New Romantics

The Evening Standard (London, England), August 21, 2012 | Go to article overview

New Romantics


Byline: Richard Godwin

SEEMS everyone in fashion has been reading the same book. It may not be brand new, but Just Kids, Patti Smith's memoir, which won the American National Book Award in 2010, has been slowly capturing imaginations. It's sure to capture more when the film -- currently in development -- reaches cinemas.

It is a very beautiful book, a lyrical evocation of Smith's indefinable love affair and friendship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. Smith met Mapplethorpe in the Summer of Love, 1967, when she was a 19-year-old runaway, obsessed with dead French poets, and he was a 19-year-old artist, very into LSD. "We used to laugh at our small selves, saying that I was a bad girl trying to be good and that he was a good boy trying to be bad," as she recalls. By 1989, when Mapplethorpe died of an Aids-related illness, he had become the most celebrated photographer of his age, while Smith was the high priestess of punk rock.

What comes in between is a story of mutual rapture and shocking poverty, fondly remembered, as they led one another towards photography and music respectively. It captures New York when it was dangerous and inspiring and Allen Ginsberg might take you out to lunch because he mistook you for a boy (this happened to Smith and Ginsberg was very sweet about it). The title comes from an overheard conversation.

Two tourists spotted Smith and Mapplethorpe prowling around Washington Square, hungry and wild. The woman wanted to take their photo, believing them to be artists. "Don't -- they're just kids," replied the man, dismissively.

The Paris Review described Just Kids as the "greatest pick-up book of all time ... because every girl has read it and they ALL want to talk about it". Emma Watson and Florence Welch were both reading it when I interviewed them last year. Walk into any laundromat from Dalston to Brooklyn and you'll find at least 13 "creatives" puzzling out how to be a bit more like Robert and Patti.

Now, designers are drawing from that source. …

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