There are some things that neither money nor distance, nor even the law, can pose an obstacle. If you have a muse, this won’t be news to you. Here’s the incredible but true story of how Mugler’s new creative director Nicola Formichetti discovered Rick Genest — aka Rico, aka Zombie Boy, aka that guy with the mad skull tattoo on his face — and got him to walk in his debut men’s collection, basically becoming the face of Mugler. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a little encouragement from Lady Gaga (who, by the way, snapped up half the collection, with the other half in Rick’s inky hands).
Lee Carter: How did you find Rick Genest?
Nicola Formichetti: I found Rico on Facebook.
You stumbled across his profile?
I had his picture on my wall forever. I saw it one day on Google. I thought it was amazing Halloween make-up done by Peter Philips or something. I mean, I’ve done so many shoots with skull make-up. And then, in October I got my first tattoo, a triangle with a circle inside, an ancient Japanese symbol meaning centeredness. And the tattoo artist who did it, my friend Maxime, who has this tattoo magazine called Sang Bleu, saw that picture and said, “Oh yeah, that guy is Zombie Boy. He lives in Montreal.”
So you sought Rico out on Facebook and asked him to model for you.
Yeah, I just wanted him to be the face of whatever we were going to create. At that point the clothes were, you know, proper suits and shirts and very clean. I just needed to have some kind of a twist to it or…
Yeah, so after seeing his pictures on Facebook, I just thought he was so inspiring. Just by looking at his pictures I changed the whole collection.
You changed the whole collection?
Well, I added more, by taking stuff from him, making it a bit darker and gothicy. So basically I Facebooked him and was like, “You know, I’m doing this thing in Paris and I would love you to be there in two weeks.” He emailed me back straightaway and he was like, “Yeah, sure, I would love to, but I don’t have a passport.” And then I start thinking how the fuck is he going to get a passport in time?
Like it’s a crime to have a tattoo on your face? What did you do?
I had no idea what to do. I was calling my lawyers, saying we have to get this guy to Paris. But then I thought, maybe he doesn’t need to be there physically. Maybe I can do a film or pictures. So I told him I would go to him in Montreal in two days. I called my friend Mariano [Vivanco, photographer] and my manager. We got together the first week after the holidays as I was about to leave for Paris to work on the last bit of the collection. I remember thinking I have to do this, I just have a gut feeling, I have to work with this guy. Everyone said he’s a freak, why would I want to do that to a luxury brand? I didn’t listen to anyone and just went. I brought some clothes, a couple of suits, and I actually made lots of clothes the night before I left New York. I had pieces sent from Paris and was just making stuff in my house, and then took everything to Montreal and we did a photo shoot and video. The photos are the ones we just launched as a visual campaign.
I saw those. Beautiful.
It was so inspiring. Then I showed it to Gaga and she was like, “Oh my god, you have to do a show.” I always loved her song Shiza. For me, Shiza is in the spirit of Mugler, kind of like a dirty Berlin club meets glamour. So she’s like, “Okay, I will remix it and make it amazing for you.” I had just wanted to do a film projection, not a show, but I thought, fuck it, let’s do a show.
Okay, so how did you get Rico to Paris in time?
Right, then we found out why he couldn’t get a passport, because he was homeless. He had a lot of fines or something, because he was always sleeping on the street.
Ah, so Mugler paid them? Were they very much?
It was a lot.
A few thousand dollars?
Like ten or twenty.
Yeah. And he just kept telling me, “I’m not a criminal, I’m not a criminal.” It took him so long to tell us. Oh my god, he was so emotional. He was crying and saying how this was going to change his life. It was a beautiful moment.
That was really nice of you guys.
I paid it myself. I really believe in him. He was only in Paris for two days. You kind of imagine him to be a freak, some punk. But it’s actually inspiring to hear him talk about shades, which are the dots that create the 3D effect of his tattoo. It becomes more and more refined when it’s shaded.
Wait, is his whole body tattooed? Like a skeleton?
It’s a skeleton theme, yeah. Well, except his uh, there. (Laughs.)
It’s good to know some things are still sacred.
Yeah, but not because he didn’t want to. He didn’t have the money.
So eventually he’ll get it done. Sounds painful.
(Laughs.) Maybe it’ll be a selection of cock rings. I just really fell in love with the way he lived. In a way his story is similar to Gaga, in that there’s no going back. You do what you believe. You are that, you are what you’re creating.