D U T C H
Issue #35, September/October 2001
TOTAL & FATAL ISSUE
in the flesh
Deborah Harry one way or another
by Michael Martin
photo Philippe Cometti
Blondie became an iconic band by referencing iconography - from the reconstituted Shangri-Las attitude of their 1976 debut album to the Pretty Babys of their 1978 classic Parallel Lines to Deborah Harry's punk-Harlow posturing. So it's fitting that Harry herself, at 56, is being referenced now more than ever. More than a few female musicians owe her style royalties. The Fashion label Imitation of Christ is eternally in her debt for inspiration. In an upcoming spread in American Vogue on female rockers, Harry will be played by Sophie Dahl. And this fall, the entire Blondie back catalog will be re-released in the U.S. by Capitol Records, supplying incontrovertible evidence that if Harry hadn't crooned, "I'll give you some head/And shoulders to lie on" in 76, Peaches wouldn't be rapping about her pussy today.
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Deborah Harry is in demand, in the flesh. She has a number of films in the can and is at work on a new Blondie album, the second since the band reunited in 1998. As yet untitled, the album may be released before the end of the year, but Harry is disinclined to give any other details. "I don't want to give a preview," she says, before going on to give a preview of sorts. "It's some of the best lyric writing I've done. On the last record I collaborated with a co-writer, because my mother had died during production, and I didn't have a lot of time. This time I had a lot of time to write and re-write things, use my own ideas. I think it might sound a little bit more like me, more rock 'n' roll."
In the meantime, Harry occupies herself by attending the occasional fashion show, putting in the odd club appearance (in the case of her March performance at the cyberfetish party Click + Drag, which involved two backup dancers named the Fish Sticks) and making movies. Next year sees the release of Spun, a Trainspotting-esque story of speed freaks in Oregon, directed by Jonas Akerlund, who did Madonna's "Music" and "Ray of Light" videos. Harry co-stars with John Leguizamo, Jason Schwartzman, and Mena Suvari. "Jonas is one of the best digital editors around, so it's going to look really interesting and beautiful. I play an aggressive dyke," she says wryly. "I hope I pulled it off." Spun is preceded by two gangster films, A Cold Day in August, with Ally Sheedy and Michael Rapoport, and Deuces Wild, a study of 1950s gangland, written and directed by Scott Kalvert (The Basketball Diaries) and starring an indie treasure trove, including Stephen Dorff, Balthazar Getty and Fairuza Balk. (Harry plays Balk's and Getty's senile mother.) "This was a movie I felt very strongly about," she says. "I thought the script was extraordinary: very weird and violent, and it didn't hold back. He [Kalvert] wasn't trying to be commercial or acceptable." To that end, Harry's other roles include The Fluffer, in which she plays a strip-club owner, Firecracker (a female cop named Ed), and Red Lipstick (a psychic counselor to drag queens).
As someone whose aura precedes her, who does Harry find aesthetically intriguing? "I like Eminem a lot; I think he's really clever. It's kind of a personality thing with rappers, I think they're fantastic. Missy Elliott really has a sense of humor, and so much power. And I think Eve is terrific. The first time I saw her, I just said, 'Wow.'" Jane's Addiction's Perry Farrell is also on her list. "I don't know why Perry pops into my head. He just seems like a person where it comes from within."
Asked how she would describe her own look these days, she replies, without hesitation, "I wouldn't!" Harry was one of America's first leather girls, but today she's on Stella McCartney's side. "I think she's got a point. It's sad what goes on, and if people are dedicated to animal life and nature, I think that's very beautiful. I find as I get older, I tend to be more vegetarian. I still wear leather, but I don't wear fur."
And she's not so sure about the New York scene, where wine bars have replaced the urban wilderness that inspired much of Blondie's music. "Did you know that New York is the only major city in the world that doesn't have a red light district? It's kind of embarrassing. Why shouldn't we have adult entertainment when there are adults living here?"
blah, blah, blah
big mouth bags
The best jokes in fashion are usually reserved for slogan T-shirts. The feminine handbag, as a pillar of the stylish accessories community, is usually stuck in the straight role. When bags do speak, the words are usually part of a logo. But times are changing. Talking bags are making a lot of noise lately, from the stunning Marc Jacobs/Stephen Sprouse collaboration for Louis Vuitton, to the totes made from recycled Indian rice sacks that were this summer's beach staple in France. Dutch designer Georgette Koning makes bags with tongue-in-cheek attitude. "I'm a cheap sleazebag!" exclaims one of her punky ouevres in mismatched ransom note letters. Another sport-inspired carrier has the word 'slut' printed as a logo. "I've been doing these for a long time, but it's only over the past year that people have really picked up on them," she says. "They're really quite personal. Not everybody wants to walk around with something which makes that kind of statement." Koning designs her prints with illustrator Leendert Masselink and applies them on felt in two-tone colors for a slightly uneven effect. She also works with embroidery and appliqué. In spite of all the painstaking labor, she insists on keeping prices low (about 70-100 Euros). Parisian graffiti artist André is another sucker for words. His cute and cheeky bags, made from special edition Levi's jeans and vintage Burberry coats, play with subtly ironic references to fashion and pop culture. Cliché catchwords like "Rock", "Love", and "Angel" are applied in gothic lettering. "It's a very macho font, used in the Hell's Angels logo and by heavy metal bands," says André. "But I make them in fuzzy pink felt." André's signature graffiti character, the ubiquitous Monsieur A, a smiling stick figure in a top hat, has made its inventor an underground celebrity in Paris. "There is a long tradition of graffiti art on T-shirts," says André. "From there the progression to bags was natural." André's T-shirts have made a lot of noise too. It was his infamous "Balmain Bitch" print that earned designer Gilles Dufour his hasty dismissal from the fashion house. That hasn't stopped the two from working together. When Dufour debuted his signature collection last March, André celebrated the occasion by making a T-shirt that proclaimed "Gilles is Back" in gory horror movie poster letters.
"LOBBY - 1", photographer: Philippe Cometti, styling: Bill Mullen, model: Deborah Harry (Blondie),