It’s Kind of a Funny Story: Paul Andrew & Siddhartha Shukla

How this CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner and the CMO of Theory met…

04.22.15

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Leandra Medine: How did you meet?

Siddhartha Shukla, CMO of Theory and Helmut Lang: We met on a cruise ship. No we didn’t. Wouldn’t that be such a great story, though? We met in sort of an unlikely way, in a really mundane scenario which was an Oscars party, in March 2003. I arrived basically when the Oscars were ending —

Paul Andrew, shoe designer, winner of the 2014 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund: In typical fashion, two hours late.

SS: Because we had dressed Julianne Moore — I was working with Tom Ford at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent — and she wore a green tiered ruffled Saint Laurent dress. I didn’t really want to watch the Oscars, and a common friend had invited us both there.

PA: We were in a studio apartment in Gramercy. I was drinking an Amstel Lite and wearing a hoodie.

SS: I had been working all afternoon and had to run home to Brooklyn before going out, and was running two hours late. He was sitting on the edge of the couch — this kind of butch British man drinking Amstel Lite — wearing a navy cotton hoodie.

LM: What is it that attracted you to him?

SS: That’s a good question. I liked his manner, which was not conventionally British, and was certainly not conventionally American. I like his curiosity about fashion; it showed that he wasn’t in the trade like I was. He was instead interested in the way things were made.

PA: That was sort of the draw for me to you. You were wearing a perforated green Gucci jacket, which I think I fell in love with before I fell in love with you.

LM: How did you get to talking?

PA: We were watching the Oscars on a couch with ten other people, so we were sitting within close proximity to each other.

SS: But we didn’t really speak. You spoke to the group. You were talking about how “sensational” everything was.

PA: I guess I was drunk by the time you arrived. Everyone was a sensation that night.

SS: You were really excited about a lot of things. That was also when people looked good at the Oscars — people don’t look good at the Oscars anymore.

LM: I don’t disagree with you, I just wonder why that is.

SS: I think that, from my point of view — and it’s not to say that 15 years ago there was an innocence in Hollywood — there was less of an institutionalized mechanism in the way people got ready. Now it’s like, this is the jewelry contract, and this is the ready-to-wear contract, and the ready-to-wear contract is coming from an accessories house. So, you don’t have to wear their accessories but you certainly can’t wear the accessories of the competing conglomerate. There are all sorts of parameters now that didn’t exist before.

LM: Right. I guess it’s just a matter of the machine getting more greedy. What was the process like to the first date for you two?

PA: I did some digging, and found out that he worked at Gucci. I was working at Calvin Klein at the time.

LM: Was Google your digger?

PA: I don’t even think I knew what Google was at that time. I asked a friend of mine at Calvin if he knew him and he said yes, he did, but that he had a boyfriend. So for about a week I was sort of miserable about the fact that this guy I was into had a boyfriend.

LM: And you were into him because of the Gucci jacket.

PA: Kind of! Well, he’s so handsome.

LM: And he’s a very good dresser. I’m going to wear that outfit tomorrow.

PA: So I thought, I’m not going to take no for an answer, I’m going to do more digging. It turned out he didn’t have a boyfriend. My friend was doing a party at the Armani Exchange store, so I arranged with him to invite us both. I don’t know if you knew that I was doing this, but you arrived, and I made a beeline for you and then continued to spill a cosmopolitan all over your white shirt.

SS: Yeah, you did do that.

PA: Is that our first date?

SS: What is a date anymore? It’s such a beautiful thing that has basically gone extinct. But that wasn’t really a date because it wasn’t mutually conceived as such. I really consider our first date to be that night that we went out for dinner in the East Village at Casimir. I met you at your apartment and you were wearing a vintage Pierre Cardin jacket.

PA: I love that you remember that.

LM: And so you’ve been together for 12 years now, no break. What do you think it is that keeps you connected?

SS: We’re a good pair. We are the same in really different ways. We’re really different in similar ways. There’s a complicity somehow in that. I think it’s important for people — even outside of amorous relationships, even in platonic relationships — to feel and understand difference. I think it brings you closer to yourself, and also, it can be incredibly inspiring and educational outside of that.

I’m always struck by couples who look alike, or who seem like they could be brother and sister. That’s always really bizarre to me. There’s some sort of narcissism at play.

