EVEN IN NEW YORK'S EAST VILLAGE, where nobody blinks at multiple nose rings or a sequined bra, Lady Miss Kier stands out like Dorothy in Oz. From the top of her red-orange flip to the bottom of her white vinyl platform boots, the lead singer of Deee-Lite has so much style that some fashion authorities have called her the next Madonna
. This cutting-edge group has had four No. 1 dance singles within the last year, and their song "Groove Is in the Heart" reached No. 4 on the pop chart. Like Madonna
, Lady Miss Kier attracts wannabes—she calls them wannadeees—who come to her concerts decked out like their idol in false eyelashes, wide headbands and psychedelic leggings.
"At least the people who dress like me are conforming to nonconformity," says the twentysomething Kier (née Kier Kirby), whose styles come out of fashion's left field, where she finds her friends in the subculture of drag queens, artists and designers. On this hot evening in late spring, she has allowed PEOPLE to join her gang for a night of fun on her home turf in the underbelly of Manhattan.
Kier and her boyfriend-cum-band mate, Super DJ Dmitry, typically keep 11 A.M. to 4 A.M. hours. They've made a 9:30 dinner reservation at Barolo, a garden restaurant in SoHo, but Kier is running an hour and a half late because she's putting on her makeup. "The art of illusion," says the prompt Dmitry, who wears long pigtails. Finally Kier arrives, her powder-blue eye shadow and flamingo-pink lipstick flawlessly applied. Notably, she is wearing her own hair, although she has a closet full of wigs. How many? "How many zeroes are there in infinity?" she asks. "For the modern career girl, a wig is essential."
Kier is dressed Barbarella-style in a violet-checked cat suit by French designer Thierry Mugler and white go-go boots that she bought at a San Francisco thrift shop for $15. "I like mixing couture and cheap," she says. "I'm into recycling." Though much of her wardrobe recalls the styles of the '70s, Kier thinks of herself as a futurist. "People looking to the future can't help but keep their eye on the rearview mirror," she says—promising a parade of image changes, not unlike you-know-who. "Stagnation," she says, "is death."
Designer Mugler happens to be visiting from Paris and is along for the evening. Since Mugler first spotted Kier at a now defunct Manhattan nightclub, Area, eight years ago, the two have been friends and mutual inspirations. Deee-Lite has provided music for Mugler's fashion shows; he created Kier's touring wardrobe. He admires her foresight. "One day I saw her in the street," he says, "and she was wearing a great baby-doll dress. It is exactly what fashion will be next summer."
Mugler orders antipasto for the group, which by now includes two others: drag queens RuPaul and Tabboo!, an artist who did the lettering on Deee-Lite's gold World Clique album. Tabboo! fears he has overdressed in a baby-blue, feather-trimmed minidress, black wig and fishnets, while RuPaul, in basic black pants and striped sailor shirt, says that there are some places he won't be seen tonight because he has not come in drag.
The talk at the table turns to Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Madonna
. "I touched Madonna
on the shoulder once," says Tabboo! "She turned around and looked at me like I was going to assassinate her." He is interrupted by the maitre d', who delivers an admirer's business card to the table. On the back is scrawled, "We love Mugler. We love Deee-Lite." After their pasta-and-salad dinner, everybody orders dessert: bottled water.
Kier was raised in Pittsburgh, a long way from the underground scene—and the modest brick walk-up—that she and Dmitry now call home. But the daughter of Fred Kirby, a food manufacturer, and Alice, a housewife-activist (they divorced when Kier was 7), says she discovered fashion at an early age. "I redesigned my Brownie uniform," she says. "I wore brown corduroy bell-bottoms under the outfit and threw the beanie out." After city-hopping with her mother, stepfather Tony Giancola, a former Navy commander, three sisters and two brothers, Kier moved to New York City at 18 to study textile design at the Fashion Institute of Technology but was disillusioned by the teachers and dropped out immediately to design on her own.
In 1982 she met Dmitry, now 27, a Russian émigré and classically trained musician, who encouraged her to start writing songs with him. In 1986 the two became Deee-Lite, but it wasn't until the group's third member, Japanese-born Jungle DJ Towa Towa, joined up in 1987 that the sound jelled, propelling them up the pop charts.
From the restaurant, it's on to Tabbool's apartment, where Kier gazes admiringly at his paintings. She has a near obsessive interest in color. "If I had a photographic memory," she says, "I'd remember the colors of all the paint chips."
Next slop: the latest incarnation of the famous Copacabana, where Kier was a go-go dancer in 1989. Only the crème de la hip get past the bell-bottomed bouncers, but Kier et al. are ushered in as if they were royalty. Even Tabboo! gets lost in this crowd of men in feathers, women in garters and a smattering of preppies. "The people inspire us at the clubs," Kier says. "It's a celebration of freedom of expression."
Personally, Kier expresses herself as a new-age feminist. "When I was growing up, Ms. magazine was on our coffee table," she says. "But I'm different from my mother. I don't think you have to give up what comes naturally, using your feminine power."
At the moment, she is using that power to raise money for AIDS. It's just past 2 A.M., and she and Dmitry have left the Copacabana to be auctioned off together as a date at a benefit at the Building, another decadent club. While a looker named Connie fetches the evening's top price of $700, the Deee-Lites go for a mere $300—and to Mugler, to boot. This is one place, in the middle of the night, where Lady Miss Kier and Super DJ Dmitry are just another pair ordinaire.