Continuing my documentation of style in Paris, I move onto a different kind of subject. Varda Ducovny isn't a fashion designer, photographer, stylist or even blogger but that doesn't mean she isn't sartorially special. I met her through our mutual friend Jim Haynes (currently exhibiting my first show in Paris) and I instantly fell for her wit and charm. Photographing street style for nearly 3 years, my eye is always drawn to the exterior: how people choose to represent themselves while out and about, but I'm becoming increasingly drawn to style in other areas. Varda is an excellent example of this and so the perfect subject for 'Superior Interior'.
What became clear about Varda is her style goes further than just her clothes, possessions and home. Of course all these things are outstanding but after spending time with her I realised that her style is in her stories. Recounting times spent singing in downtown New York, discussing politics or her travels across the world – there's always a twist to the tale.
Born in Manhattan and raised in the Upper East side, Varda is the most stylish International resident I've met in Paris. Living in the French capital for over 20 years, she originally landed on French soil in the 1950s putting her musical talents to good use and busking in the Metro. Having attended The High School of Music and Art, her destiny was in music. Going under the name of 'Varda' (no doubt starting the trend of one name icons: Cher, Madonna, Beyoncé) she sang in 14 languages and was the opening act for Bob Dylan in the downtown New York beat scene.
Over the past few months I've spent a lot of time with Varda and managed to catch an afternoon with her on camera where we discussed a few of her favourite things:
On travelling to my homeland, Scotland:
I went travelling in Europe and ended up in Edinburgh. I'd been away from my cats for so long that by the time I got there I was desperate for some feline affection. I was walking in the centre one day and spotted a sign for Veterinarian. I ran up to the shop with excitement, burst through the doors and said 'I've not seen a cat in days, I simply must stroke one!'. The man at the other side of the desk stated 'Madam, this is an estate agent' – without flinching. He was not amused. Those real estate agents have no sense of humour.
On working in New York's 'Sculpture to Wear':
My friend worked for Denise Renee which was a contemporary art gallery and the owner of all the Plaza Hotel wanted her to run this gallery called 'Sculpture to Wear'. She didn't want to do that but she recommended me – which was crazy because I didn't know anything about jewellery and not very much about art either. But, they hired me. This was in the mid 1970s.
On my first day in the gallery, I decided that all of the beautiful crystal pieces simply had to be on display. For some reason, everything was kept hidden away in the back. I arranged a shelving unit for every item to be placed out. Within a matter of hours a man came into the gallery and stole every single item. To this day I have no idea how I wasn't fired.
We had jewellery by all the great contemporary artists which many people don’t know made jewellery: Man Ray, Picasso, Arp. Jewellery was a way for these artists to be commercial – Picasso would have done anything to make money. It's an accessible form of art, hence "Sculpture to Wear".
I had some great moments there and met some wonderful people. One day, John Lennon came running into the gallery to escape the fans that had been chasing him. Out of surprise I blurted out “We have Niki de Saint Phalle!” His response was simple and dry. “Is she alright?” He must have thought I was crazy!
On having her first child:
I sang right up until the day Jonathan was born. I was singing in a nightclub one evening and the next day decided to start making up the crib. My mother asked if I was ready to have the baby and I thought 'well, maybe I am'. I called my husband who was a fashion photographer and his response was 'Could you please wait because I'm in the middle of a shoot?' so I said 'OK'. I finally had him in 4 hours and he was my first child at 36 – maybe that's the way to do it? Although, the doctor did say he'd never heard such language. I don't remember a thing.
My husband used to say to me “There was no war on East 73rd Street”, because I was not informed politically. My instincts were always to the left or at least liberal and I used to vote Democrat, but I didn't really know any details. Now I constantly listen to the news.
My friend Charles Van Doren was an ardent liberal and he wrote to me once saying “If Abraham Lincoln was running against Vidal Marc Antonio, who was a Democrat but a gangster, my hand would have to vote for the latter. I could never vote for any Republican.” I'm sort of like that too.
On growing up in the Beat Generation:
I wasn't really aware of it being a 'special time' in the way it is billed today but I loved the creativity and freedom. I felt very comfortable in that environment. I was Bobby Dylans opening act and was surrounded by a lot of interesting people.
I knew Allan Ginsberg very well, in fact, I ran away from home because of him. He was framed by some guys at Columbia as someone stole a vending machine and put it in Allan's apartment. They were going to put him in jail but Mark Van Doren defended him and he was put in a psychiatric institute for a while. After that, Allan was at my house one day and my father came home, saw him and said “I won't have a criminal in my house”. So I packed a bag and we left. I played nurse maid for about two weeks and then went back home. He was really sweet – a bit crazy – but very sweet.
On her favourite musician:
I love Sergio Endrigo. I have an obsession with trying to keep his music from fading out. 15 years ago I was in Naples eating pizza and I said to the waiter “Do people still listen to Serigio Endrigo?”. He walked away without saying anything then returned and asked if I'd like to meet his manager. He was in the next room! I told him I had an idea for one of Sergio's song to be the UNISEF Song - it would be perfect. The lyrics say “ If all the children of the world joined hands, men wouldn't need bridges”. It's perfect. We became long-term correspondents – Serio, his manager and me. I'm still convinced the song should be used for UNISEF.
On meeting people:
I love talking to strangers. My husband used to be very embarrassed by me because I'd talk to everyone on the street. So you meet a lot of people that way and sometimes they become friends. I was in the airport coming back from Paris once and I'd bought a lampshade. I had my suitcases with me so of course there was no other way to carry it than on my head. There was a man behind us and we started talking because of my unusual hat – after that chance encounter my husband and I became very good friends with him. It's that kind of thing which I love.
VARDA in 7
Style motto: I always wear what I like
Favourite song: 'Myrtia' a Greek song by Theodorakis