To shoehorn myself into Warhol’s very own kecks would be an act of intimate empathy too far. The next best thing was to have my own pants run up at Warhol’s tailor — or rather, given this was for a documentary on thrifty BBC4, to try on an off-the-peg pair.
Warhol’s outfitter, The Leather Man in Greenwich Village, is still in business. In the shop window, a naked plastic torso of a man was wearing some sort of harness. Inside were rubber waistcoats, cowboy chaps and unforgiving smalls, supplied by manufacturers with names like Cell Block 13, as well as that distinguished Parisian couture house, Chez Priape. As for the goods I saw in the basement, let’s just say that the shelf of bulging rubber forearms turned out, on closer inspection, to be no such thing. This is not for a moment to disparage The Leather Man, nor its helpful staff, such as the tattooed young tailor called Kyle who helped me to pick out my leather get-up.
This establishment was where generations of New York rockers came shopping for their stage gear, Kyle reminded me: the likes of Lou Reed, whose band the Velvet Underground was briefly managed by Warhol, and Debbie Harry, subject of a Warhol silkscreen.
Kyle threw his tape measure around me like a cowpoke hogtieing a steer. In the fitting cubicle,
I strained into the snug pants that he brought me. But it was worth it. I felt that I was close to Warhol at last. I felt it when I creaked out of the booth and asked Kyle if the trousers did anything for me.
All at once, I might have been at the Factory, striking a pose for my screen test. And I was ready for my close-up. “Well, hel-lo!” said Kyle. “Look who’s got an ass now!”
Stephen Smith is culture correspondent of Newsnight
Stephen Smith presents A Day in the Life of Andy Warhol on Tuesday 25th December at 9pm on BBC4