The french provocateur and London's punk-spirited designer talk sex, voyeurism and rebellion
Our experience of sex is changing. By this time next year there could be a default blanket ban on household pornography in Britain, but one thing’s certain, provocation in all it’s glory will still manifest itself in our cultural landscape. One of the greatest provocateurs of the last few decades has been French photographer, stylist and filmmaker Maripol. Known for candidly documenting New York’s downtown art scene in the 80s and for Madonna’s infamous Like a Virgin album cover, she immortalised the spirit of an entire generation through her Polaroid obsessions. For the past few months, I’ve been trying to get her in conversation with London-based designer Claire Barrow. Although they’ve never met, their work can be united through similar threads concerning provocation and rebellion. On Saturday morning I received a call from Maripol – she was in London for the launch of her tantalizing new book MARIPOLA X, so together with Claire we all sat down to talk religion, hot pants and voyeurism...
Claire Barrow: I’m so nervous.
Maripol: Don’t be nervous, it’s cool!
Claire Barrow: But, you know when you suddenly get here...
Dazed Digital: Where’s your drink? You need a drink!
Claire Barrow: I had a quick shot of champagne!
Maripol: I’ll do a little reiki, Tibetan reiki, woooo!
DD: So, I wanted to start by asking how important sex – and more importantly the intersection between sex and fashion was in the beginning of the 80s and how it came to shape that scene….
Maripol: Well, I think it’s always been like that! Not even from the beginning of the 80’s but from the beginning of human kind, starting with the apple or the vine leaves! (Laughs) I think it’s part of the attraction between men and women, or men and men, and women and women. There was already a lot of liberation in the 60’s – I think you guys were the kings in London! I came here when I was really young and I had my own explosion! I remember in the early 70s I went back to Catholic boarding school in France with these big high boots from Kings road with green platforms. Oh, and I had the hot pants! Of course I was sent back home to change!
DD: Oh, dear.
Maripol: Then a few years after, I ended up going to New York and falling in love with a photographer who was really into eroticism. I guess at the time I was a bit naïve and young. We were a couple and I became his muse. It became sort of boring you know. I’ve always though of the camera as a sexual symbol for the extension of a man. I mean it was voyeurism and I would get fed up a lot, but it was convenient living with a photographer.
Claire Barrow: So you went to a catholic boarding school? Was the rebellion side of it something that went on to influence your work?
Maripol: Of course, as a matter of fact did you see the last picture in the book?
Claire Barrow: Is that you?
Maripol: It’s me, from my Communion aged thirteen!
DD: Oh, my God.
Maripol: And I was definitely...
Claire Barrow: Just wanting to be naughty!
Maripol: Well it definitely was a reaction to being brought up in a strict environment. When I came to America, there was a lot of decadence in New York in the early 70’s because the city was bankrupt and you could do whatever you want! Sex was wild in Studio 54 and in Max’s Kansas City. We were all sort of kids of the father Andy Warhol. So, there was no different between she-male or female. I was very struck by androgyny and I actually you see a lot of this in my book. I would dress up beautiful males who weren’t necessarily by boyfriend.
Claire Barrow: Let me see.
Maripol: See here, I look more like a boy and he looks like the girl – I made him up.
Claire Barrow: The reason I got into fashion was to sort of be naughty. I mean, I’m from the North East of England and I’m quite normal. I went to school, then college and the thing that I liked about fashion was that I could do something to break the rules.
DD: Like, provocation?
Maripol: Definitely, it’s exactly what it is! I never published poetry before this book and they’re not really shocking, but a lot of them talk about love, lost love, and sex. Of course, there are 69 poems! (Laughs)
DD: This idea of poetry is really interesting, because Claire the way you draw and illustrate your work is poetry in a sense…
Claire Barrow: Yeah, I mean, I can’t write poetry and it’s not something that I’ll ever be able to do…
Maripol: But, like she said, I think through your painting there is definitely a poetry. You’re giving a message through form and colours.
Claire Barrow: Yeah.
DD: Do both of you think it’s harder to be provocative?
Maripol: I don’t think so.
Maripol: The difference is now you’re being judged much more quickly because of all the social media. Like, who is that girl in America? Miley Cyrus?
Claire Barrow: Yeah.
Maripol: She’s getting really bumped out because of what? Nude pictures? But, America is weird, I wouldn’t compare to other places... There has also been that extreme pornography. I think the thing that they import the most in America is pornography, and if you go on the sites, most of them are weird business and they are manufacturing pornography.
Claire Barrow: I mean it’s hard to do shocking in a way that’s progressive, because everything seems to be done already.
Maripol: Well, if you open a book of Terry Richardson, it’s really right in your face – you know? I don’t do that kind of work, I don’t think I could. I’m not really interested in seeing his cock every two seconds.
DD: Yeah, which you do in every other image
Maripol: …or the sperm that comes out of it!
DD: How did you go about editing all of the erotic works in the book?
Maripol: It took about eight months. There were times when I was quite uncomfortable and and all of a sudden I found myself being Puritan! I think I kept saying, ‘Okay. That’s it. Now I’m never going to be able to be a Nun, now I’m never going to be able to get into politics and then I’m never going to be able to show this book to my mum!’
MARIPOLA X is out now via Le Livre Art Publishing.