Girltalk: Amandla Stenberg vs Tavi Gevinson

head to head1

The new issue of Dazed and Confused mag is out, and is aptly tited GIRLS RULE THE WORLD. The issue is incredible, and I was lucky enough to moderate a conversation between Tavi Gevinson and Amandla Stenberg for its glossy pages. You can read the article below. (More content from the issue to come soon, including a #deep convo between Petra Collins and I.)

At 17, Tavi Gevinson is already the queen of today’s girl-power intelligentsia. She rose to fame at just 12 through her personal fashion blog, Style Rookie. The world watched as she posted daily photos of her eccentric outfits, taken on her parent’s porch in Illinois, and blogged with a touching insight about pop culture, school dances and the emotional landscape of teenhood. Soon she was being seen at fashion weeks dressed like a “grandmother on ecstasy” (her words). In 2011 
Gevinson founded Rookie, an online magazine aimed at teenage girls that resonates with a much wider audience. You’ll recognise her 15-year-old friend Amandla Stenberg from her role as brave “tribute” Rue in The Hunger Games. Born and raised in LA, Stenberg’s most recent role is in Sleepy Hollow, a modern-day TV retelling of the classic tale. 
The actress is also involved with Share Our Strength, which works to end child hunger in the US. Here the friends discuss everything from feminism to Snapchat to the divine organisation of the universe.

Tavi Gevinson: I remember the first time we met, at a Rookie party. You were wearing a pleated green dress and it was super cute. It made me happy because you’re someone who’s part of mainstream culture, but you like all the same stuff me and my friends like and you’re so down-to-earth. 
I don’t mean for that to sound narrow-minded, but it just made me happy that you would come dance at our party.

Amandla Stenberg: Well, Rookie is a publication I really connect to. It was when I first started going on red carpets and that kind of thing that I started reading it religiously, and it really impacted on me, first in terms of fashion and learning how to wear clothes as a form of expression, and then later it got me interested in feminism and that conversation.

Tavi Gevinson: It’s exciting to know that someone out there making waves beyond Rookie’s audience can be informed by the messages we try to put out in the world. I feel like there’s something happening now – a generation of girls around our age, from a similar background of beliefs and ideas, are inspiring and influencing each other, and that’s super exciting to me. A few years ago I would have said, ‘It’s okay if my friends my own age don’t get it, because I have a bunch of adult, professional friends who do get it.’ But that’s kind of sad, because I need friends my age too. And suddenly in the past few years there’s been this rise of community among young, female creatives who understand and support each other – people like Maude Apatow, who I know you’re friends with, Petra Collins and so many more.

Amandla Stenberg: I totally agree, and find it really empowering.

Tavi Gevinson: So, I’m curious – as people often say it’s catty between young actresses – to know if you’ve found a sense of community in that world?

Amandla Stenberg: Well, what’s unique in my case is that there aren’t many young African-American actresses, so I haven’t really experienced the cattiness or competitiveness of the industry to a large extent.

Tavi Gevinson: You mean because white girls are more likely to be considered for the same part?

Amandla Stenberg: Well, yeah. Most of the time directors and writers have very specific casting intentions, or there’s a family and it’s already been decided that the parents are Caucasian. I don’t want to sound bitter or anything, because I know it’s hard to find great roles for any actor or actress, but being a young African-American woman definitely narrows my choices. That’s why it’s been so refreshing working on Sleepy Hollow, because my character is really complicated emotionally. And also, there’s two main characters – Ichabod and Abbie – and they’re played by a Caucasian male and an African-American woman, and that doesn’t really exist anywhere else on TV. Sleepy Hollow just unintentionally has a cast filled with people of colour and that’s really cool.

What the f?Tavi Gevinson by Ryan Lowry

Tavi Gevlinson: When you’re looking at scripts and choosing what to audition for, what speaks to you?

Amanda Stenberg: Well, I intentionally pursued The Hunger Games. I’d read the book and realised, ‘Wow, this is a young African-American girl who has a really powerful story,’ so I was emailing my agents non-stop, trying to get into the audition room. Even now I have moments where I’m like, ‘Whoa, I got to be in The Hunger Games, that’s insane.’ I wanted to ask, since this issue deals with feminism, what you think of your work being labelled ‘feminist’?

Tavi Gevinson: Well, I am a feminist – I just think the label reflects my beliefs – but, you know, we say Rookie is a website for teenage girls, not a feminist website for teenage girls. That’s not because I’m not proud to call myself a feminist, but when you’re calling attention to a project, you can very easily be pigeonholed by choosing certain identifiers. And while 
I’m happy to talk about feminism and I’m happy that I’m a girl, I do sometimes feel like, ‘Why does everything I do have to be viewed through a lens of ‘feminist or not’?’ Like, can’t I ever do or create anything just as a person? That’s a privilege that men have over women and white people have over people of colour. There’s an interview with Patti Smith in which she says something like, ‘People have always asked why I don’t say I’m a female musician, but you wouldn’t say Picasso is a male painter, he’s just a painter.’ So it’s definitely difficult finding the line – I want to remove the stigma around the word ‘feminist’ but also feel integrated into a community that’s larger than a group of likeminded feminist bloggers. For example, I was so happy about the review of Rookie Yearbook Two in Slate where they said, ‘People say Rookie is good for teenage girls, but it’s actually just good.’

Amandla Stenberg: Yes, I read that article and thought it was fantastic.

Tavi Gevinson: I feel like maybe in the 90s Rookie would have been shamed for trying to reach a lot of people or trying to be ‘mainstream’, but I’m so pleased that our readers are happy to see me promoting the Rookie yearbook on TV or whatever. What feels most productive to me isn’t to think so much in terms of how I can be alternative, but how I can be subversive in a way that feels organic, how I can connect with people, and how I can just be myself, which may be the hardest thing to be.

Amandla Stenberg: Okay, I’m about to get real deep.

Tavi Gevinson: Please do!

Amandla Stenberg: I’ve never been a super religious person, but I went through a phase around the time I did my interview with Rookie when I was checking out lots of different religions. And I realised that 
I don’t believe in a specific god or religion, but my own religion is believing in the divine organisation of the world and how things ultimately work out how they’re supposed to.

Tavi Gevinson: Yeah, I think the point isn’t necessarily that you have proof, but that you choose to live by a set of guidelines. I mean, I was raised Jewish and had a batmitzvah and everything, but I do struggle with the idea that someone is in control of all of this. But I relate to the idea that there’s a way things just work out, and it can be extraordinary whether there’s some kind of organisation behind it or not. Does that make sense?

Amandla Stenberg: Totally.

What the f?
Amandla Stenberg by Hae Ran

Tavi Gevinson: There’s this biologist named Stephen Jay Gould who spent his whole career writing about evolution, and at the end of his life he wrote this book that said something like, ‘Even if I talk about evolution, I think there’s something holy about it.’

Amandla Stenberg: Any way I say this it’s going to sound pseudo-intellectual or something, but I feel like even though the world feels big and intimidating, it’s almost calming to realise that even within the smallest thing, like a cell, there’s an infinity. And you’d think that wouldn’t be calming, that it would be disconcerting, but actually it just makes me feel that there’s an organisation between everything in the world.

Tavi Gevinson: Totally! The astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about this. He says you can look at the scale of the universe and choose to be depressed about it, like, ‘Oh, I’m so small, nothing I do matters, I’m insignificant.’ Or you can decide, ‘I’m small but I’m significant because I’m part of the universe and the cosmos and this crazy large thing.’

Amandla Stenberg: There’s magnitude in even the smallest things, basically.

Tavi Gevinson: Yeah. Oh gosh, I’m so inspired right now!

Amandla Stenberg: I just realised that I’m on my period right now. Maybe 
I should re-evaluate everything I just said.

Tavi Gevinson: No, oh my God, you’re so optimistic for somebody being visited by Aunt Flow. I’ve been wanting to tell you, you’re really good at Snapchat! You do really creative drawing-tool things where you add rays of light coming from your head and stuff.

Amandla Stenberg: Really? Actually I was so inspired by your Snapchats that I felt like I had to up my game! You sent me one the other day saying ‘poop’ and you had the ‘o’s in your nostrils. 
That was original.

Tavi Gevinson: Yeah, I’m good at utilising body parts as letters.

Amandla Stenberg: Have you ever felt embarrassed by a blogpost or article and wanted to delete it?

Tavi Gevinson: You know, I’ve never done it on Style Rookie, but I did go through my Tumblr and was like, ‘No, awful, stop,’ and deleted some things. Although I do think part of the appeal of the work of someone who creates things online is that there’s a trail left behind. Lena Dunham talks about that – how leaving a trail of work behind can be a generous thing to do as an artist, even though you might be embarrassed by it, because you never know how it’s going to affect other people. Maybe the key to being in a place where you’re putting out work that you’re proud of isn’t to continually be perfect, but just to keep doing it, keep trying. So I’ve come to see my older work as something that doesn’t have to be embarrassing.

Amandla Stenberg: I think the internet forces you to be okay with your mistakes, and the things you’ve done in the past, especially when you’re in the media. Personally, that helps me to stop self-editing or being self-conscious, and instead realise that my previous mistakes have allowed me to grow.

Tavi Gevinson: Totally. Joan Didion’s essay ‘On Keeping a Notebook’ talks about this, and that essay was super-important for me when I was starting Rookie and moving on from writing train-of-thought blog entries to expressing opinions that I stood by. 
I’ll read you a great quote from that essay. It goes: ‘I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4am of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, 
forget who we were.’

Be Here Nowish: Behind the Scenes


I wrote this article about Be Here Nowish, the upcoming web show that I’m very excited to be a part of, for the December issue of Dazed & Confused! Pics by Henrique Plantikow. Trailer at the bottom of the article.

New age culture is hella popular these days. Everywhere you go someone’s talking about what cleanse they’re on, their recent Peruvian ayahuasca retreat or how you just have to meet their shaman. The new web show Be Here Nowish taps into the zeitgeist, highlighting the humour in these newly trendy traditions and acting as a Portlandia for Los Angeles’s vast new-age community.

