By Jared Chausow
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You know Maripol even if you don't know Maripol. She's the '80s icon behind the '80s icons. Those black rubber bracelets you wore in junior high or high school because you thought you were copying Madonna? That was really Maripol.
The French artist-designer-photographer seizes on the '80s renaissance with her book of Polaroids Maripolrama, which captures the city's downtown denizens, the yet to be famous and the stylish at the height of their youth and influence. A windblown Debbie Harry graces the cover; Madonna's there in her material, grungy glory; so are Keith Haring, Debi Mazar, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Maripol had a party last Thursday at Soho Grand, where the photos on display drew a throng of past, present, and future fabulous.
Paper mag's Mickey Boardman sauntered up to Tommie Sunshine, swept his hand in a circle around him, and said, "You. I worship you. All of it," and sashayed away. People took photos of Glenn O'Brien and Maripol in front of images of O'Brien's younger self. Mark Kamins spun Madness and Gang of Four records while Anthony Bozza and his girlfriend, Hilary Broderick, took note of the crowd's nose-wiping. Kai from As Four hung with Waris Ahluwalia, the actor from Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic, while Patrick McDonald gave air kisses and played dandy. B-52 Fred Schneider whisked by Joey Arias, and I swore we saw Ari Up of the Slits. Spencer Product and Larry Tee gathered in a cluster near Honey Dijon.
Watching the parade of characters, and trying to figure out who was who, Sunshine quipped, "You know that in 20 years, this is gonna be us, except it'll be photos from electroclash, taken by Conrad Ventur."
To say the Polaroids were a precursor of pics now plastered on sites like lastnightsparty.com and thecobrasnake.com isn't quite right. Maripol's images have a gentleness to them, as if she didn't want to interrupt the moment. You can see today's photobloggers, like Merlin Bronques and Mark Hunter, coming a mile away. "They don't have the contrived feeling," said MisShapes' Greg K, who came with MAC babe Alexis Page. Greg added, "No one could have predicted who would have been big." Said Page, "Even though there were celebrities in her book, she had her friends, and made those people her celebrities."
Indeed, it's hard to look at Maripol's images and not think of MisShapes. The keeper of the velvet rope, Thomas Onorato, weighed in: "At that point [in the '80s] everyone wasn't trying to copy everyone. The thing about Maripolyes, she was documenting a moment in the New York art and nightlife scenes during that period, but everyone had to have their own distinct look. If you didn't have it, you weren't cool. Today, they move in these tribes that are really similar."
In honor of the occasion, I wore an armful of black rubber bracelets. If you ever wondered how she got the idea for them, it was an industrial thing. "Madonna was as inspired by me as I was by her. We were like street girls in the sense that we were roaming the streets back then. She got me to style her first album cover. Basically it was easy. I had the jewelry. I was already making the rubber and crosses. And then, you know, everybody copied me. They are still copying me," she laughs. (Yes, I am too.)
Still, the photos of a brunette Debbie Harry, a young Matt Dillon, and a wicked Grace Jones prompt a wish-you-were-there feeling. "Everyone keeps saying the '80s were the golden age of New York," said Michael Stipe. "No, it isn't. This is! It's what you make of it."
"Hey!" he said, and poked me. "We have fun! Don't fall for nostalgia." And with that, he put on a pair of ridiculous white sunglasses and banged his head.