Like her friend Miranda July, Becky Stark is an unlikely star for this cynical age. Performing with her indie-folk-pop band Lavender Diamond, the Los Angeles pixie sings completely unironic songs with titles like Open Your Heart and welcomes her audience with proclamations such as “Becky Stark loves you very much.” (Check out the band’s excellent album Imagine Our Love, on Matador, or catch them on tour this summer.) Her stage wear is equally fantastical: purple prom confections, angel-sleeved evening gowns, and Donna Reed tea dresses. The sunny effect is surprisingly contagious, as we found when we took her shopping last week on the Lower East Side.
Why do you feel compelled to put so much effort into dressing up on stage?
I dress up every day—I see it as a sign of respect to the world and my fellow human beings. I think it’s dangerous that our culture has stopped caring about dressing up. If you stop caring about that, you stop caring about how you look at the world and treat it, which leads to people not caring about the environment—or each other.
How many dresses do you own?
This is a little embarrassing…but probably 1,000. I give a lot of them away to friends, though. I like to think of myself as a dress fairy.
Are most of your dresses vintage?
Yes. Finding vintage dresses is like a talent for me. I have this instinctive sense that just draws me to them. I can be driving down the street and suddenly I need to pull over and shop. Or, I’ll wake up in the morning just knowing I need to go to a certain store, and sure enough, there will be something there I have to have.
You’ve been able to put your collection to good use on stage and in videos. What else are you working on?
I have another band, the Living Sisters, with Inara George (the Bird and the Bee) and Eleni Mendell. I call it my “fashion band,” because we mainly do it to have fun and get dressed up in matching outfits. Lately, we’ve been wearing Grecian-style gowns. I’m also writing a Busby Berkeley-like musical that I’m hoping my friend Zooey Deschanel will star in.
What are some of your favorite pieces?
I have a Givenchy coat-dress that belonged to my grandmother. It looks so simple on the hanger, but then you put it on, and you see the mastery of the cutting, how it just transforms your body. I love things from the late thirties and early forties—the tight, high waists and flutter sleeves. You can’t be afraid to get clothes altered. If it’s a little big at the top, or if it needs a new zipper, you can easily get those things fixed. And you’ll have a closer connection to your clothes if they’re made to fit just you.
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New York galleries may not close up shop completely for the summer anymore. (There’s too much money to be made in this frenzied market.) Still, August is pretty quiet on the art scene, making it a good time to catch up on some of the important shows you might have missed while you were at the beach (or at your desk)…
Miwa Yanagi: Deutsche Bank Collection
The first American solo show by this Japanese photographer includes her famous “Elevator Girls” series (above), featuring cool, identically clothed models as consumer objects.
Through August 25 at the Chelsea Art Museum, 556 W. 22nd Street, New York City.
Poiret: King of Fashion
Apparently, it’s not just a party, but an exhibit, too. This sweeping retrospective of designs by the man who revolutionized 20th-century fashion ends Sunday. Through August 5 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York City.
From girly postpunk “scatter” installations to the Philly native’s “Me As” series (self-portraits of the artist dressed as various movie stars and models), this comprehensive overview reads like an art-world version of a Sofia Coppola film. Through August 5 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th Street, Philadelphia.
Among the names taking part in this tribute to identity-switching: Laurie Anderson, Matthew Barney, Leigh Bowery and Fergus Greer, Nikki S. Lee, Cindy Sherman, and the grande dame of artistic role-playing, Marina Abramovic. Through August 3 at the Sean Kelly Gallery, 528 W. 29th Street, New York City.
Amelia Earhart: Image & Icon
Celebrity, action hero, unlikely fashion icon, martyr. This fantastic photo exhibition explores how the media shaped public perception of the doomed aviator. Through September 9 at the International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas, New York City.
Miwa Yanagi, Elevator Girl House B4, 1998. C-Print. From the series Elevator Girls. Deutsche Bank Collection. ©Miwa Yanagi.
Prada’s in-store party during New York fashion week last fall was such a scene—complete with super-fan Orlando Bloom singing along to every word of the Raconteurs’ performance—that, like everyone else, we were thrilled to find out the label would be hosting a similar musical shindig this September 7. And when they announced that the house band would be the Hours, we’ll admit our first thought was, Who? So we did a little digging.
