Fashion and/or Sex
by Glenn O’Brien
Sex isn’t about fashion. Fashion isn’t about sex.
If fashion were about sex, models would twerk down the runway in fashion editors’ faces and twirl around poles for the photographers. Vogue editors would get lap dances. And the models wouldn’t look prepubescent. The rack would be back in fashion, and not the one you see pushed down Seventh Avenue. Strippers would put it on instead of taking it off. Sasha Grey would be in high-end fragrance ads.
Victoria’s Secret pretends that it has a fashion show and that it participates in the world of fashion, but the secret of the Secret fashion show is that it isn’t a fashion show—it’s Republican burlesque. It isn’t about fashion any more than the Sports Illustrated “Swimsuit Issue” is about sports.
Indeedy-do! Fashion is one world and sex is another. The twain may meet once in a while, and while we might treasure the juiciness of those overlap moments, there are two different distinct systems and iconographies at work here. But then again, there is sexy fashion and there is fashionable sex. We are not entirely deprived of their collaboration. If you’re lucky and smart you can have it both ways on occasion. Sex and fashion are very intimately related in their origin, and once in a while, even today, they are joined somewhere near the hip.
But if fashion isn’t purely about sexual attraction, what is fashion about?
I’ve got a year-long gig in Saudi Arabia, subcontracted by Aramco Oil, to make slide/tape training programs, which means I fly around in helicopters taking pictures on oil rigs and at gas-oil separation plants. American tinkerers have been taking apart radios and cars and putting them back together for fun since the dawn of the 20th century. In 1983 the Saudi’s don’t yet have a comparable background in technology so we take their money and teach them the blue-collar and computer skills that will eliminate their dependence on us. They don’t want us there. Too many American expats are assholes, especially in a country where everyone is of a darker complexion and doesn’t speak English or wear pants or worship Jesus.
I live in a camp a few kilometers inland from the Persian Gulf with about 3,000 men, most of whom are third-world worker bees with long contracts and shit wages. The few hundred Americans are paid high-end blue-collar tax-free wages and housed in long trailers with six rooms and three bathrooms on either side. My room has a single bed, a wardrobe, a desk and chair, a sink and a mirror, a small fridge, and a black and white television. I share a bathroom with the guy next door.
Women are not allowed in the camp and an outbreak of the clap in the Filipino neighborhood has been traced back to a blow-up doll named Farrah. Alcoholic beverages are illegal and possession could mean jail time and lashes. I favor a clear moonshine called sadiki, which I mix with Pepsi. The kingdom has no Coca-Cola. When opening a new bottle I pour a little puddle in an ashtray and set it aflame. If it burns blue it’s a good batch.
Hunting for the Vampire of Barcelona
At the turn of the 20th century, Enriqueta Martí—a woman from the witchcraft-steeped countryside of Cataluña—came to Barcelona. Like many of the poor rural immigrants flooding into Barcelona at the time, she found that the Catalan capital was less “Pearl of the Mediterranean” and more “City of Death.” This didn’t bother her, though, because it was in Barcelona that she became her country’s answer to Jack the Ripper, luring children back to her house, killing them, and then drinking their blood.
Fast forward a century and Marc Pastor, a CSI detective based in Barcelona, finds himself working on a case involving another female serial killer. In his spare time, he writes Barcelona Shadows, a retelling of Martí’s diabolical career redolent of Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and David Peace. Already a bestseller in Spain, the book has just been published in English. I caught up with Marc for a trip back to the dark alleys of the Barcelona slums.
VICE: Hi, Marc. When exactly is your book set?
Marc Pastor: It’s in 1912. Barcelona is leaving its rural past behind and becoming a modern city. There is the biggest casino in Europe, which was an amazing amusement park with a rollercoaster. There’s a lot of poverty. People are living in the streets and there’s a lot of sickness. This is where Enriqueta appears, where she rises up. A woman. She is a female killer, which is very unusual because 99 percent of serial killers are men. It’s a dark and creepy city with a dark and creepy serial killer.