Be Here Nowish was created by Natalia Leite (pictured above with me) and Alexandra Roxo (below, red curls), who write, direct and star in the show. The story follows two sexually progressive New York girls who run off to LA in search of a spiritual awakening. What follows is a series of spiritual boot camps, crystal healings, plant medicine ceremonies, difficult yoga poses and sage-cleansed threesomes. Most of what happens in the show is based on Natalia and Alexandra’s own personal experience of the spiritual communities in both LA and NYC. “We’re not poking fun at any of these beliefs because the show is largely based on our lives,” says Alexandra. “We are simply enjoying the humour in rituals and ideas that we actually enjoy and are very respectful of. Like, paying someone $100 to clean your colon while telling you spiritual mantras is kind of ridiculous, but I would still do it, y’know?”

The show features cameos from members of TV on the Radio, CSS and CREEP, as well as featuring amazing people like director Ry Russo-Young,  writer Liz Armstrong, actor Adam Carpenter and filmmakers Sarah Tricker and Dagmar Weaver-Madsen. And I play 
a part too, as a yoga-loving trust-fund lesbian! LOL. Be Here Nowish will be coming to your laptop this winter at To whet your appetite, I interviewed the girls about a handful of the show’s essential props…

Alexandra Roxo


Alexandra Roxo: This bundle of sage is used during a lesbian threesome to cleanse the room before sex. We’re interested in portraying lifestyles and sexual habits that don’t necessarily conform to what we see in other media. There are lesbian and queer characters on the show and sexuality is talked about openly. Although there isn’t anything that weird. Tantric sex, threesomes, gays, S&M, body bags – these are all pop-culture friendly, or at least things people have seen before.

Natalia Leite: In our opinion, a lot of lesbians on TV and in movies are very clichéd, and we wanted to create something more accurate to our community. Orange is the New Black is great for portraying lesbians, but then again, they’re in prison, so what does that tell you?

Tarot cards on the set of Be Here Nowish  

Tarot cards, witch oils, 
palo santo, vibrator

NL: My introduction to alternative spirituality came from my mom when I was growing up in Brazil. I have a memory of a strange man coming over to our house and throwing salt all over everything, then sweeping it out the front door. When I was a teenager my mom would secretly lay rolls of tin foil under my mattress – apparently it reflects energy. She was always doing weird stuff like that. I was like, ‘My mom is crazy.’ 
I was too young to understand any of it back then, but as I got older I was able to pick out certain parts that made sense to me, and eventually I found my own direction within the spiritual world.

AR: My mom took me to see my first psychic when I was 14. I’ve studied various types of meditation, I’ve gone to a free activist witch camp in the woods of Oregon, I’ve been a part of real pagan rituals, and I also grew up Christian in the south in the Bible Belt and regularly saw people speaking in tongues. So because Natalia and I have had all of these experiences personally, we’re able to tap into these varying elements of spirituality throughout the show. It’s all part of who we are.

Crew filming Be Here Nowish

Jar of “piss”

NL: When our characters first arrive in LA they undergo a spiritual boot camp in order to prepare themselves mentally, physically and spiritually for their plant medicine ceremony. One of the things the leader of the boot camp makes them do is drink a jar of their own piss.

AR: It’s called urine therapy, and it’s prescribed by many holistic doctors for curing a variety of ailments. Our characters are sort of freaked out by it, as you’d imagine most people would be.

NL: We used apple juice mixed with water for the scene. I wouldn’t ever want to actually drink my own piss. That crosses the line for me.

AR: I’ve done it.

Body bag

AR: This is actually a sensory deprivation tool, but ‘body body’ became our on-set nickname for it because it really looks like one. This features in the show during a sex scene. The point is for the person inside the bag to go into a meditative black hole of sorts where their senses become heightened, allowing them to be 
further stimulated.

NL: I’m the one who had to go into the bag, and let me tell you it was not fun. They kept saying ‘cut’ and forgetting that I couldn’t let myself out, so I kept having to scream for help between takes. Also, during one of the takes someone accidentally sat on my head.

Evidence of alternative spirituality

Linda Goodman’s Love Signs

AR: This is a book written in the 70s about forming relationships through the guidance of astrology. In the show my character uses the book to check if her sign is compatible with the sign of a guy she’s dating before they experiment with tantric sex. I’ve experimented with tantric sex. Something specific about that type of sex is that it goes in waves – your partner brings you really close to orgasm, but then waits, and then they bring you close again, and then they wait, and that goes on for a while, but when you finally come it lasts far longer and is far more intense than usual, and you and your partner can come at exactly the same time. There are also spiritual and energetic components to it – when you’re experiencing that pre-orgasmic state with someone for an extended period of time it can be very emotional, and you can achieve heightened levels of intimacy.

NL: I don’t know… It seems like way too much work for me. I’m a very spiritual person but when it comes to sex I don’t want to look into someone’s eyes and cry and try to connect with their spirit or whatever. I just want to fuck.

a rock’n’roll chronicler and a wild young artist compare notes


The article below was originally written by me for the current issue of Dazed & Confused:

The best music photographers have the extraordinary ability to make you wish you were there. Brad Elterman rose to fame in the late 70s by doing just that. Then a wide-eyed young Los Angeleno, Elterman was one of the pioneers of backstage and paparazzi photos of rock stars, instinctively taking candid, behind-the-scenes snapshots of everyone from Bob Dylan to the Sex Pistols at a time when magazines tended to print only stage or studio shots. It wasn’t long before Elterman’s raw, often debauched photographs of the day’s icons were filling the pages of Creem and Rolling Stone.

Elterman’s modern art-world counterpart is Sandy Kim, well known for intensely intimate photo-graphs of her eccentric friends in the young New York art scene and on-tour shots of the band Girls. [You Slutever readers def know about her, because she’s on this blog all the time.] She also turns the camera on herself, documenting her personal life in explicit detail, from sex to drugs to period blood. Recently, Elterman enlisted Kim to go through his archive and edit together a book. The result is Dog Dance, a collection of Elterman’s images of punk stars and mainstream legends that has the aesthetic of a tabloid and the spirit of a zine. Below is the transcription of a recent conversation I had with these two lovely, manic people:

Brad Elterman: The first time we met was at an opening of yours at MOCA in LA. You were presenting a slideshow of your photos, holding a microphone that was bigger than you, and you said ‘Here’s a picture of my boyfriend Colby… and here’s a picture of Colby’s cum.’ I couldn’t believe you actually said that. It was so funny.

Sandy Kim: I was probably stoned.

Brad Elterman: When I saw your photos I was like, ‘Holy shit, who is this crazy girl?’ You remind me a bit of myself at your age. I think something we have in common is that we both collect weird friends. Some people collect stamps, others insects; we collect eccentric people.

Sandy Kim: Totally. It’s fun being surrounded by crazy, inspiring people – it makes you feel like you’re part of a movement or a scene. And as a photographer, sometimes part of your job becomes building up the myth around that scene.

Brad Elterman: Oh yeah, with rock’n’roll things always get blown up out of proportion. We embellish, you know? We talk about crazy hotel parties where everybody danced all night on tables under the stars, when in reality we were roasting a couple of hotdogs by the pool.

Sandy Kim: It’s all about how you take the picture. I’ve learned that being in a rock band or being on tour isn’t as glamorous as people think. Touring actually sucks. I guess if you’re a huge rock star it’s easy, but when I was touring with Girls back when they just started, we’d sleep on people’s floors, or get one hotel room and everyone would cram in, sleeping in the bathroom and stuff. Recently I’ve been touring with Colby’s band, DIIV, and we’ve slept in the van twice. It’s grimy and you’re constipated because you’re eating all this crappy food, you know?

Brad Elterman: I get constipated when I travel too. Even when I just go down the street to my neighbour’s house I get constipated.

Sandy Kim: But I don’t want to complain too much. In the end it’s way worth it. So what was it like when you first started taking photos? Were you sleeping on bathroom floors?

Brad Elterman: Well, I was always very shy. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, outside of LA. Starting when I was 16, every day I’d borrow my parents’ car and drive into LA, and as I hit the Sunset Strip it felt like I was entering a whole new civilization. There were so many cool people, and even as shy as I was, I liked the energy I got from being around them. It was magic – these were people I would hear on the radio, who I looked up to: Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry, Rod Stewart and so on. And because I was a photo buff, it was only natural for me to bring a camera. Although I had to borrow my brother’s camera, because I didn’t have my own. So I would just be snapping away, and afterward I would hustle the pictures to Music Life – the encyclopedia of rock’n’roll in Japan at the time. Every single picture I sent them, they would buy. It was unbelievable!

Sandy Kim: I’m sure a lot of people wished they were in your position. The fact that those rock stars allowed you into their world over other photographers must have meant you had a connection with them, right?

Brad Elterman: Actually, there weren’t a lot of people who wanted to take those pictures. There were only a handful of rock’n’roll photographers then, but they would just shoot the live shows, and they thought I was stupid for hanging out backstage or for wanting to get inside Kiss’s dressing room. They just didn’t get it.

Self-portrait Brad Elterman

Sandy Kim: Really? That’s so crazy! Now that’s all magazines and photographers want – everyone prefers the fly-on-the-wall, candid, backstage stuff.

Brad Elterman: Yeah, we don’t want to see Justin Bieber onstage. Everyone with a cellphone can take that photo. We want to go backstage and see what he’s doing, who he’s doing and what he’s smoking. It’s interesting – today, the most valuable commodity isn’t gold, diamonds or oil, it’s original content. That’s what Time Warner wants, that’s what the big media companies want. Because original content brings the audience, and what do you do when you have a captive audience? You sell them something.

Sandy Kim: It’s true. Today it’s all about the exclusive. But you took a long break from taking photos, right? Why’d you stop?

Brad Elterman: I didn’t take photos for 25 years. I stopped because the Ramones broke up, The Runaways broke up, and because there was this thing called a publicist that came on to the scene and made things a bit tricky! So I missed the 80s and 90s – I missed heavy metal, disco, Baywatch and Pamela Anderson… so yeah, I don’t think I really missed a heck of a lot, to tell you the truth!

