It’s weird, this happens all the time. Chloë Sevigny is sitting at one of the outdoor tables at Stingy Lulu’s on St. Mark’s Place just off Avenue A, absorbing a mixed green salad and devouring the just-out September Vogue. A black girl and an Asian girl huddle anxiously on the corner a few yards away, checking her out. The two are about Chloë’s age, which is nineteen, and they seem to be debating whether or not to approach. Do they recognize her from the Sonic Youth video—the one filmed in Marc Jacobs’ showroom, which was kind of a spoof of the whole grunge thing—or did they catch her modeling the X-Girl line last spring? Maybe they saw her photo in Details, the ones taken by Larry Clark, who has just cast Chloë in his new movie, “Kids.” The girls pass by once and walk halfway up the block before they turn back, clinging to each other, and stop just behind Chloë’s right shoulder.
Chloë looks up, wrapping her arms tight around herself in an instinctive gesture of protection, as if to reduce the exposed surface area of her body even as she manages a smile that is shy and skeptical and indulgent all at the same time. It’s not like this hasn’t happened before, but it’s still a little, you know, weird.
“Can you, um, tell us where you got your, uh, shoes?” the black girl asks.
Chloë giggles with relief. She looks down at her jellies—transparent plastic sandals. Now that practically everybody’s wearing big, chunky, cleated boots and platform sneakers—even people who shlump every day to offices uptown—Chloë has moved on. She’s already gone. And the two girls standing on the sidewalk in their big black Doc Martens want to follow her. Chloë tries to remember where she got the sandals. “I think it’s right around the cover, on Avenue A. I can’t think of the name. Something Something.”
“Like, that way? Over there?”
The girls thank her and practically run up the street. Chloë fires up a Camel Light and resumes her study of Vogue. Watching Chloë read a fashion magazine makes you think of Alexander Woollcott devouring a ten-pound lobster a l'Americaine or Casanova undressing a servant girl. “This Marc Jacobs dress is beautiful. . . . Helmut Lang is my absolute favorite. . . . God, Armani is so old-ladyish. . . . Lagerfeld ruined the house of Chanel; Coco would never have done miniskirts. I watched this documentary about her. She was so great. . . . I’m like a fashion-magazine junkie. I love them, but they’re usually pretty late. By the time they print it, it’s already happened. The British magazines are much further ahead in terms of what’s happening in the street.”
Chloë can speak with some confidence about what’s happening in the street. Some say Chloë is what’s happening in the street. In addition to her jellies Chloë is wearing a very short white dress made of a shiny, flame-friendly space-age synthetic. It looks sort of familiar (Gaultier? X-Girl?), although you won’t see anyone else on the street wearing one, at least not yet, with eight weeks to go till Halloween. Maybe you saw it a few years back on the little girl from the next building who came around with her father and held her pillowcase open for the mini Snickers bars. It says “Cinderella” in floral-pink letters across the chest, above an image of a magic slipper and a cheerful pink-and-blue rendering of the fairy-tale princess inside her pumpkin carriage. All that’s missing is the plastic mask. The funny thing is, it looks really good on Chloë. Several people have already asked about it today, and she’s told them she scavenged this number in a Brooklyn thrift shop. Two dollars. She accessorizes it with a fake Chanel bracelet from Canal Street, which she wears around her biceps. At this moment, she is five feet eight, weighs a hundred and ten pounds, and looks, in her current short coif, quite a bit like a skinny Jean Seberg. Her nose is perhaps a bit blunt, and she points out the crookedness in her posture, which is the result of childhood scoliosis, but this doesn’t prevent downtown style-chieftains and scenesters from comparing her to Twiggy and Audrey Hepburn and Edie Sedgwick.
