In the spirit of questioning ethics or at least making a “half-arsed” attempt to probe and point the finger, I’ve got a bit of a Freaky Friday oddity on my hand. Whilst browsing around the weird and wonderful wares of Harajuku’s Dog, I came across the name Tony Alamo. Oooh, spray painted and diamante-encrusted denim jackets in a sort of theme-y Nudie Cohn vein. A quick search on Etsy and eBay yields more examples of “The Tony Alamo of Nashville – For Designers for the Stars” – mostly denim jackets, intricately spray-painted and adorned with crystals. They’re the sort of eighties On Google though, the name Tony Alamo yields something far more alarming. Forgive me on the count of ignorance on religious cult leader convictions in the U.S.A. but it turns out Alamo’s is prominent for being convicted for multiple counts of rape and sexual assault of minors, abusing his position as founder of the cult Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. Alamo’s business of “Tony Alamo” branded sequinned denim jackets, later called “Tony Alamo of Nashville” was a surprising sideline to him and his wife Susan’s syndicated TV sermons – it adds a whole new spin to the word “cult”, when we used lightly in the context of fashion. Eventually, the business was convicted for federal tax evasion in 1994 and of course, later Alamo’s other atrocities came to light and he is now currently serving out a life long prison sentence. A fascinating article on the LA Times written in 1989 when Alamo was already on the run from arrest for felony-child abuse. At one point, total sales of Tony Alamo jackets were anything from $500,000 to $1 million. Whilst on the run, he took the time to be interviewed to say that he would send in sketches from his hide-outs, faxing them through – “Everything I do is a work of art.” Interestingly, even as the charges against him were surfacing in the public, the stores still bought into them, apparently unable to resist their allure and their celebrity-endorsed cachet (Michael Jackson, Mike Tyson and Dolly Parton were Alamo fans), with only a handful of stockists pulling out.
It’s a sordid tale with a strange after trail of vintage specimens, that have since graced the likes of Nicky Minaj and Miley Cyrus, who in December last year was spotted wearing a Tony Alamo ensemble with Beverly Hills emblazoned across the back. It’s unlikely Cyrus was aware of the origins of her spangled denim but it’s also hard to say whether the association would make it less or more appealing for her. Weirdly, nobody else seems to care. According to Miami legendary vintage store C. Madeleine, you can Shop This Look without any mention of Alamao’s past, and that there’s even a collectible value attached to Alamo’s pieces, because of his imprisonment. The moral question behind even considering Alamo’s pieces as a fashion choice has one clear answer. Especially when you read the slightly ludicrous statements like this, as seen on this fashion blog “You may find yourself asking, who is Tony Alamo anyway? Well on top of being a cult leader and a maker of awesome jackets, he is also a child sex offender! Neat-o!” Neat-o wouldn’t be my first word of choice, but hey-ho, guess a convicted child sex offender and rapist isn’t exactly a shocking exception in a world when seemingly, entertainers offending in plain sight, are all coming out of the woodwork.
But why bother dwelling on this random defunct fashion line, you might ask? Fashion has a long history of aligning itself with the debauched and the morally questionable. A figure like Tony Alamo might well find itself on to a moodboard as a offbeat reference point. It’s an industry that also unconditionally protects people like Terry Richardson (although it has to be said in the eyes of the law, he hasn’t committed a crime). Only a handful have challenged this status quo, best summed up by this Hadley Freeman article. She’s right – creepiness shouldn’t be confused with edginess even when the lines are increasingly blurred. That applies to seemingly harmless ironic/cool/retro denim jackets.