let's have a kiki
“It’s Tisci, Duh:” Mel Ottenberg Kikis with The House of Tisci
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve heard about the House of Tisci. The fierce house is led by Mother Gia Tisci, who pushed her family—Dro, Simone, Stanley, and Tray—to the limits during season two of HBO Max’s Legendary while showcasing the grace and grit of ballroom culture. Last week, the House invaded the island of Manhattan for Calvin Klein’s Moments of Pride celebration in Central Park. Due to inclement weather (ugh), partygoers moved the soirée to The Flower Shop— the Lower East Side’s haunt of choice for cool kids far and wide. The night’s performers, including members of the House of Tisci, were all styled in custom CK looks conceptualized and customized by our very own Creative Director Mel Ottenberg. During their New York takeover, the Tiscis took a moment to chat with Ottenberg about their house origins, sneaking out to go to the club, and those Calvin “drawers” we all love so much. It’s Tisci, duh.
MEL OTTENBERG: So, we’re here for Calvin Klein tonight. Do you guys have any thoughts on Calvin Klein?
SIMONE: You know what’s crazy? Every time I think about Calvin Klein, I always think about those drawers.
KEVIN: The underwear.
SIMONE: I love them.
OTTENBERG: We love to wear them. So you all live in different places, and then you come together to do the thing. What’s the origin story of the house?
KEVIN: The house started in 2017, in Atlanta.
GIA: Since ballroom travels, we have chapters in Atlanta, L.A., New York, and London. We’re all over the world.
OTTENBERG: Hot. How do you stay connected?
GIA: We’re in group chats and we have video chats. We’re a family, like a big frat.
OTTENBERG: Who in the frat was like “It’s all about Tisci?” Because we’re obsessed with Riccardo Tisci.
GIA: That would be our founders.
OTTENBERG: And let it be known– who are the founders?
JASON: The House of Tisci was born from the House of Milan. In 2017 we decided to part ways and start an organization on our own, of like-minded individuals that felt like a family. We wanted to build each other up as a community and within our careers. Then we were given the opportunity to appear on Legendary. Gia had already been in the first season, from her former house.
OTTENBERG: What was your former house?
OTTENBERG: I went to a ball in like 2000 at a really posh place. There was a fight between the Mizrahis and the Dolces over seats in the front row. It went on for literally an hour and a half.
GIA: That takes me back.
OTTENBERG: So the community was looking for something different in 2017, right?
OTTENBERG: And you guys were friends and were like, “We need to band together”?
JASON: As you build a legacy in the ballroom scene, at some point you realize that you want to build a legacy of your own. We also wanted to provide a safe space for younger kids in the LGBTQ community to keep one another uplifted through all the tough things that happen in life as queer people.
OTTENBERG: How would you describe what’s really going on with ballroom and voguing right now? What’s the trend?
SIMONE: I think the trend is really your feelings in that moment. A lot of emotion, a lot of passion, a lot of anger sometimes, expressed in dance. It’s almost like animals fighting in the jungle. Except you’re competing for money.
JASON: Vogue is in and out of the mainstream. With queer culture being at a peak right now, it’s only fair that Ballroom is at its peak too. Ballroom is usually the forefront in terms of fashion, makeup trends, hair trends, and everything else. Some of the top makeup artists, hairstylists, and performers come from the Ballroom scene.
OTTENBERG: We are at a peak moment of visibility for the LGBTQ community. Where do you think we need to go, and what does this moment mean to you?
GIA: It makes us feel appreciated, for sure. As people from this community, we know how hard we go, and how much we support people. It means a lot because we don’t get that recognition often, honestly. I feel like fashion is expanding now, and producing more clothing that all genders can wear, which I think is beautiful. I see this moment as one where a man can wear a heel— but it’s not a woman’s heel, it’s a unisex heel. A man can wear a skirt that is non-gendered, instead of a woman’s skirt. I think that’s where I see this going.
SIMONE: It’s Tisci, Duh. [Laughs].
OTTENBERG: Were y’all in the clubs when you were teenagers?
SIMONE: When I was a teenager, I was sneaking out of windows to get to the club. I never got caught, but one time I got locked out and had to knock on the door. I got whooped and punished.
OTTENBERG: Were y’all going to voguing things and being like, “This is the world I want to be in?”
GIA: Absolutely. In L.A. we would have local mini balls at three or four in the morning.
JASON: I definitely stuck out because I was a closet case. I was sneaking out at 18, 19 and walking clear across town to get to the club. Literally from the west side of Atlanta to downtown to where the nightclubs are. There would always be a straight club in front, and the gay club was in the back. I would hang out in the front in case any of my friends saw me, and then I would slide through to the back and stare in amazement.
OTTENBERG: Where are you all getting chopped then? I know y’all told me you never got chopped, but we’re just talking about origin stories.
GIA: I’ve been chopped before. I think if you’re a legend in Ballroom, you’ve been chopped before because that’s just ballroom. That’s where you learn the lesson and decide to prove yourself by coming back faster, stronger, harder.
OTTENBERG: How long does the House of Tisci take to get ready for an important Ball?
JASON: The honest to god truth of the matter is, when you’re dealing with so many different energies and personality types, a lot of times the best things come together at the last minute. Seeing what you have and making it work. We’ve kind of evolved past sitting around a sewing machine together to having designers, buying things, embellishing, and making it work. Gia has some of the best effects in Ballroom, but I know she has amazing people that she goes to for design and tailoring who help bring her vision to life.
GIA: It’s Tisci, DUH.
Special Thanks: Polaroid