Thom Elsemiller may not rock the latest fashions or trends, but this man’s got style down to a science.
Elsemiller first caught eye years ago, when we’d see him walking his three miniature schnauzers around Chelsea. Sure, a man walking his dogs isn’t particularly interesting in this gayborhood, but when one of the dogs sports purple mohawks and polkadots, one definitely take notice. Aside from the pup’s unique breed of style, Thom’s very being counts as one of the warmest, most welcoming aura’s we’ve encountered in this usually chilly city. And his threads are fly, too. So, when we sat down to plan out The Style Issue, we made sure to leave room for one of our favorite New Yorkers.
Welcoming as always, Thom, who works as a Cranial Follicular Specialist (read: hairstylist) invited editor Andrew Belonsky into his one bedroom home for a little tour. One bedroom may not sound like a lot – and, really, it isn’t – but Thom’s created a space as cozy as it is eclectic, thus giving his twenty-by-twenty living room turned bedroom a spacious, homey feel. (As a true style maven, he’s turned the ‘bedroom’ into a closet.)
While Belonsky went there to talk about the dogs and the apartment, the boys conversation took the predictably unpredictable twists and turns. Read the results, after the jump…
Andrew Belonsky: When did you come here?
Thom Elsemiller: I came here in 1992.
AB: A turning point for New York. It was just post-AIDS –
TE: It was an interesting time here. I caught the end of the 80s and 90s. I ended up seeing the changes here, especially in Chelsea.
AB: How do you feel about Chelsea?
TE: It’s funny, because I think I’m more of an East Village-looking guy, so I never felt like I fit in here.
AB: Did you when you moved here?
TE: No, it was the muscle heads. I still don’t feel like I fit in, but now I feel like a lot more of us don’t fit in. It’s really turning into a different neighborhood. I’ve got Harrison Ford, Janet Jackson, Meryl Streep. When I first moved here, I didn’t utilize or appreciate how nice it is to be gay in the gay neighborhood of New York City. Now, I go back to Florida to visit and I realize how restricted it is. Some of the things you do on an everyday basis, you don’t do down there. As much as a kvetch about it, I appreciate it. I take what I like and I complain about the rest.
AB: How would you describe your personal style?
TE: I’m sentimentally eclectic. Everything in here is from my childhood. I realized after my mom passed away that I was recreating stuff I grew up with, that feel. Then she passed away and I had doubles – I had the real stuff and the stuff I collected. I’m just now getting to the point where it’s back together as a unit. All the little things on the fireplace are things I picked up while I traveled – all the Limoges. There’s not a lot here that I just bought and don’t have an attachment to. The chandelier was in my house ever since I was a little kid. It’s got these cute little dimmer bulbs for a little atmosphere. It’s stuff that was always there for me. It’s kind of comforting to see that. Even though I’m the single guy in my family that lives in Manhattan, I have more of the sentimental traits than anybody else in my family.
AB: What about your furniture?
TE: When I moved here, I was a snob. I would never take something off the street, but if you live in New York, of course you do. If you’ll sleep with something off the street, why wouldn’t you have it in your house?
AB: That’s right!
TE: I found this four-post bed on the street. It’s from ABC Carpet – I think they forgot to put it in the truck. I find a lot of stuff from the building. Couch is from Housing Works. Bed is from 17th Street, courtesy of ABC Carpet. It was $6800 at ABC, I looked. A few pieces are from my mom’s from when she passed away.
AB: Do you find it hard to date in New York?
TE: I do. I’m 45-years old. I’m sure if you sit and talk to me, I’ll sound like an expert on a lot of shit, but I don’t even think I’ll come close to sounding like I have a clue about men. Relationships are just hard. Underneath it all, we all want one – and I’m not afraid to admit that – but I think if you and I went to dinner and I called you the next day to thank you, most people think that means you want to get married. I think it’s just being okay with saying “Thank you”. People either think your doing something too fast or not enough. I always just seem to be off the mark. It’s like there’s some subconscious rulebook that nobody ever gave me the fucking page on.
AB: Let’s talk about your dogs and your animals. Who is the oldest of the dogs?
TE: Brandon, then there’s Patty and then there’s Katie with the Mohawk.
AB: She’s the youngest?
TE: She’s obviously the tribal child.
AB: Why do you only do her hair?
TE: Because she’s white. They used to destroy the white ones, but I thought she looked interesting. Obviously she’s got a special personality. The dog works the street like “forget it”. That’s how I know you – through her. If I didn’t have her, I wouldn’t know half the people I do. People just love her. She’s got this weird magnetism. I spoke with Nancy on 18th street at Downtown Doghouse. Nancy always does her. She does whatever she wants. There’s nothing more tragic than a hairdresser who does their dog, so it’s nice to be able to say, “I didn’t do it.”
AB: What about the three cats?
