From Issue 61: The Ones to Watch by Laura Craik
“Fuck me. I’m so tired of being me. Me beautiful. Me ugly. Blonde. Brunette. A million fucking fashion makeovers that only leave me trapped being me.” – Chuck Palahniuk
When I was a kid, I refused to wear sleeveless T-shirts. I thought my arms were too skinny. When I was in my twenties, I refused to wear low-cut tops. I thought my tits were too big. When I was in my thirties, I refused to wear anything with a fitted waist. I thought my stomach was too fat. When I hit 40, I refused to care any more. Imagine never having cared. Does anyone? Nah. We all care about how people perceive us. We all care about the image we present to the world. We all sometimes hate on our bodies for limiting the clothes we can wear in our efforts to present the image we desire. Still: imagine never having cared. How liberating. How light. In some ways, the 10 people here cared about how they were perceived far more than most of us. Or did they? Were no fucks given, or were untold fucks given? Whatever your opinion, one thing is for sure: whether through their art, their commerce or their clothes, they expressed themselves on their own terms. And for that, they are to be saluted. Look around. There really aren’t that many individuals any more. Really, we should celebrate the real deals more than ever.
“Don’t be into trends. Don’t make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you want to express by the way you dress and the way you live.” – Gianni Versace
How ahead of the times was a woman who called her 1995 album Conscious Consumer? It’s a wonder H&M haven’t pilfered that. Poly – or should we call her Styrene? – was 15 when she started performing, and was one of very few women to be doing so in the 1970s. What’s legendary about Poly is that she was so true to herself. She was an unconventional front person: you wouldn’t catch Debbie Harry in train-track braces, Day-Glo leggings and unkempt hair. But that’s what made her special.
“I continue to express myself – my sexuality – in my fifties, even though that’s also considered taboo, and I get a lot of shit for it. But in 20 years, Miley Cyrus probably won’t get shit for it. Then it’ll be like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s nothing new.’” – Madonna
An obvious inclusion, but she has to be on this list nonetheless. If you didn’t grow up with Madonna, you’ll never really compute the impact she had, or the newness of hearing a woman sing “Like a virgin / touched for the very first time” while writhing around on a gondola in a black cut-out dress and festooned with crucifixes. But while Madonna may have been at her most shocking in the 1980s and 1990s – with the coffee-table book Sex, with her banned, two-women-kissing video for Justify My Love, with her sweary appearance on the Letterman show that became the most censored TV appearance in US history – it’s in her later years that she has proved to be the most self-celebratory. Don’t ever stop, Madge.
“I love new clothes. If everyone could just wear new clothes every day, I reckon depression wouldn’t exist any more.” – Sophie Kinsella, Confessions of a Shopaholic
Haven’t a clue how she herself dressed – she was born in 1877 – but she is on my list because, considering what she did for women, she is unfairly not known. We all know about Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli and Bonnie Cashin, but Bryant’s contribution to fashion was just as valuable, if a whole lot less glamorous. An orphan raised by her grandparents in Lithuania, Bryant emigrated to New York in 1895, supporting herself and her son after her husband died by making negligees. A bank loan eventually allowed her to open her first shop – Lane Bryant (thus called because they misspelled her name on the application form). As well as being the first mass manufacturer of plussize clothing, she is also credited with inventing – ta-da! – the first commercially sold maternity dress. In those days, pregnancy was deemed too lewd to be mentioned in the press, which made advertising the product kind of tricky. Undeterred (shame Instagram didn’t exist in the 1900s), she created some mail-order catalogues instead. All props to Bryant for liberating scorned/overlooked pregnant and plus-sized women – so dedicated was she to serving her market that she surveyed 200,000 women on their needs – and also for treating her employees far better than was standard at the time, offering medical benefits, life insurance and pensions. What a qween.
“Those who demand that you conform the most to how they live are the ones who are the most scared and intimidated by life.” – Grace Jones
Jones was wearing Alaïa even before the editrix of this esteemed magazine was, which is saying something. She was doing contouring when Kylie Jenner was just a twinkle Kris’s eye. And she was also doing androgyny decades before it became a mainstream high-street staple. That sharp-shouldered suit she wore on the cover of Nightclubbing? Fag sticking defiantly out of her mouth? It’s not cool to smoke, kids, but boy did Jones make it look tempting. Even now that she has turned 70, no fucks are given by Grace Jones.
“It’s so important – especially as advice for women – to not be afraid to love and to love completely. Yes, you’ll have to suffer like hell – but never do anything halfway, just go for it. Love, hate and passion is all a part of life.” – Marina Abramovic
She had a terrible mother, by her own account, but Abramovic is surely the ultimate example of turning your pain into art. I mean, not many artists would give their audience the opportunity to kill them by laying out a loaded gun. That was in 1974, as part of her Rhythm 0 performance. Someone did pick up the gun and aim, btw, but people intervened and there was a fight.
“I find only freedom in the realms of eccentricity.” – David Bowie
La Bush is on the list because of the way she flailed about in the Wuthering Heights video, stopping Middle England in its tracks,fishfingers on forks suspended in midair as people gawped at this strange, raven-haired lass on TOTP, bending her body into strange shapes while wearing aracy white dress, through which you could – can it be right, Alan? – clearly see her knickers. That was in 1978: there have been few better videos espousing the joy of unabashed self-expression since.
“No matter what a woman’s appearance may be, it will be used to undermine what she is saying and taken to individualise – as her personal problem – observations she makes about the beauty myth in society.” – Naomi Wolf
For shaping the look and sound of the punk movement, for tolerating Malcolm Mc-Laren when he tried to take all the credit for her ideas (he once referred to her as “just a seamstress” – nice), for going knickerless when she went to pick up her OBE from the Queen and for remaining unbowed in the face of convention and criticism.
“What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts go so fast. Fashion is instant language.” – Miuccia Prada
Traipsing up the steps at Highbury & Islington station with my kids and dog, my eye chanced on Matty Bovan. It was hard not to. Tall and slender, with a shock of bleached hair, he was wearing a white fishnet tube over a blue lamé dress and green eye shadow. In my ignorance, I thought maybe he only dressed like that sometimes, when the cameras were rolling. Nope. There he was, on a Saturday afternoon, a tribute to truth in a sea of blandness.
“If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.” – Hillary Clinton
Daisy May Cooper
Not many people had heard of Daisy May Cooper before the Baftas. Which only goes to show the power of a good dress. Actually, it wasn’t a good dress, but that was the point. For while the MailOnline might have lambasted Cooper for wearing what was essentially a giant Swindon Town football shirt, the public loved her chutzpah. It’s one thing for Bella Hadid to attend a party at Cannes Film Festival in compression pants: she’s a 21-year-old model who would look good in – well, compression pants – but it’s quite another to be a relatively unknown 32-year-old, non-sample-size actress turning up to a black-tie awards ceremony in a shapeless red tent. Claire Foy she wasn’t, but Cooper looked a lot more true to herself than all the soap stars dressed in strapless pastel acetate meh.
“We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” – RuPaul
I wasn’t much into RuPaul. But then my 11-year-old daughter started watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. “OK,” I thought. “At least it isn’t Riverdale.” As soon as she gets in from school, up pops Miss Vanjie on the laptop. Her love is deep. For her birthday, someone bought her a peg board. “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?” she constructed from the small plastic letters, attributing the quote to RuPaul at the bottom right corner. RuPaul was never not a good role model. He discussed black empowerment, misogyny and LGBTQ issues long before they became dinner party topics among heteronormative north London yahs. But it’s perhaps only when you see him through the eyes of a child that his true fabulosity is discerned. As well as being entertainment, drag is political. As a life lesson, when it comes to the issue of rejecting fixed identities, and gaining the courage to do so, who better to learn from than RuPaul?
Illustration by Stephen Doherty.