In her new series of sculptures, Amie Dicke pays homage to the supreme self-sacrifice of the obsessively style-conscious. In her past work, she presented armies of fashion magazine sucubi whose beauty she sliced and whittled with an X-Acto knife. Though Dicke’s transformation of vamps into vampires is often read by critics as a critique of fashion, her real intent is to distill the imagery she adores down to its rawest essence. In the process, her work has seduced some of the industry’s most influential and inspirational figures: She’s been featured in numerous glossies and her collectors include Mario Testino and Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren. In the art world itself, she has top-drawer representation via Peres Projects, the tastemaker gallery with branches in Los Angeles and Berlin. “Infinitely Suffering Thing,” a new series of surreal wax and mixed-media sculptures that evoke comparisons to Meret Oppenheim’s iconic fur-lined teacup and Man Ray’s fashion photography, opens at the L.A. location today.
As fashion victim-like plastic perfection becomes more accessible, high-fashion tastes get more quirky, idiosyncratic, and eccentric. What is considered beautiful by New York’s card-carrying tastemakers is almost antithetical to beauty standards that put a premium on fake tits, tans, and teeth. What defines beauty for you?
The way certain objects or images cling to me, which happens exactly the same with words or pieces of texts. I think our mind is full of tiny snippets of someone else’s thoughts. Our whole life is a collage.
Why and when did you decide your cutout series was complete and that you were no longer going to make new cutouts?
When I was first approached by Visionaire to do a solo show, I immediately said that I would be very interested in doing something in V magazine—preferably a self-portrait cutout. They helped me get in contact with Mario Sorrenti, and he took my picture. I asked for the whole “glamour” treatment, getting my makeup and hair done, because I wanted the picture to look like the ones I chose before. He sent the picture to me and I started cutting away. The result of this collaboration was printed in V.
This sounds like a great validation. So why not continue with the project?
This was such a “backstage” experience that it helped me to let go. The magazine is literally being created every month behind the walls of the Visioniare gallery space, where I exhibited the cutouts. There was no more distance. I was very close to the source material. I was a part of the world of glitter and glamour. During the opening it was incredibly busy with models, photographers, and magazine people. There was a guest list, heavy pounding music, and even a bouncer. It was a different but good experience, but I decided there and then that this was the best moment to stop making the cutouts. There was no other option.
In keeping with your exhibition name, do you feel suffering is an unavoidable component in the quest for beauty?
I am not so much interested in a quest for beauty, but very intrigued by the word “suffering.” One of my favorite films is “Stalker” by Andrei Tarkovsky, which is about three characters in a post-apocalyptic world who are trying to get to a place where all their desires will be fulfilled. At one point, one of the characters says, “Here we are on the threshold. This is the most important moment of your lives. You have to know that here your most cherished wish will come true. The most sincere one. The one reached through suffering.”
How does T.S. Eliot’s line “The notion of some infinitely gentle/Infinitely suffering thing” relate to this new stage in your work?
It has not so much to do with the whole poem “Preludes,” but really this one line is essential. In my new works I’m searching for the poetry of objects and materials. Using private objects combined with things I saw and try to re-create, to get a grip on memories and inspiration moments.
Chandler Burr’s day job sounds too precious to exist: He’s the scent critic for The New York Times. But beneath the effete-sounding title beats the heart of a true journalist (i.e., he’s not lacking on strong opinions). His new book, “The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York” (Henry Holt), follows the creation of two fragrances—Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely and Hermès’ Un Jardin sur le Nil—and the myriad of pubic relations meetings, sales strategy sessions, and endlessly honed formulae that go along with their launches. To read it is to approach the perfume counter with a radically altered consciousness—it’s the “Origin of the Species” for fragrance. Burr talked to us about French marketing, talking Labradors, and what men should really smell like.
Let’s start with something basic. What do you look for in a perfume?
There’s a checklist answer and a totally subjective answer. The checklist is: something stable on skin that diffuses nicely and lasts more than two hours. The subjective answer is: something that either blows me away like a Molotov cocktail at close range (most recently Rossy de Palma’s Eau de Protection) or just melts me to helplessness with its pure beauty (Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Fragile) or delights me (Missoni by Missoni) or seduces me like a shot of opium in an artery (Ambre Narguilé by Hermès).
That’s a very personal response, which makes perfect sense, because perfume is an intensely personal thing. But judging by your book, what the perfume industry really comes down to is money. What kind of effect has that had on the kinds of perfumes that make it to the market now?
If you talk to people in the industry you hear a huge amount of pessimism. The example everyone uses is Angel, which is a billion-dollar perfume today, and Angel completely failed the first several years—plural!—it was on the market. Only at the insistence of the people at Parfums Thierry Mugler did the thing stay on the market, find an audience, then build. The problem is that today the competition is just so insanely intense; there are so many launches—600 a year—and the return on investment has become so important that a scent basically has to be an instant hit.
