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The bulk of “Performing/Guzzling” consists of blurry, abstract portraits on rice paper — they’re the figures she sees as she looks out to the audience while onstage. “I’ve always been interested in the relationship between performer and audience,” she notes. “I like the idea of making the audience the performer.” Toward the back of the book, there’s an amusing set of candid on-tour photographs, including several of the singer’s own lap. “I was bored,” Gordon deadpans.
Her “Noise Paintings” series — five of which are in “Performing/Guzzling,” with the majority in the John McWhinnie portfolio published by Moore’s own Ecstatic Peace imprint — features paint-splattered words, smudged and dripping, such as “16 Bitch Pile Up,” “Slow Listener,” “Testicle Hazard” and “Talk Normal.”
For the uninitiated, the phrases are names of underground bands of the Noise movement. “The Noise scene is so obscure and also something that’s so free and pure,” says Gordon. “It’s never going to become a commercially viable thing. So I liked the idea of making something that might appeal to a consumer to buy in the way someone might buy a T-shirt from a place [he’s] never been before.”
During Friday’s exhibit at KS Art Gallery, she also will unveil a new text series based on phrases she has made up. “The funny thing is, I have really awful handwriting,” Gordon says. “I’ve always hated it.”
Meanwhile, Gordon’s June portfolio with No. 6, yet to be named, spotlights a line from Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Rhiannon” song — each painting in the portfolio features a single word. “It fits the aesthetic of the store,” she says. “And as it turns out, [owners Morgan Yakus and Karin Bereson] are really into Fleetwood Mac.”
The way that particular project came about owes a great deal to Gordon’s fashion savvy. She’s a frequent shopper at Yakus and Bereson’s hip downtown shop. Her style know-how is evident throughout the WWD shoot, too. Gordon already requested some of her favorite brands — Acne, United Bamboo, Rachel Comey and Electric Feathers — and, as she sifts through the racks in her chartreuse-colored piano room, she is above all else mindful of pairing her outfit with wherever each shot will take place. “I’ve learned a few things,” says Gordon, the daughter of a seamstress, with a laugh.
Indeed, Gordon has already helmed her own fashion line, twice. The first time was in 1993, when she launched the now-defunct street collection X-Girl with friend Daisy von Furth. Then, in 2008, the singer partnered up with Melinda Wansbrough and Jeffrey Monterio, both of whom are Mayle alums, for their Mirror/Dash line, exclusive to Urban Outfitters. The name stems from Gordon and Moore’s nicknames (she’s Dash), and the inspiration, at least initially, was Françoise Hardy. “I’m always inspired by her,” she says. “But Urban Outfitters — no one’s going to buy a pantsuit, no matter how cool it looks.” The offerings now consist of easy separates — nautical blazers, silk pants and day dresses. Next up for the singer: a three-style collaboration with Sportmax for the fall 2011 season.
And yet, for all her fashion cred, Gordon visibly cringes when the term “fashion designer” is lobbed at her. “I would never think of myself as a designer,” she replies. “It’s more like a stylist wannabe.” Instead, she reserves her respect for designers such as Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy — “they think like artists” — and Marc Jacobs, with whom she’s had a long-standing relationship. The two met back in 1992 when Sonic Youth was working on the music video for its “Sugar Kane” single. The director, Nick Egan, happened to be friends with Jacobs. “Nick said, ‘Oh, I have this friend who has a showroom. We can use his clothes,’” recalls Gordon. “It was funny that it happened to be the grunge collection [for Perry Ellis]. We filmed in the company’s showroom. I suppose he knew he was leaving, anyway.” The video also starred a teenage Chloë Sevigny.
Since then, Gordon has appeared in Jacobs’ advertising twice, in 1998 (she was his first campaign model) and, several years later, with Moore, Coco and their niece, Louise. “I got a call from Robert Duffy after the [second] ad,” says Gordon. “He said they got so many positive letters because it showed a wholesome family. Usually, they get hate mail, ‘she looks too young or she’s pregnant…’” She also jokingly credits Jacobs for turning her on to wearing dresses while performing. The other reason she gives: “I liked the contrast of something more feminine with what fashion thinks rock should look like — you know, the predictable leather pants.”
When questioned about the public’s greatest misconception about her, Gordon replies: “That I’m a strong woman.” Which might come as a surprise to those aware of her gritty onstage persona. “I mean, I like to take risks,” she clarifies, “but I’m very susceptible to things and don’t have a lot of defense mechanisms. In that way, I don’t feel strong.”
As the singer-cum-artist says this, she’s in her upstairs art studio, its blue floor strewn with glitter and splatters of paint. Behind her are two word paintings: the first, on the wall, is an old saying of her daughter’s, “Stuck on Gum,” and the second, in broad brushstrokes on a canvas that she’ll show on Friday, the phrase: “Bad Adult.”
HAIR BY COREY MORRIS FOR SALLY HERSHBERGER; MAKEUP BY NICO GUILIS FOR CHANEL AT SEE MANAGEMENT