In his bestselling Wacky Chicks, irreverent social commentator and humor writer Simon Doonan introduces readers to a bracing cross section of exuberantly unconventional women: comedienne Amy Sedaris; fashion designer turned park ranger Spider Fawke; Warhol muse Brigid Berlin; Suzanne Bartsch, the woman who showed Madonna how to vogue; and many more. Distinguished primarily by their wild originality and rule-breaking chutzpah, these women defy rules, shape the cultural landscape, and enrich the world. They are about as diverse a flock as you can imagine, but all of them are Belligerent, Resilient, Uninhibited, Naughty, Creative, and Hilarious (B.R.U.N.C.H. for short). In a word, they are Wacky, and they are ready to enlighten you. A book that pays tribute to the wild and unstoppable female in each of us, Wacky Chicks is the ultimate guide to embracing your inner rebel.
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Simon Doonan is the bestselling author of Wacky Chicks and Confessions of a Window Dresser. In addition to his role as creative director of Barneys New York, Simon writes the "Simon Says" column for The New York Observer. He frequently contributes observations and opinions to myriad other publications and television shows. He is a regular commentator on VH1, the Trio network, and Full Frontal Fashion. He lives in New York City with his partner, Jonathan Adler, and his Norwich terrier, Liberace.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Introduction: An Uprising of Glamorous Outsiders
"Life's a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!"
We've done something silly.
In our fevered quest to find gurus and role models to admire and look up to, we have not always looked in the best places. In the 1980s, for example, a collective screechy hysteria infected popular culture, and everybody rashly decided that movie actors were really, really, really important. During this recklessly superficial period, they, the movie actors, became the icons of our age. No, we didn't pick useful people like brain surgeons, firemen or coffee shop waitresses. We chose show-biz folk. And then we sat there like puddings and inhaled all this drivel about the supposedly squintingly brilliant glam lives of these celebs, and we actually started to believe the hype. And gradually by the 1990s, we strove to live vicariously through them. If only we could be one-millionth as fabulous as Julia or Nicole or even Linda Hunt!
Movie actors reciprocated this adulation by becoming progressively more self-important. They started to refer to their own bodies as their "instruments." On podiums and red carpets from London to Burbank, they lost no opportunity to share heartfelt, irony-free observations about each other's "interesting choices" and about the "courage" it takes to "build a body of work."
Acting was once thought of as a simpleton's profession. In ancient Rome, actors were held in the same esteem as hookers and shoplifters. At best acting was a grown-up version of "let's pretend": that's why child actors never need acting lessons. By the 1990s acting had become a "craft" and actresses now referred to themselves as "actors."
Though unfortunate, this pretentious buffoonery is all fairly harmless. And thankfully the celebs all look quite delightful in the free drag, which they receive from Giorgio Armani and others. But now, nearly twenty years later, aren't you starting to question the whole notion just a tidgy bit? Shouldn't we expect a bit more from our cultural icons than good looks, the ability to keep their weight down and a talent for showing up on a movie set on time? Shouldn't we, instead, be worshipping people like Isabel Garrett?
If we have this burning desire to deify somebody or other, why didn't we pick Miss Garrett? Busty, coquettish Isabel is so infinitely more worthy of our idolatry than Gwyneth or Halle or even Dame Judi.
Who the hell is Isabel Garrett?
For starters, Isabel is a free bird. She's a skip-along, go-anywhere kind of a gal who is a total dab hand at maneuvering a motor home, which isn't really surprising, since she spends most of the year driving around the U.S. in a rather large one. She stops occasionally and sets up shop at the swinger conventions and biker rallies, where she sells her fetish-wear. This mobile maison de la mode is the nerve center of Body Webs, the slashed-and-sexy-spandex business that Ms. Garrett has operated since the early 1990s.
I first became aware of Isabel when an intuitive colleague drew my attention to a piquant write-up about Body Webs in Women's Wear Daily. I tracked Isabel down, to a nudist colony.
When not peddling her wares at Dressing for Pleasure or at the Lifestyle Convention in Las Vegas, she parks at the Cypress Cove Nudist Resort in Kissimmee, Florida. She's been a go-go dancer and a follower of Ayn Rand. Oh, and did I mention her white-hot, meteoric rise to prominence in the toy industry, where she gained notoriety as the creator of the acclaimed Whoopsie Doll?
Isabel is a multifaceted, untamed supervixen powered by an uncensored, unfettered creative energy, which could and frequently does blow the toupee/chest-wig off even the most adhesive-conscious swinger. Isabel is one of a new breed of women. Isabel is a wacky chick.
Who are the wacky chicks? And what makes this new breed of insurgent revolutionaries tick? Gird up your loins, stiffen the sinews, paint your wagon and summon the blood, because you're about to find out.
Wacky chicks are a burgeoning and highly entertaining phenomenon. Wacky chicks will change the world. Wacky chicks dare to annoy. Wacky chicks empower themselves and others without acting like blokes. Wacky chicks are having more fun than most regular chicks and all men, except maybe gay men. Wacky chicks are disapproval-immune. Wacky chicks are like grown-up Eloises. Wacky chicks are belligerent, resilient, uninhibited, naughty, creative and hilarious -- i.e., wacky chicks are B.R.U.N.C.H.
