Harold Mandel, 58, the flamboyant owner of an equally flamboyant vintage clothing store, Flashy Trash, died Oct. 22 at St. Joseph's Hospital, according to friends. The cause was complications from AIDS.
[UPDATE: Harold's friends and family to gather at Foster Avenue Beach on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m. to remember Harold. More information to come.]
Flashy Trash, a store located most recently at 3524 N. Halsted, closed several years ago, but its customersfrom LGBTs to North Shore heterosexual women to Hollywood eliteswill remember it for its wide range of clothing, reinforced from Mandel's 500,000-object, 5,000-square-foot warehouse collection.
Mandel purchased the store from its original owner in 1978, when it was located at Wrightwood and Halsted. He later moved it further north on Halsted and was briefly business partners with Linda Raffelli.
The Chicago Tribune profiled Mandel in a lengthy article Nov. 26, 2000, calling him a "fashion salvage engineer" and "apparel archeologist."
Flashy Trash was an invaluable place for props for movies, photographers, models and the general public. Among the films his clothes were featured in were Malcolm X, The Untouchables and Sweet and Lowdown, as well as TV shows shot in Chicago. Celebrities including Julia Roberts also were customers.
Raffelli spoke fondly of both their business partnership and personal friendship, noting that while it was often tumultuous, they remained friends. Raffelli had her own vintage business before partnering with Mandel, and later they had competing stores on Halsted.
"Harold was a magnificent dreamer and schemer and detective and all of those kind of things," she said. "He had a creative, really strong mind. He was very sure of himself. … I loved him dearly. There will never be another like him, he was a song and dance man."
Linden Chubin was a longtime friend of Mandel since their Sullivan High School days. He said Mandel was always the first to do so many things, whether that was having a carof course a vintage restored Chicago taxior dating older men.
"He became an institution in terms of vintage clothing, jewelry, sourcing for movies, theater, props, coutureand at a very early time when vintage clothing was really taking off," Chubin said. "His knowledge of fashion history was incredible. As a retailer and salesman, he also worked on fashion shows. He was a magnet, and a great connector of people.
"As a person, he was very generous and sharing and a lot of fun. He had a private side to him, a very great circle of friends. You couldn't go anywhere in the U.S. and abroad without bumping into someone who knew him."
Chubin said in their 20s they lived a life that looked a lot like Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, with apartments in Andersonville and grand parties and social events. Mandel was also known for his Christmas parties, where he would welcome people without families, or with families who had disowned them.
Elain O'Sullivan was one of those Mandel brought into his orbit. "He called them strays, people who didn't have family, or their family did not have anything to do with them. He had a Christmas party every year for 30 years," she said.
The two were also collaborators artistically on some projects, and O'Sullivan said he was "amazing to work with, he had an intuitive ability to see how things worked. He was very demanding. He wanted his way. In the end, that paid off, because he did have that sense. But socially, he was really loving and playful, and for me always kept me honest. He was a hard taskmaster, but at the same time you learned from him."
O'Sullivan said Mandel "taught people how to have style, to have a personal style, and to recycle clothes in the process."
Maria Mavraganes, owner of Stella's Diner, 3042 N. Broadway, said Mandel was a 40-year customer. She inherited the restaurant from her mother, Stella, and remembers Mandel fondlyhe hung out with her brothers growing up. "He had the most fabulous store in the neighborhood. Especially around Halloween, it was amazing," she said.
Mandel made such an impression on the diner that they named a sandwich after him, The Weird Harold. "It is the passing of an era," Mavraganes said.
Matt Sharp, a former partner of Mandel's, shared his memories with Windy City Times: "Hank and I met on AOL before all the hook up sites and it didn't take much to convince me to move from San Francisco to join him in Chicago in 2000. For me it was an appropriate way to start the new millennium after ten years of fighting AIDS in San Francisco. Hank brought a lot of joy to my life at that time and was giving, passionate and above all fun. We traveled together to New York City, Fire Island, Las Vegas, Bangkok and Hong Kong. When my mother died we were on vacation in San Francisco and he dropped everything to be by my side at her funeral, never having met my Texas family. He was flamboyant yet very heartfelt and sincere in our personal life, and unfortunately was dealt a bad hand in the last years of his life. He captured my heart and soul I will never stop loving Hank."
In recent years, his friends said it was difficult to watch as Mandel dealt with his personal demons, both in living with AIDS and using drugs.
"He had lost so many friends [to AIDS], it was like post-traumatic stress. He wasn't the same guy," O'Sullivan said.
His friend Sheila Dunlap wrote: "In the 1990s, he survived the terrible tragedy of losing the huge majority of his many friends to the AIDS plague: an entire generation's population decimated by the horrific disease in a matter of only a few years. He suffered from 'survivor's guilt' and tried desperately to distract himself from that shocking blow.
"He sought release from the emotional pain of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome by any means possible. Only someone who has had to deal with PTS on some level can fully understand the crushing losses that led to his physical circumstances. Some old friends were alienated because they didn't understand his wild, reckless slide into the world of depression. Perhaps he hoped distractions would help to overcome his feelings of loss, desperation and extreme anxiety. It didn't work. He later survived the ultimate blow of having to close his beloved Flashy Trash after decades of success."
Friend and customer Lori Cannon said Mandel "was the guy that made us all look good." She met him first at his original store on Halsted and Wrightwood, when she was a bus driver and he helped her form her creative style. "When the AIDS epidemic started to take over Chicago in the 1980s, as our companions were dropping like flies, there was this community merchant promoting rhinestone and feathers. It might not have changed anything, but it helped. He was struggling with his own losseshis staff, his friendsbut he kept pushing the party and made sure we looked good. For a few moments, we could take a break. And he was good at it, he was one of the masters."
Cannon noted that it was ironic that Mandel died just a few days short of his favorite day of the year, Halloween.
Mandel, born April 27, 1954, graduated from Joyce Kilmer Grammar School and Sullivan High School. He majored in theater at the University of Illinois, but left after one year.
Mandel was born to a family of first-generation Jewish refugees from war-torn Europe. He was preceded in death by his father, Donald Mandel and mother, Fay (nee Eisenstadt) Mandel. He is survived by his loving brother Lenny (Lola), sister Sharon (Max) Klekot, long-time friends Sheila Dunlap, Elain O'Sullivan, Linden Chubin, and his beloved dog, Bailey.