Richie Rich sauntered into Cafeteria dressed to thrill. Heads spun to take in his arrival at the deluxe Chelsea diner last month wearing a crimson fedora, a mottled green leather jacket and lavender shades, which he dropped to show off blue-tinted lids slicked with generous lashings of glitter.
“This is my day look,” he said. “For night I just put on more makeup.”
Day or night, he likes to make an entrance, a habit he perfected during the ’90s, when he was a marquee member of the Club Kids, a raffishly inventive post-Studio 54 clan fanning its plumage at Limelight, the Tunnel and other fabled New York City nightspots. Long before the arrival of internet influencers, they lured fans and raised eyebrows, flaunting their gender fluidity and homespun fashions on talk shows and in the tabloids.
By the early 2000s, Mr. Rich had parlayed his notoriety into a stridently subversive fashion label, Heatherette, that drew Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Debbie Harry as fans. The line shuttered in 2008.
There were gap years, decades in fact, during which Mr. Rich supported himself mostly, he said, by stitching custom designs for a clutch of lesser-known private clients including YNG Zuck, a music artist, and Pachi Lake, a TV and fashion personality.
Now he is back, courting a new breed of style renegade with a virtual club of his own.
His latest venture is Btykwn (pronounced “beauty kween”), which bills itself as a metaverse for makeup fanatics, improvised beauty lab and, come late spring, a purveyor of gender-free makeup. Mr. Rich envisions the platform as an ad hoc collective where beauty enthusiasts of every gender and stripe can release their inner diva.
“Whoever you are, we want you to be you, we want you to feel fabulous,” he said as he sipped a Virgin Mary – “That’s a Mary without the alcohol,” he felt the need to explain.
A sweet-natured promoter, he was addressing an imagined fan base of “freaks, punks, princesses and outcasts,” as its promotional copy proclaims, who he hopes will flock to the site as a safe space. Its motto: “If you don’t fit in, stand out.”
Because the community is virtual, “you can join on the phone from any part of the world in the privacy your bedroom,” he said, urging fans to “be at the party,” and, in the lingo of extreme-makeup enthusiasts, “Boom! Beat your face. ”
He partnered with Mister D, the cosmetics and events impresario who helped make the makeup artist François Nars a household name in the 1990s, and who is funding the new platform through Ultra Access, his brand management and investment company.
“People will sign up, share their stories, talk about social issues, fashion, style and TV,” Mister D said. “They’re not coming to us as a typical purveyor of nail polish.” Since it started in March, the site has drawn about 10,000 members, according to Mr. Rich.
Mr. Rich, the irrepressible ringmaster of this online circus, has hardly abandoned his over-the-top aesthetic, one that, in retrospect, was well ahead of its time. Built on futuristic fantasy, its impact is discernible now in pop television fare like “Euphoria,” and “Glow Up,” a British television competition in which aspiring makeup artists show off their flair with neon tints and blush.
It is also visible among a constellation of computer generated “It” girls including Lil Miquela or Imma, and evident in the kind of surreal effects – jeweled eyes, vinyl lips and iridescent skin – proliferating on the metaverse. And that is to say nothing of the influencers peddling their makeup wizardry on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram who are catching up with Mr. Rich.
Somewhat demurely, he acknowledged his legacy. “We were not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We just, without realizing it, did something that’s real to a new crowd of kids.”
At 51, he is one of them at heart. Growing up in San Jose, Calif., Mr. Rich (born Richard Eichhorn) was conscious of being an oddity. As he likes to say, “I came out at birth with glitter on my face.” In his teens he was a figure skater, touring for a year with the Ice Capades. “Being a boy, that wasn’t so popular,” he said. Not that it fazed him.
As far back as the third grade, “I used to dream of looks I would be wearing to school the next day,” he said. “I would wake up and be like‘ Mom, where’s that satin disco glitter jacket, ’and she was like,‘ What are you talking about? You don’t have that in your closet. ‘”
His two brothers introduced him to the musical and stylistic inventiveness of David Bowie and Debbie Harry. “Little bro, you’re like them,” he remembers being told. “I was 10 at the time, but they recognized the artistry in me.”
