When you think of the point where fashion and music meet perfectly, images of designer clad pop starlets or iconic divas come to mind. Rarely does the mind stray to an androgynous, gnarly rocker, known for thrashing on stage while belting out songs from the very depths of her soul. While Patti Smith is arguably the “Godmother of Punk,” her perfectly edited personal style is the stuff icons are made of. Since she has inspired everyone from Anne Demeulemeester to Shirley Mason and Ellen Page, I think the label of icon is quite sufficient.
This highly influential rocker/writer/photographer/activist was born in Chicago in 1946 and after leaving college at the age of 20, decided to move to the city where dreams are made or broken, New York. Between studying old movies and magazines, working at a bookstore, busking in Paris, hanging at Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, and meeting photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith began to develop her signature style, both musically and sartorially. After spending the early 70s writing, painting, and performing as a singer and actor, Smith began performing with her own band. After being signed by Clive Davis, The Patti Smith Group released their first album, Horses. This fusion of punk rock and spoken poetry was destined to be iconic from the first track, a cover of Van Morrison’s “Gloria”, to the cover featuring Smith clad in a white button down, black bottoms, a stringy men’s tie, jacket thrown over her shoulder, with a carelessly disheveled mop of hair. The band followed up Horses with Radio Ethiopia, which received poor reviews due to its raw and less accessible sound. Eventually, Smith took a break from touring and music, got married and had two kids, one of which is married to The White Stripes’ Meg White. However after the death of her husband and brother, Smith went back to doing what she does best.
Since her reemergence in 1996, Patti Smith has recorded several albums, toured, earned countless honors and awards, including an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the Pratt Institute, written several books and supported countless charities, with no sign of slowing down.
Whether you love her music or not, there is no denying that there is a certain chicness about Patti Smith. Her ability to simultaneously channel Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan without coming off like an over styled, schizophrenic mess has made her the muse of many a downtown hipster and designer alike. Most of us are referencing her style without even knowing it thanks to the tastemakers who have shown us image after image of androgynous women dressed in black peg leg jeans and white shirts with boxy, boyfriend blazers or leather jackets thrown carelessly thrown on. However, Patti Smith wasn’t always the poster child for proto-punk, chic, she started her career with flowing locks, and the Breton striped boating shirts, black turtlenecks and tights that were the defining looks of female beatniks and extras from French New Wave films. With the chop of her hair and a keen eye for finding inspiration in everything from her art strewn quarters at the Hotel Chelsea to Br’er Rabbit and yes, the French New Wave, Smith became the gender bending style maven that is alluded to from the runways to coffee shops. This unintentional icon, who strives to be comfortable and authentic proves that sometimes fashion and music intersect in the most surprising places with amazing outcomes.
Patti Smith’s tribute to Kurt Cobain, “About A Boy”
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