Sandy Kim: What made you start shooting again?

Brad Elterman: The internet. I saw all these artists and ‘personas’ online who had such a captive audience. Eventually in 2007 I put my archive on Tumblr. It pushed me to pick up a camera again, but it was really nerve-racking. I felt very insecure because there are so many great photographers and great talents out there now. I thought, ‘Who’s going to care?’ But now I have 300,000 followers, so it was worth it!

Sandy Kim: There’s more competition now. With the internet it’s much easier to be heard, which is why so many photographers, bands and artists get big for a second and then just fade away, I guess because they can’t continue producing enough good content. But the internet also makes making money complicated. You can have hundreds of thousands of Tumblr followers, but how do you turn that into money?

Brad Elterman: Well, that’s the ultimate question.

Sandy Kim: I guess it’s about getting advertising, finding corporate sponsors, shooting a campaign, getting a song in a commercial – all that stuff. It’s widely known that it’s harder than ever now to make money being creative, so it’s become less of a faux pas for artists to do those sorts of things.

Brad Elterman: So you don’t feel pressure not to do money jobs?

Sandy Kim: Fuck no, I need money, man! If it was a shitty brand I probably wouldn’t. I used to be way more punk, like, ‘Fuck that, I’m going to do what I want and be broke!’ But reality hit and I needed to pay rent. And I’m really into mainstream and pop culture, and I think it’s cool to be part of that. But in the 70s that would have been seen as selling out big-time.

Brad Elterman: Well, this is actually nothing new. Back in the day, the big rockers and celebrities didn’t want to appear domestically that they were selling out, so they would sneak through the back door, get a flight to Tokyo and do a whisky commercial for a few million bucks. That’s basically the premise of Lost in Translation. Bowie and all those people were doing the exact same thing.

Sandy Kim: So let’s talk about Dog Dance. Your photographs are so iconic. I had so much fun working on the book and playing with the 70s tabloid aesthetic. Why did you ask me to design the book?

Brad Elterman: Well, I did a photobook, and it was very beautiful but expensive and my Tumblr kids couldn’t afford it. It was a little too chic for Tumblr! So this time I wanted to do something more contemporary, and more than anything I wanted you to curate it, because you know what’s hot!

Dating 101 with Marsha Rowe: Cheating Questions

Pic by Coco Young

Last week I published an interview with feminist icon Marsha Rowe, where she and I talked about the history of feminism, body image and porn. However, during our original conversation, Marsha and I also talked a lot about relationships, specifically about cheating and non-monogamy. I didn’t include that bit of our convo in the original edit, just because the interview was already really long (Marsha, being very wise, just said too much good stuff to fit into one blog post!), but I thought it would be a waste not to share it with you all, so I’ve posted it below. If you’ve ever cheated or been cheated on, or if you’re considering experimenting with an open relationship, I suggest you read on!

Rowe: In a recent blog post of yours, you made a comment that it was alright for someone to cheat in a relationship as long as the person handled it properly. When I read that I thought, “Hang on, if you really cared about someone and they cheated on you, how would you feel?” Yours seemed like quite a detached, male attitude. If relationships are about vulnerability and trying to open up, then I think the idea that it’s fine to cheat is sort of glib, and I don’t like it personally.

Sciortino: I see what you mean. I think what I was trying to say was that, for example, if someone in a relationship went to another country and had sex with a random person in a one-off experience, and he/she didn’t brag about it or discuss it with friends, then that was a condonable act. I don’t know… maybe I’m just being realistic about the fact that whether or not a couple acknowledges that this type of behavior is sometimes “OK,” it generally happens anyway.

Rowe: Well that’s something you deal with if it happens, isn’t it? As far as I know, in every relationship where someone has cheated, the relationship hasn’t lasted. Although it may have been because it was never meant to last.

Sciortino: It’s hard. This is my issue: say you’ve been monogamous with one person for a long time, and after awhile you get the urge to sleep with someone else, but ultimately decide not to because you want to stay committed. In my mind, this is likely to lead to resentment within the relationship, or you becoming unhappy sexually, when maybe a better alternative is to just get the random sex out of your system and move on. But then again, I know cheating can be a slippery slope.

Rowe: I think it depends on what stage the relationship is in. I’m sure early on someone could stray without it causing too much disruption. My case would be for maintaining trust. That if you tell the partner, even beforehand, then you can modify the potential for jealousy. But if this is happening later on, maybe the person cheating is actually frightened of being too intimate or vulnerable within their relationship, and sleeping with somebody else is just a diversion from it all.

Sciortino: That’s true. And there are obviously different levels of cheating as well. Like if I found out my boyfriend had been dating someone else for a year behind your back I’d obviously be like “OK, too much!” But if I found out he’d slept with someone else once or twice, and it wasn’t someone close to us, I could probably get over it. It’s really subjective. And I’m talking as someone who is nowhere near being mentally ready to get married or have kids. I think when you enter marriage, or consider having children with someone, the rules change.

Rowe: Well, life in general is much more fluid now. Half the time people don’t marry, and relationships are a bit more vulnerable to change.  

Sciortino: I know a lot of people, myself included, who are now experimenting with open relationships–the idea that you have one main partner with whom you’re emotionally monogamous, but you both have the freedom to sleep with other people occasionally, so long as it’s not gratuitous or disrespectful.

Rowe: Well in the 60s and 70s, because we were against the whole ‘nuclear family under capitalism’ thing, at times we thought it was alright to have multiple relationships or partners, so long as we were open about it. For example, I would be good friends with a woman who was with one of my partners, and vice versa. But in a way, looking back it was quite cold, you know? There wasn’t a lot of care in the matter, and even when there was a lot of love, actually, it wasn’t workable in the long run. As for the idea of sex divorced from feeling, I suppose I did have a few partners where that was the case, but it wasn’t what I wanted in the end. Ultimately I realized that if I was with someone, I didn’t want to be, well… fucking someone else, really.

Sciortino: I go through cycles. There are periods where I really crave and enjoy having detached, “meaningless” sex, and times when I don’t. I know that a lifetime of just anonymous sex would not be fulfilling for me or most people. But I think there’s a time in everyone’s life where free sexual experimentation is fun and probably a good thing, because if you don’t have it when you’re younger then maybe you’ll regret having missed the opportunity later on.

Rowe: That’s true.

Sciortino: What do you think about certain modern pop stars, like Ke$ha and Lady Gaga, who are open and unapologetic about being promiscuous?

Rowe: Well pop stars always behaved this way, except they were mostly men. They didn’t talk about it that much, but it was always assumed. But now women are doing it too and it’s like, ‘So what?!’ Does that make them a role model? Well, I don’t really know what a role model is anymore, but at least they’re being open and honest about it.  

Sciortino: I think it’s potentially positive. I don’t think young women should feel like they have to sleep around to be sexually progressive or a feminist, but I think it’s good to have people in the media relaying the message that if you do decide to have multiple partners, it doesn’t mean that you’re a slut or that you’re just trying to please men. It’s never degrading to do what makes you feel good.

Rowe: Yes, yes, yes. I mean, where is the male equivalent for the word ‘slut’? There isn’t one. There is no term for putting a man down because he sleeps around. Slut-shaming is a very old and sexist form of abuse. The ideal of virginity and being chaste is what we were against in the 60s, and it’s why we claimed our sexual freedom.

Talking Feminism with Spare Rib editor Marsha Rowe

Marsha Marsha Marsha

Marsha Rowe is a feminist icon. In 1972, she and pal Rosie Boycott founded Spare Rib, a feminist magazine based in the UK that went on to become a bible of second wave feminism. Marsha was the magazine’s first editor and oversaw all of its radical glory; it was the first magazine to talk about female sexuality, it was frank, funny, intellectual, and it had the mission of making living conditions better for women. Spare Rib (get it?) ran until ‘93, but it will potentially see a revival, if editor Charlotte Raven gets her way. 

I was obviously beyond excited by the opportunity to speak with Marsha, and to discuss the modern feminist movement, how it differs from feminism of the past, and lots of other fun stuff like body image, porn, and Pussy Riot. Read our convo below. This article was originally published in the wonderful Dazed and Confused magazine.

Marsha Rowe and Rosie Boycott

Slutever: I wonder what Spare Rib would look like today, in the context of modern women’s magazines. Obviously, when you guys started out, Spare Rib was one of the only outlets for this type of information for women. However now there’s almost an excess of websites who write about feminist issues, but which I feel often lack intellectual content, and instead feel like a bunch of girls getting together to talk about what makes them angry, alongside celebrity news. It becomes a combination of: “Who’s Lindsay Lohan dating?” and “I felt oppressed because my postman looked at me in a sexual manner.” It can become trivial.

Rowe: Well, the point behind 70s feminism was the idea of the personal as political. It wasn’t just about liberating ourselves, but about ourselves in the context of society; it was about the economic situation and wider political situation. And what strikes me about modern feminism is that it focuses quite narrowly on the body. So much anxiety gets centered on the woman’s body, and it feels somehow detached from what other things are going on in the wider world.

Slutever: And feminism in the 70s was less concerned with the body?

Rowe: I mean, women’s rights here in the UK had four demands: equal pay, equal education and opportunity, 24-hr nurseries, and free contraception and abortion on demand. And then two years later it was for financial and legal independence, and for end of discrimination against women. And there was an explosion of new legislation in that period. So the female body was an issue, but in terms of one’s own health, control or knowledge over one’s body.

SluteverPerhaps now that we’ve won much of the larger war, we feel it necessary to fight a personal one.

Spare Rib 

Rowe: On the topic of the body, what do you think of the thin-ness of fashion models? It was interesting–I looked at an interview you did on your blog with porn star Bobbi Starr, and she was saying that women with flesh on their bodies are celebrated in pornography. There seems to be two versions of male fantasy: the super thin fashion object, which is like some male projection of transcendence, and the luscious, bigger woman, who could be associated with the old ideas of female-ness. Although to me, neither seem to me to meet what women want themselves. 

