I’m thinking about a certain kind of older woman and wondering, for reasons that aren’t very nice, if they can be an Old Babe.
The boiler room girls are the prototype I’m thinking about, old groupies, kind of, and Esther Newberg is the only one who could possibly be considered an old babe. Mimi Alford, the well-bred intern who slept with JFK and recently wrote a memoir, is not one. Old Babes do not dine out on who they slept with in 1961.
The meditation is inspired, as so much is, by the femme edition of The New York Times, with a piece called “Starting Over at 48″ about Kim France. She is the founding editor of Lucky magazine, a revolutionary — not least because it is making money — format for fashion mags, and one of the many revolutions caused by Jane and Sassy in the ladies’ mag market. I find it unreadable. One good reason for her candidacy as an Old Babe is that, like the graduates of Sassy, France claims she doesn’t mind being called a feminist.
The nail in the Old Babe coffin for Kim France is when she says, “I’m 48, but I’m an immature 48. There are people in this city who work in creative businesses whose interests are still very youth-ish. They like rock music, looking cool, but they are not kids anymore. They don’t, you know, respond to crotch high skirts on a style blog, no matter how cute they look.”
Kim France has left Lucky and started over, in her West Village apartment, as a blogger. She calls her blog “Girls of a Certain Age.” I am thinking in this unnamed sub-species of Old Babe, inspired by Kim France, of Vivienne Westwood, who always appears to be a candidate for an old babe, but is not, and the Guardian’s Invisible Woman, who is not, but writes about it.
As you know, Princess Lilian of Sweden is the captain of the old babe team, along with Iris Apfel, and we must consider both what Lilian and Iris, the floral life leaders, would do about Kim France.
What binds Vivienne Westwood, the Invisible Woman, and Kim France together is being old rock chicks, still trying, it seems to me, to make it on those terms.* The terms are murky, one of them being one’s former career as a groupie, and dining out on who one slept with in 1961. I can’t say for a fact that any of these ladies but Westwood was an actual groupie. I have read the memoirs of Pamela des Barres, Patti Boyd and Bill Wyman, so there’s nothing I don’t know about groupies, including a close encounter when Stephen Tyler and I were young and I was interviewing him for the Great Metropolitan Daily. He thought I was a groupie because that’s the only kind of women he was meeting.
I don’t think Vivienne Westwood is an old babe. While she looks like a chewed rawhide bone with orange hair, and what she wears is old but not babe, she’s not emanating fashion, but rather parroting the 50-year-old rock epigrams which passed for revolution in the 60s. She is, in a young friend’s immortal term, a rock gorgon, mimicking half-a-century old hipster gestures.
Westwood looks 100 per cent better than usual here, in this Guardian video clip, because her Gorgonesque ’70s orange Three’s Company ponytail is covered up in a chic black do-rag, and she’s not wearing a slogan t shirt. She looks chic, but her garrulity, and the idiocy of what she says, which was cute when she first said it in 1964, has worn rather less well than her eyebrow pencil. She did not wear underpants when she went to collect her OBE from the Queen, which is just about the feeblest non-punk gesture I can think of. Any self-respecting punk or Old Babe would omit one or the other, preferably the OBE.
The Invisible Woman excited me with her Ralph Ellison reference, but basically writes, timidly and 30 years behind the times, about the issues. The Land’s End tugless soft cup tank suit, for example, is known to every woman who put away the bikinis at age 21, because a black tanksuit on the beach where everybody else’s greasyass stuff is all dangling in the sand is 10,000 times hotttter. Trust me. But not to the Invisible Woman. The Invisible Woman is broken by the tragedy of having to put the bikinis away at 50 — which there is no reason to do, whether or not your breasts and your belly hang down to your knees. Unless you want to be chic and not have the decolletage of a baseball mitt. The Invisible Woman is British; the British are sun whores; think an Ibiza tan is paradise; and must be forgiven. Or Jade Jagger NSFW, perhaps not. (Pippa Middleton, this is your future.)
She writes about bullshit fashion panels convened to discuss the pros and cons of Botox and diet — except there are no cons, and the prospect of old age anorexic and on the needle is clearly and uncompromisingly promoted. There’s a pressing-her-nose-on-the-glass-of-youth tone which is neither old nor babe-ish. Truthfully, I suppose I’m a bit put out because I feel a tiny bit excluded but if I can’t make a grand entrance perhaps I can sneak into the party by the side door? Oh Jeez. She really wrote that, and her circling about parties is at the core of my revulsion. An Old Babe doesn’t go to parties, unless they’re for the arts of seated conversation, business, or ceremonial purposes. She is the party.
Which brings us to the case of Kim France, who, having been at the helm of the hot fashion rag quit Planet Conde Nast recently to become a blogger. She had daily migraines and felt she had to quit. Her blog is for women who wanted, she says, to be Tatum O’Neal in Bad News Bears, whatever that might mean. I think it means ’90s feminism as per the Australian-founded magazine, Sassy, a mesmerizing feminist girl power magazine of the ’90s edited by Jane Pratt. It was famous for enterprising girl reporters, and much more than its one true take on the groupie disaster that is Courtney Love, and I miss it.
Sassy discovered Chloe Sevigny, which may have been a mistake. And now they’re all grown up, or grown old Kim France and the Sassy girls, reading the Janedough on line, secretly praying to Tien Hou their grateful thanks that their Rielle Hunter/Mr. Big instincts didn’t work out, and quitting a real magazine gig for the pale simulacrum of the Bohemian life in the West Village, where rich people live. Kim France jokes that she’s starting a Tumblr page called “I Preferred the 90s”, because, as France says, “it sort of was the last time before things started being super adult.”
I don’t know if the manic pixie dream girl is a version of Candace Bushnell’s famous Peter Pan boy — in her immortal piece on the Manhattan biciycle boy — or if the Kim France Peter Pan Girl of a Certain Age is a new breed — the 21st century version of the Boiler Room Girls. Who stayed waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too long at the fair, kicking around Georgetown, doing married men a la Rielle, pretending to be connected. Getting drowned at Chappaquiddick. Esther Newberg got the hell out of Dodge, left for New York, reinvented herself as a ball buster, and started a whole nother non-Kennedy, more or less, life. That’s what an old babe does.
You can become a Bohemian at age 48. And I have hope for Kim France, based solely on her post about the immaculate white cloth flats worn in sooty early summer Manhattan by the girl who waxes her eyebrows.
They’re $6.79 from K-Mart. Princess Lilian and Iris Apfel would say, I think, there was a glimmer of hope here. ________________________________
*I’m still thinking about whether Gracie Slick is an old babe. She has famously retired from the stage, let her hair go white, gained weight, and paints pictures. She says, we didn’t have to be good-looking ’cause there were no music videos. She says, repeatedly, that performing is not for rock gorgons. “God bless The Rolling Stones, but I think old people doing rock and roll is kind of pathetic.”