And Enriqueta came onto this scene from the countryside, to work as a servant in a house?
Actually, as a whore.
I was about to say: she swiftly becomes a prostitute. How quickly does she start to kill people, and can you tell me about her methods?
We don’t know exactly how many people or children she killed. That’s part of the myth. Jack the Ripper had five victims, but you don’t know how many victims Enriqueta had. She was arrested in 1912, but she went to Mallorca in 1901 for three months and had to come back because people wanted to kill her. So you can imagine she was murdering people and children for 12 years, at least. I met a lot of people after publishing the book who told me, “My grandma was a victim of Enriqueta,” or, “My grandmother-in-law was one of the people Enriqueta tried to kidnap.” They showed me pictures. She tried to kidnap a lot of people. One woman told me her grandmother-in-law was approached by a woman who tried to give her candy and told her to come with her.
Is Fidel Castro the Greatest Lover of All Time?
We had come to Cuba as lovers and newlyweds to discern the truth of the often repeated and reported claim that Fidel Castro is the world’s greatest lover. How many Cuban cigars did we buy, trying to discover the secrets of Castro’s love life? We quickly lost count.
Once our questioning of the locals led us into a long and confused discussion of the construction of the Museum of the Revolution. Another time, a woman—after we’d bought her dinner and maybe a few too many drinks—gave us a long-winded impromptu lecture on each of the black-and-white photographs in the hotel lobby and then tried to take us on a tour of the Bacardi building.
But occasionally we gleaned a bit of helpful advice. The doorman at the Hotel San Basilio—after overhearing our discussion with a garrulous old Australian man in the hotel’s lounge who gave us one of his cigars—pulled us aside. He told us that one of Fidel’s great former mistresses was a dentist at the best dental clinic in Santiago de Cuba.
What Does It Mean to Be a Teenager Today?
Seventy years ago, teenagers didn’t exist. I mean, they did, but nobody called them that—they were called “our future workforce” and wore suits and smoked pipes and took elocution lessons when they were 13. You went to bed one day a child and woke the next morning an adult. But by the end of WWII, the idea of adolescence had evolved from a few years spent getting ready for a life as a coal miner or a lawyer into the Best Years of Your Life. Then, in 1945, the New York Times published an article defining this bizarre new word—”teenage”—and the concept became a part of the public consciousness.
A few years ago, music writer and cultural historian Jon Savage wrote a book about all that called Teenage: The Creation of Youth 1875-1945. The film adaptation of his book, directed by American filmmaker Matt Wolf and with an original score by Bradford Cox, gets its UK cinematic release on January 24. I gave both of them a call to talk about youth movements new and old and how great life is when you’re a teenager.
VICE: At the beginning of your film you say that the idea of the teenager is a wartime invention. Were there any pre-war youth movements that you left out?
Jon Savage: They weren’t pre-war, but the ones who didn’t make it in are the Zazou. They were a French group in occupied Paris in the early 1940s who loved black American swing music—which was forbidden—wore English clothes, threw hidden parties, tried to avoid forced labor and, you know, annoyed the Gestapo. They also did something else fabulous: When the laws came in about wearing the yellow star, they made their own stars that, instead of “Jew,” said “Swing.” Then there were others that we didn’t get into too much detail about—the back-to-nature movements of the 20s, like the Wandervogel.
Oh yeah, the German proto-hippies who got naked and hung out in forests. Did that movement start during the First World War?
Jon:No, they actually began in about 1900 in Germany.
So it wasn’t a reaction to the war?
Jon: Well, it was a reaction to the militarization and industrialization of German society. There was also a generation gap between adolescents and their parents, and by the 20s there were lots of different groups. In fact, it’s bewildering the amount of groups there were by then, ranging from proto-fascist groups to hippies.