Slutever: I feel like it gets so confused–there’s so much anxiety today over how are women supposed to look that maybe we don’t even know what we want to look like, it’s more about what we feel we should look like. I do an advice column,  and a lot of the questions that girls send me are like, “Should I shave my crotch or not?” And ultimately it’s like, “Who cares, do whatever you want.” But it seems like women have this idea that there’s a right way and a wrong way. Although I don’t know if that’s necessarily a new thing. Actually, I remember my mother–who has quite large breasts– telling me, “I grew up in the 60s, the ONE time when it was trendy to be flat! I’m so unlucky!”

Rowe: Ha, that’s so funny! Actually, we ran a piece on that for the very first issue of Spare Rib. Angela Phillips, who took the cover photo, was complaining about having that same problem while at school.  I remember Germaine Greer marching into the office and seeing that piece and saying “It’s trash!” So yes, it’s nothing new that girls’ insecurities focus on their bodies. What do you feel when you answer these reader advice questions? 

Slutever: Well, it’s hard because from a neutral point of view I want to tell girls that they shouldn’t worry about  being so thin, and that natural curves are sexy, and that there’s a difference between being healthy and looking aesthetically a certain way, and that what we see in magazines and on TV are the result of airbrushing and extreme dieting. But when I look in the mirror, I can’t help but compare myself to these same standards. I’m not above it.

Rowe: Well in the 70s we went for this idea of the “natural woman.” It was reclaiming whoever you were. Four of us in the office had curly hair and we stopped straightening our hair, and it did feel so liberating. I remember not shaving my armpits, and there were arguments over whether you should even shave your legs. And we never shaved down there very much. Men used to think it was sort of sexy anyway. But then, why should sexy be the criteria? In those days we were saying, “Why are we dressing for the male gaze?” Although I do remember feeling self-conscious because I sometimes wore terrific, bold dresses and high heels, and gradually that started to become less acceptable in some areas of the women’s movement.  So even though it was a moment where we really felt we could say no to fashion, even within the counter-culture we had our own fashion.

Spare Rib 

Slutever: Well it seems the fashion was a specific rebellion to the left-over 50s ideals of dressing for a man, being hyper sexualized, etc., right? 

Rowe: Well we weren’t trying to dress unsexy, just different. You know when we were in school, as teenagers, we had to wear stockings and corsets; in a way it was our armor. So the 60s was about throwing that off. We wore mini skirts, jeans and T-shirts. When I started wearing t-shirts they only sold them in the boys department, and jeans were always made for men too–to get them to fit you had to shrink them in the bath.

Slutever: I think some modern feminists still struggle with the same idea: “Is it OK for me to want to dye my hair and wear makeup, and look according to the oldschool idea idea of female beauty?” In my opinion, this is fine. I follow the idea that women gain a lot of power from being sexually attractive, and to intentionally lessen your beauty is to lessen your power. You know what I mean?

Rowe: It sounds as though you’re talking about pride? Yes, I think pride in your body is good. I’m not sure I know any woman particularly like that. Although I’m reminded of Pussy Riot and FEMEN– these girls are brazen about using the body in a political way, in order to turn, as it were, the poisonous dart that is used to attack them back onto their attackers. They’re using their bodies to make their own feminist politics, and to talk about things like sexism, the patriarchy, arranged marriage, and I think they are fascinating. Did you see the recent news about Inna Shevchenko, the founder of Femen in the Ukraine? Basically every year in France they create a new stamp with the image of Marianne – the figurehead of the French revolution–and this year the stamp’s artist said the design was based mainly on Shevchenko’s image, and afterward Shevchenko was quoted as saying: “Femen is on a French stamp. Now all homophobes, extremist and fascists will have to lick my ass when they want to send a letter”. 

Slutever: That’s amazing.

Rowe: Isn’t that so good?

Slutever: So, one of my personal feminist heroes is Camille Paglia–very pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-Madonna, all the good stuff. Do you know her?

Rowe: Well I do, but she was part of the anti-feminism backlash that came in the 80s and 90s! She said some great things, but she was also completely ignorant in a way. She said the second wave feminists were puritanical, and it was just so not true. Did she ever read all those articles about orgasm? Did she ever read Germaine Greer talking about the power of the female libido, and how we had to harness that energy? We talked about non-possessiveness and new forms of intimacy. She said the 70s feminists thought of themselves as victims, but that’s narrowing it down to just a tiny part of the debate. 

Spare Rib

Slutever: Well, I think obviously a lot of what she said she was able to say because the second wave feminists before her had been so successful in their ambitions. In my mind she was essentially saying, “Hey guys, we’ve basically won the battle, so now we can afford to be a bit more relaxed, and create new goals that are potentially different than the original ones.” She was saying that it’s ok for women to be sexy and for men to be uber-masculine. Some second wave feminists, like Gloria Steinem etc, were anti-porn, anti-stripping, anti-prostitution, because they felt these things degraded women. But Paglia sort of said, “Well actually, in this new world I think differently.”

Rowe: Well, we didn’t think it was up to us to say if working as a prostitute was degrading. The idea was to change the language–you find out whether the prostitute actually chose that profession, or whether there was social pressure, or if they had no other way to earn money. You’re right, there were moralistic strands in second wave feminism. There are always moralistic strands. What I find horrible now is the pornification of nearly everything we buy–it’s everywhere, the sides of buses, store windows. Women’s bodies are used to sell more than they ever were back then.

Slutever: Personally, I don’t think that porn by definition is degrading to women. Now more than ever there are lots of outspoken feminists in porn who speak about female sexual empowerment and pleasure. So I think there are some positive things coming out of the world of pornography.

Rowe: I have nothing against it. If someone chooses to work in porn, that’s fine by me. I’ve never been moralistic about these things. I mean, I grew up in the 60s during sexual liberation.

Slutever: So if you were to re-launch Spare Rib, what are some issues that you feel are relevant now? What do you feel could be better for modern women?

Rowe: Well, I think the childcare situation is appalling. We had wanted 24 hr nurseries– a bit of a dream idea. Under Thatcher in the 80s, it was more like having to defend nurseries. But now that my daughter has two children, I’m aware of how nothing has changed. Bringing up children is a massive part of life and yet it’s just not catered for in society. How can society change if childcare is just pushed away into a corner? And equal pay is still absolutely not achieved. We still only have about 20% women MPs in parliament, a small number of women in the boardroom, and a massive number of women in low-paid part-time jobs, and they’re lucky they’ve even got a job.

Everyone Loves Solange, Duh

Everyone loves Solange and everyone knows “Losing You” is the greatest song we’ve heard in the past year. Could her voice be any more dreamy? Could her clothes and hair be any cooler? Could her dance moves be any more simultaneously sexy and unintimidating? (It’s nice watch her and think, “I could do that,” even though we obviously couldn’t.) GOD, she has everything. Also, “Losing You” was written by Dev “Blood Orange” Hynes, one of my BFFs, who is often featured on this blog. (Oh, you should also check out that song he wrote for Sky Ferreira.)

It’s been nearly a decade since Solange released her debut album, Solo Star, back in 2003. She was just 16 then, making easily palatable pop/R&B and working alongside people like Pharrell and “Lil Bow Wow. In 2008, she released her Motown-inspired LP Sol-Angel And The Hadley St Dreams, after which she became #indie, performing an (amazing) cover of the Dirty Projectors track “Stillness is the Move” and doing a duet with Of Montreal, etc. Her recently released EP True (co-written and produced by Dev Hynes) is the only thing I listen to while running on the treadmill. I recently interviewed Solange about break-ups, working with Dev, and the right speed at which to grow up. Enjoy!

Slutever: Lyrically, a lot of the songs on True deal with heartbreak and obsession, in a very vulnerable way that feels reminiscent of female vocalists in the Motown era–this idea of, “If he doesn’t love me back, I’m just going to die.”
Solange: It’s true, and a big part of that is definitely an extension of Dev–of his heartbreak and his break-up, which he was going through while we were making the record. It’s interesting, because I’ve always written about the issues going on in my life, typically about elements of pain or conflict. But when I started working on True, it was the first time in my life that I was in a happy, healthy, stable relationship, and I was trying to write about it, but I was having a really difficult time drawing inspiration from the good times. Which is kind of fucked up, when you think about it.

Yeah, it’s sort of cheesy to write songs like, “Hey, look how great my life is!”
Exactly, and I think a lot of writers are inspired by conflict. Mary J. Blige is a great example of that; when she was close to rock bottom she was writing these extremely painful love songs, but you feel such a connection when her when you hear them. So it was really interesting when Dev and I started to work together, because we became really, really good friends, and I got to know the entire storyline of this relationship–from the moment that he met her, to their issues, to the fire before the complete devastation–and I was able to draw a lot from that, and it rescued me from my writers block. So it sounds bad, but his break-up worked out really well for us, in terms of a writing partnership.

It’s like you’re living vicariously through his pain. Recently, Dev Hynes Tweeted, “Solange Knowles is my muse.” But does this work both ways?
Totally, which is why this is the most collaborative thing I’ve ever done. Mine and Dev’s one problem is actually getting work done. Like we go into the studio and then just spend the whole time on Rap Genius, or talking for two hours about who he’s dating.

You moved to New York a year ago. Your apartment is a very “grown-up” apartment. Is that a refection of your lifestyle?
I know! I just turned 26 in June, but my life is very grown=up. But my journey has been different than a lot of people’s. I got married when I was seventeen, I had my son Julez when I was eighteen, then we moved out to the middle of nowhere in Idaho…

Why did you move there?
My husband at the time was finishing school there, and I liked the idea of living in isolation, and being able to afford a home and some land and raise my baby. It seemed romantic. But in reality, when it all went down it was kind of like, “Get me out of here.”

How long did you last there?
A year and a half. But I wrote a lot while I was out there. I had written songs before–I had an album out when I was fifteen, I wrote for Kelly Rowland from Destiny’s Child, and some other commercial stuff–but the isolation really allowed me to thrive and find my own voice.

