Nico's Stark Androgyny

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Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987) Screen Test: Nico 1966
Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987) Screen Test: Nico 1966Collection of The Andy Warhol

We consider the beauty, talent and tragedy of the Velvet Underground singer

There are a few women in recent decades who possess that transfixing combination of beauty and tragedy. Cult females, whose talent was fractured by a harrowing thread of self-destruction. Nico is one of them.

Christa Paeffgen, whose pseudonym ‘Nico’ was coined by photographer Herbert Tobias, rose to fame as a teen model working with powerhouses such as Chanel and Lanvin. However it was her involvement with Andy Warhol and his notorious Factory that raised her to icon status. Providing the female vocals for the Velvet Underground and producing six solo albums, Nico’s deep melancholic voice was a lingering soundtrack to the 60s and 70s.

Warhol’s muse wore trademark black kohl eyeliner which brushed against thick blonde bangs. She had an androgynous, stark style – dressing predominately in masculine trouser suits and clean lines which accentuated her willowy frame. The haunting fragility of her music was reminiscent of her character. She had a sad presence; a languid romantic approach that was often introspectively dark. “All Tomorrow’s Parties”, which aptly observed the Warhol clique at the time, recites chillingly, “what costume shall the poor girl wear to all tomorrow’s parties?” Clearly Nico saw the sad ‘Sunday Clown’ in herself.

A bohemian nomadic, Nico lived in several countries and battled drug addiction for much of her life. A self-confessed compulsive liar, it is difficult to establish where Paeffgen ends and Nico begins. She died suddenly in a motorcycling accident in Spain, aged 49, a tragic demise she may herself have predicted when she stated, “I have a habit of leaving places at the wrong time, just when something big may have happened for me.”

A remastered version of Nico's fourth album, The End, is out on October 29.