The owner of the first punk rock boutique in New York is still making a go of it with Enz’s boutique. She talks to Larry Baumhor about the changing scenes of New York and London, as well as longtime customers like Willy DeVille, Cherry Vanilla, Lou Reed, the New York Dolls, Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall and many more.
I was in New York to interview Ray Patel, the owner of Gem Spa, a general store that sold a variety of goods, including hats, T-shirts, bandanas, magazines, candy, cigarettes, novelty items and much more. Gem Spa’s specialty and claim to fame was egg cream. But their storied history was the lure of bohemia. This is where the Beats and the hippies hung out and patronized the store. Patti Smith and the New York Dolls were Gem Spa customers.
Alas, Ray Patel was not available. He was home with an injured knee. I spoke with the employees, none of whom could give me information on anything resembling the counterculture.
I left there dejected and walked a few doors down on 2nd Avenue. My attention was drawn to Enz’s, a fashion boutique with exotic mannequins and a cloth sheet filled with colored skulls in the window.
I tried the door but it was locked. I was about to walk away when I was buzzed in. Once inside, I immediately began taking photos of the displays and clothes.
“I don’t let people take photos in my store,” Mariann Marlowe informed me.
“My name is Larry. I’m a freelance photographer and writer. I wrote a story about Ray’s Candy Store in the Village and came to write a story about Gem Spa for the Please Kill Me website. But the owner wasn’t in.”
“I know Legs McNeil. He was always on the scene,” responded Mariann.
“I mostly deal with Gillian McCain who coauthored Please Kill Me.”
“I don’t know Gillian,” Mariann said.
“I love your store and your windows are fabulous.”
Thus began an encounter I’ll never forget—an interview with a cool punk rock chick whom I fell in love with by the end of the day.
Mariann Marlowe: “Those rockabilly mannequins in the window, I brought them back from London in 1978. There was a rockabilly store on King’s Road called Johnson’s and around the corner at World’s End was Vivienne Westwood’s shop called Let it Rock. This is in the ‘70s in London at the height of punk rock.”
In Enz’s store window stands a plaid dress mannequin and a guy mannequin from Lloyd Johnson, a designer who had a boutique store in London.
“What were you doing in the ‘70s?” I asked. “Were you hanging out in London? Were you a designer or a counterculture bohemian?”
Mariann Marlowe: “I used to hang out with everybody there. My first store was at 49 Grove Street in the West Village and then we were on St. Marks Place for a while. My rent was a $100.00. I brought back mostly Vivienne Westwood stuff and a few other things. I moved to this store 14 years ago.”
“Did you sell mostly vintage clothes?”
Mariann Marlowe: “No, mostly punk rock and I design clothes. Francesco Scavullo used to come into the store all the time. We have five Cosmo covers from that. But the thing I am most proud of is you know who Willy DeVille is, right?”
“Yes,” I said, but I didn’t know him.
“I made his snakeskin jacket. You know the jacket he made famous?”
“Yeah,” I answered. I didn’t know the snakeskin jacket from a rattlesnake skin.
“I made Pat Benatar’s zebra cat suit, but I’m more impressed with Willy’s snakeskin jacket,” Mariann said.
“How would you categorize the clothing?”
Mariann Marlowe: “It was punk rock. My influence was Vivienne. She would make anything out of anything. The neckline could be two inches off the shoulder. That was my inspiration. Also, living on the streets of London. We were poor and we used to eat beans on toast for ten days in a row. I lived with all artists and we all shared a house in Earl’s Court.”
Phone call interruption: That’s who I want to be, an artist. I want to live with other artists and eat beans on toast for ten days, I fantasized.
Mariann Marlowe: “My friends were all from Kensington Market. You know Kensington Market?”
“Yeah, sure,” I responded. I had no clue about Kensington Market.
Mariann Marlowe: “Everybody was an artist. I’m still friends with those people. We were all starving together in Earl’s Court. I’m an artist through the clothing I design.”
Phone call interruption: Don’t fuck this up Larry. You walked into a gold mine, punk rock heaven. Now settle down you’re a nervous wreck. Gillian will be proud of you.