Do you ever worry that you grew up too fast?
Sometimes I get the fear, like, “Am I going to be in my forties chasing my youth because I’m so grown up at 26?” But to be honest I have no regrets. I was with my ex-husband from when I was thirteen until twenty, and I’m in a long term relationship now, but there were some years in between when I was wildin’ out, which was awesome. I think that with each dating experience you go through, you learn more and more about what you won’t accept, and what you’re willing to be patient about. And I feel like I’ve dated enough to have that understanding. But my number one priority now is being a mom. And for a very long time, especially when I was living in LA, I didn’t have help, and it was tough to balance working and raising him–picking him up and dropping him off at school, taking him to basketball games and piano lessons, all the normal mom stuff. So a huge incentive behind me moving to New York was that my mom and sisters are here, and it’s great to have that support system.

Recently, Spin wrote an article that credits your most recent single, “Losing You,” as signifying a much-needed shift away from R&B’s ongoing love affair with electronic dance music. How do you feel about that?
I think that’s really flattering, although I can’t take responsibility for that. That R&B/trance stuff–well, some of it’s good, and some of it’s awful. I think the origin of it was totally innovative and new, and that to merge those two things was really inventive. But the problem is, when a trend becomes really successful, eventually there becomes a format for “guaranteed” success in mainstream radio, like, “I’m going to do this because seven other people did it and have hit records.” And that’s when the music become unoriginal.

So when you sat down to write True, did you and Hynes have specific influences in mind?
Well weirdly, when Dev and I met we had almost the exact same playlists on our computers, which featured lots of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who turned out to be major influences. They worked with SOS Band and Janet Jackson and Chaka Khan, who were traditionally very funk oriented artists, but when they worked with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis they made these amazing pop records, while still maintaining their artist identities. Like when you hear Chaka Khan “I Feel For You,” it still sounds like Chaka Khan, but it doesn’t sound anything like “Tell Me Something Good” or “Sweet Thing.” So that’s the amazing thing about collaborations–maintaining your voice, your sound and your lyrical messages, but with someone else’s personality added. Like it’s really interesting to listen to Dev’s Blood Orange project, and then to my record, and hear the similarities and the differences.

Do you have a favorite memory from making the record?
We got Verdine White, the bassist from Earth, Wind & Fire, to bass on the track “Bad Girls”, which was insane. We had a pretty conservative budget for this record–we recorded a lot of it in my house–so he literally came over and played bass in my living room!

Were you freaking out?
Oh yeah, Dev and I were literally practicing how we were going to open the door. Like, were we just going to be casual like, “What’s up Verdine?” or should we say, ‘Hello Mr. White.” That conversation actually happened.

What you’re wearing in the “Losing You” video is so cool–lots of richly colored power suits. It’s so sexy, but not in a risqué or ostentatious way.
I like the idea of having more refined looks, because my hair is pretty wild, so I like the contrast. And I’m not entirely comfortable with being “all out there”. When I was younger my mom had this rule, “If you’re wearing your legs out, then your arms need to be covered. Or if you have your boobs out, then you shouldn’t show your legs.” Super old fashioned, but I think that stuck with me,  and transitioned into my adult life. Although there was a moment when I was wearing some unbelievably short dresses. But that’s when I was freshly divorced, and..

Needed a rebound?
Yeah. It was fun!

What female performers do you look up to?
In junior high school Bjork totally changed my life. I totally was enamored by her, because she was my first introduction to someone so avant-garde. There was just this sense of art, and the dramatic, in everything she did. Even if she just had on a t-shirt and jeans, I saw the art in it. And then I’ve always loved Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu, and thought they were just beautiful queens. I really identified with them, especially as a young black girl growing up in Houston.

P.S. I’m @karleyslutever on Instagram and @slutever on Twitter. Lesbi-friends!

Cindy Gallop: The Santa Claus of Good Sex

I recently interviewed the amazing Cindy Gallop who founded Make Love Not Porn! This originally appeared in Dazed mag. <3

Cindy Gallop wants you to have good sex, like, for real. In 2009 the New York City-based advertising executive gave a four-minute talk at a TED conference that became one of the event’s most talked about presentations. “I date younger men, predominantly men in their 20s,” was her opening line, and she went on to discuss the obvious influence of hardcore porn on the sex techniques of her young lovers. According to Gallop, internet porn has created a generation of young people who think that “what you see in hardcore pornography is the way that you have sex.” Basically, in the absence of proper sex-ed, porn has become the default sex-educator.

Gallop used her TED talk to unveil, a witty, non-judgmental website that compares sex in the “porn world” to that in the “real world”. For example: “Porn World: Women come all the time in positions where nothing is going anywhere near the clit. Real World: There has to be some sort of rhythmic pressure on the clit in just the right way to make a woman come. Can be pubic bone, tongue, fingers, something else entirely. But it has to be there.” Oh, how true Cindy!

The site became a worldwide phenomenon, leading Gallop to publish the book Make Love Not Porn: Technology’s Hardcore Impact on Human Behavior. Four years later, she’s now preparing to launch, a video-based social-media site that aims to revolutionize sexual entertainment by offering videos of real people having real sex. Say goodbye to smoke and mirrors and anal bleaching –this is the real deal!

The best thing about is that it’s funny. It’s so much less awkward to talk about sex when there’s humour involved.
Cindy Gallop: Exactly. I wrote all the copy myself, and I deliberately made it lighthearted to defuse the embarrassment that exists around talking about sex. Also, when I was creating the site I said to my designer, ‘I don’t want the slightest whiff of education or public service about it,’ because that’s the kiss of death where kids are concerned. I said, ‘I want you to take your design cues from the world of hardcore porn.’

And were you surprised by the response?
The response has been so extraordinary. I’ve been receiving emails about the site literally every day for the past four years. They tend to go something like this: ‘I came across your TED talk, I went to your website, I shared them both with my girlfriend/boyfriend/lover, and off the back of that we had a great conversation, and now our sex life is so much better.’ Essentially, the site is working as an objective, outside platform that helps people have the conversations they need to have.

You’re like the Santa Claus of good sex! So can you explain your new venture,
Well, the sheer amount of emails I received made me feel that I had a personal responsibility to take Make Love Not Porn forward, in a way that would make it more far-reaching and effective. One of my philosophies – born of my advertising background – is ‘communication through demonstration’. So I decided to take every dynamic that currently exists in social media, and apply them to the one area no other social platform has gone or will ever dare to go: sex. I want to socialise sex, and to make real-world sex socially acceptable, and therefore just as socially shareable as anything else we share on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. So is a user-generated, crowdsourced platform on which anybody from anywhere in the world can submit videos of themselves having real-world sex.

And how do you define real-world sex?
Real-world sex is not performing for the camera; it’s funny, messy, human, and ridiculous. It’s the shit that really happens. For example, the total nightmare of putting the condom on. Guys are supposed to be able to do this like magic, but as we all know it often doesn’t happen like that, and sometimes things go soft, juices go dry and libidos get derailed. Or fanny farts – everyone does it, nothing to be ashamed of. Also, I find it so amusing when people talk about porn being “dirty”, because porn actually sanitises sex. In porn nobody has hair, you never actually see anybody using lube, or having sex on their period, when actually that’s when girls are the horniest! So we want categories like ‘period sex’ – bring it on, blood everywhere – no big deal, take the tampon out with your teeth.

So your site will show actual orgasms, not the fake, overdramatic screamed orgasms common in mainstream porn?
Totally. For example, our very first submission was from a young straight couple, and as I was watching it, no matter how hot what they were doing to each other was, I just could not stop looking at the girl’s face. And the reason was because she was loving it. She was so aroused that it became adorable. You never see faces like that in porn.

Will there be a fee for users?
We charge $5 per video for a three-week streaming rental. We also charge $5 to submit a video to the site, which is a curation fee, as my team and I will review all submissions. But then we revenue share – we give you, the contributor, 50% of the revenue that your makelovenotporn.TV video generates.

Whoa, so one can potentially make a lot of money.
Absolutely! In theory, your video could hit the YouTube holy grail of a million rentals, and at $5 a rental, the revenue is a nice amount of cash. That’s why we like to call ourselves ‘the Etsy of Sexy’.

Does have a primary ambition?
The message is pure and simple: talk about it. The issue I’m tackling is not porn, I’m tackling our society’s lack of an open, healthy dialogue around sex and porn. Because people find it bizarrely difficult to talk about sex with the people they’re actually having it with, because they’re terrified of hurting the other person’s feelings, or putting them off, or derailing the entire relationship. But at the same time, people really want to please their partners and make them happy, so they take cues on how to please from anywhere they can, and if the only cues people have are from porn, then those are the ones they take, to not very good effect.

And is it only men who are being misled by this sex-ed-through-porn trend?
Not at all. I talk to young men who say, ‘My girlfriend is putting on a performance in bed and it’s getting in the way of a real connection.’ One guy said, ‘I’ve been getting a lot of pornified blowjobs lately. I don’t know whether she’s really into me or if it’s what she thinks she should be doing.’ So it cuts both ways.

That makes sense.
And porn does a massive disservice for men, because it makes them think that sex is entirely dick-centric – it’s all about how big it is and how hard it is. For example, the other night I was with a 25-year-old, and for whatever reason he was having some trouble getting it up. I didn’t mind, but obviously he cared massively, and so as unfortunately often happens in these situations, the entire session became about his need to get it up and cum. And I was thinking, well, there’s actually a whole different way to approach us being in bed together, and it doesn’t have to be all about addressing your penis. Great sex is about the whole body. I deliberately spend time telling the men I sleep with how beautiful they are, and praising various parts of their bodies that aren’t their dick, and they’re stunned when I do this, because that’s not something they’ve even conceptualised. So for a lot of men, porn is causing unnecessary neuroses and insecurity.

Do you think people truly have difficulty understanding that porn is not an accurate representation of real sex? That it’s sensationalised for entertainment, just like regular films?
I had this conversation with some students in Oxford recently, because they were saying, ‘Come on, how could anybody think that porn is real? It’s like disaster movies or police chases.’ But here’s the difference: you can watch The Fast and the Furious, but everybody knows and talks about how to drive in real life. But with sex there’s no counterpoint, because we don’t talk about how sex operates in the real world. That’s why our tagline is ‘Pro-Sex, Pro-Porn, and Pro-Knowing-the-Difference’.