LM: I definitely feel as though there is a sense of narcissism about that. I totally understand what you’re saying about meditated difference. It’s sort of like you’re operating the same way, running by different belief systems that you respect and appreciate from each other, and don’t necessarily want to change, but don’t maintain on your own. And you’re not married?

PA: Not formally. We own properties together, and we’re married in other ways, but…

LM: Is there a particular reason you haven’t taken that step?

PA: I imagine we will at some point, you don’t think so?

SS: We could, yes. I think that there’s probably — are you married?

LM: I am.

SS: There’s probably a moment when you crave and want whatever meaning comes with the formality. And I think for us it would really be that — a formality. We’ve never really talked about it, we have friends who are married and we certainly have been very intellectually and emotionally involved in the recent and amazingly-won struggles in the states and countries where gay marriage is finally being recognized. I suppose there will be a moment when it becomes something that we want, and until then we shouldn’t just do it because we feel we have to, and then expect that certain things will follow from it.

LM: I partially got married for religious reasons, because my husband and I couldn’t move in together until we were married, according to the rules of Orthodox Judaism, which he respected far more than I did at the time, but I do think marriage is such a popular institution because it’s a part of the human condition to feel uncomfortable with uncertainty, and that is the easiest way to claim certainty. This is a person I’m marrying and am going to be with for the rest of my life. But if you can feel that unbounded awareness without a formal document…

PA: I think we have felt that way. For the majority of our relationship, it wasn’t even possible to get married. The moment it did become possible, I was so engaged in starting my own business, as was Siddhartha with his job , so maybe those things distracted from the conversation.

SS: We’re also now exploring and experiencing the professional side of our partnership. In a sense I now feel very married to him in his business. I don’t come to his office everyday, but I do feel very much a part of the enterprise, and I’m very committed to its success. I think that’s also a new and interesting part of the development.

LM: When did you launch Paul Andrew?

PA: The first season was Spring 2013. So about two and a half years ago. I worked for a few other brands before starting my own. I was the head of shoes and accessories at Donna Karen for a decade. Before that I was at Calvin Klein for three years doing men’s and women’s shoes, and before that I was at Narciso Rodriguez. Before that I was living in England working with [Alexander] McQueen.

LM: What have you guys found to be the most challenging part of being in a committed relationship?

PA: We’ve been really lucky. We’ve been together for 12 years, but our lives have changed so dramatically over that time. Siddhartha moved to Paris four years after we met to be the head of communications with YSL. And so, just at a point where in many relationships it can get stale, and you find yourself coming home from work and just turning on the TV and not even having a conversation with each other, we were in a situation where we had to pick up the telephone every night in order to stay engaged. We never did Skype or anything like that either, but that’s because I’m digitally inept. Then he moved back and we had to get used to being with each other again.

LM: How long were you in Paris?

SS: Almost six years.

LM: Wow. Did you visit frequently?

PA: Well, I was in Italy every 10 to 15 days so I would stop off in France, and then Siddhartha was also here in New York back and forth. So we really saw each other every ten days. In a way it was really good for us because it gave us an opportunity to miss each other when we weren’t together, and make the best of the time we did have together. And now Siddhartha is back, and our relationship has evolved again. We’re closer now than we’ve ever been.

SS: I agree with all of that. The challenges are like any couple has. I think it’s conditioned by being human and by living in NYC, what that does to the inherent structure of your life — what you do, how you move, where and how fast you go — there’s a rhythmic thing that happens here. It’s amazing because it creates energy and synergy and there is constant newness – it’s hard to feel stagnant in New York if you’re engaged with the city. The moment you start to get slow in your life, all you have to do is look closely and there is a show happening in 50 places in that given second. You can go to the opera or to the Met and re-access the fundamental energy of the city.

And I think that all of those things make living here incredibly pleasant and redeeming, but can also exhaust you. At different points in my life it’s given me the desire to be really anonymous because perhaps the more anonymity you have, the more easily you can pulse through the city. Where I find myself getting trapped, if you think about our industry and the circles in which we move and where we go, is that on any given night the address that’s in your agenda is likely also in mine. On any given night, there’s almost a guarantee you’re going to run into someone you know; there is very little anonymity. Which translates into privacy.