By his teens, he was sneaking out of the house with friends to One Step Beyond, a local club. “We were all doing makeup in the bathroom,” he said, “then going out dressed up in lipstick, hot pants and roller skates.” At 17, he ventured with friends to San Francisco, where Julie Jewels, a founding member of the Kids Club, discovered him and encouraged him to join her scene in New York.
In Manhattan he discovered a home and showcase for his extravagant preening, befriending the Club Kids’ founders Michael Alig, James St. James and others. The Club Kids ‘influence peaked in mid late’ 90s, dissolving when Mr. Alig and his roommate Robert Riggs pleaded guilty in 1997 to manslaughter in the killing and dismemberment of their fellow club habitué Andre “Angel” Melendez – a sordid denouement in which Mr. Rich had no part.
Part artist, part provocateur, Mr. Rich went on to work with Susanne Bartsch, a producer of outdoor nightlife events, before teaming with Traver Rains to design T-shirts and leather wear out of Mr. Rains’ apartment. He drew the notice of Patricia Field, the stylist and costume designer, and before long was whipping up pieces for Gwen Stefani, Sarah Jessica Parker and Foxy Brown.
Thus was born Heatherette, with standout looks that over the years included tartan prom dresses, voluminous “cotton candy” bubble skirts and a stole cobbled from dozens of Hello Kitty dolls. Made up of novelties not readily found in stores, the label put an irreverent spin on the concept of disposable chic.
When it ceased operations for reasons undisclosed, Mr. Rich labored to keep his name alive. With his friend Pamela Anderson, he introduced A*MUSE, a line of one-of-a-kind T-shirts, beachwear and dresses. “We are like a little circus of misfits,” Ms. Anderson told Blackbook at the time, “living little wild lives that just fit together and are somehow complementary.”
In 2010, Popluxe by Richie Rich, a collection of day and evening one-offs, made its debut at Lincoln Center, with Ellen DeGeneres performing a star turn on the runway. By 2016, he was back with Rich by Richie Rich, a collection and fall show intended to highlight LGBTQ rights, climate change, immigration and other pressing social issues.
There were darker moments in the intervening years. In 2013, the tabloids reported that Mr. Rich was arrested in Manhattan for failing to pay a hotel bill. He explained that he had assumed at the time that a client had paid in advance. On his release, he paid the bill in full.
“It all seems laughable now, but it at the time it wasn’t,” he said. “Being a Club Kid, people, were always expecting you to mess up and derail.”
Defying expectations, Mr. Rich continues to show off his gifts on Btykwn, where he can be seen smearing hot fuchsia on his lips or scrawling an outsize heart on his cheek. He is one in a team of regulars that includes Kevin Aviance, a drag performer and nightclub personality, and Desmond is Amazing, a 14-year-old TikTok star, all cropped hair, kohled eyes, and little gingham dresses.
“I was drawn to Desmond,” Mr. Rich said, “because on social media he would emulate the lips I was doing as a Club Kid.”
Mr. Rich hopes eventually to enlist a roster of pop entertainers, celebrity makeup artists and influencers willing to share their beauty routines and perform online. He imagines Madonna, whom he first met in the ’80s, “getting on our air and giving us all her makeup secrets.” One can dream.
Not easily daunted, Mr. Rich is adamant that beauty is the style world’s next frontier, a promising arena for giddy theatrics and nervy self-invention. “Real innovation is happening in beauty, not on the runway,” he said, its elements more adventurous and accessible to the young.
He is banking on the adage that what goes around comes around, a notion he has nurtured since arriving on the scene. As he declared in a 1993 interview with talk show host Phil Donahue, when it comes to self-expression, “We’re all future superstars.”
How prescient was that statement? We will find out soon enough.