After lunch, Chloë cruises over to Daryl K, a boutique on East Sixth Street. She checks the racks methodically and holds up a pair of white vinyl pants. “I used to want these really bad, but I don’t now.” She still feels guilty about the fact that she once spent a hundred and twenty dollars on another pair of pants here. It’s the most she’s ever spent on anything, clotheswise. Generally she shops at thrift stores; not at vintage shops, which are thrift stores with an attitude, and not even at Manhattan thrift stores—forget about Cheap Jack’s and Andy’s Chee-Pees, which she considers self-conscious and hopelessly picked over. Chloë favors places in Brooklyn and her native Connecticut. It’s a rare day that she’s wearing more than ten dollars’ worth of clothes. Perhaps because she’s nervous that her current shoes are about to be fruitful and multiply, she decides to walk down to Chinatown and get a pair of Chinese fishnet sandals for two dollars.
The first time it happened, Chloë was seventeen. She was standing at a newsstand on Sixth Avenue, in the Village, when she was approached by Andrea Lee Linett, the fashion editor at Sassy. Linett was styling a commercial for the short-lived “Jane” show. “I saw Chloë,” she says, “and I thought, Oh we have to put her in the shot, but the producers said, ‘No, she’s really weird-looking.’” Linett stuck her in the commercial anyway and then asked her to do a shoot for the magazine. Chloë was photographed eating a carrot, wearing the big tan corduroy overalls that had caught Linett’s eye. At the time, Chloë had her hair down to her butt, and she used to tuck it up inside a big Nefertitian hat of her own creation. After the shoot, Linett went out and bought baggy tan corduroy overalls for herself.
Chloë was still a student at Darien High School then, sneaking off to the city whenever she could. She’d tell her parents that she hated them for raising her in Darien, that ur-suburb, though actually her parents were pretty cool: when Chloë shaved her head, her mother told her that she looked really cute, kind of French. And her father understood her attraction to the city; he’d lived on St. Mark’s Place and hung out at Max’s Kansas City before he moved to Darien for the sake of the very kids—Chloë, and her older brother, Paul—who would later yell at him for it. Chloë’s was not quite the conventional upbringing, any more than she is the conventional rebellious suburban kid. She grew up in a gray shingled ranch house near Long Island Sound that looks pretty raffish amid the austere white Colonials and the tall, picket-fenced Victorians. “My father was in insurance until his company was sold, and then he started painting trompe-l’oeil. He started with our kitchen, and then he did it for other people. He’s really good. We never had as much money as everyone else. I didn’t really like the kids in Darien.” So Chloë started coming to the city, where she found kindred spirits in the tribe of skateboards based in Washington Square Park. “I used to tell my parents I was going to Greenwich or New Rochelle. Then I’d drive into the city. The summer of ‘92 was when I first met everyone. I came to the city with two girls from Connecticut who were my homegirls. We’d go to Washington Square Park and I’d meet people. Every skater in the city was there. I’d go every weekend and hang, and then stay at different skaters’ homes.”
It happened again a few months after the Sassy shoot, when Chloë was hanging out in the city, kicking it with her friend Harold and the other skateboarders. While she was sitting in a friend’s car just off Washington Square, she noticed a woman walking past for maybe the third time, and then the woman stuck her head in the window and told Chloë she was a photographer and asked if she would like to be in i-D, a British fashion-and-music magazine that just happened to be one of Chloë’s all-time favorite publications.
Meanwhile, the folks at Sassy asked Chloë to be an intern that summer. And then Sonic Youth—the godparents of alternative rock, and possibly the coolest band in the world—cast her in their new video. The idea for the video was to do a little parable about the way Seventh Avenue plagiarizes the guerrilla fashion of the street: the Trickle-Up Haute cops the Down Low. The whole grunge thing was just peaking: runway models were slouching around in expensive hommages to the scruffy rockers of Seattle and their thrift-shop flannel shirts. And who better than Chloë to represent the super-cool street girl whose style gets ripped off in the designer showroom?