Members: Antony Genn and Martin Slattery. Antony was formerly in Britpop legends Pulp and Elastica; Martin played with Black Grape. The two also were members of the Mescaleros, with the late Clash icon Joe Strummer.
Famous fans: Bono and Jarvis Cocker have sung the band’s praises. Damien Hirst financed the recording of their first album, Narcissus Road, which was released in the U.K. last year and is only available as an import here. He also contributed the cover art: one of this infamous skulls. Antony was once roommates with Robbie Williams and talked Pete Doherty into one of his many rehab stints.
Rock star behavior: Though he’s now clean and sober, former heroin addict Antony once turned up at an Elastica gig stoned (on "14 Es, two tabs of LSD, maybe two or three grams of heroin, a lot of cocaine, vodka, and a hell of a lot of cider")—and naked.
Lyrics: "I love you more than my record collection / I love you more than my football team / I love you more than my Adidas trainers."
Hear it for yourself: http://www.myspace.com/thehours
Set in Manhattan in the early seventies, Norris Church Mailer’s new novel, Cheap Diamonds (Random House), is packed with fashion-world high jinks and soapy drama. But what really stands out are the clothes: Cherry, the book’s Arkansas-girl-turned-cover-model heroine, has a closet to die for (and one that’s very much in keeping with this fall’s post-hippie, pre-disco mood). When she meets Diana Vreeland, she wears “a chamois skirt with a handkerchief hem, my new green lace-up boots, a huge turquoise squash-blossom necklace that I got at the flea market that weighs about ten pounds, and a hunter-green turtleneck sweater. I had a scarf of black and rust and turquoise and green wrapped around my head and two big turquoise bracelets on my arms that were so heavy I felt like I was lifting weights.” Turns out Norris, a.k.a. Mrs. Norman Mailer, drew on her own experience as a small-town girl who became a Wilhelmina model in the seventies.
Your descriptions of clothing are so richly detailed, particularly with the vintage dresses and jewelry—it really seems like you love fashion.
I think fashion is a real art form—a wonderful way of expressing yourself. I had so much fun researching, looking through old Vogues. I think that period was just beautiful. I love the gaucho pants, the knickers, the granny dresses. The only thing I don’t miss is the wigs. We would wear falls, these big pieces of hair that just sat on your head. They looked fine as long as you didn’t move, but when you turned they looked crazy.
Are any of the pieces described in the book based on clothing you actually owned?
Oh, yes. The mustard suede hot pants were mine. I still have them! Like Cherry, I wore a lot of jeans and scarves and poor-boy sweaters. I also had lots of embroidered patchwork jeans—I’ve actually got a pair on right now.
Cherry changes her appearance when she comes to New York, dumping her mod minis for a more sophisticated, artsy-hippie style. Did your own look change when you moved to New York?
It did. That was the big thing at Wilhelmina, finding your look, figuring out whether you were a junior model or a high-fashion model. They decided I was high fashion, but unfortunately the first thing they had me do was cut my hair. I call it my mushroom hairdo—short and puffy on top.
You left the story so that Cherry’s about to take off on a new adventure—will there be a sequel?
I hope so. I’ve always imagined it as a trilogy. I’d love to stay with her for a while, though I don’t want to take Cherry to the nursing home.
Film festivals have gotten buzzier and buzzier (even Toronto turns into a hot spot come September) but London’s Soho Shorts Festival keeps the red-carpet hassle to a minimum. Now in its ninth year, the festival champions emerging European cinematic talents and keeps it real for the audience by letting viewers in mostly for free. Last year, surrealist director Michel Gondry’s entry—the White Stripes’ The Denial Twist—won in the music video category, and this year one of fashion-darling Lily Allen’s videos is up for consideration. Expect envelope-pushing submissions like the MTV-banned Bomb video by Faithless (above), plus other political eyebrow-raisers in the new documentary section. The festival starts tomorrow and runs through August 3. For more information, visit http://www.rushes.co.uk/sohoshorts/.—Alison Baenen
Photo: Courtesy of Soho Shorts