Monday, March 22, 2010

A Gothic Crow

There are few women I consider greater personal icons than Patti Smith. Her music, style, writing and spirit have provided 20-plus years of inspiration, and so I rarely miss an opportunity to see and hear her when she's in town. She was in town for a reading/performance at the end of January, and as usual she charmed the socks off of every person in the auditorium (Socks sidebar: Once I saw Patti at an outdoor concert and during a guitar solo she peeled off her socks and whirled them over her head like she was going to fling them into the audience, stripper style, before collapsing into giggles. It was so cute).
One of my favorite parts from the January reading was when the interviewer, rock writer Charles Cross, asked about O Magazine naming her as a fashion icon. Patti shrugged her shoulders underneath her Ann Demeulemeester jacket, giggled and said, "It's not my fault!" She paused for the crowd to finish laughing and continued in her thick Jersey accent, "I've always loved fashion. I've just got my own way of dealin' with it."

 I've always loved Patti's timeless
outfit of men's jeans, boots, T-shirt, tie and jacket, but it wasn't until the reading that I learned about her interest in fashion and longtime friendship and collaboration with Demeulemeester, one of my favorite designers. Otherwise yesterday's New York Times article about Patti's Smiths "Eye for Fashion" might have surprised me. Fans of Patti and fashion should consider this a must-read, as it describes how Patti's artistry extends beyond words and music to fashion, noting: 
"She has a rarefied feel for that kind of evocative detail — no stray seam escaping her scrutiny. That might stun her fans, who think of Ms. Smith as a gnarly rocker, thrashing and howling soulfully on stage. But style-world insiders embrace her as a kindred spirit whose discerning eye and sensitive fashion antennas might be the envy of a veteran stylist." The author writes how Patti delights in drawing admiration for her disheveled appearance, recounting how Salvador Dali, fawning over her skinny frame and messy hair, told her, "You are like a gothic crow."
 The Easter cover (below) will always be my favorite image of Patti. It was the first record of hers that I bought—prior I only owned a twice-dubbed cassette of Horses—and I’d play Rock and Roll Nigger and stare at Mapplethorpe’s portrait. It’s as if he caught her dancing for the camera: hands clawed into hair, body twisted to the left and mouth shaped into a quintessential rock-star pout. Her antique slip was like an afterthought—she wears it inside out—and thin silver chains are slung not around her neck but across her torso, framing a wisp of black armpit hair: I'd never seen anything cooler. To my 16-year-old self, Patti was the antithesis of what I’d been told was sexy, and by denying that definition she became utterly alluring. How strange it was, to piece together her image and balance it with the in-your-face sexuality of the '80s: rocker chicks leaving nothing to the imagination and pop queens practicing grownup versions of peek-a-boo games. The only conclusion I could draw was simply that her realness was clearly something to aspire to. And so I did.
Because her look is designed to initially repel, Patti’s sweetness and glimpses of femininity come as a surprise. Another favorite moment from the January reading was when Cross asked a question submitted from the audience: Who would you like to collaborate with? Patti answered, “Russell Crowe,” to which Cross asked her to clarify: musically or acting? Patti smiled a huge smile, “As a girl,” she replied.

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