“I heard about Chloë through Sassy,” says Daisy von Furth, twenty-five, who styled the video and, together with grungy heartthrob Kim Gordon, the bass player of Sonic Youth, designs X-Girl, a line of casual rock-and-roll-girl clothing. “When I met Chloë, I instantly knew that she was so super-cool, and it’s been so cool to see where she’s gone from there fashionwise. She was dressing in arch preppy stuff and wide-wale corduroys, and she always had the best look. It was never off-the-rack skate stuff. We were all into old Fila stuff from the mid-eighties, but it was like her Fila sweater would blow yours away. She looked like a village guy who steals from Polo.” The Polo element of Chloë’s wardrobe was in part a function of a job she’d taken at the mall in Stamford senior year. Chloë tried all the stores in the mall: “I had just shaved my head and I thought it was really funny that Polo was the only one that called me back.” The safe, sporty uniform of prepsters and Westchester Saab drivers was at that moment being hijacked by rappers and skaters in a sort of inversion of the Trickle-Up Theory. “All the hip-hop kids were sporting Polo then,” Chloë explains. “They called it ‘Lo. But now it’s not hip. Everyone wears it now.” Everyone but Chloë.
“She’s ahead of the other girls,” von Furth says, “because she’s read all the history of fashion and she can go into a thrift shop and find the old Yves Saint Laurent dress, when all the other girls are going, ‘Hey, wow, look at this wacky T-shirt.’ If you can get it on Prince Street or Broadway, it’s already over for Chloë.”
Chloë was one of the models for the New York launch of the X-Girl line, which took place on Wooster Street last April—a major gathering of the interconnected tribes of hip-hop, rave, indie rock, and skateboarding. Chloë was also one of the muses. “We took one shirt she had,” von Furth says, “and we knocked it off. It was this blue broadcloth shirt and it just fit her so well. When we were doing our fall stuff, I had her try on stuff. Sometimes I think, This is really Chloë-ish.”
Around that time, Chloë posed for a fashion spread in Paper, the Vogue of the down-low universe, and she did the Lemonheads video for “Big Gay Heart.” The Lemonheads are considered either very cool or really bogus—lead singer Evan Dando has managed to inspire an anti-fanzine called Die Evan Dando, Die, presumably because he is too cute and his songs are too catchy. But Chloë simply likes the Lemonheads. “One of the great things about Chloë is that she’s incredibly enthusiastic,” von Furth says. “A lot of other girls in her position as super-cool girl would be really mean and jaded, but she’s not jaded at all.” Andrea Lee Linett agrees. “She’s not too cool for school, and she doesn’t have an attitude. She’s like a pure Edie Sedgwick, minus the drugs and craziness. She still likes her parents.”
Chloë’s girlish enthusiasm can break out at almost any time, as when she hears from a friend that a film based on her favorite book, Jim Carroll’s “Basketball Diaries,” is being shot in the East Village. She just has to wander by the set, and, my God, there he is, the slouchy poet laureate of the downtown lowlife himself, Jim Carroll, and she can’t help approaching him and telling him, “You can’t let them do this.” Chloë is concerned that the film will violate the spirit of the book, not just because she has heard a rumor that they might be changing the heroin to crack and because Marky Mark (Chloë rolls her eyes) is in it, but finally because it’s, well, Hollywood. Yet, for all her purist concern, what comes through when she recounts this story is her delight at meeting an idol: “I was so excited. It was one of the highlights of my life.”
Certainly anyone who has heard Chloë’s laugh—which alternately suggest a mallard surprised into flight and a drowning victim gasping for air—would be hard-pressed to call her jaded. But it’s probably her spacey air of mystery and reserve as well as the street chic that keep causing people to ask, “Who is that girl?”
“She’s definitely the girl of the moment,” says Walter Cessna, a writer for Paper. “All the kids think she’s the shit, all the store owners think she’s the shit. What’s interesting about Chloë is she spans both scenes, the whole grunge thing and the whole rave thing. Chloë really is the symbol for all those kids. But she does keep to herself.” Cessna wrote a screenplay, “Children of the Rave,” loosely based on Chloë and other kids from the scene. He also tried to represent for her modeling assignments, but found her curiously indifferent to being marketed. “I came up with serious stuff, like Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue, and she never showed up. It was kind of a fuck-you thing. At the time I was pissed, but now I kind of admire it. But finally I couldn’t deal with the fifteen phone numbers and everything.”
