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A fashion pioneer in a stylist-free era

January 07, 2007|Booth Moore | Times Staff Writer

RICH and reckless, forever with the glint of flashbulbs in her eyes, Edie Sedgwick existed to get dressed. Even before she became a superstar at Andy Warhol's Factory she was a clotheshorse, changing into three different dresses the night of her 21st birthday party at the Harvard boathouse. By the time she moved into her own apartment in New York City in fall 1964, people said they had never seen so many clothes.

Like today's tabloid princesses, she became famous for showing up in the right place in the right outfit. There was something about her that you couldn't help but watch. She lived life teetering on the edge, an accident ready to happen. As "old money" as old money gets, she could have lived in French couture, but she preferred striped boat neck T-shirts and leotards.

What Sedgwick got right was the mix -- high and low, old and new, street and luxe. "She wasn't following what a designer or guru was telling her to do," says John Dunn, the costume designer for "Factory Girl." "She was creating herself. Every day she was her own invention. And the idea that she had the bravery and the drive to completely transform and experiment with herself is eternally exciting."

Sedgwick became a model and muse in the era before over-hyped stylists. She spent hours deciding what to wear, painstakingly applying that thick kohl liner and those spidery false eyelashes. At 22, she was called a "youthquaker" by Diana Vreeland in Vogue magazine, "white-haired with anthracite-black eyes and legs to swoon over." Or, as Life magazine put it in a 1965 fashion spread, "This cropped-mop girl with the eloquent legs is doing more for black tights than anybody since Hamlet."

When she went out at night on Warhol's arm, she wore dresses by the hottest designers -- Rudi Gernreich, Courreges, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Betsey Johnson, for whom she worked as a fit model. "When she set her apartment on fire, she was in one of my jersey dresses with a big zipper turtleneck," says Johnson, who was designing for the store Paraphernalia at the time. "She also wore this lacy thing called the Silver Fish."

But it was in Sedgwick's more casual moments that she was truly trendsetting. Today's fashion plates -- Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Richie, "Factory Girl" star Sienna Miller -- have free clothes thrown at them by every design house on the planet and stylists to pick out their "signature" bug-eye sunglasses. Sedgwick found her own signatures -- the leotards and black opaque tights, old fur coats, Breton striped T-shirts and big earrings.

Period pieces for a period piece

MANY of the looks in the film are nearly exact reproductions, but Dunn also scoured vintage stores such as The Way We Wore, Catwalk and Cherry in L.A. and Early Halloween and New York Vintage in Manhattan, looking for period pieces. He built a closet for Sedgwick, and Miller helped put together outfits.

Sedgwick was an early adopter of vintage who gravitated to old furs, including her famous leopard coat. "It's something she 'borrowed' from her grandmother. So instead of picking a coat from the 1960s, we chose a 1950s coat," Dunn says. "I thought it was interesting and important because she was one of the first people to look back and find style in older pieces, then combine them in new ways."

Sedgwick studied dance, which might explain how she got the idea to run around town in black tights and leotards, taking workout wear out of the gym long before Juicy Couture. She also appreciated the classic T-shirt, seeking out the ever-elusive snug fit. "She would go down to S. Klein in Union Square and buy T-shirts in the boys department," Dunn says.

By the mid-'60s, everyone had seen the sweet version of the gamine with Audrey Hepburn's short haircut. But Sedgwick gave the look a subversive spin, spray-painting her hair silver like Warhol's and combing it into aggressive spikes, finding perfection in imperfection.

Exotic earrings were another signature -- in an era of prim pearl studs no less. One pair in particular appears often in the film, a mismatched set of silver shoulder sweepers that Dunn had commissioned from jeweler Erickson Beamon after studying photographs of Sedgwick. "I suspect she was buying smaller earrings and combining them, though I have no proof of that other than that they were mismatched," Dunn says. "But again, this was another sort of thumbing her nose at everybody. She could afford the best diamonds but she was wearing Indian imports."

Sedgwick didn't care what was in fashion. Being an individual was her genius. Warhol recognized it and so do we.

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