Friday, March 25, 2011


I stretched out reading Patti Smith’s book Just Kids, about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe, for as long as possible. I read about a page a day, wanting to extend my time hanging out with Patti as it were. I could pick any of the countless ways the book inspired me, but Patti’s descriptions of how she dressed at significant moments in her life have stayed with me. I often feel misunderstood in my love of clothes and style - to admit that often makes people assume you simply love going shopping / consumerism - something I'm not particularly interested in at all. Patti’s approach to dressing is more the way I think of it - her references and imagination plus well loved treasures, imbued with stories and life that make them memorable years later. (Though it’s better not to be too nostalgic - as I’m reminded every time a beloved piece of clothing bites the dust.)  Below are some excerpts from the book relating to dress that I particularly like. Reading them tells a story of its own.

[Patti and Janet Hamill] "We had stood in line for hours at Sam Goody's to purchase Blonde on Blonde, combing Philadelphia in search of a scarf like the one Bob Dylan wore on the cover."

"We cut our long skirts to the mini-lengths of Vanessa Redgrave's in Blow Up and searched for greatcoats in thrift stores like those worn by Oscar Wilde and Baudelaire."

©Linda Smith Bianucci
"At twenty years old, I boarded the bus [to New York City]. I wore my dungarees, black turtleneck, and the old gray raincoat I had bought in Camden."

"Even Capezio’s, a store for classic dance attire, wouldn’t take me, though I had cultivated a good beatnik ballet look."

"My favorite object was a modest necklace from Persia. It was made of two enameled metal plaques bound together with heavy black and silver threads, like a very old and exotic scapular."

"My uniform for Scribner’s was taken from Anna Karina in Bande a Part: dark sweater, plaid skirt, black tights, and flats."

"Robert had bought me a white dress for Easter, but he gave it to me on Palm Sunday to assuage my sadness. [About Martin Luther King’s death.] It was a tattered Victorian tea dress of handkerchief linen. I adored it and wore it in our apartment, a fragile armor against the ominous portents of 1968."

[At the El Quixote] "I was wearing a long rayon navy dress with white polka dots and a straw hat, my East of Eden outfit. At the table to my left, Janis Joplin was holding court with her band."

"I approached dressing like an extra preparing for a shot in a French New Wave film. I had a few looks, such as a striped boatneck shirt and a red throat scarf like Yves Montand in Wages of Fear, a Left Bank beat look with green tights and red ballet slippers, or my take on Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, with her long black sweater, black tights, white socks and black Capezio’s. Whatever the scenario, I usually needed about ten minutes to get ready." 

"I cut out all the pictures I could find of Keith Richards. I studied them for a while and took up the scissors, machete-ing my way out of the folk era."

1, Fifth Avenue, 1978 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
[At the Chelsea Hotel] "I was dressed in my Song of the South getup - straw hat, Brer Rabbit jacket, work boots, and pegged pants - and was hammering away at the same set of phrases when I was interrupted by an oddly familiar voice."

"He took me in skeptically. “Darling, the ensemble is fabulous,” he said, patting my hand, eyeing my black jacket, black tie, black silk shirt, and heavily pegged black satin pants, “but I’m not so sure about the white sneakers.”
“But they’re essential to my costume.”
“Your costume? What are you dressed as?”
“A tennis player in mourning.”
Fernando [Sanchez] looked me up and down and began to laugh. “Perfect,” he said, showing me off to the room."

"Robert took the photograph for my first small collection of poems, a chapbook called Kodak published by Middle Earth books in Philadelphia. I had in mind that it should resemble the cover of Bob Dylan on Tarantula, a cover of a cover. I bought some film and a white tab-collar shirt, which I wore with a black jacket and Wayfarers."

"I decided to go [to Charleville, France] in October, the month of Rimbaud’s birth. Robert took me shopping for a proper hat, and we chose one of soft brown felt with a grosgrain ribbon. Sam sent me to an optometrist, where I was fitted for National Health style spectacles, in honor of John Lennon.[...]On the Bowery I found an unconstructed raincoat of kelly green rubberized silk, a Dior blouse of gray houndstooth linen, brown trousers, and an oatmeal cardigan: an entire wardrobe for thirty dollars, just needing a bit of washing and mending."

23rd Street, 1972 © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation
"Wishing to add a guitar line that could represent the desperate desire to be free, we chose Tom Verlaine to join us. Divining how to appeal to Tom’s sensibilities, I dressed in a manner that I thought a boy from Delaware would understand: black ballet flats, pink shantung capris, my kelly green silk raincoat, and a violet parasol, and entered Cinemabilia, where he worked part-time."

"There was never any question that Robert would take the portrait for the cover of Horses, my aural sword sheathed with Robert’s image. I had no sense of how it would look, just that it should be true. The only thing I promised Robert was that I would wear a clean shirt with no stains on it. I went to the Salvation Army on the Bowery and bought a stack of white shirts. Some were too big for me, but the one I really liked was neatly pressed with a monogram below the breast pocket. It reminded me of a Brassai shot of Jean Genet wearing a white monogrammed shirt with rolled-up sleeves. There was an RV stitched on my shirt. I imagined it belonging to Roger Vadim, who had directed Barbarella. I cut the cuffs off the sleeves to wear under my black jacket adorned with the horse pin that Allen Lanier had given me. [...] He said, “You know, I really like the whiteness of the shirt. Can you take the jacket off?” I flung my jacket over my shoulder, Frank Sinatra style. I was full of references. He was full of light and shadow."

 {Excerpts from Just Kids by Patti Smith, Bloomsbury. All photos © Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation except 1, © Linda Smith Bianucci.}


Paper Heart Girl said...

The quotes and your description have made me want to read this book even more than i did before! xxxxxxxx

If Jane said...

oh i loved this book!!! and i too loved hanging out with patti...the people she met (and who influenced her) the moments with robert marplethorpe and her love for reading and 19th century french literature..really stuck with me.

emma said...

I have a little notebook in which I jot down "fashion quotes" from otherwise serious books - somehow, I find them a lot more inspiring than pictures in fashion magazines... These Patti Smith quotes are absolutely brilliant, may I steal them for my notebook?

Camille said...

Thank you so much Claire, I find reading these descriptions incredibly inspiring and comforting. Clothing should have personality, should be treasured, and every time I find evidence of someone having such an attitude towards clothing, it makes my heart melt a little while reinstoring my love for it. I also really like how Patti Smith uses Bob Dylan as a sartorial reference as they are two of my favourite people to look at for inspiration.

Tiffany said...

i didn't want to give up this book either. i love the part where she describes the men's white dress shirt that she cut the cuffs off of. she's a smarty.

Jaclyn said...

this book looks so great, I definitely want to read it. Mapplethorpe's photos of Patti Smith are beautiful. It would be great to read about their friendship.

Wonderful blog too :)

Claire * Lola Is Beauty said...

Emma - of course you may!

Jaclyn - thank you...

Ally said...

These quotes are so wonderful, I must read this book now!

I agree with emma that when descriptions of clothes are this good, they are so much more inspiring than a photograph.

Bombay Beauty said...

wonderful extracts... now i want to read the book... xo bb

Toni Marie said...

I totally identify with you about your feelings about clothing. I think a lot of people misinterpret a love of clothing with being materialistic and I've had to defend my deep love of clothes more times than I can count because of this. I see clothes as a medium for artistic expression and no one can argue that wearing certain things can absolutely impact our moods.

Also, I really wanted to buy Patti's book the other day and for some reason put it back down. After reading this post, I think I'll go back for it.