Hanging upside down on a support pillar in Zaldy's spacious atelier is what looks like a body wrapped in garbage bags ready to be disposed of in the New Jersey marshlands.
In actuality, it is a sculpture made by Desi Santiago, who has worked with Zaldy (he abandoned the use of his last name in high school) since 2001, and it encapsulates the theme of the new ZALDY collection, which is on the New York Fashion Week calendar for the first time since 2006.
Everything came together with their trip to Paris for the Première Vision fabric fair in February. 'This woman walked by,' Zaldy said, 'and Desi was like, 'I loved how she was wrapped like a mummy.' 'Luxury mummy' was the jumping-off point. Nothing looks wrapped in bandages, but that's the spirit. It's subtle, a feeling.'
The muses didn't stop shouting when they went to lunch at a Japanese restaurant; its minimal décor consisted of a single floral arrangement.
'I always hated baby's breath,' Zaldy said. 'As a kid, I'd take it out of vases and throw it away. We talked and I said, 'I think I love baby's breath.' It was arranged so beautifully. I thought, should that be our print flower? Yes!' Motifs solidified, inspiration came easily. He sketched most of the collection in a day.
It was early August, and Zaldy; the stylist Sarah Ellison-Prat, whose hair was a violet-tinged gray; and Mr. Santiago were working on fittings for the Sept. 11 presentation. Zaldy was a preternaturally young-looking 48, in black leather cargo shorts, a Margiela sweatshirt and Bernhard Willhelm boots, his back-length hair pulled into a ponytail.
He studied a model in an oversize clear plastic raincoat. 'Just make the whole thing bigger,' he said. 'It's a showpiece! It's not going to fly off the rack.' A slinky one-shoulder gown with a high fishnet neckline had a Morticia-Addams-goes-disco air. A clever silk jumpsuit with thigh-high slits wafted as the model walked, making it look like a dress.
'Plenty of us remember Zaldy,' said Nicole Phelps, the executive editor of Style.com, 'and we'll be curious to see what he's up to now. If anyone can bring back New York's edge, which seems to have shrunk as the calendar has gotten more crowded, it might be him.'
It is a very different fashion landscape than the anything-goes scene almost a decade ago, when Zaldy last showed a collection - so changed that it is possible to believe he will find a success that eluded him back then. Not only will he stand out from the corporate herd, but he will also bring with him a business savvy that was missing on the first go-round. But then, a return to fashion is just one facet of the many lives of Zaldy - from night-life denizen, to model, to go-to costume designer for the upper echelon of pop.
The ZALDY reboot is financed by the holding company Harbinger Group, which bought Frederick's of Hollywood in 2013. (Zaldy wouldn't confirm rumors that he would be Frederick's creative director, but racks of multicolored lingerie lined his new two-story SoHo office.)
He lives around the corner with his partner Dmitry Komis, a gallery director. Before that, Zaldy was 20-year resident of the Chelsea Hotel, decamping when new management began unending construction.
'They'd padlock and paint black Xs on unoccupied rooms,' he said. 'My door was behind a plastic bag with a zipper.'
Zaldy's last fashion gig was working with Gwen Stefani on L.A.M.B. 'He's an artist, a visionary,' Ms. Stefani said. The collaboration lasted seven seasons until 2007.
During his fashion sabbatical, Zaldy flourished as a costume designer, working with singers like Britney Spears, Madonna and Lady Gaga. In 2009, he designed the wardrobe for Michael Jackson's concert series at London's 02 Arena. The costumes featured shoulder pads of gleaming cubes and LED trousers.
'He was standing in front of the mirror,' Zaldy recalled of a fitting with Mr. Jackson. 'The pants were blinking and changing colors, and there was silence. Then he said, 'It's everything I ever wanted,' and pulled me into a room behind a curtain and told me how excited he was. We never got to see him moving in them.' Mr. Jackson died weeks before the concerts were set to start. Zaldy made a shroud of Swarovski crystals for the coffin.
Dennis Freedman, the creative director of Barneys New York, who sometimes collaborates with Zaldy on the store's windows, is eager to see his return. 'It's uncommon to find somebody who has an unspoiled mind,' he said. 'It might sound strange, but he taps into something very much his own.'
ZALDY WAS BORN Salvador Goco in Cheshire, Conn. His parents, both doctors, called him Zaldy from birth. He and his two sisters had an idyllic childhood. 'It was fishing in the lake and ice skating in winter,' he said.
He became interested in fashion through his grandmother (suitably, her name was Presentacion). 'She'd visit from the Philippines and stay in my room,' Zaldy said. 'She was a dentist and opened a school called Paris Manila Fashions. We'd watch the Cher show and talk about the outfits.'
The Gocos accepted Zaldy as the authority on clothes. 'No one would buy or wear anything without asking my opinion first,' he said.
The family relocated to the Bay Area. At his all-boys Catholic high school. Zaldy evolved from preppy to new wave to 'glamour goth.'
'I'd never leave the house without my war paint,' he said of his eye makeup and bone-white foundation. 'I'd go to church like this. I was dedicated to the look.'
In 1988, Zaldy moved to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. It was the first wave of the club-kid scene at the Tunnel, and he became a memorable figure in his elaborate self-made costumes. He met Mr. Santiago, who was dressed as a vagina, at Limelight. 'I knew we'd be friends,' Zaldy said.
He dabbled in drag. 'I have feminine features,' he said. 'I was a passable lady but didn't want to be one.' For shows with the nascent Deee-Lite, he and Lady Miss Kier dressed in matching outfits and did synchronized dances.
After graduation, Zaldy's career took an extreme detour. 'I took my book, went to Paris and thought I'd get a job with Thierry Mugler,' he said. 'I met him and Martine Sitbon. They were like, 'This is great, but you should be a model.' '
He became a runway favorite of Mr. Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier and Vivienne Westwood - walking in women's shows. As a man, he starred in a Paul Smith campaign for Japan. His modeling foray peaked in a controversial 1995 Levi's commercial in which he rides in a taxi as an alluring woman, and to the cabby's shock, changes into a man. One of his last shoots was with Kate Moss for The Face.
'It was a weird time in fashion,' he said. 'I felt like a fraud. I wanted to be behind the scenes and make things.'
In 2001, Zaldy's debut fashion show, originally scheduled on 9/11, was staged that October at a 42nd Street strip club. Karen Elson and Veruschka walked free.
His collections were of the era, with an underground edge: tailored jackets with cutouts, braiding and roping; diaphanous daywear gowns. Over all there was an otherworldly quality with echoes of Roman draping and garb. The runway shows became go-to events for all strata of the demimonde of his many lives.
'These days, designers seem focused on the brand from Day 1,' Ms. Phelps said. 'Zaldy, like Ben Cho, Susan Cianciolo and Imitation of Christ of the era, was a dreamer more than he was a businessperson. Those brands for the most part don't exist anymore. You could argue that New York fashion is less interesting because of that.'
His namesake line did not prosper. Often, when stores ordered clothes, the company didn't have the money to produce the garments. After several seasons, the line was shuttered. 'In the end, I was just doing shows for my personal inspiration and press,' he said. 'We'd get in ID and Italian Vogue, but sales didn't happen. It was just me and Desi. We didn't have infrastructure. I started doing music projects to pay the bills.' The work was lucrative but ultimately stifling. 'I had freedom, but it still had to fit into somebody's theme,' Zaldy said. 'I just want to do my pure vision and see it through.'