‘In-your-face sexuality’

As the spiritual godmother of Rihanna and Lady Gaga, Grace Jones has rocked a startling stage outfit or two in her time. Take, for instance, the carnival of costumes rolled out for her live show at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom in 2009. Among the show-stoppers was a zebra-like tribal bodysuit, a white headdress, a gold skull mask and a black-and-gold dress dotted with dollar signs, its open skirt spread like beetle wings to display her gold thigh boots.

As her recent topless hula-hooping Afropunk performanceof Slave to the Rhythm attests, the wild-at-heart entertainer, now well into her seventh decade, still has those supermodel limbs and angular beauty. But even more intense is the unhinged streak bubbling below the surface. Grace Jones is a genuine force of nature.

Clothes almost seem to get in the way for this superhuman performer, who has never shied away from self-exposure – she reportedly once attended a party with French ministers in the ’70s wearing nothing but a string of bones around her neck. The evergreen provocateur, immortalised in prints and paint by everyone from Pop artists Keith Haring and Andy Warhol to darkroom dons Helmut Newton and Robert Mapplethorpe, has always sought to further enhance her already powerful physicality through carefully chosen accessories, from sculptural corsets to ornate lace eye masks, hoods and capes that frame her face.

Blurred lines

Jones’ raw, prowling grace captivated former partner Jean-Paul Goude, the man behind the most powerful images of the singer. The pair met on New York’s Studio 54-led disco scene in the late ’70s, when Jones was a budding pop star. “I always loved the mixture of threat and beauty, I just thought it was time for Grace to just stretch out,” says a young Goude, in footage featured in the BBC documentary On Queens of Disco. He soon took over as Jones’ image-maker, amplifying her otherworldliness through his computer-generated album covers (more recently he has turned his hand to Kim Kardashian’s assets for her ‘break the internet’ shoot for Paper Magazine).

Take Goude’s iconic album cover for 1985 compilation Island Life, in which an oily-limbed, nigh-on naked Jones pulls an extreme arabesque pose, microphone stretched out in front. The anatomically elongated image was actually a photographic collage, according to reports, and involved a body double, says Jones; in a 1986 Playboy profile she begrudgingly confessed it “was not my ass".

On the cover of 1981’s Nightclubbing – which captures an androgynous Jones clad in just a men’s Armani tuxedo jacket with an extreme flat-top haircut, unlit cigarette dangling from her mouth – her shoulders have been vastly widened to accentuate the sharp, masculine lines. On these blurred gender boundaries, Jones said simply, “I go feminine, I go masculine – I am both, actually. I think the male side is a bit stronger in me and I have to tone it down sometimes. I’m not like a normal woman, that’s for sure...”

Goude, whose relationship with Jones ended when she became pregnant with their son, Paulo, has confessed that he “was more interested in the virtual character than the real woman – I still am”, while Jones, in an interview with the Daily Mail, confirmed it was ultimately the reason she left him: “I was an object, always.” At that time she was arguably a willing muse, having come to the United States from Jamaica to pursue a modelling career, and let off some steam.

Island life

The third of seven children, Beverly Grace Jones was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica. With her parents working in the US for much of her childhood, she was raised by her grandparents and has been vocal about the pressure-cooker effect of her strict religious upbringing. In a ‘90s interview, she told Ruby Wax: “I wasn’t allowed to do anything. I wasn’t allowed to watch TV, I wasn’t allowed to wear fingernail polish, I wasn’t allowed to play any games or even listen to the radio, so when I got out and got the States I was like... motorcycle gangs, Hell’s Angels, taking all kinds of stuff and getting totally hallucinating, out there. I was lucky I survived it.”

Repression only fed her imagination. Jones arrived in New York making up for lost time, her genes and family background contributing to her theatrical nature (“an explosive mixture of politics, religion and music – no wonder I turned out how I did”,she told the Daily Mail) while Goude’s guidance proved a crucial catalyst. In the aforementioned BBC documentary make-up artist Rudy Calvy, one of Jones’ clubbing peers, recalls one of her shows.

Repression only fed her imagination. Jones arrived in New York making up for lost time, her genes and family background contributing to her theatrical nature (“an explosive mixture of politics, religion and music – no wonder I turned out how I did”,she told the Daily Mail) while Goude’s guidance proved a crucial catalyst. In the aforementioned BBC documentary make-up artist Rudy Calvy, one of Jones’ clubbing peers, recalls one of her shows.

Sunday best

Yet where she came from has strongly influenced Jones’ style and attitude. During an interview conducted at Britain’s posh Royal Ascot horse race in 2010 – where she was seated between her mother, seamstress Majorie, and her favourite milliner Philip Treacy, while wearing a swooping monochrome hat with a pair of dice earrings – she revealed her penchant for headgear harks back to Sunday best. “My mum will tell you, we come from a church and everyone dresses up in hats. We weren’t even allowed to go into church without a hat, it was absolutely mandatory to wear a hat to church, so we feel naked without a hat. Thank God for that!”

But Ms Jones is not so keen on sharing her star quality. Of repeated requests from Lady Gaga, she told the Evening Standard in 2010, “I don’t collaborate. You’re born alone, you die alone, you get on stage alone. I’m better as a loner... I collaborated with Pavarotti [at a charity concert in 2002] because I love him and I could stretch myself and do opera. It’s going to add another thing to me. Lady Gaga isn’t going to do anything for me; it’ll do everything for her. I’m not there to validate anyone – validate yourself.”

Through carefully manipulating and maintaining her image (not to mention her age-defying skin), Jones has done just that. It helps that, rather than chasing trends, she’s always presented herself as more of an interpreter, most famously of Issey Miyake’s sculptural designs. “I’m not fashion, I’m style,” she told Vogue Italia’s Cesare Cunaccia. “Creativity makes me want to keep going.” So whether she’s penning a provocatively entitled autobiography (I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, which has just been published), working on a new album or presenting awards in only her underwear (“I didn’t think you wore any!” quipped recipient Tom Jones at the 2012 GQ Awards), the 67-year-old remains a potent creative force. Whatever she is, or isn’t wearing.

source:bbc

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