(Not) Being Edie
When I was fifteen, on the night of the hot social event of the year,
the Winter Dance, I locked in my bathroom with a refrigerator-sized
cosmetics case and a dream. With great focus and determination, I
shaded in my own sparse brows until they were thick, strong and
curvy—veritable falcon wings on my forehead. I navigated my way
through an entire set of individual false lashes, gluing and fastening
them on over the complicated, calligraphy-like squiggles of liquid
liner I had drawn on my upper and lower lashes. As the other girls
skittered into school, and boys were mustering the courage to ask
girls to dance, I attempted a far braver feat—carving out
Avedon-worthy cheekbones on my hopelessly cherubic, hollow-free face.
Unable to find lipstick pale enough for “the vision,” I smothered my
lips in beige concealer, followed by a heavy coat of Poppy Shine, a
heavy lip gloss so perfectly shiny, it brought tears to my eyes. At
nine o’clock, as the dance was in full swing, I sat in my bathroom,
hair teased from root to tip, carefully shaking baby powder into it in
order to get it the proper shade of supernaturally pale, matte,
blonde. By the time eleven o clock rolled around, while teen dreams
blossomed elsewhere to the strains of “Wonderful Tonight,” I was
perched blissfully on my bed, covered in Chanel perfume and costume
jewelry, head carefully positioned on my pillow so as not to disturb
the masterpiece above my shoulders, transformed into Edie Sedgwick.
1965’s Girl of the Year.
Edie was my hero. I loved her. I adored her: her whiskey-rich voice, her
klieg-light smile, her sad, tragic mystique. Before “It” became a
cottage industry, she was the original, and best incarnation of it—a
girl made more for the camera than for real life, who would gravitate
towards a lens and light it up, and then collapse in a heap when it
She was everything I wanted to be—thin, pretty and the epitome of
cool—but so terribly insecure. At fifteen, feeling this, chubby and
unpopular, I identified with Edie, instead of resenting her. In Poor
Little Rich Girl, Warhol’s half-hour celluloid meditation on her preparing for
a night out in her overstuffed apartment, she’s all light— mugging for
the camera, giggling, breaking into that sonic-boom smile of hers,
continuously re-applying lip gloss, powder, blush, perfume, anything
she can get her hands on—but after it was filmed she said that during
this period she “made a mask out of” her face with makeup, all but
destroying her looks out of insecurity, “and it was all taken as a
Edie Sedgwick arrived in New York City in the fall of 1964 from
California by way of Boston. Throwing herself into the New York scene
with serious gusto, she went under the most spectacular of makeovers.
First went her long dark hair, shorn off, the remainders bleached and
stained to an extra-terrestrial silvery blonde. The ivory schoolgirl
complexion was painted and powdered to even paler proportions, all the
better to show off her inky, voracious eyes. She lost ten pounds,
dressed up in fox fur waistcoats, high heeled boots, giant hats and
micro-minis. She chartered limousines to drive her everywhere, and
when she finally spent her inheritance money, instead of down-sizing
she took to paying drivers with huge bejewelled cocktail rings pulled
straight from her fingers. Wow!
Back in her heyday, Edie was it for a lot of people. Vogue wrote she
had legs to swoon over (and she did!). The New York Times said she had
eyes “the color of melted chocolate.” She was the titular “Femme
Fatale” in the Velvet Underground song. Bob Dylan allegedly wrote
“Just Like A Woman” and “Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat” about her. Punk
chanteuse Patti Smith, who idolized Edie, and as a teen snuck into New
York City clubs to watch her dance, wrote this in a poem about her:
“…. It took her hours to put her makeup on. But she did it. Even the
false eyelashes…. Oh it isn’t fair how her ermine hair turned me
around she was white on white so blonde on blonde and her long long
legs how I used to be to dance with her but I never got a chance with
Oh Patti! I know. I know!
Like an artist and their “periods” it’s easy to carbon date Edie’s
life through her looks: glossy dark bob, clear eyes, lip gloss: herBoston days, not yet the New York legend. Cropped, silvery hair, painted on beauty mark, generous brows and elaborate eye makeup: the Warhol days, 1965-66. Darker hair, thinner brows, lighter eye makeup: the late ‘60s, her Ciao! Manhattan phase. Long Dark hair, a touch of eyeliner, and gaunt face: the end.
She died of an overdose at 28, long removed from New York City’s spotlight—but she was a peacock till the very end. Despite being totally dysfunctional in just about all areas of life, she was fastidious about her appearance in a way only the truly glamorous can be. Upon gaining consciousness in the hospital after burning down her room down in the Chelsea Hotel, the first thing she did, dazed, swaddled in bandages, crispy from the fire, was make a pages-long list of cosmetics she needed purchased immediately. Bravo, Edie! While strapped onto a metal table, rubber bit in her mouth, wires around her face, filming the harrowing electro-shock therapy scenes for Ciao! Manhattan, she kept a small pocket mirror under her rear end, so that between takes she could check her makeup without having to un-strap herself from the table. Good thinking, soldier!
Naturally, all these ingredients—hot girl, wild drug use, foxy wardrobe, tragic death—are the makings of a spectacular post-mortem comeback for today, especially since we’re desperate for titillation. The fall runways were an unabashed tribute to Edie—Dior, Proenza Schouler, Stella McCartney and Dolce & Gabbanna showcased 10-gallon earrings, knee-high boots,black tights, fur coats, and breathtakingly short shifts.
Film director and photographer Jerry Schatzberg, who shot the iconic images of Bob Dylan for his “Blonde on Blonde” album recently showed me the contact sheets of a 1966 photo shoot she did with him, clearly a free-spirited session: whiskey in one hand, cigarette in the other, she bobs in and out of the frame, giggling, shrieking and looking flat-out fabulous (she should—she did her own hair and makeup.)
“Edie was fantastic,” he says. “She had so much personality. She was very sweet, and vulnerable, and really belonged to that era, the Sixties, when everything was so fun and creative. She wanted to please people, in the same way Marilyn Monroe did. I’m not sure if people today get that about her, I mean she was beautiful, and charming—but she was nice.”