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Icons: Edie Sedgwick's style can still inspire, decades after the Warhol muse's heyday

September 19, 2010 |  7:30 am

Everybody still loves Edie.

Recently, a packed house at Cinefamily watched Andy Warhol’s doomed muse, Edie Sedgwick, bat those famous heavily mascaraed eyelashes one more time, in the semiautobiographical 1970 feature, "Ciao! Manhattan."

Shot in fits and starts over the course of five years, the film is both Edie in her sparkle-and-shine prime and Edie floating lost. With "Ciao!" the California-born ranchland heiress was still struggling to find redemption -- this time in hyper-fiction -- a gorgeously shot, vaguely psychedelic, cult film version of her own real-life downfall.

Within a year of "Ciao’s" completion, Edie would be dead of a drug overdose at 28.  But dying young and looking good have made her a martyr and a myth.

“Edie personifies the fundamental human urge for self exploration and artistic expression of an exceptional life of character with fearless, reckless abandon,” explains David Weisman, the co-director, producer and creative force behind "Ciao! Manhattan."

Weisman was on hand at the Cinefamily screening, as were the film’s surviving stars, Wesley Hayes and Jeff Briggs, as well as  Edie’s niece, Leila Minturn Dwight. After regaling the audience with nearly 30 minutes of bonus footage culled from the "Ciao!" cutting room floor, the four fielded a barrage of questions from an adoring crowd. 

Given Sedgwick’s status as both art world legend and street fashion icon, it seemed fitting that the night be presented by American Apparel – a clothing empire largely built upon the selling of tight black leggings to young Edie wannabes. Despite well-publicized financial turmoil, the company is developing a line based on Sedgwick’s signature style that should go to market in 2011.

“Edie was one of the very first real modern ‘It Girls,’” explains Iris Alonzo, American Apparel’s creative director. “She was herself and nothing but and consequently incited a movement of not only style, but attitude, that inspired a large part of a generation and is still influential today. Style is about more than what you wear. It's about originality, authenticity and presence.”

For Warhol and for many others, Edie was a signifier, a turning point – both in fashion and culture at large. She was Audrey Hepburn gone psychedelic -– "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" and late-night shots at Max’s Kansas City. She could go from silken brunette to platinum silvery blonde, and she was punk long before the Pistols, kohl-rimmed to the hilt, pale-faced and unstoppable.

“It's an art to balance simplicity and drama in one outfit,” continues Alonzo. “When you examine the elements, Edie's looks were actually fairly understated but are somehow so memorable and still feel modern. She had a knack for working with size, scale and just the right amount of exaggeration. A simple oversized tunic with plain black tights and massive chandelier earrings, a dramatic fur coat with nothing but flats and her shock of white blonde hair, a simple jersey maxi dress with a unique piece of chunky jewelry.... All of these looks that she made her own nearly 50 years ago have a  seemingly effortless balance of laid-back glamour and also feel incredibly contemporary.”

Over the years, Sedgwick has become something larger than herself, the symbol of the “defiant feminine” -- a heady mix of grace and hellbent self-destruction. She sought out beauty, glamour, sheer fabulousness -– glitter, silver spray-paint. She was, in the words of Weisman, “something fundamentally authentic.” 

At Cinefamily, Edie was still proving that great style defies mortality.

-- Jessica Hundley 

Photo: Edie Sedgwick from her Warhol screen test. Credit: The Andy Warhol Museum