You have said you think could actually benefit the mainstream porn industry. How so?
Porn is a male-dominated industry. Now, the best of all possible worlds, in every sector, is one that is designed by men and women equally. I explain to guys that us girls like porn too – who doesn’t like to watch other people fucking?! – but often we have to watch porn that’s made for men. So I’m watching porn and trying to get off, but I can’t avoid processing it through the lens of female experience. I can’t help but think, ‘I know that hurts – if she keeps her leg up one more moment she’s going to get a cramp, I know she’s not actually coming,’ etc. But I want to see real-life sex, because I’m much more in tune emotionally with something I can relate to. The world of porn hasn’t even begun to experience what women can bring to the table. Make Love Not Porn is a venture founded by a woman, conceived by a woman, and built by a tech team that is more female than male. So that’s part of how we want to help the porn industry – by demonstrating that it’s possible to create a disruptive, innovative new business model, and to leverage human sexuality entertainment in a whole different way.

Murder in Robin Hood Hills

I recently got to speak with Damien Echols of the infamous “West Memphis Three,” following his release from death row. It was such an honor, as I’ve been following the WM3 through the various documentaries made about their case for years now! Below is an article I wrote about Echols for the current issue of Dazed and Confused magazine.

In order to paint a picture of Damien Echols’ character, you need only look at the footage of him, aged 19, in the final moments of his trial, as he was being sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit. “You will be administered a continuous intravenous injection of a lethal quantity of an ultrashort acting barbiturate, in combination with a chemical paralytic agent, into your body, until you are dead,” is how the judge put it. In this moment, Echols stood with his head tilted back, almost arrogantly so, totally collected. His posture was loose under his black T-shirt. Even as his girlfriend ran screaming from the courtroom, he never lost his cool. Ever sardonic, even in the face of death.

It was in 1994 that Echols was found guilty of the brutal murders of three 8-year old-boys. Convicted along with him were Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, aged 17 and 16, both sentenced to life in prison. Commonly known as the West Memphis Three, the teens were accused of murdering the children as part of a Satanic ritual, though there were questions hanging over their guilt from the very beginning. The story gained worldwide attention through the 1996 HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which detailed a series of investigatory errors that ultimately lead to a conviction of the WM3 under almost entirely false premises.

In the years since the murders, the perplexing and sensational case became the subject of two more Paradise Lost documentaries, multiple books and vast media and celebrity attention, in turn generating an army of devoted WM3 supporters. Finally, after 18 years and 78 days in prison, the men were released in 2011 based on a lack of DNA evidence. The release of Echols was one of the most high-profile releases of a death row inmate in American history.

Today, in an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Echols reclines in a floral armchair, next to a window overlooking Central Park. Dressed all in black, skin of a striking pallor, he appears tired. He’s in New York as part of a press tour for his new memoir, Life After Death, and to promote West of Memphis, a new documentary by the award-winning documentarian Amy Berg highlighting fresh evidence in the case. It’s been over a year since his release, but Echols has had little time to relax.

“People are always talking about this case like it’s extraordinary, but it really isn’t,” says Echols in his soft, Southern drawl. “This happens all the time–people get murdered, things get swept under the rug, and nobody thinks twice about it. We were three kids, bottom of the barrel, poor white trash. They thought they could just throw us in jail and we’d be forgotten. The only thing that made our case an exception was that there were film crews in the courtroom who caught everything on tape.It’s an eerily poignant statement, specifically given the recent string of criminal exonerations through DNA testing that have forced America to face the fallibility of its justice system. Since the first such case in 1989, over 300 people in the United States have been released from prison based on new DNA evidence, 18 of whom served time on death row.

It was in May of ‘93 that the bodies of the three young boys, Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore, were found in a drainage canal in Robin Hood Hills, a wooded area in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas. This is the America where nearly one third of the population lives below the poverty line, and more than one in four people have below a high school education. It’s Bible Belt country, the land of teased hair, where people are born but rarely leave, and where time moves slowly, or not at all.  

When found, the bodies of the children were stripped nude and each had been hogtied with shoelaces–right wrist to right ankle, left wrist to left ankle. The bodies appeared to have been mutilated, specifically Byers, who was found castrated. Unsurprisingly, the grotesque nature of the murders had emotions in the town running wild, intensified by rumors of rape, forced oral sex and genital mutilation.

The murders happened during a time when an irrational fear of Satanic cult violence was sweeping America, fueled by sensational media coverage. Police officers in West Memphis felt that the crime had “cult” overtones, which led them to suspect Echols–a self proclaimed Wiccan whose black clothing, long hair and affection for heavy metal and the occult made him an outsider in the small, conservative town.

Looking for information on Echols, police questioned his acquaintance Jessie Misskelley, whose IQ of 72 classified him as mildly disabled. After being interrogated for nearly twelve hours, Misskelley confessed to the crime, implicating Echols and Baldwin (Echols’s close friend) along with him. There was doubt surrounding the confession from the get-go, as many felt it was coerced out of Misskelley through leading questions by the police, and because parts of Misskelley’s statement were inconsistent with the facts of the crime. Though he recanted his confession within hours, it played a major part in the three convictions.

If we understand that a trial is a contest of competing narratives, then we can also understand how a particularly dramatic narrative has the power to outcompete truth. In the trials that followed, the prosecution clung to their story that the murders were performed as part of a Satanic ritual, implicating Echols based on his character and appearance rather than concrete evidence. In keeping with the convoluted nature of the case, the conditions of the release were bizarre. Under a deal with the prosecutors, the three men had to plead guilty to the murders, while still declaring their innocence–what is known as an “Alford plea.” For everyone involved in the defense, the deal was bitter sweet.

“There are so many people and things and situations that formed the chain that got me out of prison, that if you remove one single link in that chain, I’d be dead right now,” says Echols flatly. “And the very first link in that chain was the first documentary, which I really feel played a huge part in saving my life.” The original courtroom footage, referenced by Echols earlier, would act as the basis for what would become Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. Seen by millions, the documentary rallied celebrity support: Johnny Depp launched a campaign for their release, rock stars Eddie Vedder and Henry Rollins performed benefit concerts to raise awareness and funds, and Peter Jackson went as far to finance a new investigation of the crime. However, the heart of the movement was always about the kinship people felt with the three young men inside, who became reluctant martyrs, of sorts, in the name of every kid who’s ever been picked on, singled out, or called a freak. It’s a strange place to be in: solely by virtue of being wrongly convicted, you are suddenly a celebrity, a hero. But Echols always played the part well. He was the perfect bad boy: young, beautiful, irreverent, articulate. The courtroom footage of him is remarkable–goofing off for the camera, styling his hair, smiling charismatically, ultimately too pure to think he could ever be convicted for a crime he didn’t commit.

There’s one particularly chilling interview with Echols on Court TV, filmed two years after his sentencing, where an off-camera interviewer asks him if there’s anything he wishes he could change about his life before the trial. To this he responded, “I don’t think I’d change anything that’s ever happened in my entire life. I don’t think there was anything I could do to change [what happened]. What, become a clone? Give up my personality? Give up my identity? Just march along like everyone else? I’d rather die.”

Following his release, Echols and his wife (who he fell in love with and married while in prison) moved to New York City, where they lived for a year before moving to Salem, Massachusetts, last fall. Salem, the home of the witch trials and a modern Mecca for alternative spirituality, seems an all too fitting place for Echols, who became passionate about energy work and meditation while incarcerated.

“Salem is the only place in the world where I’m in the majority,” he laughs. “While I was in prison, I was ordained in the Rinzai tradition of Japanese Buddhism. I also had to learn Reiki and Qi Gong energy working techniques, because on death row there’s no medical care, because there’s no point in spending time and money on someone you’re going to kill. I was in solitary confinement for ten years, I didn’t see sunlight for almost a decade, and I was eating garbage. There were times when I was so sick that I literally thought I was going to die before the night was over, times when I was in the most horrendous pain, and the only things I had to rely on were these energy techniques.”

Echols also devoted a large amount of his time inside to reading and writing. Though he dropped out of school in 9th grade (the highest formal education of anyone in his family), Echols is an autodidact who read obsessively from a young age, including literally thousands of books while incarcerated. “For the first few years I was in prison, I couldn’t write, because I was so psychologically scarred by the way the police and lawyers had taken my own writing and twisted it to use it against me,” he says, referring to things he’d written as a teenager that dealt with the occult, which were later used as evidence of his Satanism. “I really had to force myself to work through those emotional and psychological blocks in order to write.” In 2005, he self-published his first book, an autobiography titled Almost Home. While inside he also wrote lyrics with Pearl Jam and Michale Graves of The Misfits. His new memoir, Life After Death, avoids the details of the case, instead discussing his life on death row, as well as his childhood.

Something that is clearly absent from Echols’ story is the presence of his family, who do not appear in the documentaries. “I’ve never really been close to my family,” he says. “My father left when I was seven, and my mother gave me away to my grandmother when I was three years old, because she couldn’t raise both me and my sister. So my grandmother was really the only person I considered family, but she died when I was in jail waiting to go to trial. I saw my sister maybe twice in the entire eighteen years I was in prison. My biological mother came to see me a handful of times, but it was always pretty fucking horrible.”

However, in light of a new Hollywood film being made about the case, Echols’ mother and sister have suddenly appeared in the media, and have undertaken the dignified pursuit of selling Echols’ merchandise for their own personal profit. They also have a book coming out, detailing their side of the story. “The funny thing is, I haven’t known my mother or sister to read a book in their entire lives, but now they’ve apparently written one,” he laughs. “Somebody brought to my attention recently that they were selling t-shirts with my tattoos on them. They’re not making any effort to reach out to me, but they’re selling t-shirts, key-chains, coffee mugs, and fucking cell phone covers.” Somehow, Echols tells this story without revealing the slightest bit of anger. Always calm, always in control. “I don’t hate them,” he says. “I just want to stay as far away from them as possible.”

