You would think that trying to create Polyvore homages to four widely recognized fashion icons would be simple, but I found the difficulty of pinning down and adequately expressing each woman’s style increased in direct proportion to how plainly they dressed. For example, Josephine Baker’s flapper-ware was a snap to pull together. Patti Smith’s proto-punk look? Not so much.
To my surprise and delight, when I typed Frida’s name into Polyvore’s search engine, it pulled up a ton of lacy, black-and-red Givenchy blouses and scarves. It seems Givenchy’s Fall 2010 campaign had Kahlo as its muse, though the dresses at this link are decidedly more sumptuous than anything I used (if you click through and scroll down, in addition to drapey gold, befeathered gowns, there’s a self-portrait featuring Kahlo topless, so be warned that it’s mildly NSFW, if your boss/colleagues would frown on artistic depictions of the human body).
Frida’s not the most obvious fashion icon, because her work as an artist looms so large as to distract from her beautiful, heavily layered clothing–turbans, stone jewelry, long skirts–which served both as a disguise for her legs, one of which was rendered thinner than the other by a childhood bout with polio, and a political statement in support of indigenous Mexican culture.
In contrast to Kahlo (who, to be fair, was Mexican and thus not as well-known in the States), Jackie O. is one of the most widely recognized fashion icons in America. When I was traversing the Internet for icon inspiration, her name was everywhere. Of course, so was Twiggy’s, and for the life of me I cannot figure that one out. Was it just because she wore a lot of miniskirts and had a pixie cut? Still, I’ll take Twiggy over Edie Sedgwick any day. Edie just makes me sad. /tangent.
I’m really not sure what it is about Jackie that makes her look both so popular and so timeless–she’s a bit like the American version of Coco Chanel, with the ever-present two-piece suit. But Jackie also wears those over-sized sunglasses and pearls, items which are so ubiquitous now as to be boring, too WASP-ey, you know?
I wanted to spice her collage up a bit, so I gave her a lucite handbag–she may never have carried one, but that plasticky stuff was all the rage in the 60s. Also, as a bit of a nod to Selena, I included a mid-century modern chair that I thought fit nicely with the whole structured, clean-cut, Kennedy motif.
Ah, where to even begin with Josephine–she was a beautiful American expatriate who performed vaudeville-esque shows in Paris. She was intelligent, witty, talented, completely ahead of her time. I don’t know if this is true, but I read that she received over 1,500 marriage proposals over the course of her life, and (this part is true, unless Wikipedia lies) she was muse to Picasso, Langston Hughes, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others. Oh, and that Guerlain Sous Le Vent perfume? Jacques Guerlain designed that for Josephine in 1933. She spied for the French, she was a huge participant in the American Civil Rights movement–she was one of those people whose life is so sensational as to almost sound entirely mythical.
Some great Josephine quotes:
It [the Eiffel Tower] looked very different from the Statue of Liberty, but what did that matter? What was the good of having the statue without the liberty?
Beautiful? It’s all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest… beautiful, no. Amusing, yes.
I love Patti, even if picking out items of clothing she would actually wear was exceedingly trying. That’s the problem with people who wear lots of baggy layers, pockets all over the place, arms akimbo and shoulders peeking out of tops. Patti was dressing with androgynous, intuitive abandon long before she was famous, back when she was a struggling poet living with Robert Mapplethorpe in the Chelsea Hotel. In her case, the style really is all about the person and the way she wears the clothes, not so much about the individual pieces themselves.
Some of my favorite anecdotes from Smith’s memoir Just Kids involved how Smith and Mapplethorpe would try so hard to coordinate outfits out of what little they had. Mapplethorpe would painstakingly collect beads and pieces of string to make intricate bracelets and necklaces he sometimes wound up selling to people on the street who stopped him and asked about them. Otherwise, he and Patti just wore them.
One of my other favorite anecdotes involves Patti taking Janis Joplin home one night, when Janis was wasted and upset that a man she’d been talking to at a party left with a more attractive woman. Janis was famously insecure about her looks, whereas Patti, who was by no means a traditional beauty, had this sense of self that allowed her to always dress with confidence and never doubt her own self-worth–I don’t think she mentions her looks once in Just Kids, accept to say her dad was afraid she would never marry.