I have a good friend who looks like Jean Seberg. Same haircut, same cute pixie-ish face, same sense of style, even. I hate her. It’s not fair. Seberg was another French New-Wave regular, appearing in Goddard’s Breathless and L’Amant de cinq jours, among others. Along with her acting, she was such a vocal activist for movements such as the NAACP, Native American rights, and the Black Panthers, that the FBI considered her a threat to the government and started closely monitoring her, tapping her phone, and having her followed. Shame on you, J. Edgar.
She committed suicide at 41, a victim of barbituate addiction and a life that was overfull with trouble and anxiety. However, her beauty lingers, in her film work and in print. She had the gamine grace that tends to be my highest ideal when it comes to beauty, and she had an ethereal, somehow innocent quality enhanced by her minimal, feminine sense of dress. She tended to bare a lot of skin, wore simple, classic pieces, and had a penchant for stripes (as do I). All she needed was a striped, boat-necked top and a pair of white shorts with black ballet flats. It’s a timeless look. Once you get that look right, you don’t really need any frills.
I’ve been in love with Isabella Rossellini ever since I first saw her in Blue Velvet (also my favorite movie of all time). She has a different kind of beauty from most of the people on my list of style crushes. She’s darker. More dynamic. Her beauty isn’t femme or ethereal, it has heat to it. She’s the kind of sexy that is made even sexier by her flaws. She’s not the classic beauty of Audrey Hepburn or the waifish ethereal beauty of Jane Birkin. She’s the kind of beauty that’s hard to understand, which just makes it more compelling. Kind of like the movie Blue Velvet, actually. She earned her style chops, anyways. Her mother is Ingrid Bergman, one of the great beauties of all time and a style icon in her own right. Rossellini began her career modeling for Vogue, then Dolce and Gabbana, then becoming the face of a new line of cosmetics called Lancôme. She’s been photographed by Helmut Lang, Richard Avedon and Robert Mapplethorpe. But it’s her film work that draws me in. In Blue Velvet she was a seductive, submissive contradiction. In The Saddest Music in the World (a MUST watch movie from Guy Maddin–hugely weird and funny and shot in black and white) she was a regal, angelically lit, and slightly evil beer hall empress with no legs. Imagine that! She has made a fascinating career out of picking projects that are highly outside the realm of the mainstream. She likes to be experimental. She’s put out a series of short educational films about the nature of sexuality, with herself playing various insects. In the film “My Dad Is 100 Years Old,” based on a biography she wrote, she plays nearly every part–including both her mother and father. She is also a National Ambassador for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. If I could be anyone on this list, I’d pick her. She leads an interesting, intellectual, and charitable life.
And now on to someone who proves that you have to be a little wrong in the head to be a true iconoclast.
Little Edie Beale
Yes, it’s Little Edie Beale. Every style blog gets around to her at some point, I think. Edith Bouvier Beale is probably best known, these days, because of the Documentary Grey Gardens, (another must-see), which turned into a broadway show, and then a movie by the same name starring Drew Barrymore (I didn’t see it, so I can’t comment.) Little Edie (her mother was Big Edie) was a cousin of Jackie O., a socialite, a model, and, in later life, a shut-in. Born in New York in 1917, she lived the good life in the city-wealthy, beautiful, stylish–she was a model and a wannabe actress, until, after significant failure to find either an acting career or a husband, she moved in with her mother in the early 50s, into a rambling, run-down estate in East Hampton. Both women led an increasingly reclusive life, letting the estate fall into such disrepair due to their poverty (and disfunction), that in 1971, inspectors from the Health Department raided the house and declared it completely unlivable. The story was a huge scandal (for obvious reasons), and Jackie O. ended up bailing out the Beales, so that they could retain their ownership of Grey Gardens. Both Beales became famous due to the documentary, which showed their eccentric and unstable lives, and managed to impart both a depressing sense of two women who lived far from healthy reality, and a playful, hopeful side to the story–Little Edie, in her fairyland where she lived perpetually dancing and acting to the delight of her nonexistant audience, was an engaging character, full of her own style. Her signature turban bobbed up and down to the music as she danced for the cameras. Clearly she thought herself delightful, and as a result, she was delightful. Deranged maybe, but delightful nonetheless. After the movie came out (she loved it), and her mother died, she moved to New York again, to begin a cabaret career, and was again unsuccessful, living out the rest of her life in quiet, writing poetry and letters to friends and fans.
It’s not her merely her life that makes Little Edie a style icon, it’s the legacy she left after she was gone. Spreads in Vogue appeared, inspired by her lifestyle; a musical was created, then a movie, based on Grey Gardens. Rufus Wainwright wrote a song about her. Various fashion designers, including Marc Jacobs, have dedicated pieces or even whole lines to her. For a woman who never achieved the fame in the outside world that she clearly felt in her mind, Little Edie remains one of the most influential style icons of the century. I like to think she would have found this totally unsurprising.