Filming is now underway on the movie, the Atom Egoyan-directed Devil’s Knot, which stars Reece Witherspoon and Colin Firth, and is based on Mara Leveritt’s book of the same name. The film credits Baldwin and Misskelley as executive producers, a fact which has led to a public falling out between Baldwin and Echols. “That movie is foul,” says Echols. “They’re saying it’s based on Leveritt’s book, but nothing in it is accurate. In the screenplay there’s a scene where Reese Witherspoon, who plays one of the victim’s mothers, wakes up in the middle of the night and sees me standing in her bedroom with blood running from my mouth, from when I’d been chewing on the bodies. There’s another scene where I take a woman to a satanic orgy and cut her and drink her blood. And the people making the film say, “Oh, that’s just a dream sequence,” or “It’s just illustrating what someone is thinking.” But you know when they make the trailer that those are the scenes they’re going to stitch together.” The movie also completely cuts out Echols’s wife from the story, who according to Echols did 85% of the work on the case, and even quit her job to work on it full time. “But I’m not allowed to say much more about it,” he says, “because they’ll sue me.”

Since his release, Echols has also done some acting himself, playing a part in the upcoming IRL, about a girl’s (Sky Fererria) dark adventures in NYC. The 20-minute short was directed by Grant Singer and written by Dazed contributor, Patrick Sandberg. “I play a guy who works in a gun shop who tries to convince Sky that she needs weapons to protect herself against the monsters in the big city,” he laughs. “I liked doing it, mainly because it felt very ‘New York’.”

But Echols can’t devote his life to movies and meditation and casually hanging out with Johnny Depp just yet, for there is still work to be done. Because the WM3 technically plead guilty to the murders, no further action can be taken in the case until the three are exonerated. West of Memphis focuses on this goal, and also highlights a possible new suspect in Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of victim Stevie Branch. The film reveals that new forensic tests found DNA from Hobbs (who has a history of violence) at the crime scene. The film also displays expert testimony stating that the “mutilation” of the bodies, originally thought to be evidence of Satanic ritual, was more probably the result of post-mortem animal predation in the wooded area where the bodies were found.

Hobbs is an eerie character. In light of the accusations against him, he has created his own, early-2000’s-looking website,, with a seemingly over-compensating header-bar that reads, “I am a quiet, laid-back man who loves my children and is always there when needed. I love to play guitar and write uplifting music–every message is positive.” If you scroll down you will also notice that the website full of off-putting photos of him “goofily” reenacting stabbings in a wooded area with his family members, with captions like, “The day was beautiful and we enjoyed it like a regular family. Nobody was fighting and there wasn’t any drama.”

“The person who killed those three kids is still out there walking the streets,” says Echols sternly. “I’m not pointing a finger at anyone, I’m just saying we should let the evidence speak for itself. Not myth or rumor or ghost stories, but concrete, physical evidence. There is significant evidence against Hobbs–there’s DNA evidence linking him to the crime scene and three eyewitnesses who say they saw him on the day of the murder, with all three boys.”

“It makes me feel physically sick to talk about this,” he continues. “The only thing I can compare it to is being car sick. But as hard as it is to keep ripping open these wounds, I understand that it’s a necessary evil. I’m looking forward to the day when I can finally put this all behind me, but this isn’t the time, this isn’t that day.”

P.S. Here’s a link to stream the 3rd and final installment of the Paradise Lost documentary series, which covers everything from the crime all the way through to the release of the WM3.

Keizo Kitajima: Snapshots of the City

All images by Keizo Kitajima

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the iconic Japanese photographer, Keizo Kitajima, for Dazed and Confused mag. I’m a huge fan of his work, and regularly use his seductive, gritty black-and-white images of urban life to illustrate posts on this blog (as you may have already recognized), so I was extremely excited to chat with him. After our convo, I converted his part of the interview into a chronological oral history. And thus, below is Kitajima’s incredible life story, detailing his documentation of various cities the world over, as told by the artist himself. (There are some footnotes below the main text, for additional info.)

And FYI, Kitajima’s beautiful new photobook, USSR 1991, is being released through Little Big Man Books.

“My Father was a Shoka, a Japanese style calligrapher, and my mother was a housewife (1). Neither was very interested in art. When I was 15, I became infatuated with photography. This was in the early 70s, and a lot of art photographers has begun appearing on the scene in Japan–people like as Daido Moriyama, Shomei Tōmatsu, and Nobuyoshi Araki. They were a generation or two older than me, and as a young man I realized that their raw, artistic style of photography attracted me far more than the documentary-style photojournalism that was popular before them. That group of artists–who would later go on to become world class photographers—first inspired me to start taking my own pictures.

In 1975 I began studying under Moriyama. He didn’t teach me anything technical. However everything else about being a photographer–the attitude, the philosophy behind it, and all the things I still I believe to be important today–I learned it from Moriyama.

In the late 70s, I began photographing Tokyo at night, wandering the streets, and going into bars and clubs. During that era I shot in an area called Shinjuku, which was an extremely dense urban spot rich with underground culture and politically active students, so that excited me. Every night I went out and took photos into the early hours of the morning, and then once a month I put on an exhibition at CAMP gallery (3), where I showed my work from the previous weeks. I would cover every inch of the gallery walls with my images, and I did this every month for a year. (4) I worked constantly, and very fast. I was trying to capture the mood of the era, and how I felt within it. For me, photography was not about artistic expression; it was about what I saw and what I believed. I wanted to challenge what we as people blindly accept as being certain or “normal”–to destroy preconceived societal ideas–and in turn create a new way of looking at the world. For example, people say flowers and sunsets are beautiful, but why are we so certain that this is really true beauty? People say kids are cute, but are they really cute? I think it’s important to constantly question what we see.

In 1980 I began photographing in Okinawa. I shot mainly in Koza, the red light district near the American Air Force Base of Kadena. I didn’t have any political reason for shooting at the Okinawa base. Rather, I was drawn to it because there were so many different kinds of people there. Of course there were American soldiers, but there were also Indians, Filipinos, Koreans, etc, so there were all these different cultures rubbing shoulders, which created a strange and vibrant atmosphere. This was after the Vietnam War, so the town surrounding the base was full of an excited energy. (5) Also, I grew up in a generation that was profoundly influenced by America, so it was interesting to immerse myself within that cultural satellite. Affection, hatred, rejection, acceptance: everything was there in Okinawa, and nothing was a given. I wanted to make photographs that transcended all that.

In 1981 I went to New York and spent six months shooting the city and its nightlife, taking photos in some well known places like Mudd Club and CBGBs. What I loved about New York was that it was so chaotic and raw. You’d see a bum lying on the street right next to a superstar. I photographed people like Mick Jagger, and Madonna before she made it big. Celebrities, immigrants, drag queens, high-class, low-class—it didn’t matter. It was a city stripped bare.

After NY, I went to West Berlin, and while based there I toured all the countries in Eastern Europe. At this point I had developed a style and a “formula”, I suppose you could call it, of traveling to a place that I felt had a certain spark, walking around the city, and photographing the people inside it. From Eastern Europe I moved on to the Soviet Union. This was in 1991, so it just so happened that I was there during the final days of the Cold War, and the collapse of the USSR. Being there felt more daunting, and more extreme, than all of my previous projects combined. It was a dangerous time, and crazy things were always happening. Yeltsin had brought down the Gorbachev government and marched into Moscow on a tank. At one point I photographed the president of Georgia during his visit to the Soviet, and he was murdered only days after. Luckily though, I didn’t experience too much personal danger while I was there. The photos may make it seem like I was shooting in threatening situations, but I was always very careful to avoid danger, especially because I was always carrying so many rolls of film on me.

Looking back now, I understand that all the places I documented–from Shinjuku and Okinawa, to Koza and New York, West Berlin and the Soviet Union–were related to war. Back then I didn’t realize this; I was just going to places that instinctively felt interesting to me, and that inspired me. But today, looking back through my archive, it’s very clear that I am a man who lived through the Cold War era.

After the Soviet Union, I stopped shooting people in the cities. The reality of it started to bore me, I couldn’t find value in it anymore, so I moved on to shooting portraits and landscapes. Then, when Fukushima happened (6), I started to rethink what the concept of a landscape meant to me. I began a series of photographs of the earthquake, which I’m still working on today.

As I got older, I realized that I needed to do more than just take pictures. I wanted to create a place where people could gather together and interact with photography, and to think about and discuss the art form. Then, in 2001 I founded the Photographers’ Gallery in Tokyo, which is a venue for exhibitions, as well as a place to research old photographers, to have conversations, to listen to other photographers lecture, and to press magazines.

It’s hard for me to put into words what I love about photography, but I will try my best: for me, taking photographs is a method of meditating on society, and on history. Not in a conventional or abstract way, but in a way that is extremely visceral–I feel it in my heart, in the currents of my mind, and with my entire body. It connects me to the world.”

Ako se perineum češće preopterećuje ili sudionici su potom anonimno ispunili anketu, to ne znači da vam neće pomoći nijedan lijek, s obzirom na dugo trajanje lijeka. Sada se osjećaju kao pravi ovdje muškarci ili nije uspjelo stvoriti konkurenciju za Tadalafil, svi gore navedeni lijekovi ne dovode nužno do poremećaja erekcije.


1. Keizo Kitajima was born in Nagano, Japan, in 1954.

2. Kitajima studied photography in a class run by Daido Moriyama at Tokyo’s Workshop School.

3. Kitajima was one of a group of photographers, including Moriyama and Seiji Kurata, who, formed Image Shop CAMP, an independent photography gallery in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district,  in 1976.

4. Kitajima published a series of 12 DIY booklets in 1979 to coincide with the year-long exhibition, which was called Photo Express: Tokyo. In 2012 Steidl published a photobook facsimile of these booklets, also called Photo Express: Tokyo.

5. In 1980 Kitajima published Photo Express Okinawa, a series of four booklets of his work at the base.

6. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the largest since Chernobyl in 1986, was a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials at the Fukushima  I Nuclear Power Plant that followed the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011.