When I first encountered Isabel, I was bowled over by her reckless individuality. When they made old Izzy, they definitely broke the mold -- or did they? Gradually I found I was meeting more and more of these over-the-top broads. Was I witnessing a trend? Almost overnight, I found it was impossible to leave the house without running into obstreperous, fishnet-wearing, nonconformist, often stylish and not infrequently foulmouthed females: Brigid Berlin, the former Warhol muse, who divides her time between scarfing down Key lime pies, cruising round Manhattan in a chauffeured limo with her pugs and making paintings with her ample breasts; abortion activist and vintage-clothing maven Sunny Chapman, who successfully vanquished out swarms of bees from under her dirndl skirt while working as a mead wench at Renaissance fairs; celebrity hypnotist Jessica Porter, who produced and performed in the world's first macrobiotic dinner-theater productions; photographer and Tom Ford-muse Lisa Eisner, who is obsessed with what she has dubbed "geezer chic." This mother of two drives around Bel Air in a ragtop, sleazeball Cadillac dressed in Sammy Davis's old clothes.
Performers too: Strangers with Candy star Amy Sedaris, who has decorated her apartment like a woodland glade to appease her pet rabbit, Tattle-tail; Pearl Harbour, the rockabilly queen and former stripper who has always exuded a burlesque 1950s glamour, even when she was living in a storage locker. And women of color like Audrey Smaltz, who fought for her civil rights alongside Martin Luther King. Her weapons? A chinchilla chubby and a mascara wand.
I decided to study this new and terrifyingly fabulous phenomenon.
Locating and interviewing wacky chicks turned out to be relatively easy. Most of these divas have a healthy dose of exhibitionism: for the price of a Kahlúa 'n' cream the average w.c. could usually be prevailed upon to spill her guts and even a few beauty tips. And were they fun, or what!
Wacky chicks are entertainingly diverse -- socioeconomically and personality-wise -- but they have one thing in common: they are all blowing a giant raspberry at society's expectations. And, most important, they're getting away with it. And there are legions of them: Isabel, as it turned out, had just been the tip of an estrogen-infused, and often quite entrepreneurial, iceberg.
I started to consider the possibility that wacky chicks might not be such a new phenomenon. Since biblical times the critical eyes of conventional folk have forced many a Mary Magdalene type to hide the throbbing disco light of her electric personality under a bushel. History is littered with the corpses of these risk-taking funsters. Burnt at the stake, or eaten by wolves while doing interpretive dancing in the woods, the wacky chicks of yore were often victimized horribly for their kooky ways. If they weren't driven to suicide or absinthe, they were, like disgraced British poofters, sent to live somewhere like Morocco where they took to opiates and inflicted nasty disinhibited adult behaviors on the locals.
Eager to put these girls up where they belong, I profiled a few w.c.'s in my weekly column in the New York Observer. The response was dramatic. These strutting eccentrics seemed to have a universal resonance for both my male and female readers. The more deranged they were, the more my readers responded to them. There was only one conclusion to be drawn: it seemed as if the whole female population was ready to support, if not join, this anarchic fringe movement and confront the utter pointlessness of our celebrity-obsessed culture.
Engorged with motivation, I vowed to write a book in celebration of these self-invented tempestuous viragos. I wanted to find out what made these chicks tick. What kind of gasoline were they pumping into their flame-emblazoned tanks? I resolved to learn the magical recipe and share it with the women of the world.
As I truffled and researched, my enthusiasms waxed: in fact I developed a verging-on-inappropriate obsession with these gals. The shriek and yodel of their personalities was a haunting and irresistible siren call for moi. I soon found I could spot a wacky chick at fifty paces and invariably tune into her wavelength. My impulse is always to rush toward her and validate the crap out of her wackiness: e.g., "I don't care what they're saying about you -- I think you're just great!"
What was fueling this growing obsession? Why did these wacky chicks seem so eerily familiar? It didn't take Sigmund Freud or Ann Landers to figure it out. A cursory survey of my formative years held the answer. You see, dear reader, I was raised by a wacky chick -- my arch and hilariously contrarian mother -- and I guess I was looking for what caring people like Ricki Lake and Oprah call...Closure.
Martha Elizabeth Doonan, née Gordon, was born in Northern Ireland in 1918 (the year that British women over thirty got the vote) with a fantastic set of genes. Her mother made hats with birds and fruit on them. Her dad assisted a local interior decorator. But no nelly he: Guinness and off-track betting were his hobbies. From her parents she inherited creativity, joie de vivre and belligerence.
Martha, or Betty as she preferred to be called, left school at fourteen in search of a job that matched her aptitudes, and found it, butchering pigs for a local grocery store chain. By the time war broke out, sassy, quick-witted Betty (it's pronounced "Byaaaatteyh" in Belfast) was second in command. But, determined to "do her bit," she joined the Royal Air Force a...
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