Chloë Sevigny's 90s Throwback: Part Two

The Indie Darling's NOWNESS Takeover Continues with Kim Gordon's Posse and a Marc Jacobs "Situation"

“Only one thing comes between me and my Calvins,” muses a 21-year-old Chloë Sevigny before setting off on a quest for a mysterious bank boy in this unseen film by Phil Morrison. During her Manhattan frolics Sevigny sneaks a hidden camera into a Marc Jacobs show, where the likes of Ethan Hawke, Naomi Campbell and Suzy Menkes are seen toasting one of the designer's seminal grunge collections. Shot as an original video campaign for X-Girl, the preppy downtown fashion line and one of the many collaborative projects conceived by Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, the video was “supposed to be like Godard,” explains Sevigny, who starred as the Jean Seberg-inspired protagonist alongside Budapest-born artist Rita Ackermann. “I was hanging out with her all the time and making videos with Bernadette Corporation and all those people; it was all up in the mix.” The tongue-in-cheek script co-penned by Morrison is a loose, sharp-witted rumination on fame, gender roles and the art and music scene of mid-90s New York. “I remember being concerned that people might find it boring, and Kim being very encouraging that she wouldn’t mind that at all, that it was to some degree the idea,” says the Junebug director. Nearly two decades later, the X-Girl muse paid homage to the cult line with a Fall 2013 Opening Ceremony presentation, where Gordon returned the favor with a one-off Pussy Riot-inspired performance. Here, Sevigny opens up to Interview magazine Editor-at-Large Christopher Bollen.

Christopher Bollen: Tell me about the picture of you that Larry Clark shot in 1993 that’s in the New Museum show [NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star].

Chloë Sevigny: I moved to NYC June of 1993, but I think that was shot earlier in the year when I was still visiting. I’m trying to think of the length of my hair because I was always shaving it that year. There’s a tank top, the ringer tees, stars of course were very popular in the 90s, so I feel like my outfit is very emblematic of 1993. It was shot in Larry’s apartment. I think I went over there with Harmony. He was already photographing us and making weird little videos and stuff.

CB: You were raised in Darien [Connecticut] and you’d come into the city on the weekends or after school, and that’s how you eventually met Harmony. I know this is part of your legacy.

CS: I met Harmony when I was a junior in high school, just hanging out. He was going to NYU and living at his grandmother’s in Queens. Washington Square had two different camps. There were the homeboys on one side: it was more the hip-hop, gangster side of the park. On the other side was the skaters. Me and this girl Lisa would come in together and she liked the gangsters so she’d hang on one side of the park and I would be on the other side with the skaters. And then we’d drive back home together in her mom’s Isuzu Trooper [laughs].

CB: Have you watched Kids recently? Are there specific scenes that you remember?

CS: I can remember almost every scene. The hardest one was when I was sitting with the doctor and she told me that I’m [HIV] positive and I had to react. I’d never really acted professionally, it was so hard, and Larry and I were trying to figure it out together.

CB: Were you interested in acting from a very young age?  

CS: Yeah, I was interested in acting since kindergarten when my mom brought me to see Annie on Broadway and that was it. That was when I decided. Because they were kids my age, on stage singing and dancing, which is what I loved to do. I was always dressing up.

CB: Were fashion, style, and music all interrelated for you as a kid? Like a form of acting?  

CS: I was into style and fashion really young, I really went for it! Eighth grade was when I veered off into the alternative world because I was obsessed with my brother’s girlfriend Ellie. She had blue hair and wore kilts and Doc Martens and I just thought she was so cool and so pretty and I wanted to be like her. Then I started getting into weird music, but even when I was doing the mainstream thing like everyone else, I didn’t feel like part of the popular kids.

CB: What did you wear while walking around New York in your first months here?

CS: I had combat boots and this white satin wedding gown that I had torn the train off of and I’d wear little T-shirts underneath, usually they’d have a Rita Ackermann drawing on them. And I had this pink 60s coat that was all falling apart and tattered, and I had pink and white hair.

CB: Do you look back on those early days in New York as particularly feral or free?

CS: A lot of that time in the 90s when me and Harmony were going out, more of my world was just about him. But I don't think about it much now. It takes a trigger like when I read Christine Vachon’s book about the making of Kids, or a photograph or someone’s story—then a flood of memories comes back.

CB: Was Harmony really ambitious at that age? Were you both? It seems like such a slacker skateboard world, but the two of you managed to make pretty astounding careers.

CS: I was less ambitious; more curious, you know? People thought I had a staring problem. I remember everybody saying: “Why do you stare so much?” Harmony knew what he wanted, he was on the fast track. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to work at a magazine, which is why I worked at Sassy. I knew I was interested in fashion and maybe designing because I’d made stupid hats on my sewing machine. Or maybe acting or some modeling, you know, if I can get that. I was just kind of feeling it out.

CB: Do you think the New York of downtown in the 90s is gone now? When you walk around are you aware of the changes?

CS: I guess it felt more like a community, more like a village. Even walking down Lafayette Street, there wasn’t all the shops and stuff like that. There were only a couple of little spots where you could see people but that was just my scene. I hung out at X-Large everyday.

CB: What do you miss most about those days?

CS: I guess I miss that sense that something could happen, and I don’t think that was just to do with the age that I was. I think there was more danger—not that I want that anymore but it was more palpable and more exciting. Even something as little as people smoking in a club. There’s a different feeling in the room. It’s as simple as that. That’s what I loved about [Sevigny’s older brother] Paul’s clubs, always. There was this sense that anything could happen. It was kind of wild again at the Beatrice Inn. Not that many people can capture that feeling of recklessness. I miss the big nightclubs, Times Square, the street walkers. 