Chloë cheerfully admits to blowing off Meisel, one of the most important fashion photographers alive. (This seeming indifference to marketing herself may be her most attractive quality. It may also be canny.) To call Chloë elusive is an understatement: contacting her is a matter of triangulation—calling friends, calling her parents, calling Liquid Sky, the boutique on Lafayette Street where she has been working for the past year. When an appointment is made, it’s not always kept, particularly if it’s before afternoon. And when you find Chloë—when she’s right there, sitting across the table from you at Jerry’s or Odessa, in a tight black sweater she bought in Darien for three dollars embroidered with French expressions like “Affaire de Coeur” and “Cherchez la Femme”—you may find yourself still looking for her, looking for something more. It’s a neat trick to be able to suggest hidden reserves—to be a tabula rasa and seem to be the Dead Sea Scrolls—and Chloë’s friends all eventually allude to this sense that she is holding back. “She just sits there,” says her friend Rita Ackermann, a Budapest-born artist, “but she controls the whole scene. That’s her charisma.”
Here in the blue-tiled bathroom of Tunnel, a night club that has survived the eighties to enjoy a second round of popularity, it looks like a rave is going on: dozens of street kids in their mid- to late teens dancing to house music, smoking whatever, and kicking it. They’re waiting for Chloë. The girls are slim and boyish; the boys are all trying for goatees, but most of them aren’t quite up to it yet. In their baggy pants and T-shirts, they hardly appear costume-designed. The dirty fingernails are real, and more than a few of the kids are brilliantly reproducing that fucked-up party look (dilated pupils and silly grins), although it’s only two in the afternoon and this is actually the set of “Kids,” a modest-budget feature directed by Larry Clark, who is best known for his book “Tulsa.” Clark spent time in Washington Square Park photographing the skateboarders and later persuaded one of them, Harmony Korine, to write a screenplay about the scene. Clark then secured the invaluable backing of Gus Van Sant.
Harmony is one of the kids standing around the giant bathroom of Tunnel, and he’s wearing two-inch-thick prismatic glasses that make it impossible, presumably, to see much. He looks like a fifteen-year-old mad scientist; his expression is the perennial smirk of the kid who’s just waiting for the stink bomb to go off. He admits that he may have had Chloë in mind when he wrote the lead female role. “She’s kind of passive, like Chloë,” he concedes. Harmony couldn’t stand the first actress cast, an actual professional, who apparently looked like an actress amid all the street kids. “I hated her!” Harmony shouts. “I wanted to punch her. So Larry said, ‘Do you have anybody else in mind?’ and I said, ‘Why not Chloë?’” The actress was fired, Chloë was hired, and now everybody’s waiting to shoot one of the final scenes, where Chloë’s character comes to the rave to look for the guy who stole her virginity.
Jim Nugent, the Teamster captain on the production, who has just finished working on the new Walter Matthau movie, thinks things on this set are getting a little too real. “These kids, the extras—they’re, like, right off the streets. One of them tried to pick a fight with me the other day. I said to him, ‘Are you fucking crazy? I’m a Teamster.’ He didn’t care.” Nugent likes Chloë; he worries about her and about the company she’s keeping. “So the first day of shooting I’m supposed to pick up Chloë, she’s like the star of the movie and she gets a driver. So I say, ‘Chloë, where do you want to be picked up tomorrow?’ and she says, ‘I don’t know,’ and I say ‘What do you mean, you don’t know?’ and she says ‘I don’t really live anywhere,’ and I say, ‘What? You’re homeless? What am I s’posed to pick you up at cardboard box No. 7?’” Finally, they decided to give Chloë a beeper, so they could find her each morning wherever she had crashed.
The next night—well, technically, Saturday morning—Chloë is back in the coed bathroom of Tunnel, this time as a civilian. She’s wearing a very short surgical-cloth shift with a laser-printed design by her friend Rita Ackermann on the front: two sloe-eyed “opium-den girls” with violently smeared lipstick.
