By Sandra Schulman
Queen of Paris Punk, mischievous Glamazon, tatted up work of art, Edwige Belmore died on September 22, 2015.
Most will write about her life. I’m going to write about her death.
I’m going to write about her death because it was insanely surreal and beautiful, and because she got a second chance at dignity and grace in a world that dismisses and discards world class beauties when they are no longer young and quite so beautiful.
Dismissed when they are complicated and sickly, when they are fatigued and world weary, when they have sores and pains, and prescription glasses and wrinkles cover the faces that millions projected onto, an unattainable life of style and power and sex that could be theirs for the taking with just a look.
Edwige had this beauty, catapulting herself from a small town French convent to the dizzying heights of the most powerful people in the worlds of fashion, music, pop culture and art that stretched from Paris to Tokyo to New York City.
A modern day Marlene Dietrich, her mannish suits and cropped blonde coif was a stunner, ties and tattoos, stilettos and shivs, she crossed the big ponds with style and class and punkish determination.
This girl could change the temperature of a room.
So the bold faced names came calling – Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, Grace Jones, Sade. The androgynous demi-monde swooned at her well shod feet.
I met her at Area in 1983. I was dancing to the hypnotic DJ sounds, surrounded by projections and installations and so many beautiful people. I had on leather pants and a flowing paisley top, a high low hippie punk mix. A look across the dance floor and we locked eyes. She in a black suit with a white and red striped shirt, expensive looking menswear, chains around her neck, exquisite blond hair and red lips. She shimmied over and we just started dancing. About an hour later she grabbed my hand and said “Do you vant to come home with me?” in a smoky French accent. I nodded yes. I didn’t even know her name. We tumbled out the door into the grimy downtown streets, hailed a cab and headed to her place, a cramped tenement walkup on the Lower East side.
We fell into bed, she just hugged me really hard, and fell asleep. The next day I said “Let’s go swimming” as I had a membership to the Health club on 13th Street. She said “oh yeah great” so off we went. In the women’s room she stripped down, strode around, and had the Village gym bunny ladies gasping at her scars, tattoos and boy/girl manner. Six feet tall barefoot. It became a routine.
We went dancing, walking the funky streets, out to clubs where she sometimes performed, singing Falling in Love Again and My Funny Valentine. I started seeing a guitar player and things got awkward when she moved in as his roommate. But by then she had another lover as well. It was the 80s, all was fair in love and gentrification war.
Then one day she was just gone, off to Tokyo or Dallas or somewhere the money called for the muse and her face to be. I would not see her again for many years.
I heard she was working at Agnes B store and gallery in Soho around 2011 and went by to see her, waiting for hours in the gallery drinking coffee. She never showed up for work.
Two years later I was in Miami and heard she was there, finally found her and once again she appeared in a red and white striped shirt, her hair long and black, the youthful baby face settled into impossibly high cheekbones with black framed glasses perched on that perfect nose. Tattoos that said I Love You in 5 different languages lined her thin arms and up her neck, scripted across her collar bone and trailed down her legs. It had been a project of hers where she asked all her friends and lovers to mail her a note in their handwriting and she would ink it onto her body.
We ate mussels and salad as she told me a wild ride tale of how she went on a spiritual journey once the cameras turned away, lost a love in New York, began drinking, lost her job and apartment. She drank a whole bottle of vodka on a train to Coney Island, dragged herself out to the sea and waded into the surf, leather pants, jacket, boots and all, fully intending to never surface.
She passed out and washed ashore, awoke in a hospital. With no ID and no insurance they discharged her after 3 days, handing her a bag filled with her still wet with cold seawater clothes. Shivering out on the streets she made a desperate call to a woman friend of means who arranged a flight to Miami and a stay at a rehab center. Months later another woman friend, a real estate mogul, offered her an apartment and a job as Artist in Residence at the newly opened Vagabond Hotel, a mid-century modern gem on Miami’s formerly seedy Biscayne Boulevard. Now she had a place to live, work, host events, make art for the lobby walls, and even garden, a task the former night owl attacked with a vengeance in the heated tropical sun.
I came to stay on weekends in luxurious rooms she comped for me, sitting on lounge chairs by the pool as she hacked away at giant palm fronds with machetes and hedge clippers. A glam gardener, she still wore red lipstick, stylish clothes, chain belts, jewelry and multiple piercings in her ears, eyebrows, nipples.
We picked up the hang out habit again, going to art openings, fashion events, trying fab new neighborhood restaurants. Last October she needed to buy decorations for a Halloween party at the hotel, so I drove her to Party City, the big awful fluorescent lit warehouse supply place, but she made it an adventure as we tried on rubber gorilla masks and witches hats and played with fake blood and guns laughing our bony asses off.
In December during the international art fair week, she staged a jaw dropping event with artist Kenny Scharf, stripping to the waist while he drew a new tattoo on her back that stretched from her ass to her neck. The crowd watching that night at Scharf’s Tonywood Garden included designer Maripol and Kembra Phahler of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, artist Oliver Sanchez and other 80s mainstays. An old school spectacle par excellence.
But her weight loss was alarming, she tired easily and spoke of pains and mysterious aches. The years of drugs and travel and drink were as plain as the tats on her arms. “I forgot my Geritol,” she deadpanned. Still she was in a joyous mood, grateful for this bon chance in the sun.
In June she was told her blood borne illness was more serious and that she may lose a leg. By early September she was in the hospital.
I got a call on Tuesday morning she may not make it through the day. I drove 75 miles an hour to the hospital, only to get a call in the parking lot that she had just died. Trying to find her room at the desk when they could not locate her, I tried a last name I had seen on something of hers only once and discovered that was her real name and that no one had known it all these decades.
Stunned I walked to the room to find 5 of her friends quietly standing around her bedside. Eddie was still in the bed, billowing white curtains all round, a white blanket up to her chin, pink flowers arranged in a halo around her hair, her face a serene death mask. Her friends had been chanting and playing her music, reading her messages and even sneaked in her little Chihuahua dog a few days earlier. I stroked her arm and kissed her cold forehead and said goodbye for now. I wished I could have seen the love tattoos one last time.
Crying later on at the Vagabond Bar as clouds rolled in and thunder rumbled, I realized she had truly been given a second chance to go out with grace, surrounded in white light by people that loved her instead of disappearing into the cold choppy waters of the Atlantic alone. There aren’t many of those given out to such fierce, aged beauty.