Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Style Icon: Grace Jones

"I'm not perfect, but I'm perfect for you," she sang—and there was no denying Grace Jones (real last name: Mendoza). Her forceful presence and intimidating, angular beauty (you could lacerate yourself on those cheekbones) propelled her out of Jamaica and into the New York underground at breakneck speed. She performed at Studio 54 and became known as Queen of the Gay Discos, and not just because of catchy and surprisingly durable hits like "I Need a Man." Her unique persona—overtly sexual yet deliberately androgynous—inspired both Andy Warhol, who painted her portrait, and Keith Haring, who painted her body for a 1985 performance at Paradise Garage. But it was her collaboration with Jean Paul Goude, which is chronicled in the artist-photographer's new book, So Far, So Goude, out this month from Assouline, that made her a legend.

Goude choreographed Jones' infamous Halloween night 1978 show at Roseland, which involved raw meat, a Bengal tiger, and the singer dressed like a big cat. She sunk her claws into Hollywood, too, co-starring with Wilt Chamberlain and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Destroyer and playing 007's nemesis in the Bond flick A View to a Kill. Lately, she's been taken up by young London, sitting front-row with Kate Moss at an Alexander McQueen show and accompanying Stella McCartney to a Fashion Rocks party, demure as ever in a body-hugging leotard and tuxedo jacket. "I wasn't born this way," Jones once said. "One creates oneself." And how.

Laird Borrelli

I have a confession to make. Although this full grown woman worships at the altar of Grace Jones, when I was 'tween I actively disliked her. The "black is beautiful" aesthetic had dried up like a freshly washed jheri curl back then and in the 1980s and being a dark skinned woman with natural hair, strong features, and weird clothes was not acceptable. If you were an oddball black girl then Lisa Bonet, with her kooky clothes, dread extensions and light skin were the way to go. Grace just scary. She was a bold as hell, not afraid to stand center stage because her hair didn't move and not afraid to poke fun at herself. Remember her in that "love" scene with Roger Moore in A View to a Kill? It made me cringe inside. And let's not even bring up Red Sonja.

In my junior high, if you wanted to insult a black girl with short hair, you'd call her Grace Jones. It was juvenile code for black, nappy and ugly. People would tell me that I looked like her all the time (some of them were people who knew that Grace was the shit and meant it as a compliment) but I wasn't having any of it.

It took me a long time to accept that my own looks were beautiful. It really wasn't until I got to college and started meeting other oddballs that I realized that there was more than one way to be beautiful and that on closer inspection the Christy Brinkley uptown type was nothing worth emulating.

The next time I saw Grace in a magazine I took a good long look and wouldn't you know it? The scales fell off my eyes and I realized how impossibly beautiful she really was. I imagine how hard it must have been being in the fashion industry at that time and how tough and determined she was to carve a place out for herself without trying to fit into any pre-made molds. I absolutely fell in love with this amazing woman and looking at her, I can't believe that I ever felt any other way.


CHIC NOIR said...

I love love love Grace Jones. Sheis so fabulous. Many of us are just starting to appreciate her beauty.

Anonymous said...

That's the thing has institutionalized racism, Western imperialism and propaganda. It sets white features as the standard of beauty and makes black people to believe that we are ugly. This is why we have a lot of self-hate amongst race and hatred for each other. Not only in America, but in Africa and the South American black populace.