Apparel Industry Gets Behind Mickey Sills in His Cancer Fight
The founder of P.J. Salvage and Scanty Clothing Co. and former Lucky Brand and True Religion designer had been preparing to launch a new brand.
Normally, the tall display windows at the Tiara Café in the Los Angeles fashion district rent for $1,500 to $8,000 to showcase a clothing line for a few weeks.
The windows are the perfect marketing spot. The café sits next to the entryway of The New Mart showroom building, where many contemporary lines are housed and frequented by store buyers in search of new items.
But the restaurant’s owner, Fred Eric, decided to give up some of that display space for free during mid-October’s Los Angeles Fashion Market to help out an industry veteran who was about to launch a new line when he discovered he had cancer.
Eric, whose restaurant décor could be described as fashion influenced, turned over the free space to a new line called Mickey’s Self Storage. The label, developed by longtime apparel-industry veteran Mickey Sills as a men’s contemporary underwear and casual sportswear collection, is long on creativity. His brown bag–colored packaging is splashed with the mischievous motto “You Pack It. We Store It.”
The restaurateur also had his wait staff wear T-shirts dedicated to Sills. On the front was the image of a tortured face. Underneath was the line “F* Cancer 2013.”
Eric opened up his display windows after being approached by Michael Kofoed, a long-time friend and former co-worker of Sills’. “I have been in business here for six years and gotten to know quite a few people in the fashion industry. It seemed like the right thing to do,” Eric said.
Kofoed, now the brand manager for clothing lines True Grit and Dylan, thought having the window display would lift Sills’ spirits and get the word out about the new line, whose launch was postponed until next year. “Right now, Mickey is trying to stay focused on getting through this,” Kofoed said.
Yet Eric and Kofoed are just two out of dozens of apparel-industry people who have rallied around the 54-year-old creator of Mickey’s Self Storage. Sills’ creative spirit, firecracker personality and artistic eccentricities have brought together a diverse band of garment veterans who sometimes spend more time scrambling over retail space than helping each other out.
Sills has been in the industry for more than 30 years. He is probably best known for creating the loungewear and underwear label P.J. Salvage, which he sold in 1997 to Peter Burke. In 2004, he developed Scanty Clothing Co., another loungewear label that was later sold to The Moret Group. He also helped grow the denim brand Safety Clothing and created the casualwear label Guys Who Wear Suits Make Me Nervous, also known as Nervous.
Late last year, after five years at True Religion, he opened up Cock-a-Doodle Creative, an apparel and design studio housed in his garage, crammed with a kooky collection of items that include an old pinball machine, a couple of ukuleles, an old steamer trunk, a calf-skin rug, and walls of books and creative packaging.
In the creative space, which could double as a clubhouse for artists, he had been working with Rafael Montealegre and Michael Mortensen on developing Mickey’s Self Storage. Then, on
June 30, right before he was to sign a financial deal to help grow his line, he was told he had sinus cancer.
“At first, Mickey thought he had allergies, and then he thought he had a toothache,” recalls his wife, Kimberly Long, who works at True Religion. “Then he went to China. He came back on Father’s Day and started on some antibiotics for what everyone thought was a sinus infection. On a Sunday morning, he said he had to go to the hospital. He had not slept in four days because of the headaches.”
The doctors did a CAT scan and found a tumor above his eye pressing on his fifth cranial nerve, the largest of the cranial nerves. A month later, he underwent surgery. The doctors took out a nearly 1-inch-by-1-inch growth that made up 95 percent of the tumor. The remaining 5 percent was too precarious to remove.
Since then, Sills has undergone nine chemotherapies and 37 radiation treatments. The surgery has left his face disfigured. A cheekbone had to be removed and replaced with an artificial one and several teeth were taken out to get at the cancer. Sills, who is 5 feet 8 inches tall, has seen his weight drop from 145 pounds to 116 pounds. Many times, he has not been able to talk but often can communicate by texting.
“The pain is over the top,” said Kofoed, who drops by Sills’ house every morning to bring Sills’ wife a cup of coffee and walk the family dog.
Jim Lorber, who used to work with Sills at the now-shuttered textile plant Lorber Industries, has come by to sit with Sills to watch TV. Barry Perlman, co-founder of Lucky Brand Jeans, sent over Michael Milken’s “The Taste for Living Cookbook,” with recipes to cope with cancer.
Mike Hodis, Sills’ former partner in Safety Clothing and now owner of Rising Sun jeans, sends get-well postcards when he can. “He is obviously going through a tough time. I keep tabs on him weekly,” Hodis said.
Others have him in their thoughts, remembering a man who is exploding with ideas and personality. “He lights up a room in so many ways. He has always been positive and inspirational,” said Jennifer Lazarus, who has known Sills for nearly 20 years and is the owner of Showroom 903 in The New Mart.
Gene Montesano, Lucky Brand’s other co-founder, is also a longtime acquaintance. Sills at one time worked at Lucky Brand. “He is kind of the Energizer bunny and full of passion about what he does,” Montesano said. “He is just somebody you want to see win.”
Fred Levine, founder of the M.Fredric chain of Southern California stores, has known Sills for decades and first met him when they attended the Coterie trade show when it was held years ago at the Plaza Hotel in New York. “He is a spark plug. He is just so creative,” Levine said. “It’s a sad situation, but I think the cancer is going to meet its match. I’m hoping to see him knock it out.”
For Sills, this has been a test of fortitude he would not wish on anyone. In a message sent through friends, he said: “Cancer tests your will as a human being that is difficult to even try to explain. The outpouring of love and sacrifice to get me through this time from my family, friends, caretakers and, above all, the love of my life, my wife, Kimberly, is much too emotionally hard to describe into words today. But if I had to choose one word ..... OVERWHELMING. One day, I shall thank them all in my own special way, but today I am well aware that my battle remains a constant. Thank you all. I look forward to simply just being Mickey again!”