Saturday, July 24, 2010

Larissa


Life is hard! One of my co-workers has been out of town for weeks, so all of the things that he would ordinarily share with me are falling square on my shoulders. Halloween is our biggest season and I've got to get the costume orders organized and done before leaving for vacation in August. My favorite cat died. As previously mentioned, I got reamed for being shitty recently so I'm trying really, really hard not to be an asshole. Not being an asshole is HARD.

This is how a conversation with my friend Brooke went on Thursday night. Here's a visual for you as well. Brooke is one of Drew's closest friends and I co-opt her whenever possible because she's hilarious and smart.


ME: This band sucks so hard I want to buy a beer just so I can throw the bottle at them. What the hell is this? I thought electroclash was over. GO BACK TO BROOKLYN!!

BROOKE (mocking another band we'd just been tearing apart): HEY DJ, PLAY SOME XXXX!"

ME: Seriously, if I wanted to see slutty, annoying twats singing poorly in unison, I'd just watch my own band on youtube. This is making me homicidal. I hate this band so much my teeth hurt.

BROOKE: PLAY SOME XXXXXX!

ME: And what the hell is that drummer wearing? Is she ser...GODDAMNIT! I'm being shitty again! I'm not supposed to be shitty any more. You, my peroxide friend, are a rotten influence.

BROOKE: Oh please. Embrace it! You know you're shitty! That's why you have us. Embrace the shitty, it's your destiny! HEY DJ, PLAY SOME XXXXXX!!

DREW (walking away): You're both horrible and I can't stand next to either of you for a minute longer.

ME: What's his problem?
BROOKE (calling after him): Pussy!

So that's how not being a bitchy, horrible person is going. Baby steps, if you will.

Anyway, barring this one night out, I've been so busy and exhausted that I haven't been to the gym as often as I should, and I'm feeling so deprived of life that I'm eating whatever I want, i.e., pasta and chocolate cake. So I feel chunky and cranky and not so hot. I side-eye my boyfriend and wonder if he's dreaming of someone sweeter and less chunky, and undoubtedly younger. I had a nightmare last night where I was surrounded by strangers in the bedroom and I woke up shouting, a la Sybil, "The people! People!" Drew pulled me close and whispered, "You're all right." I eyed him suspiciously as he patted me on the head, half-asleep, and said, "How do you know I'm all right?"

So Pat is throwing a party for her friend Larissa. Larissa is not known to many people today, but she was, at one time, a well known furrier, club diva, and fashion muse. She is European, with an off-beat, gothic silent-movie star kind of beauty: small, thin, elegant, giant wide set eyes, dark lips and pointy vamp-painted nails. Her nickname has always been: "The Coco Chanel of rock and roll."

Before you get on me about my stance on animal rights, I will state the disclaimer that I do believe that fur is a cruel, outmoded and unnecessary form of fashion. But I'm not going to get on a retired woman about what she started 30 years ago. I was a big fan of fur from early childhood on, until our collective consciousness got wiser about what it really entails and I came to the conclusion that the suffering is not worth the beauty. It would be absolutely pointless for me to get into it with her at this time.

Anyhoo, so Sushi, Pat's Creative Director and my boss, said to me as I was simultaneously writing checks, digging through a mountain of catalogs and shrieking into the phone at various vendors and repairmen, "We're gonna need you to write a bio for Larissa." I rolled my eyes and said, "Let me add it to the list."

The next day, as I continued running in place with my teeth ground together, desperately trying to speed my way through the tasks at hand while co-workers hovered nearby, waving bills and announcing computer viruses, Larissa came in, looking chic in a simple black blouse, black trousers, and the most amazing black flats that I could not help but covet. And I hate flats. She carried a shopping bag full of clippings and photos, and began to slowly, slooooooowly pull things out one at a time. She said, in her slow and deliberate French accent. "I have things that you can read to get an idea of who I am."

I paused in mid-phone dial. I simply did not have time for this and thought my brain would explode right there, leaving everyone covered in viscous bits much like that exploding chest scene in Alien. But I did not want to take my frustrations out on this refined and innocent bystander. I took a deep breath and put the phone down and said, "How about you tell me your story and I'll take notes, and I'll look at the articles afterward to fill in the background?"

And so she did tell me her story, and as I looked at her photographs and listened to her, I forgot the mountain of meniality that lay before me and realized that this is the important stuff in life; that sitting before me was the living embodiment of my reasons for coming to New York in the first place. I fell madly in love with her on the spot and all irritation fell away. And I feel that others should know her as well, so the bio is here with some photographs.

After she told her story I abandoned work altogether and we retired to the bar next door, and proceeded to get shitfaced on Sushi's tab. She told us more stories, and at one point said to Sushi, in the most regal of tones: "May we have one more?" But of course! Afterward, both of us blotto, I hugged her tiny shoulders and told her it was an honor, and put her in a cab. I will be on vacation when the party happens, but I intend to continue to harass her for stories via phone.

