“I don’t want to try to put a number on it,” he says, “but I can tell you that besides the major Fashion Weeks, I go to Fashion Weeks in Moscow, Copenhagen, Berlin. Last fall, I attended Ukraine Fashion Week, and I’ve been to Tokyo Fashion Week.”
Typically clad head-to-toe in animal skins and a neckerchief, the multi-millionaire dubbed “The Fashion Cowboy” has amassed a dedicated following, though he once remarked, “I don’t know why I’m called [that]; it’s not a cowboy hat. It’s actually a trilby, pimps used to wear it.”
Goldstein prefers “Man of Mystery,” a phrase peppered across his eponymous clothing line’s website and promos, and not unduly. An old Interview article points out his fortune’s unknown provenance, leading to theories such as “he once had an affair with a famous Hollywood pinup” and “he made his money in the trailer-park business.”
We phoned Goldstein at his L.A. home (designed by legendary architect John Lautner, it's been featured in The Big Lebowski and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) ahead of Haute Couture to discuss his life-changing Paris trip, his brand, and his affinity for basketball.
How old were you when you started to develop an interest in clothing? Your father owned a department store in Wisconsin, so you had some sort of awareness growing up.
"As a young boy — maybe seven years old — [my father] started dressing me in suits and hats, and he would take me to New York, and then, when I got to high school, I’d already picked up this strong interest in fashion and always wanted to be ahead of everybody else, even though I was limited, in Milwaukee, to my exposure to fashion. I wanted to have the latest trends, which I knew about before anyone else. When I was about 13 years old and everybody started wearing pink shirts, I was wearing a pink suit. Then, in my early twenties, I traveled to Paris for the first time and really made a major jump in interest and knowledge. [Both] kept growing over the years and still [are]."
What prompted that trip to Paris?
"Actually, my parents took me to Europe and as soon as we arrived in Paris, I fell in love with the city. I think it probably had the biggest impact on my life of anything that’s ever happened; it totally changed my vision. Prior to that, I had been ingrained with the dogma taught in school that America is superior to the rest of the world, and we’re so lucky to be in America — we’ve got everything. Going to Paris not only changed my view of fashion, but changed my view of everything else."
When did you begin going to the fashion shows?
"What stands out in my mind, in particular, was going to the Jean Paul Gaultier shows when Gaultier was first starting out, which was in the early ’80s. I had been invited by Tommy Perse, owner of Maxfield in L.A. — I had been a good customer of his, and had been buying Gaultier’s clothes. So, that stands out as the beginning, although maybe I went to some shows before that. The ’80s were led by Gaultier, Gianni Versace, and Claude Montana. But, it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve attended the Haute Couture shows."
Why so recently?
"I can’t pinpoint it. I have been increasing the number of shows I’ve been going to over the years, and I don’t limit it to just the major shows of New York, Milan, and Paris; I go to shows all over the world, in many different cities. Part of it has to do with when I’m available to travel — I’ve achieved a similar notoriety in the basketball world [and] there are some basketball events that conflicted with Haute Couture, [but in] the last few years I decided to give up those basketball events in favor of going to Haute Couture and Berlin Fashion Week. It’s just a matter of following my interests and making difficult choices."
What shows are you looking forward to at Couture?
"Well, the Dior show, probably more than anything else. Although, before and after John Galliano — who went on to become my favorite designer — it’s quite a difference now. I like [what Raf Simons is doing], but I don’t think he’ll ever be anything to compare with the Dior in John Galliano’s shows that I watched over the years. I’m not talking just Couture, I’m talking all of the shows."
Tell me about the pieces that you’ve invested in. For a period, you were buying nearly the entire Roberto Cavalli line each season. Any standouts?
"Many pieces have been standouts over the years, from silver Gaultier suits to leather- and safety-pin jackets from Balmain, to the jacket I’m wearing now from my own collection, which is a black-and-silver python jacket. Every few years, or even almost every year, there seems to be one piece that commands tremendous attention wherever I walk around — everybody comes up to me and says, “What a fantastic jacket.” I’m always looking for something special that I feel I look great in and that attracts the sort of comment I just described."
When did you realize that people were noticing you at the shows?
"It was a gradual process. The shows [are] comprised of buyers and of media people, for the most part, and the buyers have always been somewhat indifferent to me. Then there are the young people that are students of fashion, and they’re probably my strongest fans. There are many of those people standing outside the shows in Paris or in the standing room only sections. The appreciation from those people has been strong for many years, although it keeps growing and growing. Whereas maybe they just had a visual sense of who I was at one time, now they know my name and now they all want photos with me. When I approach a fashion show now in Paris, I’m mobbed by that kind of fan."
Do you think there’s any overlap between your interests in fashion and sports?
"There’s similarities in terms of the fans that I now have following me, neither of which are aware of the others. I’ve always said that there’s a similarity between fashion and basketball — both are about style. Basketball might be about the way the player plays and fashion is about clothes, but they’re both still about individual style."
With the NBA draft at the end of June, there’s been a lot of talk about the best-dressed players.
"That’s something that’s happened recently and I’m sure that part of the reason the players themselves say hello to me all of the time is because of the way I dress. Now, they’ve seemed to have moved away from their interest in jewelry to an interest in clothes. I’m very happy about that."
Speaking of, tell me about your own line, James Goldstein Couture, which launched in the fall of 2013.
"I’m focused on the creative side. [After] Berlin Fashion Week, the following week, I’ll be in Milan working on the fashion line. I want to talk to my people there and visit a number of fabric sources; then, we will come up with our plans for future designs [for spring 2015]. I’m very much excited about the prospect of doing the men’s line, which we really haven’t gotten very far with as yet."