I became friendly with Gillian twenty years ago when I sold her snapshots at the Garage Antique Flea Market in New York. And now she morphed into my mother. I write stories and research sites for her website, Please Kill Me. I feed off her praise and positive feedback. Like a child whose mom I love, I look forward to her positive comments.
Don’t fuck this up Larry. I’m like a child. I’m not an adult. There was something very weird and Freudian going on with Gillian and me.
“I’m so excited and nervous from the stories you’re telling me. I’m going to write a great story about you.”
Mariann Marlowe: “You have a good story. I have a movie about me too. It’s called the Meaning to the Enz: The Story of Mariann Marlowe. It’s done by a student and she did a really good job. She has all the Dolls music in the background.”
“You were telling me about your Grove Street store.”
Mariann Marlowe: “It was the end of the whole Warhol scene. It was Elda Stiletto, and The Cramps. I sold to Lux Interior. My original store, Ian’s, opened in 1972 at 49 Grove Street in Greenwich Village. Some of my patrons were Cherry Vanilla, the New York Dolls, Lou Reed, Mike Quashie who just passed away and was good friend’s with Lou Reed, Robert Gordon, and Bruce Springsteen. I used to also have a store on the Upper East Side. It was like Liza Minnelli, Mick Jagger, Scavullo who was Sean Byrnes’ lover, Jerry Hall who still shops in this store.”
I was overwhelmed. Mariann was like a punk rock volcano, spewing out names, places and events like lava coming from Mount St. Helens. I was intimidated, in awe and scared.
Mariann Marlowe: “I can’t stand anybody. People ask me stupid things like ‘how long have you been here?’”
“That’s what I’m asking.”
Mariann Marlowe: “But if you really know the scene and you can feel the essence of the store, you know this is not something I copied from a magazine. This is my life. I’m a rock & roll girl. My home is just like this. It’s not like I live in Scarsdale and commute in. I live on Avenue C. There’s a lot of us still around. There is Raffaelle.”
“I’m writing for Please Kill Me and they’re going to love this. I’ll get a promotion because of you. I’m taking you out to dinner, anywhere you wanna go,” I said in a high-pitched, excited voice.
Mariann Marlowe: “I was watching, of all things the other day, Project Runway. There was a cool girl on who was practically in tears and said no one understands me. She was like a freak. She was cool. Someone else on the show said ‘You have to understand you’re designing for yourself, and if they don’t understand what you’re doing it’s their problem’. Sometimes it’s hard to deal with all day long. I have people come in and pick up things and laugh and dance around. I design most of these things, all the fringe shirts. They are all one of a kind. There are a lot of new generation rockabilly kids, like Lara Hope and Little Lesley that are the hottest girl acts that are out there now. They buy my shirts and wear them on stage.”
“Little Hope and Little Lesley?” I questioned the names.
Mariann Marlowe: “You have to get the names right.”
What a putz! I said to myself. “You’re dealing with a guy who can write and take photos, but I don’t know much about the scene. I did a story for Please Kill Me about Chris Stein and Debbie Harry who were king and queen of the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. Chris walked right into me and I didn’t know who he was. Can I take some photos of you for the story?”
Mariann Marlowe: “Yeah.”
Snap, snap, snap goes the camera. I heard myself breathing heavy while I tried to get into position to photograph Mariann. Putz! “Let me get a closeup. That’s good. That’s good. So, Warhol used to come into your store too?”
Mariann Marlowe: “I’ll tell you a story about Andy Warhol. He came into my little store on Grove Street.”
Phone call interruption:
Mariann Marlowe: “Do you want to watch some of the movie.”
I began to watch the movie about Marianne, Means to an Enz: The Story of Mariann Marlowe, directed by Emily Hughes:
Quotes from the movie: “We were the first punk rock store in New York. I would go to the Sex Pistols rehearsals on Lots Road before Sid was in the band. I made this shirt for Johnny Thunders and it had the word rock on the shirt with chicken bones. My dog Ian didn’t know it was for Johnny Thunders and he ate the chicken bones off the shirt. CBGB was a big part of my life just like the way Rodeo Bar is now. I saw Iggy being carried out on a stretcher. The ambulance used to come and pick up Iggy. Andy Warhol came in with his wolf coat and a bag. He asked me if I wanted an Interview magazine and he gave me a signed copy.”
