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- American fashion designer
- American art dealer (1939-2011)
Designer to the stars Michael Costello is sitting calmly atop a reception desk in a white-walled gallery of Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood when I meet him. You’d never guess his New York Fashion Week spring/summer 2018 presentation is happening in just two days, or maybe that’s the laid-back West Coast vibe he’s transported with him to frenetic New York.
Nearby, there’s a wall being plastered with pink flowers, and a few models whose hair and makeup looks are being finalized. Costello has spent the past six months preparing more than 35 intricate dresses for the upcoming show, all while managing a celebrity clientele, new retail locations, and an Instagram beef or two. Still, the Los Angeleno seems relaxed.
It’s likely peanuts compared with the 34-year-old’s first experience with dressing Beyoncé, after a 2014 chance encounter that’s now the stuff of fashion-world legend: Costello, at the invitation of a friend, went to the popular Los Angeles nightclub 1Oak, where you’re almost as likely to spot a celebrity as you are an Herve Leger bandage dress. Once inside, Costello realized he was at a table with Jay-Z and Rachel Roy, Sanaa Lathan, Jada Pinkett, Diddy, and Cassie.
“I felt so cool,” Costello recalls bashfully.
Then came the introduction to Ty Hunter, Beyoncé’s stylist; the subsequent showroom visit; and the purgatory Costello endured between sending dresses to Beyoncé’s team and not knowing whether he would see her in one of his creations on the red carpet.
He did, of course. And the first congratulatory phone call came from Kelly Rowland, followed by Michelle Williams. The moment was surreal for Costello, so to etch it into reality, he got a tattoo with the date of the 2014 Grammy Awards, for which Beyoncé wore the dress.
“I grew up with Destiny’s Child,” Costello tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “My mom and dad will tell you, ‘He’s going to be gay! He’s 15 years old and he wants to be a black woman dancing to “No, no, no.”‘ Dressing celebrities is cool, but when you grow up with their music and you’re a huge fan of their music, it’s the ultimate, the coolest thing.”
Now, three years later, and seven years after his Project Runway debut, Costello says his life has changed beyond comprehension. He’s still dressing Beyoncé and her family, but he’s added a considerable lineup of celebrities to his portfolio: Laverne Cox, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Ciara Harris.
But Costello still pays attention to his non-A-list clients, and keeps a sharp eye on his DMs. He’s notorious for being outspoken on his Instagram, which he manages himself, sometimes to a fault. Most recently, he sparred with social media influencer and onetime Bieber paramour Chantel Jeffries, for her not tagging him in an Instagram post and breaking the unspoken rules of the influencer economy (no thanks here to the Federal Trade Commission’s murky guidelines.)
“I just think it’s so important to remember where you started from, what you’ve achieved, who helped you get there, and always say ‘thank you,'” he says. “In Chantel’s case, I knew her when she was only popular for going on a few dates with Justin Bieber and leaking pictures. I don’t have anything bad to say about her, aside from saying she’s a little ignorant for saying you don’t have to tag a brand.”
Another thing Costello isn’t afraid to speak out about is diversity within fashion. For his presentation, he cast more than a handful of curvy models, one a size 18, at a time when some, but certainly not all, designers are paying attention to the plus-size market.
“[Plus-size women] need to feel special. They were never accepted, and for as many designers out there saying they embrace them, designers love dressing a size 2 because it’s tradition,” he says. “Buyers love seeing girls in a size 2. But thank God time’s are changing, because our real customer, she’s not a 2 or a 4. She lives in Saudi Arabia, and she’s an 8 or a 10 or a 12 or a 14.”
Costello’s candidness knows no bounds. He says he’d push his own politics aside and be honored to dress first lady Melania Trump if the opportunity arose, unlike his Project Runway peer Christian Siriano.
“I’m the first person in the Gypsy Romanian culture to break those barriers and raise the bar and set an example for the people in my culture in my generation to say it’s OK to do things and have a passion in something,” Costello says. “Forget about how everyone hates Trump and thinks [Melania] is an idiot. It’s an iconic moment that will go down in history forever, so that’s what means more to me.”
And Ivanka? Costello “feels bad” that department stores abandoned her clothing brand following the “Grab Your Wallet” campaign. “She’s not a ditzy girl. She’s a genius and [a] very intelligent businesswoman. Everyone is so judgmental and social media-driven, so if someone says, ‘I hate her,’ someone else will too. We can’t pick our dads.”
When I arrive at the gallery on the night of Costello’s presentation, the flower wall is finished, and there are almost too many people inside to move, with plenty more on the way. Costello’s busy posing for photos with celebrity fans like hip-hop artist Lil Mama, while a swarm of others wait to congratulate him.
It doesn’t seem like there’s any slowing Costello’s growth — at least not based on attendees’ reactions to his work. And if ever there’s a lull, maybe the first lady’s stylist will call.
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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.