You aren't going to find Mr. David's clothes on a sale rack, ever. But last week, two decades of daily work putting handmade fashions on local drag queen Juanita MORE! and a bevy of her friends, drag daughters, and as well as himself under the drag name Glamamore was distilled into a dizzying runway show of some 200 pieces in Wilsey Court at the deYoung Museum, and the designer says that's less than 10 percent of what he's made for his drag daughter Juanita since first dressing her in 1992.
The two spent the last month editing down an archive of 3,000 looks, most but not all of them designed for Juanita, who quickly became Mr. David's muse after they both relocated to San Francisco from New York. Juanita MORE's high-fashion reputation has become an essential part of the persona, and Mr. David is as much a part of her successes as she is, as both performer and longtime nightlife doyenne who's always the best dressed in the room.
The clothes have been kept in storage in a storage space in SoMa over the years, and as Juanita explains, "They are in clear plastic bins and sorted by color. I don't have keys to the unit as it overwhelms me to go into it. But my assistants keep it in great shape."
And the editing process became a difficult one with so much to choose from, and as Mr. David told 7x7 last week, "There were things I made in ’94 that I could send down a runway today, and they wouldn’t look dated. A 12-yard ombré wrap-sari doesn’t belong to a specific year."
Mr. David's fashion career began in New York in the 1980's, and he began doing drag as Glamamore then too, which is where Juanita first saw her drag mother perform, as one of the Boy Bar Beauties. In 1990, a Mr. David creation would become part of the zeitgeist when he created the iconic patterned jumpsuit worn by Deee-Lite's Lady Miss Kier in the video for "Groove Is In The Heart."
But in Juanita he found reasons to constantly rethink and reshape the various modes of glamor. The resulting show, featuring dozens of models of all genders, some in drag and many not, was a whirlwind retrospective of a San Francisco-specific fashion career that most outside the gay nightlife arena have never seen and stood up well against the high glamor of Oscar de la Renta, whose work was on display in a retrospective just downstairs. A Mr. David gown doesn't belong to a specific style or genre, but is always somehow unique to the moment, to that week's inspiration, and the needs of his client or the immediate desires of Ms. More. "It was like a tidal wave," David tells SFist, reflecting on watching so much of his work pass by in under an hour. "Every garment had stories and stories. Lovers and friends, living and dead."
"I loved seeing all the dresses in motion," Juanita said following the show. "Because they are always on me I don't get to see how they move." And as she wrote on Facebook, "[Putting together the show] has been equal parts overwhelming and thrilling, but what a fabulous story... This art project we started 24 years ago, called 'Juanita,' has benefited from many helping hands along the way but never has it meant more than now."
Mr. David's work runs the gamut from mod to Old Hollywood to avant garde to punk to disco-era sultry. I asked him how he'd sum up his own style, if he had to, and he said, "Style for me is a combination of paying attention and daring. It matters not what or whom or size or shape or race or age or gender. One can always feel gorgeous and confident."
And when I asked them both what their single favorite look was, after having to sort that vast archive and revisit so many, Juanita demurred and said, "It's always the new one." Mr. David, though, pointed to the coat pictured below. "Juany couldn't decide a favorite, but mine is that red coat," he says. "It sums up my skill and feminine ideal in one shot."