Terrific article and interview with Chloë Sevigny from The New York Times, in which Chloë talks about her life and her relationship with fashion, with a couple of words thrown in from the now-defunct Sassy magazine’s former fashion editor Andrea Linett. (Linett originally “discovered” Chloë hanging out in New York in the early ’90s, getting her to both intern and appear in a photoshoot for the magazine in 1992.) Full article under the cut.
The ‘It’ Girl, Now a Woman
SHORTLY before Chloë Sevigny took off for an acting role in Europe (portraying a pre-operative, male-to-female transsexual assassin in a new mini-series called Hit and Miss), a job that would keep her away from her East Village apartment for several months, she visited a neighborhood holistic food store to buy birdseed for her canary. When the saleswoman asked if she was a member of the store’s frequent shopper discount program, Ms. Sevigny said yes and gave her name.
“I knew that was you,” announced the customer behind her in line. “I was going to say something. I recognize you by your style.”
Recounting this episode a few hours later, over plates of hummus and marinated kale at a cafe near her home, Ms. Sevigny laughed her loud, un-self-conscious, wheeze-honk-honk laugh, and said, “I mean, who says that?”
Well, frankly, if you have been near the fashion, art, skateboarding, grunge or night-life scenes of New York City at any time since roughly 1995, when Ms. Sevigny made her breakthrough in the Larry Clark film Kids, you might have said the same thing about her idiosyncratic style. She is someone who, now 36, appears as equally confident wearing a pinafore as a prairie dress as a Saint Laurent pantsuit. On this particular day, in early June, she wore faded Levi’s denim shorts that were cut off so shortly as to leave the inside lining of their pockets exposed several inches below the fray, a tight ribbed cotton T-shirt with a scoop neck and cap sleeves and black leather booties. Her hair was unwashed. You would not have confused her with Jessica Simpson.
It was once said of Ms. Sevigny, when she was 19, after Jay McInerney wrote a profile about her in The New Yorker, that she was the coolest girl in the world. Laurels of her part-nerdy, part-perverse sense of fashion have been bestowed at her ever since, prompting Bob Morris to ask, in The New York Times in 2000, “What is it about the young indie actress Chloë Sevigny that has turned the fashion world into a pack of dogs howling about her as if she were a full moon, or a lamb chop?” Her fabulous poses and linguistic mannerisms are so well known that they have become the popular subject of an online video parody by the comedian Drew Droege, who dresses as Ms. Sevigny and recites ridiculous insider fashion references like “this ironic art smock by Balenciaga Le Dix by Nicolas Ghesquiere.”
There is really nothing more to be said about just how stylish Ms. Sevigny is, except perhaps to ask how it is possible that she has managed to maintain her cool status far longer than any of her contemporaries while, at the same time, professing her own boredom with contemporary fashion and what remains of the club scene.
“I’m just not as excited by it,” Ms. Sevigny said, of both. “I don’t know if it is a reflection of what they are producing, or just my feelings toward it. I bought a pair of Birkenstocks today — let’s be real. I wanted a chunky sandal that was functional. That should tell you where I am at as far as fashion.”
Now wait a minute. Wasn’t that her seated front row at the Proenza Schouler show in February and, before that, at the Costume Institute with the designers? And how to explain all those party photographs where she’s posing with the editor Olivier Zahm, the photographer Terry Richardson or the designer Waris Ahluwalia? Or, what about at Mr. Jacobs’s dinner party after the Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards last month, with her date, the tattoo artist Scott Campbell, seated at Mr. Jacobs’s center booth? She certainly doesn’t look like someone bored by contemporary fashion.
Though you see her everywhere, at art openings and at fashion shows, you don’t get the sense she is overexposed or pie-eyed about the scene. Balenciaga does still send her bags of clothes sometimes, she said, but they don’t fit.
“I hate going to fashion shows,” she said, wheeze-honk-honk. “I find them boring.”
Nevertheless, it seems like people have been constantly discovering, or rediscovering, Ms. Sevigny, ever since she was cast in a Sonic Youth video with Mr. Jacobs when she was just a teenage intern at a fashion magazine. She was famously offered a leading role in Kids while hanging out with a group of skateboarders that included Harmony Korine, the film’s screenwriter, in Washington Square Park, brought to mainstream attention when she was nominated for an Oscar in 2000 for Boys Don’t Cry and more recently praised as America’s favorite sister wife on Big Love. Now the fashion world is into Ms. Sevigny again, a result of a popular clothing collection she introduced with Opening Ceremony, the downtown retailer, in 2008.
No profile of Ms. Sevigny over the years has failed to note either her distinctive laugh or the impression that she is little bit coy about her coolness, but also mostly genuine. Both are qualities that make people like her. It also helps explain why her fashion designs, now sold in 100 stores around the world, have been so successful. They hold the promise of Ms. Sevigny: looking cool without looking like you are trying.