TE: The three cats are all adopted. My ex-husband had a large apartment down on Barrow Street and we adopted four cats from Pet Co one day – not just one, four. But, it didn’t last. When I left, I took the two cats, because they slept together. I never intended to have that many animals, but for me it works. I have a home. I have things that I’m responsible for. There are a lot of us going down the shitter with crystal and all that, so if this is what keeps me from landing in that jackpot, then I’m okay with that.
AB: What are these racist salt and pepper shakers?
TE: Now, now, they’re not racist. When my mom passed away this was in her kitchen. I was so shocked to see them that my sister saw them in a catalogue and bought them for me. I just think they’re collectible.
AB: What’s this?
TE: This is my grandmother’s [Winston Churchill] and I found the exact same thing at a flea market. It’s actually a Royal Doulton. I have no idea what it’s worth, but it’s probably worth a $1,000 and I found this one for ten dollars It’s the same damn thing. This is a picture of my nephew. He’s my heart.
AB: What is he doing now?
TE: He’s in Florida going to college, but you know, that little boy will cling on to me and give me a big old hug in front of any one of his friends, night or day. All of his friends call me “Unc”. Oh! I have Rosie O’Donnell’s mustache in here.
AB: What do you mean?
TE: I collect celebrity refuse –
AB: Steven Tyler’s lipstick? Where did you get that?
TE: It’s from Spring Break, MTV when my client was in charge of the trailers for them. Here’s Rosie O’Donnell’s mustache.
AB: Oh my god, where did you get that?
TE: My girlfriend did her waxing.
AB: That’s so fucked up.
TE: I’m not a well woman. I also have a brandy snifter full of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fingerprints from his and Maria Shriver’s daughter’s birthday. They had it at Planet Hollywood and it happened to fall coincidentally on John F. Kennedy Jr’s funeral, so they went from the funeral to this birthday party and my client was the manager of the restaurant, so I got a lot of celebrity refuse from there. It’s funny if you think about it, because now he’s the governor. My ex has a lot of Francis Bacon, a Picasso and I was amazed at how many people would shy away from an art conversation, but if you have shit like this, they go crazy.
AB: What about this reproduction of Jan Vermeer’s “The Milk Maid”?
TE: My mother had it in her home for years and just before she died, I found it in the flea market and I bought it and I have the other one in storage. That and this right here – a rowboat – is my grandfather and my sister. My grandparents had a home on a cape right on the ocean and I thought when I was a little kid it was them, but it’s called “Helping Hand”. Again, a family thing. It’s funny, my sister and my mother were kind of opposing energies, so when my mother passed away, my sister was not the type who would ever wear and of my mother’s stuff, so I became the custodian of it, so I have stuff, so when my nephews get married and have kids, I’ll dole stuff out to their wives.
AB: That’s nice: keeping it all in the family.
TE: I am very sentimental about the little things, because those are the things you can’t replace. I think if you looked at me, you wouldn’t get that – I don’t think my insides match my outsides. I think I look groovier and faster and more together than I am.
AB: Do you drink or do drugs or anything?
TE: No. I’m a moderate person. Don’t do crystal, though. The idea of sticking this pole up my ass because I can’t control myself is a little frightening to me.
AB: Especially with the gargoyle on top.
TE: Let’s face it, the gargoyle’s nothing but a tickler if you’re going to take this whole beast. I think it’s too easy to get stimulated all the time like that and not have to deal. I think part of the bitch of life is that you have to show up. I think the people like you and I who work and a year later they have no teeth and it’s devastating. I don’t get the difference between that person and me now, except luck and maybe responsibility. I’m very leery of all that. It’s hard to meet people who aren’t fucked up all the time and date.
AB: It’s hard when you meet somebody to tell if they’re a secret meth head.
TE: You go to bed with them and you think they’re really great because they’re insatiable. You think, “Wow, he really likes me,” but basically I could shove a fucking broom handle up there, while I was busting my ass for an hour and half thinking I was the man. There’s something wrong with a drug that makes you so horny for dick that you can’t put a baggie on it. I’ve been positive since I was 27. We didn’t know that much back then – [it was easy] for someone to just go ahead and drop their panties and not use protection.
I had this brain tumor and all this shit – and so, it’s like, health issues are serious. To be forty-four, I remember when my nephew was born – I was two when I found out I was positive and I remember asking my best friend, “Do you think I’ll see him graduate?” and two years ago he graduated. My nephew and I are very close and I remember on his graduation day – he went to a Christian academy – I was standing in the back of the gym and he came out and I looked over at him and he said, “We made it”. And he had this huge tear just come down. I purposely stood in the back, because I’ve never really felt the “whack!” of being positive and I remember so distinctly wondering if I’d ever see that day.
AB: And that was a turning point for you?
TE: It was a gratitude day. I remember when he was a baby, holding him and changing his diaper because I wanted to get as much of that child as I could because I didn’t know if I’d be around that long. I look at that and I’m like, if you get cancer, you can’t help it. To become a drug addict, when it’s pretty obvious that drug is so insatiable, you’ve got to be careful.