It sounds similar to fashion, actually. You need an instant It bag to make a splash. But to get back to fragrances, does this mean we’re getting perfumes that smell of pessimism?
No. Well, yes. Overtly, no—the “creatives” are still demanding that their perfumers churn out perfumes that smell of cotton candy and jeweled necklaces and shimmering midnight seas and all the other fun kitsch poetry that goes into mass marketing so much perfume. But get a perfumer to speak to you honestly, and behind the pink facades they are (not always by any means but often enough) grimly conforming to mandated formulaic scent accords, which is a pretty good definition of the smell of pessimism.
Perfumers sound like fairly odd people—my words, not yours. But you do say at one point that Freud would have a field day with them.
Their sense of smell is so astonishingly developed that they are, in a real sense, profoundly different from the rest of us. I believe I wrote, “Spending time with them is like spending time with talking Labradors.” I love it—you go to lunch, and they explain to you the molecular structure of the scent in the moist towelette at the sushi place. They are intensely competitive, put under immense pressure to perform, constantly set against each other with every single perfume brief from Lauder or Dior, constantly auditioning their work. It’s a hell of a job.
Creating perfume does seem like a kind of magic. Which I guess is part of the myth that perfume companies want to preserve.
Ah, but the perfume companies are dead wrong—completely obtuse—in the way they go about preserving the magic, and the effect of the myths they try to create is the opposite of what they want: Instead of enchanting and attracting customers, the smoke screens irritate, repel, and bore. French marketing—”I’ll create a myth for you; you’ll swallow it obediently”—is Darwinianly maladapted to the twenty-first century and destined to become extinct. Twenty-first-century magic and myth is about understanding the machine’s insides, having access to the process, and being convinced as a client—not through obscurantism but through contemporary transparency.
One last question: Why do so many men’s fragrances smell so bad?
Because the tradition is to drain everything that is beautiful and innovative and delicate and lovely and interesting out of women’s perfumes, take the shit that’s left on the bottom, scrape it up, and sell it to men. It’s vile—and it makes an astounding amount of money because most (not all) male consumers have been successfully conditioned to believe that smelling like laundry detergent, charred spices, or cheap lemonade is “masculine.” Any man with two atoms of sense knows that he has to find a great feminine and wear it. Kelly Caleche from Hermès is essentially the perfect masculine. Every guy should try it.
The couture shows are under way, but the opportunity to ogle over-the-top fashion in Paris isn’t limited to the runway—there are number of exhibits related to la mode currently on view all over town. Forget the long lines at the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre and check out one of these sartorially themed shows:
“Relentless Vision,” Centre Pompidou
Design duo extraordinaire M/M (Paris)—the team behind some of the past
few years’ most cutting-edge Calvin Klein and Balenciaga ads and Vogue covers—continues to blur the lines among fashion, art, and design with this new show. Don’t miss the chance to see over 30 of M/M’s famous posters (produced in collaboration with top designers, film makers, and artists) all in one place. For more
information, see www.centrepompidou.fr.
“Histoires de Mode,” Musée de la Mode
Designer Christian Lacroix takes on the role of curator, pulling 500 garments from his own house and the museum’s historic collection and grouping the pieces by fashion themes—texture, color, lamé, flowers—each detailed with his own stylistic inspirations and revealing tidbits. The result? A blast from the past narrated by Lacroix’s personal point of view on fashion history. For more information, see
Hôtel de Ville
As if simply walking the streets of Paris wasn’t inspiring enough, the photos on display at Paris’ City Hall show off its many personalities and stylish citizens. For more information, see www.paris.fr.
“Shoji Ueda: Une Ligne Subtile,” Maison Européenne de la Photographie
Shoji Ueda’s images of the uniformed schoolgirls and well-tailored gentlemen
of his native Japan are the epitome of elegance. Visit the Maison Européenne to catch this and other impeccably curated exhibits. For more information, see www.mep-fr.org.
The world is not fair. Anyone who still harbors illusions about this fact of life can find a reality check in the art of Jasper Joffe. In his "Beauty Show" at London’s V22 Gallery, Joffe plans to create a Jim Crow-like social experiment in which he’ll categorize people according to one of the few sets of superficial criteria still unabashedly employed to block access into privileged positions: their looks. At the gallery’s opening tonight, Joffe will play the part of bouncer and separate the pretty from the ugly. But instead of banishing the less beautiful, he will kindly corral them into a separate room, where they will be welcome to wallow in their corporeal commonality, while the lookers mingle and mix in another off-limits area. Dressing up and slimming down won’t help aspiring pretty people, because as part of Joffe’s process, he’s been vetting photos sent by invitees before the opening of the show. He’s already made up an RSVP list, and like any good clipboard Nazi, he will hear no excuses and grant no exceptions. After the opening, Joffe’s flaunting of an attitude that he dubs "Fashism" will continue with one room in his show devoted to shots of seventies and eighties-era Vogue models, and another dedicated to portraits of the physically unfortunate and morally monstrous, including Hitler and Himmler (January 19 through February 24).
