Truly Madly Sevigny

Chloë Sevigny (2015, Rizzoli) There are only a couple of undeniable absolutes in life. One is that you will die. Another is that Chloë Sevigny will always be cooler than you. The Oscar-nominated actress, designer and style icon has, for much of her fame, been synonymous with an intimidating, untouchable, New York cool. But it’s a notoriety that has made her something of a punching bag, too, whether it’s via Drew Droege’s brilliant YouTube sketches, or the belief that she’s somehow pretentious or fraudulent – the very definition of image-driven, it-girl ice queens.

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But her new Rizzoli book, a glossy, 200-page photo monograph of her life and career, goes some way in redefining her cool – identifying her affinity for the cutting-edge and avant-garde as something innate instead of contrived, earnest rather than affected.

We see her childhood bedroom, decorated with vintage photography, Breeders posters and shots of Courtney Love pasted on the wall. We glimpse her off-beat street style and vintage, hand-crafted accessorising that help position her as the bright, young queen of Sassy Magazine, who pluck her off the New York sidewalk and into their photo spreads. Her fanmail is delivered in exquisitely graffiti-splattered envelopes, a legion of early 1990’s teens slavish to her seemingly nonchalant wisdom. Even photographs of her child modelling days, dressed in nerd glasses and what looks like a striped office shirt, have a cornball appeal. As fellow ’90s indie stalwart Natasha Lyonne writes in her cute, anecdotal afterward, “When we were young there was no internet: one had to actually take the time to learn about the things one liked.”

It’s fitting, then, that the woman unknowingly responsible for every artsy-fartsy, indie-Tumblr-fashion queen has put together her own hardback Instagram: a collection of images, mementos and memorabilia that chart her hipster-fairytale rise and subsequent immersion into the pop culture establishment of today.

We see movie posters and screen captures, encounters with Kate Moss, Harmony Korine and a life-size cutout of Morrissey, ads for Miu Miu and Chloé, spreads for Interview, i-D and Italian Vogue, the occasional Face cover. But it’s not all self-serious cool. There’s also a pointed comedy to some of the imagery, like a New Yorker cartoon reacting to Larry Clark’s Kids, or a tabloid cut-out of Sevigny flashing her underwear in a parking lot, accompanied by the headline ‘NOT NORMAL’ printed beneath it in block letters.

Besides minor notes tucked into the spines of pages referencing photographers and dates, there is an intriguing lack of context to any of the images, nor any linear narrative. What it does is strike an interesting counterpoint to Rizzoli’s other recent book of photographs, the deceptively compelling Selfish by Kim Kardashian. Kardashian’s blank, self-taken images are buoyed by hilariously dead-pan annotations (“It was a futuristic shoot. I love doing photo shoots.”), crafting an arguably unconscious commentary on narcissism, vanity and post-modern fame.

In comparison, Sevigny allows herself to exist solely as image, a muse for photographers, designers and related artistic types. Her selection, as full as it is of candids, photoshoots, fashion spreads and movie stills, creates the idea of a life well-lived, of broad experience and unquestionable authenticity, and she hits a powerful note of being as entirely unknowable as she is familiar. You’re left none the wiser about Sevigny’s feelings or her actual persona, but you also know that you’d do anything to be her friend. It’s a collection that manages to reflect everything brilliant, subversive and annoying about the art of cool. People who are sort of like us, but also tantalisingly out of reach.

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