One of the most amazing things about David Wills is that his life has intersected with both Hollywood and fashion. Please do not think for a second that this means he cares or worries about the like of the starlet of the day and whose clothes she got to wear without owning them. Mr. Wills has authored or co-authored 6 or so books and has established himself as the go to guy if you are in search of celebrity photos and their negatives. Not only has he authored but he is one of the largest collectors, preservationists and curators of archival photos, transparencies and negatives in the world.
Having been fortunate enough to have reviewed several of his books for the New York Journal of Books, It is my please to say that the books are immaculately written and researched as well as being superb photographic treatments of each subject. Add all that to the fact that he is one helluva nice guy and you have an ideal situation for an interview such as this.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to David Wills….. And don’t forget to pick up one of his books and get lost in the history of it all!!
1-What is the most treasured possession in your wardrobe?
I have an early 70s Edwardian inspired shirt by Mr. Fish that I would probably run into a burning building to save. It has ruffles !!! I don’t wear it often, but when I do I feel very After Dark magazine.
2-What is your most sterling trait and what trait do you treasure most in your friendships?
I think I’m a simple person who still appreciates simple things. I look for that trait in friends as well. If people become too complicated I usually withdraw.
3-What is your bliss?
Playing with my dogs and watching old movies with my partner, Jeffrey McCall.
4-What is your guilty secret?
I have too many unfortunately – still waters run deep.
5-Where is your ideal home?
Split three ways between Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and The Sunshine Coast in Australia.
6-If you could not be a designer/retailer/etc:, what would you be
I would like to be a traveling food critic, or run a Traci Lords theme park.
7-What is on your bedside table right now?
Well, I could give you the “James Franco” answer and say a copy of Notes from Underground by Dostoyevsky, but I will be honest and say Frebreze (I’m obsessed with it), a bottle of Tums, and a blu-ray of the original 1978 version of “The Toolbox Murders”.
8-What do you wear to bed?
Chanel No. 5 – no, just kidding. Mostly a t-shirt and boxers.
9-What, if any, book are you reading now or last read?
I’m a big re-reader. The last book was Patricia Bosworth’s biography of Montgomery Clift. I read it when I was ten and keep going back every five years or so.
10-What’s your advice to the “newcomer?”
You get more with sugar than you do with vinegar, and never underestimate the power of saying “no”.
11-Who or what is your inspiration/style icon?
Gary Cooper, Fred Hughes, Sterling Saint Jacques, Helmut Berger (in The Picture of Dorian Gray), David Croland (during his modeling days when he was professionally known as “The Crow”), Tommy Nutter.
12-What is the best advice you ever received?
Never let your outer show your inner.
13-In 3 words or less, describe the current state of fashion.
“Retrocentric” (if that’s even a word). I live my life for yesterday, but there is a danger in that. The fashion world should take heed. For many years in fashion (on the street at least) I saw a dedication to the casual that I found repellent – everyone looked like they were going camping. I must say that finally seems to be changing.
14-If you were a retailer, would you wear your own designs or shop in your own store ? or where would you shop?
This question doesn’t really pertain to me, but I always wanted to have a store that was based on the color yellow. They used to do color-coding a lot in the 60s. The boutiques would have really great names like “My Mother Lives in Cincinnati” or “Mr. Asparagus”. Unfortunately, few people look good in yellow – it’s also supposed to be the favorite color of psychotics – so I will probably never open a store.
15-If you won a $200,000,000 power ball (lottery), what is the first thing you would buy or do?
Set up a foundation to make sure my money was going to the most deserving charities.
16-If you could invite up to 4 people for dinner, who would they be…dead or alive?
My Uncle Arthur who was killed in WW2, my mother’s mother, Marilyn Monroe (circa. 1962), and The Black Dahlia.
17-What is your favorite movie /or movie star?
Movie – “The Naked Kiss” / Movie star – Marilyn Monroe.
18-What is the one thing you would change about yourself?
I wish I was more relaxed. I also wish I had a better “tuxedo” body.
19-Whose opinion do you value most and why?
My parents – amazing people who have always steered me in the right direction.
20-What store or which designer do you most like to shop in or wear ?
I am much more conservative now. As I get older I buy less and less clothing. I keep it simple at places like Thomas Pink, Calvin Klein and Trina Turk. I have a lot of vintage designer – “The Frippery” in Palm Springs is great for that. I like to have dress shirts custom made in China, but I rarely do that these days. I also have a weakness for Belgian shoes.
21-What’s your take on magazines, books versus the internet?
Well, this question is very personal to me as there is a constant battle in publishing between e-books and the traditional printed book. We are still finding our way. I am often appalled at the idea of a photo book being viewed on a screen. I am all for exposure and bringing new ideas to a different audience, but there is a loss of tactility that I find unfortunate. Photo books will never be replaced as they are ultimately seen by a majority of people as decorative items and coffee table embellishments. Many will buy a book for its cover appeal and never even look at the interior. I also think the internet must certainly be keeping the optometrists in business. Our love affair with screens has become quite disturbing.
22-Do you have a dream collaborator?
I’m not sure I want to collaborate on any future projects – though everything is a collaboration to some extent.
23-What is your crowning achievement thus far in your career?
I was very proud of my book on Veruschka.
24-What’s your music library like?
Pretty much rotting in boxes in a storage unit. My tastes constantly change, but I always go back to The Cocteau Twins. I just bought one of those portable record player (from about 1962 I guess). The top half is green and the bottom half is blue (one of my favorite color combos). It’s the kind Annette Funicello and her friends would have used. I’ve been wearing out the needle with a lot of Glen Campbell and Wayne Newton.
25-What and where is your favorite meal?
My mother makes a great lamb baked dinner, but second would have to be Zankou Chicken in Los Angeles.