sort of scuzzy but I loved it! It gave me so much pleasure. You had all these amazing ideas from the thrift stores in the Bronx and Queens and then you know the other opposite end was the Upper East Side, which was incredible. Preppy old Ralph Lauren - I mean, incredible stuff. Talking of Marlon, he was a vital part of the NY Cheap Date. He bought so much of the buzz, glamour and content, as well as being a brilliant and totally original art director. He was an editor too. We were a team! He bought on Debbie Harry, Mick Rock, Kate Moss along with so much else.
LS: Tell me about the kind of timeline, the process of putting together that first issue - things like the design and the naming, do you remember those kinds of conversations? How did all that come about?
BG: Kira dealt with that. It was all very disorganised. I remember we drove to Virginia for 20 hours, and we got there with the discs to print, and we had the wrong discs. It was like that. Kira was always very good at art directing. I loved her style of art directing, we used to sit there and it was all very desktop but she would bring in a bit of fifties or something a bit silly and I loved that. I loved seeing that and helping and doing that. But I loved doing stuff like getting content, so getting the pin-ups, doing the fake campaigns. I think with a fanzine something important is that it’s not about money, so it feels wonderfully guerrilla. We did this thing called ‘Shop Dropping’ where we used to decorate clothes and drop them in shops. So in Victoria’s Secret we’d leave huge granny pants with a sign saying, ‘please take me home, I’m yours’ - it was just fun! The shop people were so disarmed because you’re putting something in a shop; you’re not taking it away. We did one in Prada, and literally the whole of Broadway was looking. We took this huge dress, a really, really disgusting dress, and we got paints and did like big heart and words saying, ‘I’m really lonely’, or something like that. I can’t remember who placed it, it was either me or Kira, but we placed it on Broadway in that Rem Koolhaas building, and it was just so perfectly placed that the shop people couldn’t do anything. There were queues of people looking - it was there for two hours and it was amazing. Because it was really funny. I mean I couldn’t do that now, because I don’t want to do that. But at the time it felt right, it felt really right. We’d also often go into a designer shop and there’d be all these perfect shoes, and we’d get a pair of really old fucked-up Converse, with writing and stuff on the feet, and put it in and then walk out. So you’d leave it there and wait for it to be found, and then take a photo. We’d spend Saturdays doing that. That’s what we would do, isn’t that weird! Does that make us really weird?
LS: Not weird at all. It’s interesting because you talk about it as being so much fun but I wonder were the motivations for kind of the stuff you were doing - was it having fun or was it more political. Were you trying to disarm people or disrupt things?
BG: Maybe with Kira it was more political. But for me…yeah it was actually I suppose. It was a bit. I did feel like everything was all about brainwashing. I did feel like that. If you’re that into thrifting - you’re that into finding stuff, your own stuff, which I was - then other stuff looks so unappealing. I used to think a lot of it was about sheep mentality, to be honest. So yes, it was political at the time. I can only say that it was something I genuinely felt and genuinely don’t mind if people think that’s hypocritical - life changes, I’ve changed. I still have that part of me, I still go to thrift stores, I still love all that. But I do also love beautiful clothes, and now I feel like I can really appreciate that and really enjoy being able to appreciate that. Because there was also a part of me that was very judgemental, and probably a bit closed off because I was so into what I was doing, that I felt a bit like, ‘they’re trying to brainwash us all and I find the best stuff and it costs $2.’
LS: It does make sense. Do you feel like that time and the work you did for Cheap Date, has it always stayed with you? Whether its that attitude or that DIY-ness?
BG: Yes, always. I mean I am that person, which sometimes makes me feel like maybe I don’t fit in. I like that, and I like the fact that I don’t. It’s just accepting who you are. I’m not proud of myself or anything - it’s just the way I am. When I had children that changed quite a lot because – it’s hard to explain – maybe that kind of burning thing got muted. I think it’s come up again now, hence, Fan Pages, the book I’m working on. But for a long time I just was like ‘Oh I don’t care about thrift stores.’
LS: But do you think thrift stores themselves almost became part of that ‘chic’ thing - they were kind of commercialised in that whole ‘vintage’ movement?
BG: Yeah definitely, exactly and I think that thrift stores now aren’t as good. When I was thrifting, it was before the huge manifestation of the high street. So, the stuff you found was other people’s old bits, rather than a sort of collective mass of last year’s whatever. But certainly in New York at the time it really was people’s real stuff - I found an original t-shirt which I gave to a friend of mine who was really into The Velvet Underground. I wonder if he’s still got it actually but it was the original t-shirt, the banana, faded – incredible, from the seventies.
LS: I can’t believe you gave it away! Nicest friend in the world.
BG: I know! I’ve always loved finding things for people though. You’d see something and just know that someone would love it. I’m not a particularly generous person but I’ve always loved that idea of surprising somebody with they might love, something they would just never think of because you know it’s that one-off thing.
LS: Is that part of the reason you wanted to kind of transfer that passion to Cheap Date, this idea of sharing what you were doing and sharing what you’d found and sharing your ideas?
BG: Yeah exactly I think it was that. And I think it was also that I felt really really passionate about branding, about the brain-washing thing. I didn’t think that style was to do with money. That was really it, and it was about thinking for yourself, finding your own ideas. It was about style, it was about fun. That’s why I got involved. I did love working, I did love getting stuff. I loved taking Chloe’s [Sevigny] picture, I loved Harmony Korine telling stories about old stuff. I loved doing stuff because it was independent.
