Angela's Ashes

The party's hot, but the Valley's fashion scene? Not so much

The kids were mean, but Angela never lost her theatrical side.

"Oh, she's always been a drama queen!" Paula says. "Even today, when someone says the most ridiculous thing about her -- which they're bound to do in her position -- I just remind her that no matter what she does, people are going to say negative things about her. She just has to learn to take it with a grain of salt."

It's wisdom Johnson has yet to absorb.

From whole cloth: Johnson teaches fashion marketing at the Art Institute of Phoenix.
Peter Scanlon
From whole cloth: Johnson teaches fashion marketing at the Art Institute of Phoenix.
Johnson gets a round of applause on the catwalk -- but not, necessarily, from local fashionistas.
Peter Scanlon
Johnson gets a round of applause on the catwalk -- but not, necessarily, from local fashionistas.

For the past two months, Johnson's been sending out frantic e-mails to LabelHorde members, begging for volunteers because the workload she and Rhonda Zayas have taken on is more than she can handle -- "18-hour workdays," she says.

But more than the workload, Johnson struggles with what she calls the "cattiness" of local designers and boutique owners, and the gratitude she doesn't feel she receives for building an "Arizona fashion industry."

She's having a hard time dealing with the criticism she's heard directed at LabelHorde: that she's using young designers to boost her own profile; that LabelHorde isn't exclusive enough, letting anyone who ponies up $200 in on the scene; that, frankly, she's a blowhard who doesn't know how to run a business.

She says Phoenix Art Museum fashion curator Dennita Sewell, through whom Johnson acknowledges she got most of her local fashion contacts, hasn't called her back "in eight months." (Sewell refused to answer, when asked if that's true.) She says Sarah Walker, who owns Passage, a boutique in central Phoenix, refuses to carry her clothes, and hasn't spoken to her in nearly two years. "I have no idea what I did to [Walker]," Johnson says.

And then there are the LabelHorde members who complain that she isn't running the Web site with enough efficiency and professionalism.

"I've had the most horrible two days dealing with people on the [LabelHorde] forum," she writes late one evening in July. "I'm so fed up. There has been so much drama. I had to delete stuff, and then we had this big ordeal by e-mail. I swear, I get told that LabelHorde looks unprofessional because we have too many immature postings on the forum and that we need to moderate them. So, I make a point to add that to my list of things to do (since I have so much room on it), and start moderating and end up pissing off the people that I'm moderating so that they hate me now. It's like I'm damned if I do and I'm damned if I don't."

She writes, "How's this for a story? How about 'Founder of Arizona's Fashion Industry replaces website with image of middle finger and checks herself into mental institution'?"

Lounging on a plush couch at the Pussycat on that hot night in July, Susan Di Staulo is accommodating a middle-aged attorney and his surgically enhanced wife by pretending to engage in sincere conversation. The 41-year-old local fashion designer -- and close friend of Angela Johnson -- is one of the stars of this soiree, helping to promote sales of the swimsuit calendar to benefit the animal shelter. Di Staulo's hand-beaded swimsuits, along with the heavenly bodies of some local models, grace the pages of the calendar.

Once the attorney and his wife turn to head for the bar, Di Staulo leans in with a hand shading her mouth, and says, "He so wants to fuck me!" Then she scribbles on a note pad when asked what (which actually means who) she's wearing:

Top: hand-beaded by Susan Di Staulo

Bottom: Helmut Lang jeans

Shoes: Aldo

Underpants: "Everything 99 Cents"

"Without Angela Johnson, I'd be shit," Di Staulo says, before even being asked. "What she's done for me, for all the designers in this town. . . . She's a fucking angel.

"Angela provided for me an invaluable service. She basically got me to stop sitting around like a scared little kid, sewing out of my living room, and got me out there. She basically gave me a life, gave me a real reason to live. I'm serious," Di Staulo says. "I tell everyone, 'If it weren't for Angela, I'd be sitting around with my thumb up my ass waiting for life to happen.' She somehow pummeled the fear out of me and just enabled me through sheer example to go for it."

Just then, photographer Christopher Cashak -- who is available for autographs, according to the press release that announced this event -- interrupts the chitchat to consult with Di Staulo. Cashak, a towering guy in his 30s with a lanky physique and thinning blond hair, is taking shots of the Pussycat clientele for a locally run Web site,, that caters to Scottsdale scenesters. He's also the photographer for the swimsuit calendar. And he's world-famous. It says so on his business cards:

"Christopher Cashak: World-Famous Photographer"

"Well, yes, technically," Cashak says, after being asked if he is, in fact, "World-Famous." "My photos have been shown in more than 30 countries." He leaves it at that.

All this alleged star power in one room might lead you to believe Angela Johnson's wide-eyed conjecture, that Phoenix really will be the next fashion hub of the country. That young designers, like the ones she teaches at the Art Institute of Phoenix, actually have a shot at stardom working in the Valley. That anyone really gives a damn.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets