It’s been nearly three decades since Chloë Sevigny’s breakout role in Larry Clark’s Kids (1995), and yet the indie American actor and director remains the face of New York. She never betrayed the city for a career in Los Angeles, instead cultivating a loyal community of artists, musicians, and filmmakers, including Kim Gordon, Jim Jarmusch, Lizzi Bougatsos, and Natasha Lyonne. She is without a doubt the personality who has been photographed the most in Purple since the beginning, to the point that she incarnates the magazine.
It’s weird, this happens all the time. Chloë Sevigny is sitting at one of the outdoor tables at Stingy Lulu’s, on St. Mark’s Place just off Avenue A, absorbing a mixed green salad and devouring the just-out September Vogue. A black girl and an Asian girl huddle anxiously on the corner a few yards away, checking her out. The two are about Chloë’s age, which is nineteen, and they seem to be debating whether or not to approach. Do they recognize her from the Sonic Youth video — the one filmed in Marc Jacobs’ showroom, which was kind of a spoof of the whole grunge thing — or did they catch her modelling the X-Girl line last spring? Maybe they saw her photos in Details, the ones taken by Larry Clark, who has just cast Chloë in his new movie, “Kids.” The girls pass by once and walk halfway up the block before they turn back, clinging to each other, and stop just behind Chloë’s right shoulder.
Chloë looks up, wrapping her arms tight around herself in an instinctive gesture of protection, as if to reduce the exposed surface area of her body even as she manages a smile that is shy and skeptical and indulgent all at the same time. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before, but it’s still a little, you know, weird.
“Can you, um, tell us where you got your, uh, shoes?” the black girl asks.
Chloë giggles with relief. She looks down at her jellies — transparent plastic sandals. Now that practically everybody’s wearing big, chunky, cleated boots and platform sneakers — even people who shlump every day to offices uptown — Chloë has moved on. She’s already gone. And the two girls standing on the sidewalk in their big black Doc Martens want to follow her. Chloë tries to remember where she got the sandals.
“I think it’s right around the comer, on Avenue A. I can’t think of the name. Something Something.”
“Like, that way? Over there?”
The girls thank her and practically run up the street. Chloë fires up a Camel Light and resumes her study of Vogue. Watching Chloë read a fashion magazine makes you think of Alexander Woollcott devouring a ten-pound lobster à l’américaine or Casanova undressing a servant girl. “This Marc Jacobs dress is beautiful… Helmut Lang is my absolute favorite… God, Armani is so old-ladyish… Lagerfeld ruined the house of Chanel; Coco would never have done miniskirts. I watched this documentary about her. She was so great… I’m like a fashion- magazine junkie. I love them, but they’re usually pretty lame. By the time they print it, it’s already happened. The British magazines are much further ahead in terms of what’s happening in the street.”
Chloë can speak with some confidence about what’s happening in the street. Some say Chloë is what’s happening in the street. In addition to her jellies Chloë is wearing a very short white dress made of a shiny, flame-friendly space-age synthetic. It looks sort of familiar (Gaultier? X-Girl?), although you won’t see anyone else on the street wearing one, at least not yet, with eight weeks to go till Halloween. Maybe you saw it a few years back on the little girl from the next building who came around with her father and held her pillowcase open for the mini Snickers bars. It says “Cinderella” in floral-pink letters across the chest, above an image of a magic slipper and a cheerful pink-and-blue rendering of the fairy-tale princess inside her pumpkin carriage. All that’s missing is the plastic mask. The funny thing is, it looks really good on Chloë. Several people have already asked about it today, and she’s told them she scavenged this number in a Brooklyn thrift shop. Two dollars. She accessorizes it with a fake Chanel bracelet from Canal Street, which she wears around her biceps. At this moment, she is five feet eight, weighs a hundred and ten pounds, and looks, in her current short coif, quite a bit like a skinny Jean Seberg. Her nose is perhaps a bit blunt, and she points out the crookedness in her posture, which is the result of childhood scoliosis, but this doesn’t prevent downtown style-chieftains and scenesters from comparing her to Twiggy and Audrey Hepburn and Edie Sedgwick.
After lunch, Chloë cruises over to Daryl K, a boutique on East Sixth Street. She checks the racks methodically and holds up a pair of white vinyl pants. “I used to want these really bad, but I don’t now.” She still feels guilty about the fact that she once spent a hundred and twenty dollars on another pair of pants here. It’s the most she’s ever spent on anything, clotheswise. Generally she shops at thrift stores; not at vintage shops, which are thrift stores with an attitude, and not even at Manhattan thrift stores — forget about Cheap Jack’s and Andy’s Chee-Pees, which she considers self-conscious and hopelessly picked over. Chloë favors places in Brooklyn and her native Connecticut. It’s a rare day that she’s wearing more than ten dollars’ worth of clothes. Perhaps because she’s nervous that her current shoes are about to be fruitful and multiply, she decides to walk down to Chinatown and get a pair of Chinese fishnet sandals for two dollars.
The first time it happened, Chloë was seventeen. She was standing at a newsstand on Sixth Avenue, in the Village, when she was approached by Andrea Lee Linett, the fashion editor at Sassy. Linett was styling a commercial for the short-lived “Jane” show. “I saw Chloë,” she says, “and I thought, Oh, we have to put her in the shot, but the producers said, ‘No, she’s really weird-looking.’ ” Linett stuck her in the commercial anyway and then asked her to do a shoot for the magazine. Chloë was photographed eating a carrot, wearing the big tan corduroy overalls that had caught Linett’s eye. At the time, Chloë had hair down to her butt, and she used to tuck it up inside a big Nefertitian hat of her own creation. After the shoot, Linett went out and bought baggy tan corduroy overalls for herself.
Chloë was still a student at Darien High School then, sneaking off to the city whenever she could. She’d tell her parents that she hated them for raising her in Darien, that ur-suburb, though actually her parents were pretty cool: when Chloë shaved her head, her mother told her that she looked really cute, kind of French. And her father understood her attraction to the city; he’d lived on St. Mark’s Place and hung out at Max’s Kansas City before he moved to Darien for the sake of the very kids — Chloë and her older brother, Paul — who would later yell at him for it. Chloë’s was not quite the conventional Darien upbringing, any more than she is the conventional rebellious suburban kid. She grew up in a gray shingled ranch house near Long Island Sound that looks pretty raffish amid the austere white Colonials and the tall, picket-fenced Victorians. “My father was in insurance until his company was sold, and then he started painting trompe-l’oeil. He started with our kitchen, and then he did it for other people. He’s really good. We never had as much money as everyone else. I didn’t really like the kids in Darien.” So Chloë started coming to the city, where she found kindred spirits in the tribe of skateboarders based in Washington Square Park. “I used to tell my parents I was going to Greenwich or New Rochelle. Then I’d drive into the city. The summer of ’92 was when I first met everyone. I came to the city with two girls from Connecticut who were my homegirls. We’d go to Washington Square Park and I’d meet people. Every skater in the city was there. I’d go every weekend and hang, and then stay at different skaters’ homes.”
It happened again a few months after the Sassy shoot, when Chloë was hanging out in the city, kicking it with her friend Harold and the other skateboarders. While she was sitting in a friend’s car just off Washington Square, she noticed a woman walking past for maybe the third time, and then the woman stuck her head in the window and told Chloë she was a photographer and asked if she would like to be in i-D, a British fashion-and-music magazine that just happened to be one of Chloë’s all-time favorite publications.
Meanwhile, the folks at Sassy asked Chloë to be an intern that summer. And then Sonic Youth — the godparents of alternative rock, and possibly the coolest band in the world — cast her in their new video. The idea for the video was to do a little parable about the way Seventh Avenue plagiarizes the guerrilla fashion of the street: the Trickle-Up Theory of Fashion, where the Up Haute cops the Down Low. The whole grunge thing was just peaking: runway models were slouching around in expensive hommages to the scruffy rockers of Seattle and their thrift-shop flannel shirts. And who better than Chloë to represent the supercool street girl whose style gets ripped off in the designer showroom?
“I heard about Chloë through Sassy,” says Daisy von Furth, twenty-five, who styled the video and, together with grungy heartthrob Kim Gordon, the bass player of Sonic Youth, designs X-Girl, a line of casual rock-and-roll-girl clothing. “When I met Chloë, I instantly knew that she was so super-cool, and it’s been so cool to see where she’s gone from there fashionwise. She was dressing in arch preppy stuff and wide-wale corduroys, and she always had the best look. It was never off-the-rack skate stuff. We were all into old Fila stuff from the mid-eighties, but it was like her Fila sweater would blow yours away. She looked like a village guy who steals from Polo.” The Polo element of Chloë’s ward- robe was in part a function of a job she’d taken at the mall in Stamford senior year. Chloë tried all the stores in the mall: “I had just shaved my head and I thought it was really funny that Polo was the only one that called me back.” The safe, sporty uniform of prepsters and Westchester Saab drivers was at that moment being hijacked by rappers and skaters in a sort of inversion of the Trickle-Up Theory. “All the hip-hop kids were sporting Polo then,” Chloë explains. “They called it ’Lo. But now it’s not hip. Everyone wears it now.” Everyone but Chloë.
“She’s ahead of the other girls,” von Furth says, “because she’s read all the history of fashion and she can go into a thrift shop and find the old Yves Saint Laurent dress, when all the other girls are going, ‘Hey, wow, look at this wacky T-shirt.’ If you can get it on Prince Street or Broadway, it’s already over for Chloë.”
Chloë was one of the models for the New York launch of the X-Girl line, which took place on Wooster Street last April — a major gathering of the interconnected tribes of hip-hop, rave, indie rock, and skateboarding. Chloë was also one of the muses. “We took one shirt she had,” von Furth says, “and we knocked it off. It was this blue broadcloth shirt and it just fit her so well. When we were doing our fall stuff I had her try on stuff. Sometimes I think, This is really Chloë-ish.”
Around that time, Chloë posed for a fashion spread in Paper, the Vogue of the down-low universe, and she did the Lemonheads video for “Big Gay Heart.” The Lemonheads are considered either very cool or really bogus — lead singer Evan Dando has managed to inspire an anti-fanzine called Die Evan Dando, Die, presumably because he is too cute and his songs are too catchy. But Chloë simply likes the Lemonheads. “One of the great things about Chloë is that she’s incredibly enthusiastic,” von Furth says. “A lot of other girls in her position as super-cool girl would be really mean and jaded, but she’s not jaded at all.” Andrea Lee Linett agrees. “She’s not too cool for school, and she doesn’t have an attitude. She’s like a pure Edie Sedgwick, minus the drugs and craziness. She still likes her parents.”
Chloë’s girlish enthusiasm can break out at almost any time, as when she hears from a friend that a film based on her favorite book, Jim Carroll’s “Basketball Diaries,” is being shot in the East Village. She just has to wander by the set, and, my God, there he is, the slouchy poet laureate of the downtown lowlife himself, Jim Carroll, and she can’t help approaching him and telling him, “You can’t let them do this.” Chloë is concerned that the film will violate the spirit of the book, not just because she has heard a rumor that they might be changing the heroin to crack and because Marky Mark (Chloë rolls her eyes) is in it, but finally because it’s, well, Hollywood. Yet, for all her purist concern, what comes through when she recounts this story is her delight at meeting an idol: “I was so excited. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
Certainly anyone who has heard Chloë’s laugh — which alternately suggests a mallard surprised into flight and a drowning victim gasping for air — would be hard-pressed to call her jaded. But it’s probably her spacey air of mystery and reserve as well as the street chic that keep causing people to ask, “Who is that girl?”
“She’s definitely the girl of the moment,” says Walter Cessna, a writer for Paper. “All the kids think she’s the shit, all the store owners think she’s the shit. What’s interesting about Chloë is she spans both scenes, the whole grunge thing and the whole rave thing. Chloë really is the symbol for all those kids. But she does keep to herself.” Cessna wrote a screenplay, “Children of the Rave,” loosely based on Chloë and other kids from the scene. He also tried to represent her for modelling assignments, but found her curiously indifferent to being marketed. “I came up with serious stuff, like Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue, and she never showed up. It was kind of a fuck-you thing. At the time I was pissed, but now I kind of admire it. But finally I couldn’t deal with the fifteen phone numbers and everything.”
Chloë cheerfully admits to blowing off Meisel, one of the most important fashion photographers alive. (This seeming indifference to marketing herself may be her most attractive quality. It may also be canny.) To call Chloë elusive is an understatement: contacting her is a matter of triangulation — calling friends, calling her parents, calling Liquid Sky, the boutique on Lafayette Street where she has been working for the past year. When an appointment is made, it’s not always kept, particularly if it’s before afternoon. And when you find Chloë — when she’s right there, sitting across the table from you at Jerry’s or Odessa, in a tight black sweater she bought in Darien for three dollars embroidered with French expressions like “Affaire de Coeur” and “Cherchez la Femme” — you may find yourself still looking for her, looking for something more. It’s a neat trick to be able to suggest hidden reserves — to be a tabula rasa and seem to be the Dead Sea Scrolls — and Chloë’s friends all eventually allude to this sense that she is holding back. “She just sits there,” says her friend Rita Ackermann, a Budapest-born artist, “but she controls the whole scene. That’s her charisma.”
Here in the blue-tiled bathroom of Tunnel, a night club that has survived the eighties to enjoy a second round of popularity, it looks like a rave is going on: dozens of street kids in their mid- to late teens dancing to house music, smoking whatever, and kicking it. They’re waiting for Chloë. The girls are slim and boyish; the boys are all trying for goatees, but most of them aren’t quite up to it yet. In their baggy pants and T-shirts, they hardly appear costume-designed. The dirty fingernails are real, and more than a few of the kids are brilliantly reproducing that fucked-up party look (dilated pupils and silly grins), although it’s only two in the afternoon and this is actually the set of “Kids,” a modest-budget feature directed by the photographer Larry Clark, who is best known for his book “Tulsa.” Clark spent time in Washington Square Park photographing the skateboarders and later persuaded one of them, Harmony Korine, to write a screenplay about the scene. Clark then secured the invaluable backing of Gus Van Sant.
Harmony is one of the kids standing around the giant bathroom of Tunnel, and he’s wearing two-inch-thick prismatic glasses that make it impossible, presumably, to see much. He looks like a fifteen-year-old mad scientist; his expression is the perennial smirk of the kid who’s just waiting for the stink bomb to go off. He admits that he may have had Chloë in mind when he wrote the lead female role. “She’s kind of passive, like Chloë,” he concedes. Harmony couldn’t stand the first actress cast, an actual professional, who apparently looked like an actress amid all the street kids. “I hated her!” Harmony shouts. “I wanted to punch her. So Larry said, ‘Do you have anybody else in mind?’ and I said, ‘Why not Chloë?’” The actress was fired, Chloë was hired, and now everybody’s waiting to shoot one of the final scenes, where Chloë’s character comes to the rave to look for the guy who stole her virginity.
Jim Nugent, the Teamster captain on the production, who has just finished working on the new Walter Matthau movie, thinks things on this set are getting a little too real. “These kids, the extras — they’re, like, right off the streets. One of them tried to pick a fight with me the other day. I said to him, ‘Are you fucking crazy? I’m a Teamster.’ He didn’t care.” Nugent likes Chloë; he worries about her and about the company she’s keeping. “So the first day of shooting I’m supposed to pick up Chloë, she’s like the star of the movie and she gets a driver. So I say, ‘Chloë, where do you want to be picked up tomorrow?’ and she says, ‘I don’t know,’ and I say, ‘What do you mean, you don’t know?’ and she says, ‘I don’t really live anywhere,’ and I say, ‘What? You’re homeless? What am I, s’posed to pick you up at cardboard box No. 7?’” Finally, they decided to give Chloë a beeper, so they could find her each morning wherever she had crashed.
The next night — well, technically, Saturday morning — Chloë is back in the coed bathroom of Tunnel, this time as a civilian. She’s wearing a very short surgical-cloth shift with a laser-printed design by her friend Rita Ackermann on the front: two sloe-eyed “opium-den girls” with violently smeared lipstick.
Forget about the so-called V.I.P. lounge; the bathroom is the best scene in the club. It looks almost like the eighties in here, only more extreme — drag queens, drug deals, pierced lips, world-class posing. The crowd is homogeneous in its inchoate youthfulness (no aging pop artists, socialites, or countesses in sight) and heterogeneous in its drug use: a few grinning love bugs on ecstasy; glassy-eyed junksters; furtive, Speedy Gonzales cokeheads zipping in and out of the stalls. Yes, it’s back; it never went away. Here’s a pre-voting-age enthusiast wearing a T-shirt that says “Snort Coke, Snort More Coke.” Quaaludes are back, too. And Ritalin, the drug often prescribed for hyperactive children, is a relatively new buzz on the scene. Then there are the truly fucked-up — the candy flippers, the most catholic of druggies, who mix their pharmaceuticals like the ingredients of a tropical cocktail. They come out of the stalls pie-eyed after a couple of lines of Special K, a snortable combination of horse tranquilizers, heroin, and coke.
Chloë is greeted and hugged by William, one of the club kids, a hulking, tatterdemalion figure wearing layers of shirts and ragged sweaters, with pink hair shaved close to his skull, and rings and plugs in his lips. And there’s Sophia, looking very 1967 in a white leather mini, with her long, straight dyed hair. Someone — not Chloë — comments that Sophia looks good considering that she is, like, really old, like forty or thirty-four or something. Here also is the famous and much loved Junkie Jonathan, his eyes ringed with kohl, tottering on high platforms. He’s wearing some kind of crocheted shirt, which is accessorized with a slave collar and a black lunchbox. Chloë says, “Actually, he’s not looking so hot tonight. Usually he has a kind of deconstructionist punk look.”
The club kids are professional party creatures, who dress and coif themselves to fabulous extremes and are paid by the management of the clubs to hang out — thereby, presumably, attracting the less fashion-forward wannabes and weekend scenesters. The kids form one of the downtown tribes among which Chloë moves, like a roving ambassador without portfolio.
“Some of the club kids have great fashion sense and they influence high fashion,” Chloë says. “Last spring, Anna Sui and Donna Karan were definitely influenced by the rave scene. All that athletic wear and techno wear, all the stripes. Anna Sui rips everything off.”
Chloë scans the room. “It’s kind of tacky tonight,” she says, observing dozens of young men who are wrapped in sheets. The word has apparently gone out on some deep-buried wire that tonight is toga night. Here, at what should be the cutting edge of street fashion, the late arrivals look like a bunch of beer-bashing Phi Delts. And over there is Methuselan mogul Steven Greenberg, the Benjamin Franklin look-alike who has haunted the hot spots since at least the Pleistocene, wearing four young women with his well-cut navy business suit. “Oh God, him,” Chloë says. “That’s the guy who gives my friend Carissa money all the time. He’s like her sugar daddy, but she says she doesn’t have to do anything.” Chloë’s idea of an attractive older man is Evan Dando, who is twenty-seven. Her current boyfriend is an eighteen-year-old named Robby Cronholm, who plays in a band called Crumb. She takes out his picture and displays it. “Isn’t he cute?” He looks like a very attractive twelve-year-old with long hair and a big goofy grin. Unfortunately, Robby lives in San Francisco. The thought turns Chloë melancholy.
At 3 A.M., Chloë is checking out the merchandise spread along the sidewalk on Second Avenue between St. Mark’s Place and Seventh Street. Last week, she bought a great silver-plated picture frame for fifty cents, but she doesn’t find any treasures tonight. She steps over a pile of women’s shoes into the narrow doorway of the apartment building where she’s been staying for the past month — in a second-floor walk-up she and her friend Lila Lee are subletting from the “Kids” costume designer. It’s a small studio with uneven brick walls. The tub is in the middle of the floor; toilet’s down the hall. Chloë surprised a junkie there last week. The refrigerator harbors a pitcher of cold tap water and not much else.
Lila returns at about three-fifteen. She’s just had her butt-length dreads waxed, and she keeps feeling them. Lila is one of several people who are said to be Chloë’s best friend. She is from a first-generation Korean family who live near Nyack. Like Chloë, she hates the suburbs.“I started coming down to the city when I was thirteen,” she says. “I got into some really weird situations, staying with squatters. I can’t believe I didn’t get in more trouble than I did. My first kiss was in this squat; I kissed two different guys on the same night.”
Chloë puts on Pavement’s “Slanted and Enchanted” album. Pavement is currently one of her favorite bands, along with Sebadoh and Courtney Love’s Hole. “My first place in the city, I lived on Fourth and Avenue C with this friend and her boyfriend,” Chloë says. “She was a junkie. It was a spot, and the dealers would watch out for us and take care of us, but eventually one of the dealers ripped my friend off. When we went out, we’d go to Limelight and USA and raves. After Avenue C, I lived in Brooklyn Heights with another junkie friend, who was also a dominatrix. She was eighteen. It was a real hell house. Everybody was doing a lot of drugs. When River Phoenix died, we had this tribute party. We rented four movies and did dope. It was pretty sick.” Dope is heroin. Chloë says she doesn’t do dope — she’s too paranoid — and it finally became awkward for her to hang around with junkies. “It got too weird. The police would come to the door about credit-card frauds. I had to get out of there. Then I went from house to house, living with different friends. Then I moved into another house in Brooklyn Heights, with four friends, until June.”
When Chloë left the Brooklyn Heights flop, she and Lila drifted from place to place together. “We stayed with friends,” Lila says, “and if we couldn’t find a place to stay we’d just go to a rave. Every Friday night, there was a NASA rave at the Shelter.” (NASA refers not to the space agency but to Nocturnal Audio Sensory Awakening, an unofficial organization devoted to another kind of space travel.) “It was open till 8 A.M. It was the after party. People would be at Limelight, and then they’d go to the Shelter.”
During the day, Chloë and Lila would hang out outside, with the skateboarders. Skateboarding is not quite equal-opportunity employment. The girls mostly watch. “You’d just sit there for hours waiting for people and watching people skate,” Lila says. “Skating is a little life style. They stick together. Skaters aren’t really into drugs. Just weed and booze. They shun hard drugs.”
“In the summer of ’93, the ravers came in and took over Washington Square Park,” Chloë recalls. “If you were a geek in high school, you could be a raver. Anyone could go to a rave. At a hip-hop club, everyone’s putting on a front. Everyone’s tough. At a rave, everyone is high and mellow. But then heroin came along and made it much darker and more depressing. There was this big ecstasy dealer everybody knew on the scene. He died of a heroin overdose, and it really fucked everyone up. But they still do it.”
From the stereo, Pavement sings, “Can you treat it like an oil well, when it’s underground, out of sight?” Lila says, “The scene in the park got too commercial. Kids from New Jersey would come in, and the skaters had to find more down-low spots.”
“Down low” is a cherished concept: secret, alternative, not commercial — everything one wants to be. Except one also sort of wants to be famous, and here is the contradiction at the heart of Chloë’s world, the dilemma of subcultures that ostensibly define themselves in opposition to the prevailing commercial order, the dilemma of all the boys and girls who want to be in Paper and Details: What do you do if Harper’s Bazaar, or Calvin Klein, comes calling? In Chloë’s case, so far, you sort of blow them off.
Chloë lights a cigarette and pours a glass of water. Lila gets up to change the CD to A Tribe Called Quest. She tells Chloë she’s rented “River’s Edge.”
“I hate Keanu,” Chloë says. But, since it’s there, they play it, watching until dawn.
When “Kids” wraps a few days later, Chloë isn’t sure what she’ll do next. First she’s got to move her stuff back up to her parents’ house, in Darien, simply because there isn’t anyplace else to put it. She might go to London for a few weeks — she’s never been. And then she’s going to get her portfolio of drawings together and apply to college. She’s thinking about some kind of fashion or design degree. Someday, somebody should erect a statue to Chloë in Tompkins Square Park, with the amazing legend, “She didn’t want to be an actress or a model” — although she is going to do the Martin Margiela show at Charivari, since she likes Margiela clothes. What she thinks she’d really like to be is a costume designer for period films. For the time being, she has decided to go back and work at Liquid Sky, which is more of a home to Chloë than any of the apartments she’ll be crashing in.
Liquid Sky is the creation of Mary Frey, a waifish bleached blonde from New Orleans, who actually looks more like Edie Sedgwick than Chloë or anyone else does; Carlos Slinger, a.k.a. DJ Soul-Slinger, a Brazilian disk jockey and rave evangelist, whose air of mystery is enhanced by his wraparound dark goggles; and Claudia Rey, a London based artist and designer. The store presents a narrow, liquid face to Lafayette Street: a sheet of real water shimmers down the front of the window. Inside, a clubby, trippy ambience prevails. Over the cash register is a giant papier-mâché head of Astrogirl, who is the house mascot. A cooler in the corner is stocked with smart drinks, including Gusto Love Bomb: “It’s the surreal thing.” A staircase at the back leads down to Temple Records, billed as “100% underground. Import dance techno. We have the top acid, trance, breakbeat, ambient, house and jungle. The American music industry (radio) does not want you to hear this music.”
Mary Frey ricochets from one end of the store to the other, wearing a blue Astrogirl T-shirt, blue jeans, and a nose ring. “Liquid Sky is a posse, a concept,” Frey says. “It’s a whole vibration. It’s music, it’s d.j.s, it’s fashion. It supports the whole future of adolescence. This is New York Rave Central. We’re the connection to all the raves on the East Coast.” Frey sees the rave scene as a reaction to the elitist nightclub scene of the eighties. “Everybody was sick of the corporate clubs. They were doing that picking-and-choosing thing, that exclusionary thing. The raves are more democratic.”
Frey first noticed Chloë at one of the boutique’s parties and was taken with her unearthly poise. She said to Gabriel Hunter, an Aspen transplant who was hanging out with Chloë, “Who’s that girl? She seems so together.”
When Frey, Slinger, and Rey opened the store on Lafayette Street, they asked Gabriel and Chloë to join them. Gabe and Chloë became in-house muses, models, and gofers. Chloë also became a seamstress. “I needed somebody to sew,” Frey says, “and Chloë said, No problem. She would gladly do anything that needed doing around the shop.” At twenty-six, Frey considers herself somewhat ancient, and feels lucky to have the inspiration of youth. Speaking of Chloë and Gabe’s generation, she says, “They don’t want to hang out with older people and go to the Hamptons. It’s a completely underground scene. A lot of fashion people come down and they rip it off. But that’s O.K.”
Today, Frey has to run down to Chinatown to grab an outfit for a wedding in London. This guy who’s in Depeche Mode is getting married, and she’s flying tonight, and all her clothes are dirty. She keeps talking on the way out the door: “Chloë’s her own category. She’s not a raver. She’s not a rocker. She’s like the old muses of Chanel or Christian Dior. Now you have this commercialized beauty, you have these cheesy-assed models like the ones who live in that building.” Frey pauses and points into the ornate lobby of the Police Building, the super-expensive downtown coöp. “It’s not about what designer you’re wearing anymore,” she says to the building.
Chloë’s old room in Darien is waiting for her. Its bookshelves are filled with back issues of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and The Face. There’s a lava lamp on the bookshelf and a framed poster for a Sonic Youth and Breeders concert hanging over the desk. Chloë shows Lila a spread in the November, 1992, Sassy, with the head: “Our intern Chloë has more style in her little finger…”
Chloë is going to drive Lila back to her parents’ house tonight. First, though, they head for a thrift shop in downtown Darien. Chloë works the racks the same way she works the pages of a fashion magazine — thoroughly, meticulously. She goes up and down the rows, missing nothing. Eventually, she comes up with a cream-colored Christian Dior shirt with a long collar, probably from the seventies, and a thin aqua belt. She almost buys a man’s brown felt fedora but decides it’s a bit too big. The total for the shirt and the belt is five dollars.
Then Chloë is spotted by two girls she knew in high school. It is hard to imagine these chubby-cheeked girls, with their white baseball caps and Top-Siders, in the same school lunchroom as Chloë. Her claim that she was an outsider at her high school begins to seem like an understatement. Whatever these girls may have thought about Chloë Sevigny in junior year, they are clearly thrilled to see her now.
“Oh, hi, Chloë, how are you? I heard you were in a movie.”
“Yeah. Wow. That is just so great.”
Chloë tries to shrink away behind the clothes rack. “Well, it’s only an independent movie,” she demurs. “It probably won’t even get shown here.”
“Wow, that is so cool.”
“That’s awesome,” the other girl agrees. Later, back in the car, Chloë says to Lila, “God! That one girl was the sister of this friend of mine. Once she threw this book from the top of the stairs, and it gashed my forehead.”
Lila shudders in empathy. In just a few days, she starts her junior year.
In front of Charivari on West Fifty-seventh Street a few days later, a dense crowd blocks the sidewalk, forcing rush-hour pedestrians out into the street. It’s a downtown congregation gathered uptown, including Lila, who’s visiting from Rockland County, and Harmony, who is shivering in a white T-shirt, along with a slightly skeptical posse of black-clad assistants and editors from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. The veteran celebrity photographer Bill Cunningham scans the crowd and doesn’t recognize many of the faces. Everyone is waiting for the preview of Martin Margiela’s new fall line to begin. Margiela, of course, is the Belgian designer who practically invented deconstruction — or, at least, the fashion world’s version of it — a couple of years ago: all those unfinished seams and inside-out designs that reveal the construction of the garment.
The door to Charivari is blocked by a guard; the windows are covered over with brown paper. “I like to watch Chloë model,” Harmony says. “Usually, she stumbles.” But there’s nothing so conventional as a runway here. Chloë doesn’t have to walk. The sound of bongos signals the start of the presentation. The paper over the windows is ripped away to reveal ten models slouching on the other side of the glass. All are wearing Mylar strips, which obscure their eyes. Chloë’s the third from the left. Only the spectators in front see much more than the heads. Eventually, everyone funnels into the store.
Inside, Chloë talks to Gabriel Feliciano, who is a fledgling stylist and part-time hostess at Lucky Cheng’s, the Chinese drag restaurant in the East Village. Gabriel’s wearing a shiny lime-green shirt that looks very seventies. Chloë is in Margiela’s tailored two-piece brown suit, which is based on a design from the forties. Suddenly, silver-haired Polly Mellen, the legendary longtime fashion editor of Vogue, who is now at Allure, comes over to examine the outfit through her owlish glasses, casually adjusting the jacket and skirt on Chloë as Chloë stands, slightly awkward, unused to the intimate anonymity of being a professional mannequin. Chloë’s normally enigmatic expression clearly says, Let me outta here.
The meeting of one of the priestesses of high fashion and the down-town girl of the moment passes uneventfully. In a couple of hours, Chloë will be back downtown, in her world.
Clutching a wineglass and watching his friend, Feliciano says, “People want to project their desire on one girl. She’s smart enough to hold back, and that allows us all to project whatever we want to. I could go on and on about Chloë, but actually I know very little about her.”
JOEY GEORGE AT MANAGEMENT+ARTISTS, HAIR EMI KANEKO AT BRYANT ARTISTS, MAKE-UP MAT CULLEN AT LALALAND ARTISTS, SET DESIGN SHELBY BEAMON, PRODUCTION
OLIVIER ZAHM — So, Chloë, considering your success as an actress over the past 30 years — since Kids, in ’95 — you could have left New York to go to LA, but you stuck with New York. What’s the reason?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Well, there are many reasons. First and foremost, right after Kids, around ’96, my father died, and my mother was alone in Connecticut. So, I didn’t want to be far from her. I was very young, and I had a lot of responsibility within my family and the household. I wanted to be there for her. So, proximity has always been important for me. I would go to LA to work but I never felt comfortable in my skin. I didn’t know how to own myself there. It felt like a return to the suburbs, having grown up there, being in cars again. [Laughs] It felt foreign in a way that didn’t excite me.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you not fully welcomed by the film industry in LA?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — At that time, being an outsider in the industry wasn’t celebrated, especially if you were a woman. If you were Johnny Depp, you could get away with it. You’re an eccentric man, and you’re still somewhat commercial, and people can understand or grasp your eccentricities. When I showed up to a party in strappy patent heels and sweatpants, which is very much the look now, people were very confused, and I wasn’t embraced, or I didn’t feel embraced. It was hard for me to find my comfort zone in Los Angeles. At the time I had friends who were going to UCLA art school, and I would stay with them, but it felt like a city that was about the industry to me. My world seemed very small in that way, and that did not excite me. Now it has changed, I’ve worked a lot there, I have friends, the art scene is big, but I always come back to New York.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Plus, you’re very opinionated, and that’s not exactly the Californian mentality. You weren’t exactly playing the diplomacy game.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No. Now it’s changed, but in the early ’90s and even the early aughts, I think there were different levels of acceptance from Hollywood.
In the end, I’m always in love with New York, my friends, and how stimulating New York is, and being with other people on the street, on the subway, every time you leave your house. I like that constant stimulation and surprise.
A spontaneous meeting on the street is very rare in LA, but it happens.
OLIVIER ZAHM—Too much sun to stand and speak on the street. How would you define the New York spirit? Because you’re very New York in your attitude. It’s quite intellectual, too.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes, I think there’s a certain drive. New York’s attitude is hard to define as one thing. It can be so many things. Because of where it is located geographically, it just has a lot of variety.
OLIVIER ZAHM — New York also has an underground tradition.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — People are very down in New York right now, but I see the silver lining. Many people are leaving, but the true New Yorkers stay. Throughout the pandemic, when everybody else was heading for the hills and upstate and whatnot, I was like, the real New Yorkers are going to stay. We’re going to hold it down. We’re going to show them what’s what, and we did. We had parties on the river, and it got wild, fun, and passionate again.
OLIVIER ZAHM — At the very beginning of your career, Jay McInerney titled an article about you in The New Yorker “Chloë’s Scene.”
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. Thanks, Jay!
OLIVIER ZAHM — I think he was right because, almost 30 years later, being invited to your wedding… Thanks for the invite, by the way.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Thank you for coming. Your presence was really felt.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It was a beautiful wedding. So, Chloë is a scene, and the scene was at your wedding. Your friends make up a portrait of you. Let’s start with Kim Gordon because you’ve known her since the very beginning. Who is she to you?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — She was one of the only women’s pictures I had on my wall in high school. I had a kaleidoscope black-and-white image of her hanging on my wall. I met Kim while I was in high school. I felt very intimidated. It was for Sonic Youth’s video “Sugar Kane.” I was a fan, and she was a very intimidating figure. And after I did this music video, I started doing work with Sonic Youth and also her brand, X-Girl.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Yes. I remember that.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — We were in and out of each other’s lives for years at shows, at events and dinners. Then, after she and Thurston Moore broke up, she opened up to me, and our friendship grew much tighter. She’s someone I have always looked up to, who gives me advice, and who holds a high bar, a work and punk-rock and intellectual ethic. She’s very steadfast, and I have a lot of respect for her.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And Lizzi Bougatsos, the artist and musician from Gang Gang Dance — she’s been one of your best friends for so long.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes, she was one of my bridesmaids, and she’s like my eccentric sister. I feel more complete when I’m with her. She helps define me. A lot of my friends do. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing sometimes — feeling more strength when I’m with people. I wish I could have that on my own, that I felt complete enough as is, but maybe that will change.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And Lizzi created the swan ice sculpture for your wedding, right?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. We did it together. Lizzi and I have a collaborative, artistic relationship. I titled her book: Her Perfume Tears. I’m always there to support her emotionally, financially, whatever she needs. I really believe in her as an artist, and as a musician. The way she sees the world and navigates the world is so different from almost anybody else. It’s like going on vacation from normality whenever you spend time with her.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I compare her to Dash Snow — people who live their art fully. They live without fear, totally in the present…
CHLOË SEVIGNY — She is a true bohemian.
OLIVIER ZAHM — We have a common friend in your scene: your brother Paul Sevigny.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Chloë’s scene. Yeah.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What’s your relationship with your brother like? He’s an incredible DJ, musician, and nightlife entrepreneur. He created the cult club Beatrice in the West Village and now runs Paul’s Baby Grand and Casablanca. He’s also a painter now.
CHLOË SEVIGNY—And a father, a husband.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is he still with his band?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — He was in A.R.E. Weapons, but they stopped. He’s not in it anymore. I think they have another band called TV Baby.
OLIVIER ZAHM — For a long time, they were really the underground music scene of the East Village. Does he play an important part in your life?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yeah. He’s one of the smartest persons I know and the first person I go to for advice. He can calm me down in a second. He’s my blood, he’s my brother. When I was young, I wanted to do everything that my brother did, and he was not so interested in me. He was protective, but we didn’t have a close friendship until after my father passed away. And he was so charming and handsome, and I was quite shy. I was going to many film festivals around the world, and I would bring him so I wouldn’t have to talk to people. [Laughs] Because he would do all the work. He’s so thorough and curious. If we went somewhere new, he would want to know all about the person and the place we were in.
OLIVIER ZAHM — For a past issue of Purple, he gave us pictures of himself when he was a young skateboarder in New York.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Those photos are so beautiful. He was a hard-core kid, and he was going to nightclubs in the city when he was 15. He was very into the early New York hip-hop scene, and he set the bar as to what is cool or alternative.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And did you meet Harmony Korine through him?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No, I met Harmony on my own. He was not at the wedding. [Laughs]
OLIVIER ZAHM — I noticed that.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — I was going to invite him, but then I thought… I don’t know if I want to have too many exes there, even though it’s been a hundred years.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Harmony was a big, important moment in your life.
CHLOË SEVIGNY— A huge influence. Other than my brother and father, the most influential male figure in my life. What he taught me, how we navigated early influences, how I approach my business and my life.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Harmony is still an example of total freedom to me. I see him as a free artist. He really does what he wants, the way he wants, and doesn’t compromise. Being around him is a real stimulation in that sense, no?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yeah. I think that also, in a way, he was so celebrated that it made me feel like what I was doing wasn’t so important.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Really?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yeah. It fucked with my head a little bit. Like, I was just the actress. I still think that way a bit. On my Instagram, I was doing a series called “I Heart Actresses,” with different women across time, and trying to give validity to what the actress does as opposed to the director.
I went through a period where I had a really hard time with how celebrated directors are. At the same time, I want to direct myself, but I feel like there’s a certain arrogance that comes along with it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — But one day or another, you will direct your own film, right?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. Well, I’ve done three shorts…
OLIVIER ZAHM — I’ve seen Carmen, the one you shot for Miu Miu.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — That was what was great with Miu Miu — you didn’t have to have all this branding. There was a lot of freedom. To me, it was the most anti-fashion fashion film ever made. [Laughs] You should watch the other two. Lizzi Bougatsos is a character in White Echo, the third one. And the director and journalist Hailey Benton Gates, who was at the wedding, plays Lizzi in the film. I’m working on a feature script right now.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you writing it yourself?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No. A friend of mine wrote it, and I’ve been developing it with him.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Well, that’s a serious step.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — That’s the next step. I think people have been interested in me as a director. There’s been a lot of interest from TV and in doing more fashion and commercial work. I want to start out from a pure place and do an indie feature as my first serious film.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you know when you’ll start shooting?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No, we still have to get financing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — One word about your friend the actor and filmmaker Natasha Lyonne. She’s like a sister to you. She’s the ironic one?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Is she ironic? I think she’s very heartfelt.
OLIVIER ZAHM — She has an incredible sense of humor, and she’s a really fun person to be with. So, you’ve known each other for years?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. I think I was in my early 20s. A mutual friend introduced us, and then our friendship grew over the years. I don’t have that many close friends in the business, but she is my confidante, and the first person I turn to, to talk about the business and offers and navigating the film industry.
OLIVIER ZAHM — She’s an amazing actress, and she also directed Season 2 of the Netflix show Russian Doll, right?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. She wrote, directed, and starred in it, and I play her mother.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Can you tell us more about that experience? It’s uncommon to have a group of friends working on a project like that.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes and no. I think some people find their people and use them over and over again. But the whole crux of Russian Doll revolves around Natasha’s relationship with her mother, and her real mother was very complicated — she had a mental illness. So it was profound, emotional, and heavy for her to ask me to play her because, in a way, I am kind of her…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Her mother?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Chosen mother. Yes. I helped her through her sobriety and in countless ways, and I’m always there for her. She often says we’ve picked each other up and dropped each other off at the hospital on many occasions, which is what a true friend does. At five o’clock in the morning, bringing someone to the emergency room and then waiting there all day for them to come out. But yeah, she works so hard, and I’m always in awe of her stamina.