LARISSA, NO LAST NAME PLEASE: The Coco Chanel of Rock and Roll:



Larissa was born in Russia to a furrier father and housewife mother, who became a corsetiere and dressmaker when finances demanded. The couple became political refugees after World War II and moved the family to Brussels, Belgium shortly thereafter, where much to Larissa’s dismay her mother liked to dress her up as a princess for school each day, in embarrassing contrast to the more casual style of her classmates. Larissa would pull the bows out of her hair before she got to school, but her mother’s attention to detail must have been an early influence on Larissa’s sense of style as an adult, as she has always been known for her impeccable taste.

When Larissa was 17 years old she saw the Cassavetes film “Shadows” and was struck by the first scene, which features a glamorous dark haired actress in a New York City penthouse. She had always heard that Americans were stupid, but this was a view into another world entirely, and at that moment she decided New York was where she belonged. She moved to the city at 18 and worked unhappily as an au pair for a short time as she reached for footing.

One of Larissa’s friends in Belgium, the son of a South American ambassador, told her to go to a nightclub (she doesn’t remember the name), on 55th street and drop his name, and that the club would take care of her. The staff and patrons welcomed her, and in the process created history. Larissa quickly adapted to her new nighttime scene and was taken to Andy Warhol’s Factory, where she became immediate friends with Andy and all of the famous Factory characters. She says she met everyone in the world through Andy.

“I studied Salvador Dali in art school, and there I found myself standing in a room with him while he paid me compliments. It was something.”



Larissa got a job answering phones in a television studio through another friend, but was quickly fired when she didn’t recognize the president of the company. She was broke, and when someone said to her, “You have to do what you can do,” she took it to heart. What Larissa could do was sew, and she began making dresses, which she sold at first to department stores like Alexander’s.

One winter, being cold, she needed a coat. Working on a memory of her father’s furrier career, she bought some shearling, rented a fur machine, and made her first coat in the deconstructed style she is now famous for. Soon afterward Larissa wrapped herself in her homemade coat and walked to visit a friend on Ninth Street in the East Village. She heard a voice say, “Bitch, where’d you get that coat?” That voice belonged to Miles Davis, who did buy a coat, and who became a lifelong customer. The customer roster grew from there to a high end and prestigious group that included Margot Fontaine, Egon Von Furstenburg, Jimi Hendrix, Gloria Steinem, and Andy Warhol, just to name a few. Her coats were sold at top stores like Barney’s, Bergdorf Goodman, and Ultimo in Chicago.

Larissa moved into the Chelsea Hotel and her friend list expanded from Factory and clubland to the world of rock and roll. She was a regular in the back room of Max’s Kansas City, and along with Warhol palled around with Nico, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, and the afore-mentioned Jimi Hendrix.


Larissa’s best friend Didier Grumbach just happened to be the president of Thierry Mugler’s company, and when he introduced Larissa to Thierry they took an immediate liking to one another. Larissa became the unofficial public relations and nighttime representative for Mugler, and many called her his muse. In exchange for the publicity she brought, Larissa received her choice of outfits from his collections each season, and is famous for being seen around town in head to toe Mugler. She says, “Of course that’s what I wore, it’s what I had and what I loved!”

Although Larissa could have easily coasted on the attention brought by her striking beauty and her evenings as a nightlife fixture and fashion icon, she is at heart a hard-working designer and continued to work on her easily identifiable coats throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Larissa was featured in a retrospective show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art when Baby Jane Holzer donated one of her coats. Jane neglected to tell the museum where the coat came from, and to her regret, Larissa was not credited or informed until after the opening.

She has said, “I was a pioneer of many styles, much too early to be recognized now. When we talk about Belgian deconstructionist, I did it before any of them and before they even know what it meant. And I didn’t go to fashion school. I did the first dresses with the seams inside out, and my fur coat, my shearling, I’ve done all my life, and now everybody is doing it. But I don’t want to brag.”

No one could accuse this amazing lady of bragging. She is simply, and enchantingly, Larissa.


7 comments:

Greta B said...

If there was a "like" button I'd be clicking it. Lovely story!

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Michel Vuijlsteke said...

Great stuff -- Larissa's dad was my grandmother's brother. We were pretty close, but I had no idea of any of this.

This is a young Larissa at the Belgian coast with her uncle and aunt, and her brother Claude in a stroller: http://www.flickr.com/photos/zog/92767995/

M. Raffaele said...

Love this photo Michael! Thank you for posting.

WendyB said...

Just came across this -- I have a shearling by Larissa that I got in the late '90s at a sample sale she did. She was there and I was very intrigued by her look!

Anonymous said...

It's 2016 and Larissa is a regular at the bar I work in. This short bio was a great find to better understand this mysterious woman :)

val meslin said...

Omg she was a regular of mine for years too. I wasn't sure if she was still alive-