style icon | edie sedgwick

I want to reach people and express myself.  You have to put up with the risk of being misunderstood if you are going to try to communicate.  You have to put up with people projecting their own ideas, attitudes, misunderstanding you.  But its worth being a public fool if that’s all you an be in order to communicate yourself.” -Edie Sedgwick

Ah, Edie.  She was a muse to Andy Warhol, his first “Superstar” and the face of the “youthquake.” And one of my favorite style icons.  She was the epitome of the swinging 60s scene in New York City. 

Unfortunately, the wild society girl’s life ended at the young age of 28 but her style legacy lives on.

Underneath the shiny veneer was a very troubled childhood in a family pre-disposed to mental illness.  Both her brothers Minty and Bobby committed suicide at a young age.  Edie herself developed an eating disorder when she was young and once walked in on her father having sex with another woman.  Her father, Francis, accused her of lying and put her on tranquilizers.  Edie quickly became addicted and withdrew into herself.  Life under the thumb of her tyrannical father only worsened when he threatened to leave Edie’s mother Alice if she did not commit Edie to a psychiatric hospital.  Edie checked into Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, CT in 1962.

Edie on her 21st Birthday with Ed Hennessy, April 1964
Image from the collection of Edmund Hennessy

Edie moved to NYC from Cambridge, MA with her good friend Chuck Wein in 1964 soon after she came into her trust fund.  Edie’s  idea was to become an artist and get involved in the gallery scene.  It was at one such art scene party that she met Andy Warhol and her life was changed forever. 

When Edie Met Andy
credit :: Nat Finkelstein, Black Star

Warhol was captivated by Edie’s old money heritage and artistic energy and she quickly became a part of Warhol’s inner circle at “The Factory,” where her unique fashion sense blossomed.

She merged uptown and downtown in her dress — her well-made clothes and family jewels from the former, the short, bottle-blond hair, fake eyelashes and heavily kohl-lined eyes from the latter.

Her signature style included big earrings, short hair, heavily kohl-lined eyes, high heels and opaque tights.  But the real key to Edie’s style was that she was always herself — she wore the fake eyelashes, the big, chandelier earrings and the opaque tights because she wanted to, not because someone told her to or because they were in fashion.

Celebrity milliner Stephen Jones once said of Edie:

Iconic society women had always been demure and elegant.  Sedgwick was downtown not uptown, active not passive, sunglasses not ball gowns.  Her look was a mixture of sweet and sour, an angel face distorted with bleached hair and disfiguring makeup.  You could call her the first punk.

Edie became a central figure in both “The Factory” and Warhol’s world.  She starred in several of his avant garde films and Warhol rarely left her side.  Edie’s burgeoning popularity with the mainstream and dwindling funds soon put stress on their close relationship.  Warhol and the other members of his clique quickly began to distance themselves from Edie.

By 1966, her signature look had been picked up by the mainstream.  Vogue described her as  “white-haired with anthracite-black eyes and legs to swoon over.”  During this time she also became Betsey Johnson’s first fit model.

Edie as a “Youthquaker,” Vogue, August, 1965
photo :: Enzo Selerio, Condé Nast
Edie Modeling a Betsey Johnson Design
Collection of David Weisman

Diana  Vreeland said of Edie ::

She had a little dance step in her walk; she was so happy with the world.  She was very charming.  She suggested springtime and freshness.  She was very clean and clear, and her hair was pulled back, almost Alice in Wonderland.  Freshness and proportion and a sense of the sort of rollick of life, you know, the fun of life.

Around this time, Edie met, and quickly became infatuated with, musician Bob Dylan.  It is rumored that Dylan’s songs “Leopard Pill Box Hat” and “Just Like a Woman” were inspired by Sedgwick.  Unbeknownst to her, Dylan was living with his future wife Sara Lownds and carrying on an affair with folk-singer Joan Baez.  Her former “bestie” Warhol took great delight in sharing the news with Edie when Dylan and Lownds wed.

Heartbroken and with out her best friend, Sedgwick left “The Factory” in 1966.

By the time she left “The Factory” Edie had burned through her trust-fund {with Warhol’s help, of course} and was flat broke.  Feeling alienated by the crew at “The Factory,” Edie turned towards speed and heroin for solace.

Her downward spiral continued when Vogue refused to endorse her because of Edie’s connection to the drug scene.  Later, she accidentally burned down her apartment in The Chelsea Hotel. 

Edie’s “superstar” reality evaporated and she returned to her family’s home in Santa Barbara.  Her brother Jonathan describer her as:  “A painted doll, wobbly, languishing around on chairs, trying to look like a vamp.”

In 1967, her old friend Chuck Wein cast her in his film  “Ciao! Manhattan” in which Sedgwick’s character lives at the bottom of an empty swimming pool.  The prevalence of drugs on the set hastened Edie’s descent into addiction and mental illness.  {Note :: I couldn’t finish watching the movie.  Edie looked so fragile and zoned-out, it was too painful to watch.}.

Following her father’s death in 1967, Edie slipped in and out of  hospital.  In 1968, The New York Post asked “Whatever Happened to Edie Sedgwick?”  Warhol petulantly stated of his former “bestie” and superstar “I don’t know where she is.  We were never that close.”

Edie & Mike Post’s Wedding, Rancho La Laguna, July 24, 1971
photo :: Hal Boucher

By 1969 Edie was back into another psychiatric hospital following an arrest for drug possession.  There, she met fellow addict Michael Post, whom she married in 1971.  Edie stopped drinking and worked hard to only use drugs for pain-management.

On November 15, 1971 a healthy looking Sedgwick attended a fashion show at the Santa Barbara Museum.  At an after party, another guest verbally attacked Edie, calling her a heroin addict.  Edie became hysterical and her husband took her home.  That night she took her prescribed medication and never woke up.  She was 28.  Her death was ruled as an accidental suicide due to barbiturate overdose.

Sedgwick and Warhol never reconciled.  When Warhol was told of her death, he wondered aloud if her husband would get her money.  A friend  curtly told him “Edie didn’t have any money.  She spent it all on you.”

In spite of all this,  Sedgwick’s lasting legacy is her individuality and personal style.  Not her unhappy private life.