OLIVIER ZAHM — She has incredible energy and a great sense of ’70s and early ’80s style.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — She’s one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I was happy to see Jim Jarmusch at your wedding. Is he part of the Chloë scene? He’s a real New York figure. And you were in his last movie, The Dead Don’t Die.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — When I saw Down by Law in high school, it really changed my perspective on what a movie could be or what cinema is. He was just up there as far as the bar of New York cool. The first film we did together was in 2002 or ’03. So, I’ve been in three or four of his films, and we’ve remained in touch over the years and done other projects. He was the first person to photograph me when I was pregnant, for the Agnès b. book. We do little projects outside of films together.
OLIVIER ZAHM — He’s a photographer, too?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yes. He’s a photographer and a musician and an artist. He’s another one like Kim Gordon.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And are you still in touch with Larry Clark?
CHLOË SEVIGNY — No. I think he lives in Paris, doesn’t he? Actually, when I was talking to Luca Guadagnino about the wedding, I was like, “Who do you want to sit next to?” And he said, “Larry Clark.” And I was like, “Oh, I don’t think he’s coming.”
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s funny.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — I know. I don’t know how well he is. I think he’s been sick.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Really? Last time I saw him, he looked like an old man but had an amazing look. He was walking with a cane.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — But there was a time when I was very close to Larry. He really involved me in his life. He invited me to every opening at Luhring Augustine, every dinner. I went to his son’s bar mitzvah. I was part of his life for years after, and he set me up with a manager and a publicist. He really wanted to take care of me.
OLIVIER ZAHM—That’s beautiful.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Yeah.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you feel your way of acting has changed with this new period, with TV series, new media, new formats, fashion films?
CHLOË SEVIGNY —
Well, with any art form, you grow and develop your craft. And sometimes you want to lose everything you’ve learned and get back to a purity you had at the beginning, a non-self- consciousness. I try to keep my acting instinctual and emotional.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you agree that your style of acting remains very much yourself, regardless of the director. It’s always Chloë, like it’s always Bill Murray.
CHLOË SEVIGNY — Well, not really. With every director I like to adapt to their way of working. Some directors are very precise, like Jim Jarmusch or David Fincher. And you have to figure out how to inhabit the role within those confines. And other directors don’t want you to say anything on the page, to come up with your own thing. Therein lies the challenge. How to stay true to yourself and interpret a character in a way that you find right, but also be open to collaboration.
[Table of contents]
elein fleiss (part 0)Read the article
martin margiela (part 1)Read the article
martin margiela collages for purple 30yrsRead the article
wolfgang tillmans (part 2)Read the article
rick at home rick owens 2022Read the article
purple community (part 3)Read the article
comme des garçons (part 4)Read the article
black rose comme des garçons f/w 2022
by chikashi suzuki
purple tokyo (part 5)Read the article
tateishi east tokyo givenchy f/w 2022Read the article
purple new york (part 6)Read the article
guinevere in prada f/w 2022Read the article
chloë sevigny (part 7)Read the article
chloë’s scene, 2022 interview by olivier zahmRead the article
maurizio cattelan (part 8)Read the article
maurizio cattelan purple interviewRead the article
bernadette corporation (part 9)Read the article
speaking out bernadette van-huyRead the article
dominique gonzalez-foerster (part 10)Read the article
species of spaces dominique gonzalez-foerster interview by olivier zahmRead the article
rita ackermann (part 11)Read the article
inez van lamsweerde & vinoodh matadin (part 12)Read the article
final fantasy inez & vinoodhRead the article
purple night (part 13)Read the article
doppelgänger fendi f/w 2022Read the article
glenn o’brien (part 14)Read the article
dash snow (part 15)Read the article
long live dash by glenn o’brienRead the article
juergen teller (part 16)Read the article
balenciaga winter 2022Read the article
purple sex (part 17)Read the article
emporio armani f/w 2022Read the article
purple politics (part 18)Read the article
on war and its dehumanization bernard-henri lévyRead the article
purple paris (part 19)Read the article
3537 a new fashion lab in the heart of paris adrian joffeRead the article
daniel roseberry the american designer reinventing schiaparelli surrealismRead the article
purple icon (part 20)Read the article
catherine deneuve in saint laurent f/w 2022Read the article
purple cinema (part 21)Read the article
philippe parrenoRead the article
david lynchRead the article
larry clarkRead the article
wes andersonRead the article
harmony korineRead the article
gaspar noéRead the article
Gus Van SantRead the article
abel ferraraRead the article
mamoru oshiiRead the article
kenneth angerRead the article
los angeles (part 22)Read the article
wilderness doug aitkenRead the article
gucci cosmogonie collectionRead the article
how to inhabit the world (part 23)Read the article
louis vuitton F/W 2022 with akon changkouRead the article
purple diversity (part 24)Read the article
bombshell ethan james greenRead the article
purple mexico city (part 25)Read the article
deconstruction meets destruction azzmmaRead the article
arca in loewe F/W 2022Read the article
art as a script mario garcía torresRead the article
inge grognard (part 26)Read the article
beauty revolutionary inge grognardRead the article
avant-garde (part 27)Read the article
louise giovanelliRead the article
george rouyRead the article
stefan brüggemannRead the article
antony cairnsRead the article
antonia showeringRead the article
arthur jafa in conversation with michéle lamyRead the article
purple philosophy (part 28)Read the article
women and painting (part 29)Read the article
women and painting: part 1Read the article
women and painting: part 2Read the article
women and painting: part 3Read the article
women and painting: part 4Read the article
women and painting: part 5Read the article
women and painting: part 6Read the article
women and painting: part 7Read the article
women and painting: part 8Read the article
women and painting: part 9Read the article
women and painting: part 10Read the article
women and painting: part 11Read the article
women and painting: part 12Read the article
women and painting: part 13Read the article
richard prince (part 30)Read the article