One day, while rifling through a book shelf in my parents house, I stumbled across an old, battered copy of a Nancy Spungen biography, infamous other-half of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious. To this day no one has any idea who owns the book and how it came to be there, but our best guess is that it was left behind by someone who came to visit us once. ‘And I Don’t Want to Live This Life’, is written by her mother Deborah Spungen and its a brutally honest account of raising a very troubled child. In hindsight Nancy was most likely an undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenic. The Spungen’s family life was fairly turbulent in her early years, and even more so when she became involved with Sid. At one point Deborah admits that although you will always love your child unconditionally, you may not necessarily like them a lot of the time, and you might even find yourself afraid of them. If her mother’s story is to be believed, it does sound as if Nancy put that unconditional love to the ultimate test, frequently and sometimes terrifyingly, before she came to her tragic end.
I found one of the pictures in the book of Nancy particularly striking. Its a monochrome head-shot and Nancy wears her characteristic dark eye-shadow and leather jacket, with that look of defiance on her face that became synonymous with the whole punk ethos. If you look closely there’s either a smudge of make-up on her cheek or a bruise, which I think is so loaded with possibilities. Most interesting though is the gun pendant she wears around her neck, which again is so representative of the anarchic spirit of punk, but also eerily prophetic about events to come.
Would I call Nancy a style icon of mine? Probably not, but there is something very intriguing as well as beautiful about her and I think this picture wholly encapsulates it. Its still one of my favourite photographs and remains clumsily blue-tacked to my old wardrobe in my parents’ house. This story evolved into a creative project after a conversation with a wonderfully talented photographer friend Janet Williams who suggested that we recreate the photo I was so taken with. We then decided to take this a step further and involve some friends, asking each of them to choose a series of iconic photographs to emulate. What is interesting is that we all selected someone who is no stranger to controversy, but also a strong female figure admirable as much for their attitude and individuality as for their sense of style. Strangely each has a troubled past, often with a history of substance abuse. As everyone involved in this project might be described as creatively inclined, I found the pattern in our choices interesting as there seemed to be something more to our choices than just style. I decided to speak to each person about their chosen subject and why they were so struck by those particular pictures.
Avril Burke as Lana Del Ray
I first came across Lana Del Ray on YouTube and was instantly fascinated by her. I think her music is incredibly soulful, but also relatable. The themes of her music – love, heartbreak, betrayal – are things most girls can understand and empathise with. I’m not afraid to say her music has helped me through some difficult times. In terms of her style, I think she has that old-school classical Hollywood beauty about her. Hollywood trends and style have become so trashy but I’ve always loved the vintage glamour of Hollywood and I think Lana nails it. She’s also a good role model for young women as shes not rake-thin but still has an enviable, curvy figure.
Chelsea Morgan Hoffman as Liza Minelli
I’ve always loved the musical Cabaret, and the short story it was based on (part of Berlin Stories, by Christopher Isherwood). Even though there have been various interpretations of Sally Bowles over the years, Liza is obviously the most iconic. I cheated a little here in that I dressed as Liza as Sally, but Bob Fosse’s film (and Charlotte Fleming’s costumes) really reflect the era (1972) as well, and I think you can see a lot of Liza in the costumes – and particularly the haircut, which she’s managed to maintain for 40+ years (with little variation). I can’t say when I first came across Liza – I was always just aware of her. It’s funny, because she hasn’t had a stellar career when you examine it – she hasn’t done that many films, and her pop career was never astronomical – but she’s been an omnipresence for decades. I would have been aware of her as a gay icon, but I was also as a child/teenager, somehow really aware of her struggles with addiction. She was one of the first celebrities to speak openly about rehab, and her addictions…I always feel really defensive about Liza, for some reason. I think to a lot of people she’s a bit of a joke, or dismissed as a pill-popper/druggie, or just someone to be appreciated ironically – but she’s got such effervescence. And she’s so talented. I think her stint on Arrested Development showed the world that she’s a lot more self-aware than she’s given credit for.
Charlene Lydon as Courtney Love
I’ve loved Courtney Love since I was about 16. In fairness I think I became aware of her when she was quite fashion savvy and knew what she was doing with the looks she had going on. So I started to look back through old pictures of her and that’s when I found the really filthy Courtney that I love. I suppose growing up I would always have been aware of her relationship with Kurt and how she became known as ‘the bitch who ruined him’. I find it weird that there’s so much hate for Courtney. They both had tragic lives and their fair share of problems but imagine what it was like for her dealing with all those problems with everyone in the world hating you, whether they knew you or not. She was just tarred as this nasty junkie, but Kurt was the same. Its interesting that Francis Cobain, their daughter said recently that shes not a Nirvana fan. She legally emancipated herself from Courtney when she was younger but always acknowledged that although her mother might have raised her badly, at least she was there. Kurt wasn’t. You can completely understand why Courtney’s music is so full of pain. Like her or hate her, she definitely has her place in musical history.
Words: Aoife O’Regan
Photos: Janet Williams
Special thanks to Janet Williams of Blackbird Boulevard Photography and to The Workman’s Club, Frank Ryan’s and Dice Bar.