LS: Do you see it as being a feminist magazine? When I speak to a lot of girls who really identify with it it’s partly because of that - even just the topics you talk about, the funny things you did about body hair…
BG: Oh yeah, armpit wigs. Kira’s a real feminist. I’m definitely a feminist, obviously. It was very much about girls. Not girl power, so to speak. But it was definitely about women - my life was very much surrounded by women and hobbies, thrifting with women and female style icons.
LS: Not looking generic, as well.
BG: Exactly, exactly. I think that’s really key. Not looking generic and harnessing the power back into the way you look. ‘No, you don’t have to look like that.’ Just step outside of that, don’t be brainwashed. ‘The power of branding.’ I did really feel Cheap Date, for me, was a real reaction to that.
LS: But it was the branding that was the problem? The machine of it all?
BG: Yeah! That seemed to negate the joy and the passion of finding stuff yourself. Now of course I understand that people maybe don’t want to go to the Bronx, and to Queens to go thrifting, they don’t have the time. But at the time I just thought, ‘Why wouldn’t you?’ I was 21 – there was a certain amount of naivety.
LS: It’s kind of the innate optimism of youth isn’t it?
LS: Tell me, it’s interesting because you just said the word joy there and we talked about naivety, and that’s one of the things that’s interesting with Cheap Date, it goes back to what you were saying about the magazines that are so slick and so branded because that’s one of the things I love about it because it’s so joyful and it’s very naughty and it’s very cheeky. Did you feel that was missing from other magazines, that kind of irreverence?
BG: Yeah, yeah it was. It was not didactic. It was never about that. It was Kira who came up with ‘Thinking Thrifter’, she was brilliant about not being didactic. Kira was much more sort of left field than me and more original where as I’d kind of go slightly more mainstream and she’d bring it back when we worked together. So it was that combination - it was great working together. Maybe I brought more glossy, different stuff to it.
LS: How many issues did you do in London before you took it to New York?
BG: So in London there were four or five, and then in New York there were six. In New York it was funny. We moved into colour - with Craig [McDean] we did these fake campaigns. It was good, it was so nice to do it colour.
LS: Because it’s interesting you mentioned Craig and that’s one of the things I find really interesting about it because it’s so like an outsider zine in some ways but then the contributors and the people in it are incredible. Were you aware of that at the time or were they just kind of people?
BG: Yep. I enjoyed that. I pushed for that because I felt quite strongly that if you’re going to do a fake advert with old stuff then execute it in a way that was beautifully done because otherwise it was less resonant. If I was going to take the picture they’re all going to be like the Chloe pin-up. I love that homegrown thing in someone’s house, but I felt for the fake campaigns, we had to do it properly. But you’ve got Craig doing stuff, you’ve got Debbie Harry, you’ve got Anita Pallenberg contributing, you’ve got all these but at the same time you’ve still got the tone. I did quite a lot of the photography actually – like when it was Karen [Elson] in her flat doing the Hello spoof. So there was crap photography alongside the good contributors. I liked that mix.
LS: Did you have any formal distribution at all?
BG: We did. Co-mag. But then a lot of times we’d just go to places directly. Or Colette would call. There was definitely a network that supported it. Also the other thing is we did have incredible parties.
LS: Tell me about those.
BG: Oh my God, they were just the best. We had a policy, there wouldn’t be a guest list, so if you knew about it you could come, which in New York was kind of crazy. But it was like the magazine - anyone was welcome. Who was there - like Chloe Sevigny, Kate Moss, Liv Tyler, Keith Richards, Bjork, Moby. Everyone was just dancing! It was very pure. Just dancing, best music, completely unpretentious - and then the magazine would be given out for free. The Cheap Date parties were amazing.
LS: Do you miss those more than the magazine?
BG: Oh they were so much fun. Everyone dressed up I remember Kira dressed up as the Queen - the Queen of England. We didn’t do a wig but just wore like amazing pink brocade and a brooch and then a pink - subtle - pale pink tights and those white sixties shoes. Just an incredible outfit. So Kira dressed up as the Queen and then I’d save my thrift and go in like seventies Chanel, a ruffled shirt with gold buttons everywhere. And we’d just dance all night. It was amazing.
LS: How did you fund Cheap Date? I imagine one of the stresses was trying to keep it going?
BG: No one got paid. It was cheap. When it was in black and white, it was very cheap.
LS: But you were never trying to make money from it?
BG: No. I mean occasionally we’d be like, ‘Come on how can we?’, but we never did.
LS: Are there any spreads in particular? We talked about the fake adverts which I think are my favourite, but are there any bits in it?
BG: Are those your favourites? Really are they?
LS: I love them, I think they’re amazing.
BG: I loved ‘Shop Dropping’ and I loved the Chloe pin-up because she wore her swimsuit with a little lace dog collar. And you know I went round to her house, it was a long time ago, and she was staying in Gramercy Park, she still lived in Connecticut. And I said ‘Oh can I do your pin-up’ and I was quite shy and she was quite shy. I remember she had done her make-up and her hair to one side and red lipstick and she said, ‘Is this okay?’ It was really cute.
LS: Were you sad when you stopped it? Because I’ve read in interviews before that it was a very natural decision?
BG: I look back on it really fondly. I have mixed feeelings - like everything, there were complications. But I look back on it and when you ask me about specific things. I realise that it was a wonderful bit of life.
LS: Do you understand why so many people are kind of obsessed with it now?
BG: But are they?
LS: I think so, yeah.
BG: I don’t know but I think maybe because it’s that thing people love; things that are retrospective, things that are nostalgic. Cheap Date, I think, was a bit of life that was not about money, and it wasn’t about trying to sell people’s stuff, and it wasn’t about self-promotion. Maybe people would say that was bollocks, and maybe it was, but it didn’t feel like that at the time. It was pure and it was celebratory. It was genuinely for the love of something and I think that is really positive.