Can someone please give Hump the Grinder a reality show? Like, immediately? It’s not for him—Hump’s a background guy, the man behind the super-stylists who take part in Hair Wars. The stylists are the ones Hump figures ought to be stars, because, in a way, they already are. Can you build a three-tier wedding cake out of human hair, on top of someone’s head? Veronica Moyé can. Here’s the pitch: More than 20 years ago, DJ David Humphries, a/k/a Hump the Grinder, decided to celebrate the local Detroit scene of whacked-out ‘dos by throwing a “Fantasy Hair” party. That party begat more parties, which in turn begat Hair Wars, Hump the Grinder’s touring showcase of extreme coiffure. We’ve watched amateur singers strangle Celine Dion songs; we’ve watched amateur human beings eat bugs for money. We’ve tuned in for makeovers of automobiles, bathrooms, and Midwestern housewives. Wouldn’t you rather watch “Hair Wars”? Think “Iron Chef,” only with hair. Or, if you prefer, think “Project Hairway.” Until someone at Bravo gets on board, alas, the only way to see top fantasy hair stylists strut their stuff is to go to a Hair Wars event, and this weekend, the show comes home to Motown, with “Dream to the Extreme.” Here, Hump the Grinder spares some prep time to explain how he helped make Motor City the Hair Capital of the World.
Are people often surprised to find out that the man who invented Hair Wars does not, in fact, do hair?
They’re always surprised. They’re also surprised when they come to a Hair Wars show and realize that it’s not a competition. Folks scream and holler at the styles they like, but we’re not about prizes. Some people early on gave Hair Wars the name, but really, it’s just a showcase, a way for all these talented people to have fun and get their work out in front of the public.
Given that you were never a stylist yourself, what inspired you to create an event that’s all about hair?
The first thing people need to understand is that I’m from Detroit. And the next thing people need to understand is that Detroit’s always had its own thing going on when it comes to hair. Don’t ask me why, but for whatever reason, a woman in Detroit can get away with wearing some crazy style to her job at the bank, and instead of the manager telling her to get back home with that, people will be asking her for the stylist’s name, like, she’ll be handing out business cards from the teller window. What I’m saying is, there’s a culture. And back when I was deejaying, it was my job to promote a good party. I knew that hair would bring the people in. And it did.
Cards on the table: I’m from Detroit. And I’ve never seen anyone walking around with, say, a scale-model barbecue on her head.
No, no, Hair Wars is about the extreme, it’s about the most. But I bet you have seen women with their hair built up really high, and a lot of color and a lot of flavor going on. The thing about Detroit is, there’s a hair budget. You know? Out in places like L.A., New York, Chicago, people don’t set aside the money the way they do here. They’ve got other priorities. But in Detroit, wherever that money comes from, however much there is, there’s a budget for hair. It’s been that way, and it still is that way.
Because it’s acceptable. Detroit’s a majority black city, right? And if you want to go back to the history, the black people who came to Detroit from the South, they were the cutting edge, migrating up here to work in the auto industry. We’ve always been trendsetters. Cars, music, it’s all related. One of these days, I’m going to do a Hair Wars show that puts it all together.
Obviously, you’re a Detroit partisan, but you’ve staged Hair Wars shows all over the country. How do the stylists from other cities compare?
Well, we’ve been doing the Hair Wars for a while now. We’ve gone on TV shows and sold instructional DVDs, and the Detroit stylists go to all the trade fairs and show people how it’s done, and so a lot of other talented people have gotten exposed, you know? This thing has gotten so big, I mean, when we take Hair Wars on the road, some of the stylists who’ve been around awhile, people will be stopping them for autographs. If we could just get some real corporate backing, the possibilities are limitless.
You’ve said before that you think fantasy hair stylists ought to be stars. That’s not necessarily an intuitive position; I mean, they’re not performers.
But they are. You come to a Hair Wars show, you’ll see—there’s music, there’s skits and choreography, and the whole time, the stylists are up there, creating something nobody’s ever seen before. And anyway, look, years and years ago fashion designers were people hanging out in the background, too. If a fashion designer can be a star, why can’t a hair stylist? Like I said, the possibilities are limitless. Merchandise, television shows, you name it. The mainstream is coming, just you wait.