Chloë Sevigny’s Cool Year

Last fall, I passed Chloë Sevigny—40 years old this year!—walking east on 16th Street in the golden hour with a giant Chloé shopping bag slung over her shoulder. I forced eye contact; she did not return my smile, but locked eyes anyway. Her red lipstick was lacquered on, complimenting a white ensemble, if only to say, “No, darling, I’m not worried about getting this on my shirt,” or “You’d be lucky if I get it on yours, to remember me.”

Jay McInerney, a fabulously flamboyant and intrepid journalist, crowned Chloë the It Girl in a 1994 profile in the New Yorker, and then, with methodical schoolboy precision, went about proving it. And you know I give him a real A++ for effort: “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.” Now, “the coolest girl in the world” or not, one still cannot elide the fact that he’s really saying: I’m watching a 19-year-old from the suburbs read Vogue.

But for the past 20 years, Chloë’s more or less eschewed the fan-celebrity pact with her public that usually means employing a publicist with a direct line to Us Weekly. If you want to worship me, she seemed to say, sing The Bluest Eyes in Texas at Karaoke like in Boys Don’t Cry, refresh eBay for that pink Supreme skateboard with my high school yearbook photo, DVR Big Love.

Until this year, where seemingly out of the blue she released Chloë Sevigny, her Rizzoli picture fan book “for the kids.” It’s a beautiful gingham artifact but, to quote the writer Amie Barrodale, if you’re like me then be like me and immediately start clique stalking her photog-y friends who provided the candid snaps on Instagram. There’s bestie from the tri-state area, musician-artist Lizzi Bougatsos, who posted these cheeky outtakes that didn’t make it in the book; here’s our lady chilling with skater-chronicler William Strobeck, who just so happens is friends with the “mystery man”, i.e. civilian Ricky Saiz, Chloe’s been dating this year.

Then—because there’s nothing chicer than doubling down—she gifted us No Time For Love, a zine of the men in her life (with stickers over their faces and newspaper clippings from Page Six). What’s worse—or what proves her to be the ultimate celebrity, I think—is that her primary sources serve only to heighten her opaqueness, her coolness, her unattainable celebrity-ness.

The actress Natasha Lyonne, writing the afterword to Chloë, addresses the Chloë je ne sais quoi: “You can live in her house, drive her car, listen to her iPod, and wear her clothes—none of that makes you Chloë.” To which I almost screamed: Yes, yes, but tell us what’s on her iPod! Lyonne gives up a little, but not much: “No matter what her particular obsessions are—the film Picnic At Hanging Rock, the novel The Executioner’s Song, Morrissey, Fassbender, Depeche Mode, Judy Garland—it’s all in her lifeblood…I could go on and tell you how much she loves fennel. Or that we eat a lot of watercress together.” She doesn’t go on, though I wish she would.

In her “where-is-she-now” New Yorker profile this year, 20 years after the premier of Kids, she defined cool: “Cool has a certain mystery to it. It’s being removed. To me, the coolest thing is to keep something to yourself.” In her zine, she clipped her quote in a New York Post article: “’I don’t like Sean Penn talking about how much he likes [poet] Charles Bukowski on Charlie Rose. To me, I’d rather not hear that at all. I’d rather not know so much about actors. It makes it harder for me to enjoy the characters they play.” (The Post gets the kicker though: “Thanks, Chloe [sic] — now we know a little more about you, too.”)

I see Chloë as a celebrity quite tuned in to the whitewashing effects of the Hollywood machine. In the Spring/Summer Issue of Purple, she flips this worry onto her interviewer’s lap: “How does one maintain their weirdness over time?…How do you stay in touch with the people on the weirder side of life? Do you know what I mean? I often think about that when I see performers and people that I admire getting older. Women always start to do an Asian influence, like kimonos…” (In a classic Chloë I-change-my-mind-when-I-want move, she also told Leandra Medine this year that “as I get older and dress a little more ladylike, maybe I’ll buy into more Japanese designers, I think that might be the route for me…”)

In Chloë’s case, you maintain your weirdness by all of a sudden taking your foot off the peddle whenever you feel like it. You move from the East Village—her East Village—to Park Slope, with nothing more than a shrug. You get an Instagram account and sign up for Facebook after decrying the lack of privacy on social media. You give us, in 2015, a weird a wacky body of work as a model, actress, designer, It Woman on top of all this self-released media: via Opening Ceremony we American Girls can finally pull off the trench coat and beret in America; she got ugly ugly for American Horror Story; she teamed up with pal Natasha Lyonne for a horror film called, duh, #horror; she posed naked with a lobster as underwear a la Dalí; she smoked a cigarette with Kristen Stewart; she got a “screwball thriller” movie where she plays a character named Chloe crowdfunded on Kickstarter (girl, we support you)…

Which is all to say, the coolest thing Chloë could do at 40 is do what she never did before: give us everything we want, then shrug as if to say, “You’re the one that wanted proof you couldn’t be like me.” And so—my zine shredding its staples from heavy flipping; my Chloë book at a friend’s house because she wanted to “borrow” it—I think I’m just going to have to go back to watching her movies, wearing her clothes, refreshing her friends Instagram feeds, and praying that Gawker Stalker will come back!