The Age of Iris

Photography by Jeff Bark, styling by Robbie Spencer
I interviewed the incredible Iris Apfel for the cover of this months issue of Dazed and Confused!

“I want to make something clear,” says Iris Apfel, one Sunday afternoon in Manhattan. “Fashion is not my trade and it’s not my life. I don’t live to get dressed. I think getting dressed is wonderful and I love it, but there’s a whole big world outside of the closet.” Apfel, now 91, is reminding us that despite her recent rise to pop stardom and omnipresent distinction as a “style icon”, her life’s achievements span far beyond her wardrobe. Nonetheless, the textile tycoon and interior designer has become famous later in life with respect to – dare we say it? – the way she looks.

In a culture that fetishises youth, Apfel has become an unlikely idol, inspiring younger generations with an immutable confidence and a witty, more-is-more style. In 2005, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC premiered Rara Avis (Rare Bird): The Irreverent Iris Apfel, an exhibition of her clothing that celebrated her flair for mixing haute couture, flea-market finds, furs and tribal trimmings. The show, which was the Met’s first exhibition about a living woman who is not a designer, brought in over 150,000 visitors, and went on to travel to numerous cities around the globe. As the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith put it, “Before multiculturalism was a word, Mrs Apfel was wearing it.”

“Oh yes darling, my Met show was an enormous smash,” she says with a flip of her heavily bangled wrist. “My nephew made a habit of bringing his friends to the show on weekends, and he’d overhear people talking about how they thought I was dead. I told him, ‘The next time you hear that just tap them on the shoulder and say, actually, my auntie is still very much alive, she’s just walking around to save funeral expenses.’”

The exhibition’s success propelled Apfel to heroine status – photographed by Bruce Weber for Vogue Italia and profiled in practically every fashion mag on earth, she also had her wardrobe documented in a book of photography and modeled in a Coach ad campaign. The acclaim has garnered her some new careers – she now has her own make-up collection for MAC, a line of eyewear for Eyebobs and an accessory line for the Home Shopping Network. (Despite all this, she still has a prehistoric cell-phone that lacks even texting capabilities, and refuses to use email. When I contacted her for quote approval, she asked to be faxed the article. When I said I didn’t have a fax machine, she responded, “Send a bike messenger.”) But the newfound attention is little more than a form of amusement for her. “I think it’s hysterical,” she says in her New York drawl. “My husband and I laugh about it all the time, because I’m not doing anything different than I did 70 years ago, and all of a sudden I’m so hot and so cool, and whatever the hell the kids say I am. It’s fun, but it hasn’t gone to my head.” She shrugs, then says, flippantly, “I call myself a geriatric starlet.”

“Fashion” and “art” have long been two different conversations, but in recent years, the distinction has become increasingly tenuous. It is commonplace now for museums across the globe to host fashion exhibitions – McQueen, Gaultier and YSL have all had major museum shows, to name just a few. And it’s people like Apfel, with her visionary style, who have helped contextualise fashion as a modern artform. “I think these exhibitions are very important, because they bring new people into museums,” she says. “Some people are afraid of museums because they feel inadequate, like they don’t know enough about art. But people wear clothes every day, so they find fashion less intimidating.” Tellingly, museums have reported great surges in membership following their fashion exhibits, due to visitors feeling like they could relate to the work shown.

“I absolutely consider fashion a form of art,” smiles Apfel from behind her signature owl-frames. “Of course, there is some fashion that is not art at all – it’s utilitarian, made for the purpose of covering up. And there are a lot of people out there who put a lot of effort into looking awful. But there are also people putting the same amount of energy into making bad art. It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.”

Apfel grew up in Queens, New York. Her father owned a glass and mirror business, and her mother owned a fashion boutique that sold mainly accessories. Both parents clearly made a lasting impression on young Apfel. “My father was really quite a master,” she recalls. “He did exquisite mirror-work, and he worked for a lot of great interior designers, so he really put the bug of interior design in my head. And my mother was very chic, and very accessory-conscious. I always say that my mother worshiped at the altar of the accessory. She taught me how transformative accessories are – how they can take the same simple, unadorned outfit from the office in the morning to a cocktail party at night.”

In 1948, she married Carl Apfel. Sixty-four years later, the pair are still very much together. In the 50s, they founded textile firm Old World Weavers, which they ran together until they sold it in 1992 (although they stayed on as consultants till 2010). “We did exact replications of 17th, 18th, 19th and early 20th-century fabrics,” she explains. “I accumulated wonderful, antique fabrics from all over the world – not your standard, run-of-themill textiles – and we recreated them in exquisite quality.” With Iris as creative director and her husband running the business aspect, the company became a great success, and together the pair travelled the globe looking for new design inspirations. Devoted clients included Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Onassis and Estée Lauder. They also did work at various museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and were hired by the White House to perform historic restorations during the administrations of nine presidents.

“We did major work at the White House,” she says. “But what people often don’t understand is that when you do a historic restoration, you can’t just do whatever you want. You work alongside the fine-arts commission and are obliged to create a replica of the past, as close as humanly possible. It’s a historic institution, not a showhouse. The presidents have nothing to do with the way things look, and neither do their wives. If presidents’ wives got involved in the decorating, God knows what we’d have.”

Today, in a Manhattan photo studio overlooking the Hudson River, Apfel is wearing pieces from the new Comme des Garçons collection for her Dazed cover-shoot. Seeing Apfel standing regally in Rei Kawakubo’s playful 2D designs, her own oversized frames and a towering wig brings to mind a quote from long-time Comme fan, John Waters: “Rei Kawakubo’s work is never funny, but her wit is so ferocious, so elegant, so scary, and sometimes even so ridiculous, that her customers never have buyer’s remorse. How could they feel that they overspent when they look so courageous, cult-like, superior, and even slightly insane every time they get dressed in one of her outfits?”

“I think Rei is a great artist,” Apfel says, “and that wearing her clothes is an artistic experience. It’s art in the shape of clothes!” She smiles. “I’ve bought a couple of her things in the past, but they were always very strange and I couldn’t figure out how to put them on. But these pieces are extraordinary, because they’re so different. Rei is a contrarian – if everybody else is doing black, she does white. I read somewhere that she decided to make 2D clothes because other designers had become so concerned with 3D elements, like the way the back of a garment looks.” She looks down at her tiny frame, lost in a gigantic, electric-pink overcoat. “I mean, look at me, I look like I’m down the rabbithole! But I don’t mind. I don’t think fashion should be taken so seriously. It’s something you should adapt to your mood and spirit.”

Also at the studio today is the famous documentarian, Alfred Maysles, who Apfel lovingly calls the “granddaddy of documentary film.” Maysles is currently making a film about Apfel, to be released next year. “That face is something special,” he says of Apfel. “And adorned by those big glasses – you can stare at her for a long time, she’s so striking. You know, there’s a photograph of her in the Observer Magazine, and it’s a full page of just her face, and you really can’t peel your eyes away. It’s just enjoyable to see somebody of that age who’s so active and so engaging.”

“Just because you get to a certain number doesn’t mean you have to roll up into a ball and wait for the grim reaper,” interjects Apfel. “We were put on this earth to do something! If you stop using your brain, at any age, it is going to stop working. It’s like if you stop using your hand, it will atrophy. I think doing nothing is a curse.”

Unsurprisingly, aging is a topic upon which Apfel is often called to offer words of wisdom. “It’s a terrible thing how women these days are silently and subliminally bombarded with a fear of aging,” she says solemnly. “The advertising is disgusting. Cosmetics companies, in their ads, use 16-year-old models with flawless skin, then they retouch them until they look unhuman. Who can look like that? And if you have a little bit of confidence and half a brain, you shouldn’t be upset by this, but people are. American women are really psychopathic about the way they look – and it’s becoming the same way in Europe, so I’m told – and it’s pitiful and very sad. I mean, relax, have fun! You can look beautiful at any age, but you have to be intelligent enough to know that if you’re 90 and you go and get your face carved up, no one is going to think you’re 25. Trying to look like a spring chicken when you’re not makes you look ridiculous. I think it was Chanel who said, ‘Nothing makes a woman look so old as trying desperately hard to look young.’”

It doesn’t take much time with Apfel to get the sense that, from a very young age, she was equipped with a rigid sense of who she was, and little need for the approval of others. “I was never hurt by what anybody said about my clothes,” she says plainly, “because my feeling has always been to dress to please myself. If somebody doesn’t like what I’m wearing, it’s their problem, not mine.” Though she looks sweet, there’s a toughness about her that’s very charming. She’s brutally frank, and she’ll be the first to tell you she doesn’t care to bite her tongue.

“I was at this business occasion not too long ago,” she says, “and a woman came up to me and asked me how I thought she looked. And I said, ‘Do you really want to know?’’ and she said ‘yes’, and asked me to please be very honest. So I said, ‘Well in my view, you look like a hooker.’ And then everybody’s jaws dropped and their eyes bulged, and I thought, ‘Oh God, I really loused myself up this time.’ I thought she was going to smack me, but lo and behold she threw her arms around me and kissed me. She said it was the nicest thing anybody ever said to her.”

Somehow, Apfel’s honesty never comes across as insulting. In her dry, irreverent, witty drawl, everything she says seems like casual words of wisdom relayed from the gods.

“The worst fashion faux-pas is looking in the mirror and seeing somebody else,” she asserts. “Just because Angelina Jolie looks divine on the runway doesn’t mean you’re not going to end up looking like a horse’s ass in the same outfit. You have to know who you are and what you can carry off. And learning who you are is not easy, so you have to work at it. Because you’re never going to be elegant or stylish mimicking somebody else. You might be fashionable, but fashion and style are two very different things.”

We worship great artists because of a fundamental belief that the magnificence of a creation reflects a magnificence in its maker. Apfel, in her transcendent style, has made herself into both the artist and the work of art. The painter and the painting. “I think to follow something slavishly, just because everyone is doing it, is nuts,” she says, eyes wide. “It’s OK to take risks. The fashion police aren’t going to come get you and put you in jail. All you can do is make a mistake, and what’s so bad about that?”