Forget about the so-called VIP lounge; the bathroom is the best scene in the club. It looks almost like the eighties in here, only more extreme—drag queens, drug deals, pierced lips, world-class posing. The crowd is homogeneous in its inchoate youthfulness (no aging pop artists, socialites, or countesses in sight) and heterogeneous in its drug use: a few grinning lovebugs on ecstasy; glassy-eyed junksters; furtive, Speedy Gonzales cokeheads zipping in and out of the stalls. Yes, it’s back; it never went away. Here’s a pre-voting-age enthusiast wearing a T-shirt that says “Snort Coke, Snort More Coke.” Quaaludes are back, too. And Ritalin, the drug often prescribed for hyperactive children, is a relatively new buzz on the scene. Then there are the truly fucked up—the candy flippers, the most catholic of druggies, who mix their pharmaceuticals like the ingredients of a tropical cocktail. They come out of the stalls pie-eyed after a couple of lines of Special K, a snortable combination of horse tranquilizers, heroin, and coke.
Chloë is greeted and hugged by William, one of the club kids, a hulking tatterdemalion figure wearing layers of shirts and ragged sweaters, with pink hair shaved close to his skull, and rings and plugs in his lips. And there’s Sophia, looking very 1967 in a white leather mini, with her long, straight dyed hair. Someone—not Chloë—comments that Sophia looks good considering that she is, like, really old, like forty or thirty-four or something. Here also is the famous and much loved Junkie Jonathan, his eyes ringed with kohl, tottering on high platforms. He’s wearing some kind of crocheted shirt, which is accessorized with a slave collar and a black lunchbox. Chloë says, “Actually, he’s not looking so hot tonight. Usually he has a kind of deconstructionist punk look.”
The club kids are professional party creatures, who dress and coif themselves to fabulous extremes and are paid by the management of the clubs to hang out—thereby, presumably, attracting the less fashion-forward wannabes and weekend scenesters. The kids form one of the downtown tribes among which Chloë moves, like a roving ambassador without portfolio.
“Some of the club kids have great fashion sense and they influence high fashion,” Chloë says. “Last spring, Anna Sui and Donna Karan were definitely influenced by the rave scene. All that athletic wear and techno wear, all the stripes. Anna Sui rips everything off.”
Chloë scans the room. “It’s kind of tacky tonight,” she says, observing dozens of young men who are wrapped in sheets. The word has apparently gone out on some deep-buried wire that tonight is toga night. Here, at what should be the cutting edge of street fashion, the late arrivals look like a bunch of beer-bashing Phi Deltas. And over there is Methuselan mogul Steven Greenberg, the Benjamin Franklin look-alike who has haunted the hot spots since at least the Pleistocene, wearing four young women with his well-cut navy business suit. “Oh God, him,” Chloë says. “That’s the guy who gives my friend Carissa money all the time. He’s like her sugar daddy, but she says she doesn’t have to do anything.” Chloë’s idea of an attractive older man is Evan Dando, who is twenty-seven. Her current boyfriend is an eighteen-year-old named Robby Cronholm, who plays in a band called Crumb. She takes out his picture and displays it. “Isn’t he cute?” He looks like a very attractive twelve-year-old with long hair and a big goofy grin. Unfortunately, Robby lives in San Francisco. The thought turns Chloë melancholy.
At 3 A.M., Chloë is checking out the merchandise spread along the sidewalk on Second Avenue between St. Mark’s Place and Seventh Street. Last week, she bought a great silver-plated picture frame for fifty cents, but she doesn’t find any treasures tonight. She steps over a pile of women’s shoes into the narrow doorway of the apartment building where she’s been staying for the past month—in a second-floor walkup she and her friend Lila Lee are subletting from the “Kids” costume designer. It’s a small studio with uneven brick walls. The tub is in the middle of the floor; the toilet’s down the hall. Chloë surprised a junkie there last week. The refrigerator harbors a pitcher of cold tap water and not much else.
