The voice on the CD that comes with the book Edie: Girl On Fire is thick and dreamy. “The whole fashion scene—” it says, “I didn’t realize I was beauti-
ful, it’s taken me 27 years to realize it and practically destroy it.” Less than a year later Edie Sedgwick was dead, killed by her drug habit.
Some people amaze not by their rise and fall, but by the very fact of their rise. The extraordinary thing about Edie Sedgwick, whose brief life has inspired books and
articles and now a new film,
Factory Girl, starring Sienna Miller as Edie, is not that she burned out so young but rather that she ever burned in. Premature death helped, as did the sixties era in which she lived. Had she survived, she might now be an unknown 63-year-old housewife on some sort of serotonin uptake. As it is, the nine or 10 months in 1965 when Edie blazed—if that is really the word— has created a 20th-century legend.
Edie was the highly strung offspring of a wealthy and patrician American family that was moderately dysfunctional. It was the sort of WASP family that gave one another funny names. Francis Sedgwick, her father, was “Fuzzy.”
Edie’s sisters included Saucie (Alice) and Suky (Susanna).
There was a brother Minty (Francis Minturn). Of Edie’s seven siblings, one committed suicide and one died in a motorcycle accident shortly after a nervous breakdown.
Edie’s mother was loving and ineffectual; Fuzzy, something of a narcissist doing exercises in a (man’s) white
bikini next to their swimming pool. Edie could outmanoeuvre them both. “She did exactly as she damn pleased... She had brought my parents to their knees,” her sister Saucie told Jean Stein, the author of Edie: An American Biography. “I disliked her very much.”
Edie developed bulimia by 15 and was sent to the private psychiatric facility of choice for the rich, Silver Hill Hospital in Connecticut. She went on to Cambridge, Mass., to study sculpturing and hang around Harvard. But “Cambridge was too small for her,” said Suky. Edie left for New York City in her grey 1957 Mercedes to find stardom—along with lingerie at Bendel’s—while rapidly going through the money from her family trust fund. She met Andy Warhol at a birthday party for Tennessee Williams (where else!) and it was instant bonding. She took to Warhol’s studio-cum-hangout, known as “The Factory,” like an addict to a poppy field and became his alter ego for most of 1965. With
SEDGWICK in her ‘Factory’ days. Andy Warhol appears in several of the photos, including the one (second from bottom, right) in which he looks on adoringly. Models (this page) wear Chanel spring 2007 couture (left) and Dior spring 2005 couture (right).
her long dark hair dyed silver and cut in a shag just like Andy’s and wearing synchronized outfits, the two of them had photographers wherever they went. “I think Edie was something Andy would like to have been,” said Truman Capote. “He would like to have been a charming well-born debutante from Boston.”
Vogue's Diana Vreeland pronounced her a “youthquaker,” and the magazine’s August 1965 photograph of her in black tights and a sleeveless T-shirt standing on her leather rhinoceros launched her style. She was the Paris Hilton of her day, though without Hilton’s moxie. In her adult years she claimed that both her brother and father had made a pass at her, but her drug dependency made her claims difficult to verify. “I’d always just accepted Edie’s story that her whole childhood was a nightmare,” wrote Warhol later, “but now I started thinking you should always hear both sides.” By spring 1966 she was washed up, on barbiturates and mainlining amphetamine.
Still, one year was enough. The type of beauty she had was magic. Her body was thin as a rail, but her face was full with one of
those smiles Hollywood adores. She had the helplessness of Marilyn Monroe with the waif appeal of Mia Farrow—which may explain the stir Edie caused in the hearts of intellectuals like the late George Plimpton. “Everyone I knew wanted to save her,” he says at the end of Factory Girl.
Men were attracted but nothing stuck: a wilful spoilt girl with a drug habit is highmaintenance. Her great love may have been Bob Dylan— though he flatly denies any sexual relationship. His threat to sue the filmmakers of Factory Girl accounts for his absence from the film— and, possibly, the head of curls given to the actor depicting Edie’s singer boyfriend. Toward the end of her Manhattan days she was involved both with Dylan and his friend, singer Bob Neuwirth, who is more likely to be the man she speaks of on the CD ramble about being “a sex slave” who could make love for 48 hours.