—Kaitlin Phillips

Photo via Getty.

More on online admiration: what it means to be someone’s #Mom.

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My Manicure, Myself

A friend of mine likes to tell the story of how, while working as an assistant at The New York Review of Books, he met the writer Janet Malcolm. Like all great anecdotes, it can be appreciated only by a particular audience, to the extent that it is appreciated at all. It goes like this: Malcolm walked into the office of the Review. It was late March; he was on Gchat.

“Hello, I’m Janet Malcolm,” said Janet Malcolm.

He looked up.

“Yes,” he said. My friend stood up from behind his desk. Malcolm removed her scarf, folded it, and placed it carefully in her bag.

He reckons they stood staring at one another like this for some time.

And that’s his story of meeting Janet Malcolm. It seems likely that his helplessness inspired genuine pity. He was at a loss. It is possible she realized, even before he did, that he had in fact played his entire hand. She moved on long before he might have been able to redeem himself. (He does not remember any details about the scarf.)

It’s a funny joke. Not funny ha-ha certainly, but a warm and fuzzy story that perfectly encapsulates what it’s like to meet a niche “celebrity” one admires in New York. It’s heartening to know that despite not being a physically imposing or impatient person, Janet Malcolm cannot help but be at all times Janet Malcolm: a natural-born reporter who feels no need to fill the air. A real cool customer she is!

Since I do not have the credentials nor personality to support quite so freestanding a personality as an American celebrity, I have done what I could to approximate it by adopting the logical shortcut: a unique, but ultimately flattering, uniform that offsets somewhat less controllable mannerisms. I occupy myself, however superficially at times, as best as I know how. Which is to say not very well, as I’ve not yet settled on a clothing style that suits either my environment or my body, nor am I known for having a particularly measured social presence.

What I have found, though, are some props that have carried me through time and space: my Blackberry, brown leather Chloé bag, black turtlenecks in the winter, high-waisted Acne jeans, a silver Bedat & Co. watch from my friend Helena’s mother, a dogged refusal to move out of Manhattan, an improvisational verbal patter, and…my nails—which I change constantly, usually in the first gesture toward whatever facet of my persona most needs highlighting.

Manicured nails are not unlike tattoos, albeit temporary. They’re either tasteful, tacky, or innocuous. My mother, more often than not, hates my manicure. People labor over their application, or they don’t. You really never know who’s going to sport them! I had a roommate in Chinatown who starched her jeans, wore high-waisted, pleated-linen shorts all summer, did the dishes with gloves, and started every day with a cup of coffee and a to-do list written in cursive. No curveballs here! Or so I thought. Instead of an engagement ring, she got a tattoo of her fiancé’s initials on her upper arm “for fun.” She didn’t do her nails for fear of “chemicals.” (One imagines Janet Malcolm does not do her nails because it is a waste of time.)

Like my most heavily tattooed friend, I believe nails are addictive. I’ve gotten more and more elaborate variations—from shellac to gel to gel tips to gel tips with art—from more and more skilled technicians at an ever increasing cost. A quick perusal of Instagram from the last six months reveals my varying degrees of employment, reading habits, and special events. Working as a glorified secretary for an aging society woman, I tended toward short, square nails of the “bridesmaid” variety, in the dull, matte coral pink of the Williamsburg bridge or pretty Ballet Slippers. I opted for hot pink the month an old n+1 editor of mine emailed me that much-coveted PDF of Eve’s Hollywood (the coat was fresh when a friend left a copy of Spy magazine at my house after a party); I reread Jane Bowles’ Two Serious Ladies while wearing the red polish that is modeled on the cover. I celebrated quitting said job last month by donning the longest gel tips in gray. I called it my “pavement” look, since I’ll do nothing but walk the streets of New York from now on! When my friend Rachel lent me a gown with large, golden, little-girl puffy sleeves for a ball, I took pictures and carefully matched the shade.

Of course, it’s impossible to look at these photos and not think of the women who—while I perfected my “manicure resting face”—entertained me. There was Sarah, the part-time astrologist from Long Island, who fired me after insisting I get my birth chart done because she “can’t trust a double Gemini.” Melissa, from the 24-hour nail salon near my old freelance cubicle at Departures, who talked mostly about how her large dog and even larger boyfriend no longer fit in her apartment, gave me my first ever gel tips. I found out later she was removing them illegally, but who can forget the time she convinced me to get “tan mom nails”: square extensions the color of a sepia latte. Or Michelle, from next door to my favorite deli on the Lower East Side, who would fit me in between appointments (as long as I came in having removed the last polish myself), giving me a quick coat for $5 a pop, which I changed every three days in 2013.

I type this with manicure-free nails. A gesture I made recently (cough, last week) toward some financial solvency as an unemployed (freelance!) writer. I like that—unlike my clothes, my address, or my iCal—my nails always readily reflect exactly the state I’m in.

—Kaitlin Phillips

Kaitlin Phillips is a writer living—unfashionably East!—in Manhattan. She likes taking her Blackberry on long walks. She has never figured out how to put on eyeliner and feels really left out as a result. 

Photo courtesy of the author. 

The cheapest way to stop biting your nails brought to you by your old pal Sally Hansen.

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