Lila returns at about three-fifteen. She’s just had her butt-length dreads waxed, and she keeps feeling them. Lila is one of several people who are said to be Chloë’s best friend. She is from a first-generation Korean family who live near Nyack. Like Chloë, she hates the suburbs. “I started coming down to the city when I was thirteen,” she says. “I got into some really weird situations, staying with squatters. I can’t believe I didn’t get in more trouble than I did. My first kiss was in this squat; I kissed two different guys on the same night.”
Chloë puts on Pavement’s “Slanted and Enchanted” album. Pavement is currently one of her favorite bands, along with Sebadoh and Courtney Love’s Hole. “My first place in the city, I lived on Fourth and Avenue C with this friend and her boyfriend,” Chloë says. “She was a junkie. It was a spot, and the dealers would watch out for us and take care of us, but eventually one of the dealers ripped my friend off. When we went out, we’d go to the Limelight and USA and raves. After Avenue C, I lived in Brooklyn Heights with another junkie friend, who was also a dominatrix. She was eighteen. It was a real hell house. Everybody was doing a lot of drugs. When River Phoenix died, we had this tribute party. We rented four movies and did dope. It was pretty sick.” Dope is heroin. Chloë says she doesn’t do dope—she’s too paranoid—and it finally became awkward for her to hang around with junkies. “It got too weird. The police would come to the door about credit-card frauds. I had to get out of there. Then I went from house to house, living with different friends. Then I moved into another house in Brooklyn Heights, with four friends, until June.”
When Chloë left the Brooklyn Heights flop, she and Lila drifted from place to place together. “We stayed with friends,” Lila says, “and if we couldn’t find a place to stay we’d just go to a rave. Every Friday night, there was a NASA rave at the Shelter.” (NASA refers not to the space agency but to Nocturnal Audio Sensory Awakening, an unofficial organization devoted to another kind of space travel.) “It was open till 8 A.M. It was the after party. People would be at Limelight, and then they’d go to the Shelter.”
During the day, Chloë and Lila would hang out outside, with the skateboarders. Skateboarding is not quite equal-opportunity employment. The girls mostly watch. “You’d just sit there for hours waiting for people and watching people skate,” Lila says. “Skating is a little life style. They stick together. Skaters aren’t really into drugs. Just weed and booze. They shun hard drugs.”
“In the summer of ‘93, the ravers came in and took over Washington Square Park,” Chloë recalls. “If you were a geek in high school, you could be a raver. Anyone could go to a rave. At a hip-hop club, everyone’s putting on a front. Everyone’s tough. At a rave, everyone is high and mellow. But then heroin came along and made it much darker and more depressing. There was this big ecstasy dealer everybody knew on the scene. He died of a heroin overdose, and it really fucked everyone up. But they still do it.”
From the stereo, Pavement sings, “Can you treat it like an oil well, when it’s underground, out of sight?” Lila says, “The scene in the park got too commercial. Kids from New Jersey would come in, and the skaters had to find more down-low spots.
“Down low” is a cherished concept: secret, alternative, not commercial—everything one wants to be. Except one also sort of wants to be famous, and here is the contradiction at the heart of Chloë’s world, the dilemma of subcultures that ostensibly define themselves in opposition to the prevailing commercial order, the dilemma of all the boys and girls who want to be in Paper and Details: What do you do if Harper's Bazaar, or Calvin Klein, comes calling? In Chloë’s case, so far, you sort of blow them off.
Chloë lights a cigarette and pours a glass of water. Lila gets up to change the CD to A Tribe Called Quest. She tells Chloë she’s rented “River’s Edge.”
“I hate Keanu,” Chloë says. But, since it’s there, they play it, watching until dawn.
When “Kids” wraps a few days later, Chloë isn’t sure what she’ll do next. First she’s got to move her stuff back up to her parents’ house, in Darien, simply because there isn’t anyplace else to put it. She might go to London for a few weeks—she’s never been. And then she’s going to get her portfolio of drawings together and apply to college. She’s thinking about some kind of fashion or design degree. Someday, somebody should erect a statue to Chloë in Tompkins Square Park, with the amazing legend, “She didn’t want to be an actress or a model”—although she is going to do the Martin Margiella show at Charivari, since she likes Margiella clothes. What she thinks she’d really like to be is a costume designer for period films. For the time being, she has decided to go back and work at Liquid Sky, which is more of a home to Chloë than any of the apartments she’ll be crashing in.