So what can be challenging is that you don’t understand what it truly means to be together, to be alone together, because everything you do is kind of defined by your relationship with the city, or with a group of people. The other person can sometimes just be part of the constellation as opposed to your binary. That can be challenging. It sounds vague, I know. There are moments I wish I was living on a really big piece of land and had that standard of living in the city — because that’s also a curious thing, related to the standard of living — nobody in New York, no matter their wealth, has a really great standard of living.

LM: Well it’s not really a matter of tangible wealth right? It’s totally in the head. Living in New York is really difficult on the mind.

SS: I think that has an impact on space and how you experience it. You can lose yourself, because you’re constantly engaged, and you don’t really ever turn off.

LM: You live in Tribeca?

PA: We do.

SS: Something I really love about Tribeca is this feeling of anonymity. It’s quiet. Especially in the way that business develops in the neighborhood. There is so much independent business and I love that. Yes we have a Starbucks, but it’s not like most parts of the city.

LM: Have you ever felt ostracized as a gay couple?

PA: I feel like we were quite lucky in that way. Our families were accepting of us both, immediately. I was never made to feel uncomfortable, were you?

SS: Not at all. We’re part of an interesting, very fortunate generation.

PA: We were really on the verge of it. We have friends a little bit older than us who didn’t have that experience at all. I have friends who are even just ten years older than me and it was a totally different scenario.

SS: We have the great luxury of being able to take that acceptance for granted and we also have the great responsibility of being record keepers and maintaining a kind of remembrance, because it’s not like the struggle is so ancient. You see this across the board with civil rights issues in this century: there’s so much power associated with what has happened when you consider that it was not long ago that there was no black vote! It was not long ago that women existed in a very inequitable space — and they still do to some extent, but relative to today and after much progress. So when you key into these rights issues you realize that the history of adversity is certainly still present for the gays, but that there have been so many important fights recently fought and won.

It’s an interesting balance of not being so burdened by history that you don’t actually move on and live in the society that is happening now, where those issues perhaps don’t exist in the same way, and yet you must make a point to remember them, to honor the victories.

LM: That’s an interesting point. What are your favorite characteristics in each other?

PA: [To Siddhartha] You’re so intelligent, and you see things from all different perspectives. I can come to you with any query in my life and you have a formed opinion about it that isn’t necessarily by your own emotions. What is it for me? How handsome I am? [Laughs]

SS: [To Paul] I admire so much about you. I think that you definitely brought a pragmatism and a sense of structure to my life that was never there. That must not sound so sexy, but it is. To have organization in the way that you live.

LM: What are your signs?

PA: I’m a Capricorn.

SS: I’m an Aries.

LM: Yes! Exactly. I’m a Sagittarius and my husband’s a Taurus and I very much identify with the character traits that you are listing right now for Paul. All of the things that I love about my husband are the things I never saw in myself. I know I’m never going to be that person and I think that’s okay, but I applaud myself for recognizing and falling in love with it in someone else.

SS: Yes, it’s interesting because Paul’s a creator. One of the hallmarks of his business — and it can also be one of the dangers — is that he is the shining example of the new generation of designers, whose creativity is as important as their business savvy. He’s incredibly pragmatic and rational and organized and responsible. He’s the most responsible designer I’ve known — and I know a lot of them. I think that’s what I admire the most.

PA: That’s sweet of you to say.

LM: If you were giving advice to young people — in the city, or out of it — looking for love, what would you say to them?

PA: When we met 12 years ago, dating was a totally different scenario. I barely had a cell phone, now everyone meets on an app.

SS: There’s something about the question, where I might even say that before answering it, or to the hypothetical person posing it, that they should think of a different verb. It should not be about “looking.”

I think today, it’s all about “looking.” I think the app culture is about looking. It’s really explicitly visual, or it’s explicitly about, “are you looking for something right now?” Which can be sex or immediate gratification. I think the thing about looking is that it doesn’t allow for the sense of discovery that is so powerful about love. If you’ve actually felt love, you know that it’s these moments of discovery — of yourself and the other person and of who you are together. That’s a non-answer and I know that, so maybe the answer is that, maybe people should relax?

LM: You know, I always tell people that when you meet the right person, it’s not simple — the relationship is never simple — but it’s easy. You don’t doubt yourself or your partner.

PA: And one has to acquiesce a little bit. You can’t just meet someone and expect them to immediately fall into your life and have everything be perfect. You have to give a little and the person has to give a little too. I think we’ve both done a lot of that.

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