Maripol: Viva La Downtown

The multi-hyphenate French sensation lifts the lid on the fabulous 80s downtown scene in a new book from Damiani

Maripol and Ram. 1978 new year's eve", photo by Ed
Maripol and Ram. 1978 new year's eve", photo by Edo Bertoglio

The year was 1983. At the infamous Roxy nightclub in New York, a beautiful French art director/stylist/designer/photographer by the name of Maripol was scouting for dancers for the pioneering hip-hop act Fab Five Freddy. Recalls Maripol: “I went up to this cute girl and asked if she was wearing a nice bra and if she would take [her top off] off and dance for Fab Five Freddy. She looked at me like I was absolutely mad!” The girl in question happened to be an aspiring dancer and singer named Madonna Louise Ciccone.

Though she would go on to style Madonna in a white lace wedding dress, adorned with rubber bracelets and crucifixes for the iconic cover of “Like a Virgin”, and form an enduring collaboration with the person she affectionately referred to as her “younger sister”, Maripol was already making waves on the downtown scene. Having arrived in New York from France in 1976 with her then beau, the Italian photographer Edo Bertoglio, Maripol was quickly swept up by the exciting cultural revolution of the times, working with, and befriending, the likes of Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Recruited as art director of Fiorucci’s New York store (known as the “daytime Studio 54”), she quickly gained attention for her charming fluorescent Lucite and rubber jewellery, which she used to style the likes of Grace Jones and Debbie Harry.  A young and wide-eyed Marc Jacobs would plead with his grandmother to take him to the store and, prescient as ever, predicted the return of the electric neon look of the 80s with his Fall 09 collection. Fittingly, Maripol would later work with the designer on a reissue of her archive jewellery (originally released under Maripolitan Popular Objects Ltd) and tees, which sold out earlier this year at the Marc by Marc Jacobs stores.

Though she would eventually work in film (notably on Downtown ’81, starring Basquiat), Maripol would always photograph her friends at work and at play with a large 20x24 Polaroid camera. Having released Maripolarama in 2005, her new book from Damiani, Maripol: Little Red Riding Hood, published last month, is a lavish collection of her Polaroids, art, designs and writing that, once again, provides an invaluable insight into the heady, inspiring times of the 80s. Speaking on the phone from Paris, Maripol talked with Dazed about the highs and lows in her storied career, and also let slip how her old friend, the punk soul supremo James White, will play what is sure to be a riotous release party for the book in New York on September 17.

Dazed Digital: How did you get into jewellery design and styling?
Maripol:
When I was a child I lived in Morocco, and I would always buy a lot of beads from the markets and to make jewellery for friends. Later, at 18, I would do my own clothes and make my own patterns. When I first came to New York, people just assumed I was a stylist because I was so into fashion.

DD: The way Marc Jacobs describes it, Fiorucci was the epicentre of cool during the 80s. Can you describe the energy of the scene?
Maripol:
The store went along with the disco scene and they were doing clothes meant for disco – everything in vinyl, lamé and rubber! In the store there was a cappuccino cart, a record stand, all the designer concessions. Joey Arias, Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf would have shows there. Truman Capote would be signing his books in there. Warhol used to come down often. The fact was that we were open all night to have wild parties. It was more a discotheque than a store.

DD: Why do you think the 80s is still culturally relevant? Did you feel its importance when you were living through it?
Maripol:
No. People always ask me that but we didn’t think it. But people have always said that about the 30s, 60s, whatever. I would say there’s always a movement of music and fashion in youth culture – every decade inspires the new one.

DD: What’s fascinating about the 70s and 80s is the real mix of people at parties – Downtown, uptown, rich, poor, gay, straight. How has NY changed?
Maripol:
There’s not much clubs that are fun nowadays. We had some fabulous parties back then. You can’t get better than Bianca Jagger riding in on a horse naked at Studio 54! Once I did a party there where I had live bunnies. At the end of the night I didn’t know what we would do with them, so each of us took one home! The idea to have fun now is to go to the Boom Boom Room at the Standard [on Washington Street]. And once you’ve been there once or twice, then what? (Laughs)

DD: Why did you start taking Polaroids? To document what was happening around you?
Maripol:
At the beginning, Edo was a photographer and I was more of a talent scout and doing styling and modelling. Then all of a sudden, in 1977, he gave me a Polaroid camera and I discovered that instead of having to go to a lab and develop the film, I could just take a click and get a picture! It was genius and I was very good at manipulating it.

DD: You became Madonna’s stylist in such a spontaneous, innocent way, which is so different to today. Can you describe your collaboration with her?
Maripol:
Madonna and I worked very closely. I was more like the big sister to her. I would bring her stuff back from my travels and dress her up like a Christmas tree! When we did the cover of “Like A Virgin” [with Steven Meisel] it was the idea really of having her in a wedding dress. The art director at first wanted her to be the Black Sabbath kind of virgin I was like please play the game! Because I had worked with Jean-Paul Goude, I understood what it took to make a good picture.

DD: The modern day Marc By Marc Jacobs shops pay tribute to Fiorucci. How did your collaboration with Marc on the revival of your archive jewellery come about?
Maripol:
I wanted to do a line of jewellery at the same time as my new book came out. But I haven’t been in production for 20 years, and I thought it would take a long time to do that. So I approached Marc before I did the book – that was back in May last year. During Fashion Week in January this year it was already in the store, and my book was not ready yet. But I don’t mind at all. And I may still make some new stuff for them.  

DD: Is compiling a book like this a bittersweet experience, especially as Edo plays such a big part in it and you’re not together anymore?
Maripol:
In this case, it was emotionally disturbing, but it was important for me. When you clean out your past and open up your boxes and archive, you open up a can of worms to begin with. Edo and I were incredible creative partners. It’s beautiful but it’s sad. It’s sad that Edo destroyed the relationship we had – not just the intimate aspect, but also the creative. It was like a wall that fell down, you know? When we made Face Addict, the movie opens up with me looking at his pictures, saying it’s like looking at a cemetery, and you can see that I’ve just cried.

DD: You’ve had your highs and lows, and there definitely seems to be a massive renewed interest in your work recently. What advice would you pass on to the next generation?
Maripol:
Oh, do your thing goddammit! (Laughs)

Maripol's book signing will take place at BookMarc ( Marc Jacobs bookstore) on the 17th September from 3- 7pm.

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