Being a sex symbol for the insane means I spend a lot of time putting on (and sometimes taking off) outfits and then posing for pictures. While I find this activity incredibly fulfilling, I was born at least eight inches too short to turn it into a career. Hence I have had to work a number of crappy jobs that don't involve fashion, makeup or vogueing.
Despite this drawback, I know that I have a fierce supermodel dormant within me and I believe the best way to get in touch with her is through a careful study of other supermodels. Also I have made a pact with the gods that if I am *very* good in this lifetime I will get to come back in the next one as a model. So it was with great interest that I trekked up to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for "Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion," the new Marc Jacobs-sponsored exhibition all about pretty people and the pretty outfits they inspire.
I brought along my BFF, Faceboy, and my roommate, Jason Jboy Thompson, a photographer who shot the cover of my recently released book Live Nude Elf (available everywhere for only $14.95!).
Because I didn't want to arrive at the Costume Institute looking unfashionable, I wore light-blue go-go boots, an electric blue mini dress and elf ears. At the ticket booth, a friendly Met employee asked if I was coming from the Star Trek movie.
"No. I'm an elf." I said. I'd almost forgotten that outside of the Lower East Side, this is not common knowledge.
Upstairs we found the show, which is organized by historical period, with galleries running from 1947 to 1997. In the 1950s the models all wore red lipstick and no one had bangs yet. This would not have been a good era for me, look-wise.
"You know models of the '50s look more like drag queens than models today do," I said.
"They all kind of look like Amanda Lepore," Jboy added.
"And they all look like they're scolding us for something."
While Jboy admired the Irving Penn photos, Faceboy and I read the nearby wall text, which describes the "Golden Age of Haute Couture" and lists the popular models of the era. Among them were Lucky, Praline, Sophie and Bettina.
"These are all stripper names!" I exclaimed.
"Yeah, all except for Meg Mundy, but Carmen Dell'Orefice could certainly be one."
Our conversation was interrupted when a security guard loudly reprimanded a visitor for taking pictures.
"I can't believe how attentive these guards are," I said. "When I was a guard here ten years ago, I used to doze off. Good thing no one stuffed a Rembrandt down their pants."
We moved onto the next room, which had a tableau of mannequins in puffy satin dresses, their heads swathed in what appears to be Saran Wrap. A French song plays over and over.
"I can't believe that guard has to listen to this all day." I said.
"You know he drinks when he gets home," Jboy said.
Faceboy noted the guard staring at his watch.
Leaving the Golden Age of Haute Couture and Saran Wrap Head Adornment, we came to a mannequin sporting the topless bathing suit modeled by Peggy Moffitt in 1964.
"I want that for Fire Island," I said.
"We should all get that for Fire Island," Jboy added.
"Well, I'm just glad we've made it to the '60s. I was getting tired of those disapproving bang-free faces."
In the '60s room, mannequins in metal plate dresses rotate on platforms while Qui ętes vous, Polly Maggoo?, fashion photog William Klein’s pseudo-Surrealist, black-and-white movie starring fashion models, plays on an adjacent wall. Porcelain skin is replaced by freckles, face paint and dilated pupils as the Who's My Generation plays on a loop. I imagine the security guard must break furniture when he gets home. The walls are lined with groovy magazine covers where the models are smiling and wearing tons of eye makeup. No one worried about mascara clumping back then. They were too busy dropping acid and changing the world. A Vogue cover features Twiggy sporting a painted flower over her eye.
"Why is it the only people who paint their faces now are children and sports fans?" I asked. "I wanna go home and paint my face."
Faceboy pointed to the magazine's address label. "Maybe we should write to Mrs. Fisher of Cherry Hilly, New Jersey, and see if she has any more copies of Vogue she can lend us."
I jotted down the address.
"You know, Rev." Jboy said, "I'm so used to you wearing outfits like this I kinda just feel like we're at home."
"Maybe if we make as much money as Marc Jacobs we can rent the Met and show off my outfits."
We spent a good half hour in the '60s room, enthralled by the psychedelic fashions and overcome with a desire to run home and play dress-up. When we finally left, the '70s were, not surprisingly, a big downer -- lots of pants, practical fabrics, neutral tones and minimal eye makeup.
"Ugh. This is horrible. Why did everything get so boring?" I moaned.
Jboy ventured a guess. "It's all that cocaine, weed and heroin. . . you know, when you're high and thinking about all the people killed in 'Nam you just wanna rub some corduroy next to your ear so it makes that 'wawa' sound."
It seems people were so high in the '70s they sometimes forgot to wear shirts, as this historical period is rife with bare boobage. Still, all of the models look sad, but not half as sad as the guard forced to endure a never-ending loop of I Love the Nightlife.
I remembered many of the magazine covers from my childhood and I felt a pang of nostalgia for ugly peasant blouses, kitchen carpeting and Donny and Marie. That pang only worsened as we got to the '80s, where things go from simply boring to completely hideous.
"It's starting to hurt," Faceboy declared as we beheld a mannequin sporting a sparkly beaded yellow and green unitard that appeared to be designed for a pro-wrestler.
"Look, all of the mannequins are holding broken champagne bottles," I said.
"Good, now I have something to cut myself with."
I wanted to go back to the '60s and for the first time in my life I started to understand how much people who actually lived through the '60s must want to go back to them.
In the ‘80s room, where Naomi, Claudia, Christy and Cindy are all celebrated, George Michael's Freedom video plays large upon the wall. As he croons, "It looks like the road to Heaven, but it feels like the road to hell," you start to get the idea he's talking about this show. I know it's not the curator's fault that clothes in the '80s were alarmingly heinous but I started to wonder why we were being subjected to them.
By the time we got to the '90s -- a "grunge" room with graffitied walls, pictures of Kate Moss and a Nirvana soundtrack -- we were full of the very ennui that defined the decade. To use a '90s expression, the show may as well have "talked to the hand" cuz our faces simply weren't listening.
We'd long ago stopped reading the text on the walls or caring about models. The same can't be said for the fashion students we witnessed scurrying about taking notes. I hope they were reminding themselves never to pair rainbow tube socks with flannel, should they ever find themselves in charge of a couture house.
The show exits into a small gift shop where a song by my favorite supermodel, RuPaul, was playing. After checking out the trinkets, which include little lipstick-shaped pens with "Marc Jacobs" printed on them, we took a cue from RuPaul and sashay shantayed the hell out of there.
REVEREND JEN is the author of Live Nude Elf: The Sexperiments of Reverend Jen (Soft Skull Press, 2009), available on Amazon for $10.17 ($14.95 list price).