Lizzi Bougatsos, the stylish artist and singer of the avant-garde rock band Gang Gang Dance, is getting ready to go shopping downtown—and it’s no surprise that she’s just as experimental with her wardrobe as she is with her music. Wearing skinny black Trash & Vaudeville jeans, a faded Ghostface Killah T-shirt, and black flea-market high heels (which she calls her “stripper shoes”), she pulls on a gray wool poncho designed by Chloë Sevigny for Opening Ceremony and wraps its built-in scarf around her neck. Still, she feels something is missing.
“I wonder if I should bring my Ethiopian pants,” she says, picking up a pair of baggy white drawstring trousers. We assume she wants to change out of her jeans. Instead, she scurries over to the bathroom mirror in her friend’s apartment, where she’s house-sitting, and ties them around her head, wrapping and unwrapping them over her long brown hair, trying to get the look right. “Oh, I don’t know—maybe it’s a little too over the top,” she says, tossing them aside with a laugh. She grabs her puffy bomber jacket: “I’ll just keep it street.”
It’s her bold, anything-goes style—a mix of modern designers, old thrift-store rags, big African jewelry, flea-market finds, and, yes, sometimes pants on her head—that has made fashion insiders take notice. She has posed for hip fashion and arts magazines, such as Paper and Purple, and edgy designer Tess Giberson’s look book; sung on the runway at Bryant Park for Erin Wasson x RVCA with Gang Gang Dance last year; and almost had her own streetwear clothing line in Japan called Dummah (pronounced “Doo-mah”), which featured her signature artfully cut-up T-shirt dresses (she lost her backers at the last minute, but happily kept all the samples). “I see myself as a comedian,” she says about her style. “I take risks. I don’t care if I make a fool of myself.”
We wanted to know where she would go shopping for spring clothes in the city, and so our first stop is Opening Ceremony (35 Howard Street, 212-219-2688), the three-level Chinatown boutique packed with modern up-and-coming designers. Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” pumps through the store as Bougatsos peruses the racks. “Too frilly,” she says of a dress with ruffles; “too trendy,” she says of the Native American–print shirts that were popular with last month’s Fashion Week crowd. Instead, she sticks to pieces that are both simple (so she can load up on jewelry and scarves) and let her move on the stage (local labels Pleasure Principle, God’s Prey, and Rockers NYC are all favorites).
While she admires the gold cuffs in the jewelry case, we ask where she found her Egyptian scarab ring. “I don’t know if I can tell you,” she says. “It’s my secret spot.” But then she relents: The Brooklyn Museum of Art (200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, 718-638-5000). We are in disbelief. “No, really, they have great jewelry at museums and in gift shops in hotels.”
Though shorts are huge for spring, Bougatsos passes on all of them: “They’re like Crocs, you know? You just don’t go there.” Instead, she says, she’ll be looking for tropical prints like those by Rachel Comey, high-waisted jeans by Acne (“They make your legs look longer”), and anything that reminds her of the “nomadic Saharan desert style” of Malian rockers Tinariwen.
She pulls out a pair of sheer leaf-print leggings by Swash. “I would wear these with a thong and a really crazy-pattern shirt,” she says. “I actually have a pair of pants like this that Chloë gave me.” By Chloë, she means her longtime friend Sevigny, who shares her designer clothes with Bougatsos like a sister.
She spies a black slinky one-shoulder dress by Alexander Wang and holds it against her body. “This I would totally rock!” she says. “But I could never afford it.” It’s $590. As an artist, she says, “you have to be really creative in New York, because you don’t really have money to go shopping.”
And so, although she also favors equally expensive boutiques Seven (110 Mercer Street, 646-654-0155) and Kirna Zabete (96 Greene Street, 212-941-9656), we head a couple of blocks to where the price tags are sane: Canal Street. Bougatsos has an excellent eye for odd, cheap finds, an instinct she developed growing up next to a flea market in Sayville, Long Island. (Incidentally, she says the best thrift store in the area is Selden Thrift [614 Middle Country Road, Selden, Long Island, 631-736-3979], a multilevel shop that reminds her of Domsey’s, the former used-clothing mecca in Williamsburg). “There’s so much energy,” she says, pushing her way through the crowd of bargain hunters on Canal. “And look at that shit!” She points to a massive silver medallion of The Last Supper. “The Last Supper on a chain! You can only get this stuff in New York.”
Bougatsos is known for taking the stage in oversize hip-hop T-shirts, and her most treasured spot to find them is Batchilly Fashions (140 Orchard Street). This is where she bought the Missy Elliott/Beyoncé concert shirt that she wore at Coachella last summer. “The graphics are insane, right?” she says of an Obama shirt with glittering gold stars. “Like, that’s graphics! You know what I mean? That is so beautiful!”
Next, we hit her favorite place for vintage, the East Village consignment shop Tokio 7 (83 East 7th Street, 212-353-8443), which carries high-end designers, such as Prada and Gucci, at more affordable prices. She considers a pale-blue Marc Jacobs dress for $55, but puts it back. “See, I would buy all this stuff at Century 21 (22 Cortlandt Street, 212-227-9092) and then sell it here,” she says in a conspiratorial whisper.
Finally, our tour ends at Waga (22 St. Marks Place, 212-505-5573), a tiny West African store she admires for its beautiful selection of art, clothing, jewelry, bags, pillows, and rugs. She picks up a pair of wooden musical shakers and makes some noise. “I have these,” she says.
Since she shops all over the world while on tour with Gang Gang Dance, whose new album is due out in the fall, we ask if there’s any boutique she’d like to import. Happily, the woman who has just about seen it all is hard-pressed to think of any: “There’s Colette, in Paris. But we have everything here.”
Lizzi Bougatsos’s solo art show’Slut Freak’ runs from April 1 toMay 2 at James Fuentes Gallery