Liquid Sky is the creation of Mary Frey, a waifish bleached blonde from New Orleans, who actually looks more like Edie Sedgwick than Chloë or anyone else does; Carlos Slinger, a.k.a. DJ Soul-Slinger, a Brazilian disk jockey and rave evangelist, whose air of mystery is enhanced by his wrap-around dark goggles; and Claudia Rey, a London-based artist and designer. The store presents a narrow, liquid face to Lafayette Street: a sheet of real water shimmers down the front of the window. Inside, a clubby, trippy ambience prevails. Over the cash register is a giant papier-mâché head of Astrogirl, who is the house mascot. A cooler in the corner is stocked with smart drinks, including Gusto Love Bomb: “It’s a surreal thing.” A staircase at the back leads down to Temple Records, billed as “100% underground. Import dance techno. We have the top acid, trance, breakbeat, ambient, house and jungle. The American music industry (radio) does not want you to hear this music.”
Mary Frey ricochets from one end of the store to the other, wearing a blue Astrogirl T-shirt, bluejeans, and a nose ring. “Liquid Sky is a posse, a concept,” Frey says. “It’s a whole vibration. It’s music, it’s d.j.s, it’s fashion. It supports the whole future of adolescence. This is New York Rave Central. We’re the connection to all the raves on the East Coast.” Frey sees the rave scene as a reaction to the elitist night-club scene of the eighties. “Everybody was sick of the corporate clubs. They were doing that picking-and-choosing thing, that exclusionary thing. The raves are more democratic.”
Frey first noticed Chloë at one of the boutique’s parties and was taken with her unearthly poise. She said to Gabriel Hunter, an Aspen transplant who was hanging out with Chloë, “Who’s that girl? She seems so together.”
When Frey, Slinger, and Rey opened the store on Lafayette Street, they asked Gabriel and Chloë to join them. Gabe and Chloë became in-house muses, models, and gofers. Chloë also became a seamstress. “I needed somebody to sew,” Frey says, “and Chloë said, No problem. She would gladly do anything that needed doing around the shop.” At twenty-six, Frey considers herself somewhat ancient, and feels lucky to have the inspiration of youth. Speaking of Chloë and Gabe’s generation, she says, “They don’t want to hang out with older people and go to the Hamptons. It’s a completely underground scene. A lot of fashion people come down and they rip it off. But that’s O.K.”
Today, Frey has to run down to Chinatown to grab an outfit for a wedding in London. This guy who’s in Depeche Mode is getting married, and she’s flying tonight, and all her clothes are dirty. She keeps talking on the way out the door: “Chloë’s her own category. She’s not a raver. She’s not a rocker. She’s like the old muses of Chanel or Christian Dior. Now you have this commercialized beauty, you have these cheesy-assed models like the ones who live in that building.” Frey pauses and points into the ornate lobby of the Police Building, the super-expensive downtown coop. “It’s not about what designer you’re wearing anymore,” she says to the building.
Chloë’s old room in Darien is waiting for her. Its bookshelves are filled with back issues of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and The Face. There’s a lava lamp on the bookshelf and a framed poster for a Sonic Youth and Breeders concert hanging over the desk. Chloë shows Lila a spread in the November, 1992, Sassy, with the head: “Our intern Chloë has more style in her little finger . . .”
Chloë is going to drive Lila back to her parents’ house tonight. First, though, they head for a thrift shop in downtown Darien. Chloë works the racks the same way she works the pages of a fashion magazine—thoroughly, meticulously. She goes up and down the rows, missing nothing. Eventually, she comes up with a cream-colored Christian Dior shirt with a long collar, probably from the seventies, and a thin aqua belt. She almost buys a man’s brown felt fedora but decides it’s a bit too big. The total for the shirt and the belt is five dollars.
