Here's the Latest in Aluminum Siding: Michael Schmidt Is Wrapping the Stars in His Mesh

updated 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/30/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

His main ambition is to be cool, but for the moment New York designer Michael Schmidt doesn't mind being just a degree or two this side of meltdown. His one-of-a-kind mesh-metal vests, skirts and jackets are the rage among rockers including Jon Bon Jovi, Laura Branigan, Dave Stewart, Chrissie Hynde and Aerosmith's Steve Tyler. And nobody appreciates his work more than Cher. In the video for her latest single, "I Found Someone," the Reconstructed One is wearing Schmidt's shredded denim and chain-mail pants and jacket. (You were expecting a blue blazer and pearls, maybe?) "Working with Michael is like having your own in-house metalworker," she says.

Cher, who owns more than 15 Schmidt outfits, first spotted one of his creations two years ago in the window of a Soho boutique. Eventually he began providing her with custom-made outfits, and she spread the word among rock-trendsetter pals like Bon Jovi, who got a Schmidt jacket as a thank-you for his work on her album Cher.

For Schmidt, who grew up in Kansas City, Mo., getting into designing was part of his own search for style. "In the Midwest there was a real lack of cool clothes to buy," he says, "so you had to be inventive." His first creation was a handmade gold-and-black lamé evening gown for a prom date. Later he dyed his hair pink—then blue, then blond—before moving to New York, where he longed to be part of the club scene. Instead he became part of the tub scene, sleeping in the bathtub of a Lower East Side tenement he shared with six other artists.

In 1982, after getting a job as a gofer for a jewelry company, Schmidt was himself designing jewelry. Then, while researching a new collection, he was struck by the boldness and malleability of the 16th-and 17th-century armor he saw in museums. "It seemed completely appropriate for the '80s," he recalls. He began experimenting with brass, but soon switched to lighter-weight aluminum wire, which he wraps tightly around copper tubes, anodizes and dyes. Then he cuts the wire into rings that he joins using pliers. A pair of mesh gloves may take several hours to make and cost $150, whereas some of his dresses, consisting of as many as 6,000 rings and weighing as much as five pounds, may require more than a month and sell for $2,000. Schmidt believes they're worth it. "As a fabric, metal is quite unlike anything else," he says. "The rings are linked together, so the mesh actually expands and contracts around the contours of the body." If you happen not to be Cher or Dave Stewart, Schmidt's wares are currently available only at Maxfield, a tony L.A. boutique where the well-heeled can get enmeshed for between $1,500 and $1,800. By next September he'll be putting out a less pricey ($35 to $300) line of knockoffs under his own name, which will be sold nationwide in better department stores.

"It's come full circle," says Schmidt, who is showing no sign of metal fatigue. "I'll be designing clothes for kids who are in the position I was in so long ago. In a large part of America, there is nothing out there, and now that void will begin to fill."

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