Edie suffered from something close to attention deficit disorder and became fran-
tic whenever she found herself in a state of stasis. “Hers was a non-stop zoom, zoom, zoom... spinning faster and faster,” said her sister Suky. “She always wanted to leave,” said Warhol, “even if a party was good she wanted to leave.., Can’t wait to go... and there’s no place to go.” She didn’t read books or newspapers or do much of anything besides shopping, drugging and parties. When questioned by a reporter about the “Better dead than red” slogan of the time, she thought it was a reference to reading.
Her restaurant bills entertaining the Factory crowd and her shopping sprees left her
own apartment and later her rooms at the Chelsea hotel were set ablaze by candles as she lay stoned. Edie escaped the first fire with little more than her trademark leopard coat, but her ability to retain her stylish allure seemed undiminished. All she needed was a black leotard, fur coat and her Cleopatra makeup.
Edie is said to be one of pop art’s iconic figures, and in her vacuity and confusion, her drug dependence, perhaps she is. On the other hand, Andy Warhol was something of a genius and a droll observer of the period. As his diaries reveal, he had no illusions about the nonsensical aspect of pop art and the ease with which a gullible society could be conned.
But even Warhol might have been as astounded as Lenin that his silkscreen depiction of a hammer and sickle would have a pre-sale estimate of $2.8 million to $4.2 million in this week’s Sotheby’s sale in London.
shopping, drugging and parties. Questioned by a reporter about the 'Better dead than red'slogan of the time, Sedgwick thought it was a reference to reading. While Andy was making his impression on the pop-art world,
Edie’s legacy was becoming her “look,” though Edie herself rather ingenuously claimed her style was never deliberate. Still, it has been influencing the fashion world ever since John Galliano named her his muse for the Dior 2005 spring haute couture and his own line of autumn ready-towear the same year.
The film Factory Girl heralds a fashion season heavily influ-
enced by the Edie look—basically the swinging London sixties style of Mary Quant and Carnaby Street: miniskirts, trapeze dresses, black tights. Fashion always likes to update its old looks—verbally if not actually—so we are told this is all being done with a new postmodern, futurist design—never mind the 1965 “Galactic Luna” look of James Galanos or the futuristic Courreges disc dresses. It’s an easy look for the young. Sienna Miller claims to be battling with producers to get every item she wore in the film.
At Karl Lagerfeld’s spring 2007 Chanel show, every model was Edie with black tights under miniskirts (jackets for his older moneyed clients). For the real look—apart from eBay, which is featuring Edie Sedgwick items—go to this spring’s Betseyjohnson collection. Edie was briefly a fitting model for Betsey—“She was wearing one of my dresses when her apartment caught fire,” Betsey proudly claims—and the puff-sleeved shift dress Edie loved has reappeared. One can’t help thinking it all rather paradoxical, this nostalgia for the sixties in a world where Western demographics (also known as “customers”) are aging. Perhaps dress designers facing pension age like recreating the highlights of their youth.
The sixties look is easy to mimic cheaply. Basic items include the body stocking (in Edie’s day a “leotard”), lots of black eyeliner and hair cut in bangs à la English model Jean Shrimp ton, plus long dangling earrings to the shoulders and a plain pump or flat. The trapeze dress hides wandering hips and waistlines and black tights or fishnet stockings are better than the blue-veined bare-legged look for women with pale skin and over 40. Just what most of us are to do with the little shorts Edie wore so well and the pelmet skirts turning up in shops this spring is not clear, apart from waiting till autumn when they will disappear from the racks.
The sixties blew away some of the more constricting mores of the fifties—as well as its godawful girdles and felt poodle skirts. And, as compensation for its particular madness, it gave us the merciless commentary and Zolalike New Journalism of its leading chronicler, Tom Wolfe.
In “Pariah Styles: The New Chic,” Wolfe took on that monied slice of sixties New York society, anxious to be seen as “with it”: rich businessmen and their wives, society ladies, arts celebrities and the fashionistas of the time, all competing with one another for “a darlingjamaican drug dealer” for their parties and swooning over the latest amphetamine-chic pop artist.
Earlier that same year, Edie Sedgwick was a leading light of the pop-art sexy groupies Tom Wolfe described in The Painted Word. She was one of those “beau-
tiful little girls, with their hips cocked and the seams of their Jax slax cleaving them into hemispheres while they shot Culture pouts through their Little Egypt eyes.” By 1971, her still-beautiful face loose and gaping, suffocating into a pillow after overdosing, she had managed her own destruction. Small comfort that the society princess had at least finally made herself into that ever-so-desirable creature: an authentic, honest-to-God denizen of the sixties’ gutter. M
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