Then Chloë is spotted by two girls she knew in high school. It is hard to imagine these chubby-cheeked girls, with their white baseball caps and Top-Siders, in the same school lunchroom as Chloë. Her claim that she was an outsider at her high school begins to seem like an understatement. Whatever these girls may have thought about Chloë Sevigny in junior year, they are clearly thrilled to see her now.
“Oh, hi, Chloë, how are you? I heard you were in a movie.”
“Yeah. Wow. That is just so great.”
Chloë tries to shrink away behind the clothes rack. “Well, it’s only an independent movie,” she demurs. “It probably won’t even get shown here.”
“Wow, that is so cool.”
“That’s awesome,” the other girl agrees.
Later, back in the car, Chloë says to Lila, “God! That one girl was the sister of this friend of mine. Once she threw this book from the top of the stairs, and it gashed my forehead.”
Lila shudders in empathy. In just a few days, she starts her junior year.
In front of Charivari on West Fifty-seventh Street a few days later, a dense crowd blocks the sidewalk forcing rush-hour pedestrians out into the street. It’s a downtown congregation gathered uptown, including Lila, who’s visiting from Rockland County, and Harmony, who is shivering in a white T-shirt, along with a slightly skeptical posse of black-clad assistants and editors from Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. The veteran celebrity photographer Bill Cunningham scans the crowd and doesn’t recognize many of the faces. Everyone is waiting for the preview of Martin Margiella’s new fall line to begin. Margiella, of course, is the Belgian designer who practically invented deconstruction—or, at least, the fashion world’s version of it—a couple of year ago: all those unfinished seams and inside-out designs that reveal the construction of the garment.
The door to Charivari is blocked by a guard; the windows are covered over with brown paper. “I like to watch Chloë model,” Harmony says. “Usually, she stumbles.” But there’s nothing so conventional as a runway here. Chloë doesn’t have to walk. The sound of bongos signals the start of the presentation. The paper over the windows is ripped away to reveal ten models slouching on the other side of the glass. All are wearing Mylar strips, which obscure their eyes. Chloë’s the third from the left. Only the spectators in the front see much more than the heads. Eventually, everyone funnels into the store.
Inside, Chloë talks to Gabriel Feliciano, who is a fledgling stylist and part-time hostess at Lucky Cheng’s, the Chinese drag restaurant in the East Village. Gabriel’s wearing a shiny lime-green shirt that looks very seventies. Chloë is in Margiella’s tailored two-piece brown suit, which is based on a design from the forties. Suddenly, silver-haired Polly Mellen, the legendary longtime fashion editor of Vogue, who is now at Allure, comes over to examine the outfit through her owlish glasses, casually adjusting the jacket and skirt on Chloë as Chloë stands, slightly awkward, unused to the intimate anonymity of being a professional mannequin. Chloë’s normally enigmatic expression clearly says Let me outta here.
The meeting of one of the priestesses of high fashion and the downtown girl of the moment passes uneventfully. In a couple of hours, Chloë will be back downtown, in her world.
Clutching a wineglass and watching his friend, Feliciano says, “People want to project their desire on one girl. She’s smart enough to hold back, and that allows us all to project whatever we want to. I could go on and on about Chloë, but actually I know very little about her.”
Jay McInerney is the critically acclaimed author of eleven books – eight of which are works of fiction. Time Magazine cited his first bestselling novel, Bright Lights, Big City (1984), as one of nine generation-defining novels of the twentieth century. Translated into more than 20 languages it has irrefutably achieved the status of a contemporary classic. “Each generation needs its Manhattan novel, and many ache to write it” noted the New York Times Book Review, “but it was McInerney who succeeded."
His other novels are Ransom (1985), Story of My Life (1988), Brightness Falls (1992), The Last of the Savages (1996), Model Behavior (1999) and The Good Life (2006). Described as “McInerney’s most fully imagined novel as it is his most ambitious and elegiac” by The New York Review of Books, McInerney’s most recent novel The Good Life also received the Grand Prix Literaire at the Deauville Film Festival in 2007. How It Ended (2009), a collection of short stories spanning his entire career, was named one of the 10 best books of the year by The New York Times.