12 Times I Failed In Fashion: Mickey Boardman By Zandile Blay
Pro tip: no matter what career you choose, no matter how hard you try, no matter how well you dress, no matter how finely you finesse – there will be a time to win and a time to lose.
I’ve learned this the hard way. As a journalist whose career has taken her from New York to London to Lagos, I’ve been an editor-in-chief, publisher and professor and had the privilege of doing so for several powerful publications. But even at the height of success, seeds of failure can sprout. When mine fully flowered, I discovered I could plan for success but I couldn’t process failure. I gave a lot of years to feeling…stuck.
But now like Maxine Waters, sis, I am ready to reclaim my time.
No better way to reclaim time than spending it with people who inspire. For me, one such is my former Editor, Mickey Boardman, a fashion royal who has ruled from his throne at Paper Magazine for decades. Known affectionately in the industry as “Mr.Mickey,” his visionary mind has shaped fashion cover shoots, features and profiles of icons like Prince, Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, RuPaul, Miley Cyrus, Naomi Campbell, and more.
He’s gone full circle with his latest launch: a clothing line. Inspired by his trademark name and signature love of sparkle, the “Mr. Mickey” brand offers party perfect pieces like flirty mini skirts, sleeveless body-con dresses and relaxed joggers and shorts. Colorways range from solid hues to various prints featuring photos of Boardman and NYC nightlife. The collection is crowned with a breathtaking sequined kimono that takes you from day to night – all available for $100 at Liverocket.
It’s a meaningful milestone for Boardman, whose career in fashion almost never happened. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Purdue University, he stormed New York to pursue his Bachelor of Fine Arts in fashion design at the prestigious Parsons School of Design. Three and a half years of fashion school later – he flunked out. That setback was the set-up for what happened next. While interning at Paper Magazine, the co-founder and co-editor-in-chief of the magazine: the iconic Kim Hastreiter (who shared her throne with David Hershkovitz, co-founder and co-editor of Paper at the time) asked Boardman to answer phones for a few weeks, since one of their staffers quit.
Boardman said yes – and the rest is history.
Or to the point: his story.
He shared it in-full one fine fall day at the Mercer Hotel in New York City. It’s a privilege to share it with you. I invite you to walk with me as we travel through a fashion icon’s personal countdown of pivotal moments when failure called…
But didn’t conquer.
1. “I Failed Out Of Parsons ”
“I didn’t fit the mold. The teachers at Parsons wanted all the students to do work that was very 7th Ave, classic American sportswear. But my collection was titled ‘Jackie Hoe’. The main piece was an evening gown inspired by Kris Kross, so the entire piece was backwards. There was also the Vegas Showgirl Collection- no clothes just glitter! I was already told I was failing my illustration before the in-class final, so I really felt no pressure. The teacher was stunned that I did so well on the final since he thought I was such a mess. So he said he’d give me an incomplete grade and a take home project to do over Christmas break. When I went to the office the next day to pick up the info on the project, I found out I failed a totally separate course: my studio class. I was devastated. But, I’ll never forget: the same week the woman who hired me at Paper as an intern quit. Kim (co-founder, and former co-owner of Paper Magazine) called me and asked if I could answer the phone for a few weeks until they figured out what to do. I’ve been there almost thirty years now. If I hadn’t failed – I wouldn’t have gotten my start at Paper. You have to welcome failure on a certain level. Oh – and if you are gonna fail, make a big splash.”
2. “I Wasted Time On Addiction”
“I was a drug addict for several years. One day, Kim took me to lunch and said, ‘We know you’re a heroin addict and you have to go to rehab or you can’t work at Paper anymore.’ I realized the consequences. You spend your money, your time and your real life on addiction. I’ve been sober for 24 years now.”
3. “I Got Fat”
“For a while I thought being fat was my biggest failure – being a fashion person you never see yourself. It’s funny I chose fashion because at every turn, fashion is designed to make you feel shitty. Everything from the size of the clothes to the size of chairs at shows – is not for fat people. So when my editor suggested writing about my editor at the time (Drew Elliott) suggested I write about weight, I said “Do you think anyone will care?” It turns out they did – and it’s become one of the defining moments of my career.”
4. “I Got Fired”
“My Boss Was a Scorpio, so the bar was very high – but she gave clear instructions so there weren’t any surprises. Then I became a heroin addict and Kim took me to lunch one day and said you have to go to rehab or you are fired. That was a challenge. I ended up going to rehab. After getting out, within the week I was back on drugs. This time, I was fired for real. After being gone for three months Kim and I had breakfast, we had a chat and I was hired back. It took me 15 years to feel comfortable in what I have to offer at Paper. You have to learn from experience that you are worthy and you are deserving of that space”
5. “I Should Have Supported Plus Sized Fashion Earlier”
“A sample sized industry doesn’t always accommodate different bodies. I took on the indoctrination that it was a challenge to find clothes to shoot plus sized people in. But that wasn’t true. There’s always a way to figure it out. “
6. “I Didn’t Embrace Failure”
“Failing out of school- that shame lingered for years – and it can feel traumatic. But life goes on. If you’ve survived real trauma – you can survive a celebrity not being okay on set. I just feel like things are gonna be okay. In the end, I’m always an optimist and I believe that we will survive. On to the next!”
7. “I Didn’t Choose Peace”
“The successes are euphoric and the disappointments are devastating. If something went wrong, I would take it so personal – even though I wasn’t responsible. One of the greatest gifts was learning not to take anything personal.”
8. “I Didn’t Want To Be Perceived To Be Going Backwards”
“I was Editorial Director at Paper for 20 years. My title changed to Editor-at-Large during the pandemic. Everyone who worked just on print was let go, and Paper made me part-time. Being perceived to go backwards, it’s difficult and it’s a challenge but it’s been such a blessing. The move has given me more time for me. I’ve had the opportunity to do so many new things. My life was a full time job and my job is my life. But you need time for you to be who you really are.”
9. “I Felt Like An Imposter”
“My whole life felt like that film, ‘Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead,’ with Christina Applegate. She fakes a resume and gets a job at a fashion company and someone said, anytime the boss yells out something just say, ‘I’m right on top of that Rose.’ I felt like that character. But over the years whatever projects we had at Paper, I did my best to try to figure out. You can get through anything. At this point, I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years, so if I’m not an expert I do not know who is!”
10. “I Got Lost In Work”
“I come from Chicago, where everyone worked regular 9 to 5 jobs where they could compartmentalize. The challenge in New York is that our whole identity is what you do. You lose yourself. It’s a triumph I don’t feel that way anymore.”
11. “Not Realizing Earlier That Nobody Cares”
“When I was a kid I thought my life was ruined because I was fat and I was gay. Looking back ironically, I was not fat and same thing: being gay – I’ve had the most fabulous fun life. In hindsight, the two things I thought everyone focused on the most- no one cared about. The real problem was me. Whatever you think is ruining your life is making it special. If you think how you look is a problem – just think again…”
12. “I Forgot The Good Part”
“If I sat down and told you the full story of my life: I could tell the most fun, glamorous story or I could tell the saddest story you’ve ever heard. They are both my life. But what you focus on in a way manifests. I learned that each time, I felt like everything was ruined. But I came to accept that horrible things happen to people all the time. It’s how you handle it that matters. Just write down your life, and don’t forget that good part.”