“She was always that way, the Pied Piper who had all these kids following her down the street,” said Andrea Linett, who was a fashion editor for Sassy magazine in 1992, when she spotted Ms. Sevigny, then 17. A girl from Darien, Conn., Ms. Sevigny was standing at a newsstand wearing tan oversize Lee corduroy overalls and a homemade patchwork hat over hair that extended to her derrière.
Ms. Linett later hired Ms. Sevigny as an intern for Sassy. She also introduced her to Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, who asked her to appear in the video for “Sugar Kane” which was filmed in Mr. Jacobs’s old showroom, and Daisy von Furth, who used her as a model for the X-Girl collection.
“She never looked like she was trying at all,” said Ms. Linett, who is now the creative director of eBay Fashion. “She was kind of an old soul, a little bit goofy and completely unpretentious. You see a lot of people with great style, but they are boring.”
To listen to Ms. Sevigny describe her life today, you might actually think that of her. The couch-surfing, fashion-omniscient, nightclub-going “downtown girl of the moment” described in Mr. McInerney’s profile now resides in an attractive co-op on East 10th Street, with beamed ceilings, wide plank floors and a walk-in closet filled with designer clothes both new and old (recent additions include vintage Westwood, Gaultier, Alaïa and a great Keni Valenti dress she found at Exquisite Costume).
“As of late, I am more of a homebody,” she said. “I like having people over. You can smoke in the apartment. I’m just not into going out so much. The crowd is getting younger and younger.”
This does help to explain Ms. Sevigny’s nervousness in the days leading up to her own fashion show, the first time she was planning to put her Opening Ceremony collection on a runway in a gymnasium on the Lower East Side. She had been involved in an earlier fashion collaboration with Tara Subkoff, a fellow actress, and Matt Damhave, an artist, in 2000 with the Imitation of Christ label that was shown in a funeral home. Those shows, she said, “were always completely insane.”
The new line was started after Humberto Leon, an owner of Opening Ceremony, read an interview in which Ms. Sevigny was asked if she would ever design a collection, and she responded that the only way would be with that store. Mr. Leon, who had met her socially, called her up and offered her a collection. Ms. Sevigny said she thought it would be cool to design a couple of dresses each season. Mr. Leon kept asking for more — and in the first season they sold hundreds of pieces.
The day after we first met, she was wearing the same shorts but with a different shirt, while auditioning models with names like Tosca, Megan, Jlynn, Dasha, Annabelle and Milou.”Most of the models have this thing I call slouchy sexy, not only in the way they dress, but in the way carry themselves,” Ms. Sevigny said. “I don’t think they would look hot in one of my dresses. They are more into A. Wang,” she said, using shorthand for Alexander Wang. “Most of my clothes are nerdy sexy.”
On June 7, when the lights went up at her show, which was well received, you might have thought it was the 1990s all over again. Ms. Subkoff was there, and Natasha Lyonne, a once-familiar face from the indie circuit, as well as more recent additions to Ms. Sevigny’s circle, like the photographer Ryan McGinley, the hockey player Sean Avery in thick glasses and Mr. Campbell. The space was un-air-conditioned and uncomfortable, but it felt like a real scene with a bunch of kids at the door. There was even a surprise appearance on the runway by Jenny Shimizu, who modeled in the old CK One fragrance ads.
“It is amazing that she is still relevant,” Ms. Linett said of Ms. Sevigny. “That says a lot about her. Save for Kate Moss, a lot of people who were around then aren’t now.”
Several of the looks incorporated tights or mini stretch dresses printed with the label of the skate brand Vision Street Wear. A black eyelet skirt was paired with a yellow animal-print blouse. A few dresses looked like sweet pinafores, but some were made of black latex. The handles of a black handbag were connected by handcuffs.It is a peculiar fate for an actress as accomplished and enjoyable to watch as Ms. Sevigny that she would be praised for how she can put together an outfit. I wondered if she had ever aspired to be a big Hollywood celebrity. She said, seemingly seriously, she would love to be in an X-Men, for example, or even Law & Order.
Now that Big Love is over, after five years of playing the manipulative middle wife of a polygamist, she continues to embrace her outsider status by choosing unconventional roles. One project she is developing, with HBO, is a mini-series about the accused murderer Lizzie Borden, whom she described as a “countercultural icon.”
“I don’t ever think I’m going to be the star of a rom-com,” she said. “I think I know that by now.”
It’s funny, she said, that she was approached recently with a proposal to make a mass-oriented fashion brand, on the scale of other celebrity collections, but she declined. “I think I would feel gross for it to be like that,” she said. “I just want the clothing to be an extension of me, of who I am and my career.”