Finding Sunny

This is a true story. And, a fairly long one.

One afternoon in the summer of 1983 I was invited to a little gathering of friends to meet Philip, a Nashville boy who had moved to the big city, and his “new friend,” Sunny. As I walked up the sidewalk to the house, I was very aware of a young and very beautiful Japanese person sitting on the steps. My first thought was that Sunny was a female with a very short haircut. He was wearing beautifully cut white linen Bermuda shorts and a crisp, white tee. I believe that a thin leather belt was around his waist. He was immaculate. It was pretty clear that he was more than a friend to Philip. They were quite a glamourous pair. I may have told them I was thinking of coming to New York to see if I could actually find a market for my jewelry. I just remember that after that meeting I was on the phone with Philip a lot for advise. Sunny had just started designing clothes and Philip was involved in the business as well. Philip had a few years of experience in that world, having been a major display director, both in California and New York. He had also done a bit of modeling, as he was quite the striking guy.

My memories of the early days when I frequently went to New York to sell my jewelry revolve around Philip and Sunny. I always spent a lot of time with them, hanging out at their apartment on the Upper West Side or in their studio, which I think was on 36th Street. I always loved their approval, especially Sunny’s. I thought that Sunny was the most stylish person I had ever known. I remember one winter day he came into the studio wearing a black overcoat and gloves. The way he took off his gloves was nothing but art. So many little detail memories about Sunny. He was so light-hearted, yet knife-edge serious. He had the most incredible taste. He selected the most splendid fabrics. He was designing luxury clothes for a luxury market. The clothes were, in a word, fabulous. Every season Sunny seemed to design for a special woman who lived in his mind. He always had a little story about “Her.” “She wears this out to lunch. She is quite a lady. She never leaves the house before noon.” They achieved a nice amount of success. They had a map in their office with red pins sticking in all the places they were selling. It was exciting to see the red dots.

I could never wait to get to the showroom and start trying things on. At that time, samples were a size 8, and so was I. Every season I placed an order (which I got to buy at wholesale.) My wardrobe was becoming pretty amazing. But, my favorite piece of all was a gift from Sunny and Philip. The first time I went to New York I didn’t take a proper coat. It was the end of October and had just started to be a bit chilly in Nashville. The weather was different in New York. It was quit chilly. Sunny and Philip gave me a coat. Not just a coat. The most fantastic coat I had ever seen. I still have it. I brought it to Mexico to wear on winter nights. It is taupe cut velvet. Just a long, straight coat. It looks very current today, even though it was made in 1983.

Time rolled along and so did our friendship. Fred started going to New York with me in 1987, and the threesome became a foursome. We were tight friends. So many times we’d go by the studio and Philip would say, “Let’s get some lunch.” And we would.

Things always have a way of changing. It became harder and harder to make it in the New York world of fashion without a big money backer. It finally got too hard for Philip and Sunny to stay in the game. The world was changing, too. The black specter of HIV had entered the scene, and many friends were dying. Philip and Sunny went to California. New York was never the same for me without them.

After some more time had passed I learned that Philip was HIV positive and ill. It was very hard to take that one. I had hoped that somehow Philip and Sunny had dodged that bullet. Even though by the time Philip passed I had almost grown numb to the shock of seeing young, vital friends go, it was very hard for me with Philip. I was so far away from him. It all seemed so far away, and so unreal.

More time passed. Sunny was back in New York. Fred and I got together with him. But, somehow things seemed to have drifted and we eventually lost touch altogether. I think he also went back to California around that time.

So some years passed. I thought of Sunny often. I didn’t know where he was, and I wondered. This was before the internet. No emails, no Google.

But, then we entered the computer age and one night I was fooling around and decided to Google Sunny. I found a lot of press from the old days of fashion, but then I found a strange mention in a website featuring the music of Antony and the Johnsons. It was a bit vague but I thought the person mentioned was “my” Sunny. What became clear to me later was that in the video of the song, “You are My Sister,” there were several trans women that were called The Great Beauties. Sunny was one of those women. There was a place for contact on the website and I sent a message asking them to please have this person email me. Three weeks later, he did. The email said, “I am enclosing a picture that will explain about me right now.” (Or something to that effect.) The picture was of a beautiful, 40’ish  Japanese woman in an evening gown. It was, without a doubt, Sunny. It seems I was right in my first impression. What I saw was the woman who lived inside Sunny, who he was now fully expressing.  I was doubly happy to have found her, and to have found that she was still alive.

We got together the next time Fred and I were in New York. She was living on West 4th Street. We had walked past her apartment dozens of times, because we always stayed in the West Village. Sunny and I continued to get together. Whenever I was in New York we would have a girl’s day. I found it quite an interesting experience to be with Sunny as a woman. She seemed like a different person, but also the same. I felt closer to her as a female than I did to Sunny as a male. It is beautiful for me to remember Sunny at both these times.

The last time I got together with Sunny was the day I took this photo. Since we had retired we hadn’t taken any trips to New York. In April, 2014, Fred and I took a little New York vacation with Andrew and Kyle. On the last day I was in town, Sunny and I got together for lunch. I was wearing a scarf that Sunny had designed in the 1980’s. Her reaction was, “That’s beautiful fabric. I wish I had kept one of those.” Last summer when I was cleaning things out I realized that I had somehow ended up with two of those scarves. I sent one of them to Sunny, my beautiful friend.


4 thoughts on “Finding Sunny

  1. Margaret, I’ve only just found this and wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your story. You are an excellent writer and make the people and scenes you write about come to life. Being a colorful and interesting woman yourself you’ve always attracted the most exciting characters into your world, and I’m sure that hasn’t change do.

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