Sunday, April 18, 2010

Amazing Grace Jones, a Fearless Style Icon

This photo of Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell I found on Essence.com prompted me to republish a love letter of sorts that I wrote to Grace Jones on my former blog, Tracy's Pop & Shop.  She is my hero.  I'm sure Lady Gaga and Rihanna feel the same way.

"You know who you look like?" a woman once asked me while I was getting my hair pressed. I shook my head "No." 

"Grace Jones," the woman replied.

The musky smell of hot hair and Afro-Sheen lingered. My tweleve-year-old face sullened. 

"She thinks I look like that scary lady?" I thought to myself. 

Detecting my dismay, she offered, "I mean that as a compliment." I feigned a smile. 

When the woman left, my hairdresser Shirley reassured me, "You don't look like Grace Jones. You're prettier than that."

You see, at that adolescent age I didn't want to be associated with anyone darker than I already was. Growing up and to this day, the beauty of darker skinned black women is often prefaced with the footnote, "You're pretty for a dark-skinned girl" or the curious cat-call "Hey dark and lovely." I still don't understand what skin color has to do with your degree of beauty.

Yet decades since I was offended that someone thought I looked like Grace Jones (the only real similarity is that we've both been blessed with high cheekbones and deep brown skin), I've re-discovered and embraced that mad icon of brazen sexuality and avant-garde style. 

For years I combed vintage stores for a t-shirt emblazoned with her androygynous image, and finally found one at Zara of all places. At a Brooklyn Salvation Army, I dug in the $1 record crates and found copies of her 1982 Living My Life LP and the 12" single of the rhythmically intoxicating single "Slave to the Rhythm."

The Sally Army sales clerk gave me and the album covers a puzzled double-take. "Isn't that the girl from Conan [the Barbarian]?" he asked. 

I loved Grace as a nocturnal seductress in the campy vampire flick Vamp, as the crazed Amazonian villain opposite James Bond in A View to a Killand as the comical diva Strangee in Boomerang, but I didn't immediately recall her from Conan. An older man standing in line remembered and proudly told the clerk, "Yes, that's Grace Jones."

Weeks later, I was sitting in the Musee' d'art contemporain de Montreal (the Contemporary Museum of Art in Montreal) watching the uncensored version of Grace's stereotype-riddled-redefining (black face, pickinnies, Venus Hotentot), gender-bending, high-art-meets-couture fashion video for "Slave to the Rhythm." 

I was mesmerized. Grace is unashamedly black, bold and beautiful. I strive to be as fearless in my skin as she is in hers. From her '80s heyday to now at age 62,  Ms. Jones is a muse for black girls and self-empowered women everywhere.





Image credit: Web archives

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