Patti Smith Loves Ball Gowns, Doesn’t Care What You Think

Sunday’s New York Times featured a riveting style profile of rock legend and fashion icon Patti Smith. The piece, which made for some serious coffee and croissant reading, revealed more than a few surprises behind Smith’s typically austere exterior.

Smith’s most interesting confession? That she loves ball gowns. She tells Ruth La Ferla, “People wouldn’t know this about me, but I adore ball gowns. I love their cut, their architecture and the thought of the hands of so many seamstresses working on them.”

She cites “Funny Face” and a “cache of discarded Vogues and Harper’s Bazaars” — which she was too poor to purchase herself — as fashion inspirations. Picturing a 20-year-old Smith pouring over “1950s Sears catalogs” is an exercise in imagination, as is the idea that in high school, the soon-to-be icon of androgyny wore “used Dior dresses or pink shantung capri pants with a Kelly green raincoat in honor of Audrey Hepburn.”

La Ferla maps Smith’s style transformation, noting that the rocker used to name her outfits and dress in theme.

There was her “Song of the South” get-up: straw hat, Br’er Rabbit jacket, work boots and pegged pants; the “tennis player in mourning,” a black-on-black ensemble accessorized for evening with white Keds; and her Anna Karina in “Bande à part”: dark sweater, plaid skirt, black tights and flats.

I don’t often think of rockstars as being conscious of their style; it seems to be something that just is — as organic as their guitar string dexterity or raspy vocals. Smith, however, takes conscious part in her stylings: control, as she puts it, is what drew her to the stage. “The thing I’ve always liked about performing is that I decide what I want to wear, whether I want to comb my hair. No one ever told me what to do, and no one tells me now.”

She’s equally ferocious about her day-to-day look, describing her style as “‘Look at me, don’t look at me.’ It’s, ‘I don’t care what you think.’”

Smith may not care what people think, but her musings are worth following. She makes a good case for dressing in uniform and wearing the same stage outfits over and over, “because for [her] they become emblematic of a certain tour” and explains her androgyny thusly: “I like to be comfortable. Sex has never been my thing. I just wanted to feel like myself.”

Words to live by.

A Rare Spirit, a Rarer Eye [NYT]

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