CB: It seems like there was a nice convergence in the 90s with musicians and artists and filmmakers working with fashion, like Kim Gordon and her X-Girl line. She seemed to get all of the artists and filmmakers involved. You starred in the 1992 Sonic Youth video “Sugar Kane” set in a Marc Jacobs fashion show.

CS: Kim called me at home and said, “We’re going to do this music video. Would you be interested? You have to be naked.” And I said, “Okay.”

CB: So you really were naked in that runway scene?

CS: I think I might’ve worn a thong, which I’d never worn before in my life. I mean I was young, I was a junior in high school.

CB: You were very brave.

CS: I guess I just wasn’t very self-aware. I think people weren’t as brand obsessed, not the people who I was hanging out with. It wasn’t like Clueless. I don’t think I was thinking about making money. It was easier to live here without as much money, so it wasn’t anything I aspired to have. I didn’t want to be rich and famous. I just wanted to be cool and respected and admired. Harmony was into being pure and not being photographed. He informed how I felt about the press and what kind of decisions I wanted to make in my career. He was a real purist.

CB: The culture of film has also really changed since then. Do you think indie films still even exist? Boys Don’t Cry, for instance, was a watershed role for you. It really confirmed your place as a serious actress.

CS: I wish there had been more. There are a lot of movies I’ve made in my career that I’m really proud of, like the Last Days of Disco and American Psycho and even later with Dogville and Zodiac. But I feel like since then there’s been a dip and I want to get back to that consistency of working with good people and doing good work again. I read somewhere that no matter how famous you are, or how many movies you’ve been in, you’re always remembered for one or two parts. You know Robert De Niro is always Taxi Driver. I think I’ll always be associated with Kids. And that’s okay.

Production by Alanna Gabin. Specially commissioned title art by Hisham Bharoocha. To read Bollen’s thoughts on Sevigny and the 90s’ enduring legacy, click here.

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  • ON REPLAY
    ON REPLAY

    Collected Harmony

    Cult Filmmaker Harmony Korine On Cinematic Beginnings and How He Plans to Attack You

    Director Harmony Korine muses on early inspirations, subconscious impulses and his evolving ideas of filmmaking in Dustin Lynn’s intimate portrait shot during The Venice Film Festival in early September. Catapulted onto the indie film scene in the mid 1990s aged just 18 after writing the screenplay for Larry Clark’s controversial Kids, Korine cemented his reputation for pushing aesthetic and narrative boundaries by directing a string of cult classics including Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy and the provocative VHS camcorder-shot horror Trash Humpers. Lynn spent the afternoon exploring Lido with the Nashville-based director ahead of the star-studded Spring Breakers world premiere in the festival's prestigious Palazzo del Cinema venue. The Florida-set, porn-pulp crime tale stars James Franco as a gun-toting gangster presiding over a bevvy of delinquent beauties including Disney Channel darlings Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens. “I'm not sure a lot of the older people in the audience understood the feeling the film was giving them,” observes Lynn. “But such is the way from one generation to the next, like Elvis's hips were the devil not too long ago.” Cinematographer Benoît Debie’s sun-blasted neon exteriors and a pulsating electronic score by Cliff Martinez accompany Korine’s derisive commentary on the American Dream, materialism and the youthful search for self. “It is a disturbingly beautiful work of art and I found myself recalling images and scenes weeks after,” notes Lynn. “It just stays with you.”

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    Deep in Vogue

    New York Ballroom Legend Dashaun Wesley Proves Paris is Burning Brighter Than Ever

    Voguing master Dashaun Wesley maintains his composure through fierce dips and spins in today’s black-and-white short by photographer and filmmaker Michael Hemy. In the 1980s, when the grandfather of voguing Willi Ninja still ruled the New York scene, the dance style was an underground movement among the city’s black and Latino gay communities. Today, thanks to YouTube’s global reach, awesome battles and jaw-dropping performances are just a few keystrokes away, inspiring a whole new generation of voguers from Finland to Taiwan. Leading the pack is 28-year-old Wesley, a member of the House of Evisu community who frequently travels to far-flung places preaching the voguing gospel and insists there’s more to the style than meets the eye. “People only see the floor slams, the layouts and the dips,” he says. “It’s not about that—it’s about your personal experiences, which you display through your body movements.” In today’s film, co-conceived by New York journalist and entrepreneur Robert Cordero, Wesley weaves a compelling narrative based on his ballroom antics. “You can almost feel the camera shaking and hear the crowd go wild when you see him perform a drop,” says director Hemy of his subject’s delirious Vogue Femme technique, evolved from previous generations’ methods. NOWNESS caught up with the dance hero for some more insight into how and why voguing has become a worldwide phenomenon Willi Ninja would have been proud of.

    What’s the biggest difference between voguing in the 1980s and now?
    Dashaun Wesley: YouTube has had the biggest impact on voguing. Social media such as Facebook, Myspace, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. have all played a part in making it more popular. Although Madonna kicked off the whole trend, today people can just type in a few letters and you can get a voguing video. The energy is so high.

    Why is voguing so incredible to watch? 
    DW:
    When a person vogues, their character comes out. It’s like telling a story, and the way I align my body or throw my hand may be different from someone else.

    Can it be taught?
    DW: You have people teaching voguing who have never walked in a ball. When you get someone from the scene, you get the real stuff, so I think it’s important that I travel and teach. I found that people only think that voguing is what they see on YouTube—and it’s really not.

    How do your students outside New York react differently to the hands-on experience? 
    DW:
     In the US, my students can’t do a lot of things I teach. But when I go to Russia, they do everything. I also teach them there’s a difference between knowing how to do things, and knowing why you’re doing it.  

    (Read More)

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