Article written by Steffan Aletti, featuring Steve Sasco!
Could it have been THAT long ago? We gave ourselves Edie cuts, we wore shoulder dusters and wicked black stockings under the shortest possible skirts. We copied her makeup and danced all night at all sorts of ephemeral New York clubs. Before hippies, before the Summer of Love, before disco, there was Edie, the embodiment of extravagant, reckless, eternal youth and we loved her.
As Andy promised, some of us WERE famous for 15 minutes. But Edie, who would have been 75 this April, achieved the impossible: she came and went so quickly – and yet, a half-century later, she is still so very much with us.
It was the mid-1960s, and Edie was everywhere: shows, exclusive clubs, restaurants and gallery openings. becoming a fixture in the fashion and gossip pages, not just in New York but around the country. The camera adored her. “LIFE,” “VOGUE,” “HARPER’S” couldn’t get enough of her. Alone or at Andy’s elbow, Edie was where it was happening, her charisma rubbing off on Warhol, making him seem a lot more glamourous than he was. Eventually, the pretty California heiress and society bad girl didn’t need to BE where it was happening: she WAS what was happening.
From a successful commercial artist, Andy Warhol turned himself into a pop art superstar whose lifestyle had become a celebration of celebrity. Warhol himself wasn’t charismatic or congenial, and he knew it, so he wisely stepped back and let his band of “superstars” who hung around “The Factory” front for him.
And the star of that eccentric entourage – at least for a while — was the glamourous but doomed Edie Sedgwick, a waif-like society heiress who quickly became the iconic kewpie of the mid-1960s “Youthquake” movement. ”22, going whither, God knows,” wrote VOGUE Magazine rather presciently, “but at a great rate!” Impressed by her fashion sense, her effervescent personality with its underlying vulnerability, her beauty, and her remarkable ability to titillate both press and public, Warhol styled Edie “the Queen of the Factory” and began putting her in his underground films.
Edie’s distinctive look grew out of the “beatnik” look of the 1950s – black leotards, short hair and even shorter skirts and “funky” jewelry such as long, dangly earrings that came to be called “shoulder dusters,” extravagant bracelets in multiples or thick cuffs and elaborate necklaces and pectorals.
Steve Sasco, one of the few US jewelry designers still working out of Providence, RI – once the country’s costume jewelry center – has long been fascinated by Edie and her time and place. Though he was little more than a toddler at the height of her popularity, he paid homage to her by studying photos and recreating some of the extravagant jewelry she made so popular during her brief glory days. “I was fascinated when I saw the famous photo of a stunning Edie emerging from a New York manhole wearing these enormous dangle earrings.” Sasco says, “They were so extravagant, so bold – I had to make them, or at least a version of them.”
Sasco began selling his Edie-inspired jewelry on the Internet. It sold so well and became so ubiquitous that when he read in “The Hollywood Reporter” that a movie about Edie and The Factory was in the planning stages, he contacted director George Hickenlooper and offered to create the jewelry for the Edie character. By then, his Edie jewelry had become so popular that choosing him to accessorize Factory Girl (2006) was a slam dunk. For the film, Sasco created an entire suite of jewelry that would help British actress Sienna Miller channel Edie.
In designing his Edie line, Sasco particularly wanted to recreate Edie’s iconic butterfly earrings. In order to replicate them exactly, he needed to find out who the original designer or manufacturer was, but he quickly ran into a dead end. So began Sasco’s quest into the past, into the speed-fueled whirl of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and into the mid-1960s East Village scene.
In his search for Edie, Sasco tracked down Factory notables such as the late Billy Name and Gerard Malanga, but none of them remembered anything specific about Edie’s jewelry. Finally, he found Bibbe Hansen, actress, author, musician and Warhol Silver Factory denizen. She remembered Edie’s butterfly earrings very well, but says that Sasco’s version seems better made and more elegant. As to their provenance, she remembers a little hole-in-the wall jewelry store on St. Mark’s Place on the South side of Eighth Street operated by a friend of her father’s – she can remember only his first name: Izzie.
Once home to Alexander Hamilton’s widow Eliza, by the beginning of the 20th Century, St. Mark’s Place was home primarily to German but also a variety of Eastern European and Russian immigrants. The area hosted not only Yiddish theatre, but Russian steambaths, Ukrainian restaurants and gathering places such as The Dom, a Polish social club that later became a beatnik nightclub, Gem Spa, where the classic New York egg cream was created and The Five Spot, a jazz club that presented the likes of Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker and Charlie Mingus. The area was home to a bewildering variety of notables, from Emma Goldman and Leon Trotsky to West Village characters who drifted East from the West Village, including Jack Kerouac, W.H. Auden (who lived in Trotsky’s old office), Allan Ginsberg and Lenny Bruce.
In Edie’s time there were several tiny jewelry shops on St. Mark’s Place, Eighth St. between Second and Third Avenues, the area which was later to become the epicenter of the mid-1960s hippie scene. These stores sold mostly inexpensive imported goods from India, as well as handcrafted base metal jewelry manipulated by the proprietor or any number of local Greenwich Village craftspeople.
“Starting in the Beat days,” Hansen remembers, “Izzie made the dangling earrings and over-sized hoops favored by Beat women. As the ‘60s rolled around, he crafted these into the more complex chandelier earrings that Edie is known for. I don’t know specifically if she got her butterfly earrings from him, but I do recognize some of the jewelry you see in her photos from his shop.”
Edie Sedgwick can be solidly linked to St. Mark’s Place in 1966, when Andy Warhol opened “The Exploding Plastic Inevitable” above The Dom, installing as a house band Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. The Dom, which later became the hippie disco The Electric Circus, would have been directly across Eighth Street from Izzy’s.
St. Mark’s Place still has nearly a dozen small jewelry outlets, but Izzie is long gone. “That,” Sasco concludes, “is about as close as I think we’ll get to where Edie got her butterfly earrings: likely originally of Indian manufacture, possibly further manipulated or enhanced by Eighth Street Izzie – or somebody like him, maybe even Edie herself. I guess we’ll never know for sure.”
The study he undertook to create the line of Edie-look jewelry for “Factory Girl” only increased Sasco’s fascination with and devotion to Edie’s memory. Edie died young in 1971, an “undetermined/ accident/ suicide” according to the coroner, but her unique and idiosyncratic style lives on. Fashion models are often called “Edie look,” and wear “Edie pink.” On what would have been her 72nd birthday, HARPER’S ran an article entitled “Get the Look: Birthday Girl, Edie Sedgwick’s Chandeliers,” a celebration of her earrings; “Alexa Chung Has This Whole Edie Sedgwick Style Thing Down” ran a VOGUE headline only last year; trend book THE RED LIST called Edie a major “muse”; and at this moment there are numerous online tutorials on recreating Edie’s makeup.
Edie lives on in Sasco’s jewelry as well. “The butterfly earrings are the perfect symbol for her,” he says, “She herself was bright, brilliantly colourful but so sadly short-lived. I’m happy to be able in a modest way to bring a little of her dazzle and quicksilver personality back to life. Edie was pure style,” he concludes. And, as Edie herself would have said, “Style is everything!”