James “Jimmy” Goldstein is a legend. He has become synonymous with rugged American individuality and self-expression. But it wasn’t always that way. Here, COOLS columnist Liliana Nova sits down with Goldstein for the first installation of our new series “The Misfits of Fashion,” which profiles iconoclastic figures in fashion and culture that didn’t always fit in.
At Goldstein’s famous Los Angeles home, the Sheats Goldstein Residence–known for its appearance in films like Charlie’s Angels and The Big Lebowski and music videos for Rihanna and Snoop Dogg–COOLS talks to Goldstein about philosophy, fashion, culture, and his affection for the NBA.
You were a child of the late ’60s and ’70s culture where freedom was embraced and people were not bound to conventional norms. Did growing up in this era shape your worldview and how you see fashion? Did your upbringing or relationship with your parents influence you?
“I grew up in Milwaukee, where fashion doesn’t really exist, but my father was in the retail clothing business. As a young boy, he dressed me to his taste, which was pretty conservative. He was a businessman who wore business suits all the time. As I grew up, I rebelled at that kind of conventional dress. I wanted to be unique.
“And so, I tried to look for special pieces. The best example I can think of is when I was a teenager in high school and everybody started wearing pink shirts. Pink was the big fad at the time. And I took it one step further: I found a pink suit.”
What would you comment on embracing individuality and the freedom to not be afraid to show what you want to show?
“I enjoy creativity very much and I feel that the clothes that I wear express that. I enjoy finding a beautiful new jacket and trying to figure out what to coordinate with it. I feel that most men are afraid of doing something like that. They think they need to be like everyone else. And I don’t know why that is. I think women enjoy the same thing that I do—expressing themselves through whatever they’re wearing. But men have this fear of non-conformity. They need to outgrow that fear.
“If other men felt the same way I do, I think they would enjoy life much more. Right now, NBA basketball players are going through the same thing that I go through. They’re expressing themselves. They’re competing with each other, in terms of the way they dress, and I think that’s a fantastic development and part of the reason I have a bond with NBA players.”
Because of how different you dress what type of reaction do you get when people meet you for the first time?
“Well, it depends on the person, of course. Generally the younger generation shows this great admiration for my style. The older generation sometimes is shocked. But that’s starting to change now. I’m finding that I’m getting a lot more acceptance from the older generation than I used to. It used to be that the people that came up to me and asked for a photo were always young people. But now all ages come up to me and ask for a photo.”
Did people ever reject you or criticize you?
“I really don’t worry about rejection. If somebody doesn’t understand my look and can’t handle it, I feel it’s the other person’s problem, not mine. I think I probably have more confidence now than at any time in my life, but even when I was less confident, if somebody didn’t appreciate me, it wouldn’t be enough for me to change my ways. I was strong enough to resist changing for somebody else.”
Is there anything you wish you could go back and say to your younger self?
“I don’t like to look back and think about mistakes I’ve made or what I should have done; I prefer to look forward. But when it comes to my style decisions, I think that everything I’ve done has been the right thing for me.”
Jacket by Balmain
I know that magazines refer to you as being mysterious, kind of untouchable. Why do you think people see you this way?
“I get a kick out of the fact that everybody thinks I’m so mysterious. I don’t try to be mysterious…I just do what I want to do. But if people think I’m mysterious, I like it.”
Do you feel like your style has gotten better over the years? Has it changed, or was it always this eccentric?
“I think my style has gotten better over the years, not just because I understand fashion better, but also because designers like Olivier [Rousteing] from Balmain have come along with unbelievable creativity and are making clothes that nobody dreamt about years ago.”
Is fashion a piece of art for you?
“Fashion is definitely a work of art for me. And getting involved in the design of my house is also a work of art for me. Creativity is a big part of my life.”
Who are your people in the fashion industry—people who are rebellious, like you, and changing the world?
“Well, I admire Olivier for example, for his great creativity and use of new materials that have never been used before, even though he himself is usually just dressed in a T-shirt. When it comes to looking at other men, and admiring the way they dress, Michael Jackson was always someone I looked up to. Today, I really can’t think of anyone I look up to. I feel I’m on my own path, trying to do something that nobody else is doing.”
There are not many that are brave enough to go against the norms and try something new, and be crazy, and try to be different.
“I don’t really look at it as though anything I do is risky, because I feel in my own mind that I am setting the standard now. That if there’s a particular dress code at an event, I don’t have to adhere to it. I’m setting the dress code.”