July 12th, 2005


Skulls or skirts?

I was probably trying too hard and overdressing wildly, but I set off to my meeting with the editor of Vice wearing the brightest colours my suitcase could muster, and a skirt. When you've been living out of a suitcase for weeks you start wearing stuff backwards and upside down just to make something new out of the same old clothes: the "skirt" was my Malay robe tied at the waist, the T shirt a nice one Mumbleboy gave me the other day.

My ultra-colourful ensemble was a sort of "fuck you" to the boringness and machismo of New York these days. It was a "fuck you" to the policemen who closed the Deitch party down last week, a "fuck you" to the gays in the West Village who never dress flouncy and girly any more, as if their feminine side has become somehow shameful, and a "fuck you" to my own inner cowardliness and desire not to stand out. (But remember, when people in New York say "Fuck you!" they really mean "Have a nice day". When people in LA say "Have a nice day" they really mean "Fuck you!") I also had a secret agenda: I desperately wanted to get into Vice's famous Dos and Don'ts page. I didn't care if I was a do or a don't, but I imagined the text reading something like this: "You gotta admit, it takes cojones to walk around New York City dressed as a gigantic flower. Sure, leather and studs is fine for the fags in the Village, but este hombre es muy macho!"

Perhaps I was just following the advice of a poster I saw on a Chelsea wall, a poster that said "Practice more failure" (a theme echoed in one of my Vice pieces, "Wrong is the new right"), but my garb felt so right and yet totally wrong. Right because it felt cool in the sweltering New York heat, as fresh as a yukata, loose around my limbs, non-toxic, reminding me of my sento spree last summer. Wrong because I was dressed for the wrong town. (And nobody at Vice batted an eyelid or made a single comment, let alone reached for a camera.)

While my crazy neo-hippy-femio colours and the unthreatening, childish imagery on Mumbleboy's t-shirt might have gone down well in Tokyo, they don't compute here in New York, where black is still the thing to wear. You wear black clothes, and you wear headbands, and you wear skull motifs. That's what Jesse and Phiiliip were wearing when I lunched and dined with them. It's what New York has always worn, really, from Lou Reed through Suicide and Richard Hell through The Strokes, right up to today's Williamsburgers. Black, black, black. Skulls, skulls, skulls. Of course, you can wear anything nutty here, and people just ignore you and tolerate you as a nut, one of millions of New York nuts. But if you wear black and skulls and a headband it computes.

Jesse gave me a copy of the new Vice and there were about a hundred skulls scattered through its pages. He told me the headband fad was down to Devendra Banhart, but while Devendra has adopted robes and Indian colours, it seems to me that his fans and followers are making some kind of bizarre blend of Electroclash, which many of them were into before they jumped onto the anti-folk bandwagon, and the softer hippy-folky thing that's come along since. They've picked up some kind of 60s rock look from Devendra (the headband hippy bit) but not the Indian bit. Which seems a pity. Dress Indian, America!

By the way, if you're an anti-folk fashion victim Jesse recommends a group called Tower Recordings, some of whom happen to be playing tonight (under the name PG 6) at Cakeshop at 152 Ludlow Street. Maybe I'll see you there. I'll be wearing my new skirt, bought at the Sally Army on Bedford Avenue for $3.48. As a concession to glum old New York, it's grey.