Grey Gardens

Little Edie

Yesterday, I finally watched Grey Gardens, a documentary about two eccentric women — mother & daughter — living in absolute squalor in East Hampton, New York. This wouldn’t be remarkable in & of itself if not for the fact that Big & Little Edie were the aunt & first cousin of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, & they lived in a dilapidated 28-room mansion. It is said that the Edies remained independent by selling off their Tiffany pieces one at a time.

Filmed in 1975, it is basically a series of vignettes depicting the women’s “everyday lives”. Little Edie wears a scarf over her head at all times, fastened with a huge brooch, & either a full fur coat or a swimsuit. Big Edie seems to do everything from bed, propped up against the wall in a huge sun hat, singing along to records she made in her youth. They argue constantly — Little Edie blames Big Edie for ruining her life, & Big Edie screeches about how she shouldn’t have to live alone. Little Edie feeds Big Edie cat food & calls it “pâté”. Wild racoons live in the attic (Little Edie leaves out loaves of Wonderbread & Purina cat chow for them to eat). When they don’t argue, they’re either sunbathing or eating ice-cream.

It is a truly bizarre movie but very aesthetically inspiring. While I wouldn’t actually want to do it, the fantasy of living in a crumbling mansion, eating ice-cream all day & swanning around in a full fur coat is quite appealing. Its influence is strong. Rufus Wainwright wrote a song called Grey Gardens on his album Poses, ZOOZOOM magazine shot a fashion editorial (which I LOVE) based around the movie (& Vogue has featured two as well), & Todd Oldham, John Bartlett, Marc Jacobs & Laurie Foon (NZ) have all cited the influence of Little Edie on their clothing designs. Drew Barrymore is playing Little Edie in a fictionalised adaptation of the documentary this year, & last year Grey Gardens hit Broadway in musical form.

“This is the best thing to wear for the day, you understand, because I don’t like women in skirts, & the best thing is to wear pantyhose or some pants under a short skirt I think, then you have the pants under the skirt, & then you pull the stockings up over the pants underneath the skirt, & you can always take off the skirt & use it as a cape, so I think this is the best costume for the day. …I have to think these things up, you know? …Mother wanted me to come out in a kimono so we had quite a fight.” — Little Edie

I have to wonder what made them both so weird. Was it the isolation? (They had practically no contact with the outside world for about 25 years.) Big Edie’s husband divorced her by telegram after running off with a Mexican woman, which could make anyone go a little mad. Did Little Edie end up that way too after prolonged exposure to her nutty mother?

Anyway, as I was watching it, I had an idea. I should have a Grey Gardens party! Everyone has to wear fake fur & heels & speak in an accent which sounds half-British & half-New York. Grey Gardens will play (with no sound) & we will listen to Chopin, drink gin cocktails & colour in pages from the Grey Gardens colouring book (for sale here, but does anyone know another way of obtaining it?). Ice-cream will, of course, be BYO, as will flea repellant. Want to come along?