As New York’s Nitehawk cinema pays homage to her greatest roles, we celebrate some of the inimitable actress’s most iconic on-screen ensembles
In 1992, a young Chloë Sevigny was spotted skiving school by magazine editor and stylist Andrea Linett, who was so beguiled by the teenager’s unique looks and nonchalant attitude that she cast her in a commercial then and there. Three years later the first-time actress was upgraded from extra to leading role in Larry Clark’s Kids, going on to captivate directors and viewers alike in a multitude of iconic independent roles thereafter. But it’s not just Sevigny’s acting skills that have secured her position as one of the most envy inducing stars of our time: when it comes to effortless and enduring style choices, both on- and off-screen, she remains the reigning queen. Now, in celebration of her newfound success as a director with two recent shorts, New York’s Nitehawk cinema is hosting a dedicated series of screenings, spanning Sevigny’s two-decade career – a welcome chance to revisit some of her most memorable roles and the exquisite ensembles she donned for them.
1. Kids (1995)
Sevigny made her movie debut in Larry Clark’s 1995 cult classic Kids, in the role of Jenny, an HIV-positive high-schooler determined to prevent the apathetic teen who infected her from striking again. For almost the entire duration of the hard-hitting, day-in-the-life film, she sports a blue T-shirt with white contrast trim, blue jeans and cherry red belt, topped by a tousled, mousy brown boy crop: the definition of just-rolled-out of-bed, don’t-give-a-shit chic. From her very first film appearance, she set the style bar high.
2. Gummo (1997)
Two years and one film later, the actress returned to the world of disenchanted teens for her then-boyfriend Harmony Korine’s disturbing yet spellbinding directing debut Gummo. Never have a peroxide mullet and matching brows looked so appealing as they do on Sevigny’s character Dot. Along with her similarly bleached blonde sister Helen, she drifts around her tornado-wrecked Ohio town, flirting on a tennis court in a tiger-print swimsuit and tiny white shorts, duct-taping her nipples and making out with a boy in bunny ears in an outdoor pool. Sevigny can take all the sartorial kudos for Gummo: credited as the film’s official costume designer, she crafted each ensemble using garments found in local thrift stores, combined with cast members’ existing clothing.
3. Boys Don’t Cry (1999)
The actress gives one of her greatest performances to date as aloof beauty Lana Tisdel in Kimberly Peirce’s masterful, real-life tale Boys Don’t Cry. Lana, who has been treated badly by men all her life, falls head over heels for Hilary Swank’s kind and sensitive Brendon – a young trans man, born Teena Brandon, who is yet to reveal his former identity. A tragedy to rival that of Romeo and Juliet ensues, complete with heady highs and devastating lows – but Lana’s wardrobe is not one of them. She takes the best of the late 90s trends and makes them her own, combining elements of grunge (baggy band tees, black sweatshirts, leather jackets) with a lo-fi hip hop vibe (zip-up track jacket, Timberland boots, multiple silver chains bearing crosses), plus simple blue jeans, flowing copper locks and red nails.
4. American Psycho (2000)
By the time American Psycho hit the big screen in 2000, Sevigny had well and truly established herself as a fashion force to be reckoned with. Which is why her role as Jean – the doting, dowdily dressed secretary to Christian Bale’s icy psychopath Patrick Bateman – numbered among the film’s many shock factors. From the typically 80s, shoulder-heavy trouser suit that Bateman declares she must never wear again through a sickly pink twinset and a brown pinstripe skirt suit, unflattering ensembles abound before Bateman invites Jean to his apartment for the date she’s long been dreaming of. Following her boss’ demand that she wear something nice, Jean dons a strapless, close-fitting silver dress to ethereal effect. Happily Bateman approves, and Jean manages to depart “unbruised”, following one of the most tense, and iconic, scenes in cinematic history.
5. Party Monster (2003)
Party Monster is the cult biopic of 90s New York party promoter Michael Alig, dubbed the “Club Kid Killer” after murdering his flatmate in 1996. The film is notable for many reasons: it marked the return of Macaulay Culkin in the leading role after a 14-year hiatus; it saw Marilyn Manson rock stilettos as drag queen Christina Superstar; and it depicted Sevigny in some of her biggest, boldest costumes yet. The actress seamlessly embodies Gitsie, Alig’s garish gal pal, whose wardrobe consists of rainbow stripe tees, faux fur jackets, the skimpiest of skimpy shorts – and what is arguably the sexiest nurse’s outfit of all time. In the wrong hands the blue and white, multi-strap bikini and Red Cross paper hat could look like a S&M roleplay gone awry, but on Sevigny, of course, it’s pure perfection.
The Works: Chloë Sevigny is at Nitehawk cinema, Brooklyn until May 6, 2017.