“I’m so excited that I met you. This made my day. Thank you. When was this movie done? Emily did a great job.”
Mariann Marlowe: “The movie was made about five years ago.”
“What venues do bands play in now?”
Mariann Marlowe: “The bands play at Otto’s Shrunken Head. Manitoba’s bar plays punk rock, but it’s not live.”
“What stars come in now?”
Mariann Marlowe: “Ric Ocasek lead singer for the Cars, Jerry Hall, Lauren Hutton, Lara Hope, and Little Lesley. Helen Mirren loves my store. It wasn’t like years ago in my store when people hung out. The East Village is not like it was years ago when people hung out.”
“What was it like years ago, on Grove Street? You must have some outrageous stories?”
Mariann Marlowe: “Yeah but I’m not going to tell you. There is a code. Lou Reed’s girlfriend Rachel who is transgender came in. That’s who inspired the song ‘Walk on the Wild Side’. It was all about the music.”
“With all the years you have, all the history and all the tumult, there must have been one story. You’re holding back on me. You can hold out names. I know you have something. There had to be drugs.”
Mariann Marlowe: “No. A famous person did a drug in my house, He started out as a doo-wop singer. I’m not going to mention his name. Maybe I was too drunk to remember. He was very famous. It was all about the music. No drugs were done in the store. The store was a business. I was a businesswoman. I was building my business. Everybody was wild in those days, but they were wild through their music and their art. No one was acting stupid to show you they were creative. Nobody did sex films. We all had our inner demons and we got drunk but not in the store. Vivienne and Malcolm were very much against drugs. I was selling their collection and I had to walk the line. There was no cooler place than New York in the ‘70s in those days. The days of Television and the Ramones, New York Dolls, Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, and Richard Hell. Marc Jacobs would come in. Sylvain was my friend from the New York Dolls. People would come from all over the world to check out the store. Maybe groupies would come in the store. That was saved for CBGB and Max’s. In those days before AIDS, at the end of the shows everybody would go home with somebody. That’s how it was. There was a clique. Everybody’s ego was out of control. People wouldn’t talk to you if you weren’t cool.”
“Did you ever go upstairs at Max’s?”
Mariann Marlowe: “I took my dog Ian there and got him a hamburger. The Dolls would play upstairs at Max’s. The band Kiss was heckling them one time. Gene Simmons came into my store and bought shirts for $50.00 each. Gene Simmons went out with Cher and maybe Diana Ross. He brought Diana Ross and Cher into my store.”
“Did you ever get overwhelmed from the celebrities?”
Mariann Marlowe: “When I had the store on St. Marks, Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee came in and the movie just came out. We were like young girls and were a little nervous. I was impressed when Warhol came in. Nico would come in. You couldn’t be starstruck. I hung out with Sid and Nancy.”
“Did anyone sing in your store?”
“Lou Reed and Mick Jagger are not going to sing in my store,” Mariann said.
What a stupid question.
I began taking photos of the clothing in the store, like the Frida Kahlo and zombie dresses, the Elvis shirts. “I don’t want to leave. I can’t thank you enough. Can I get you anything to drink or eat? How about some lunch?”
Mariann Marlowe: “No thanks. I’m not feeling well.”
I left the store in La-la Land. I began to fantasize that I was coming back to visit Mariann. We went out for dinner and began dating. I love her. I moved in with her and we got married. I was living in the East Village, man.
If you read my story, I ask you politely, no I’m going to make it mandatory for you to visit Enz’s in the East Village. The clothes are rockabilly, punk rock, fabulously cool. You don’t have to buy anything. But you must sit and listen to Mariann, a living legend who will blow your mind with the history of punk, and the East Village from the 70s through today. Please mention my name. I feel important.
I began singing while walking on 2nd Avenue:
Mariann, Mariann, Mariann
“Whoa ho ho here I am on my knees again
I’ll do anything just to make it right
Say you’ll understand, oh I know you can