Heroes: A Retrospective of Icon Grace Jones

Heroes: A Retrospective of Icon Grace Jones

Perhaps now more than ever, the enduring cultural legacy of this icon is unmissable.

Perhaps now more than ever, the enduring cultural legacy of this icon is unmissable.

Photography: Greg Gorman

Text: T. Cole Rachel

This spread appears in the pages of V113, The Music Issue, on newsstands now. Order your copy of the issue today at shop.vmagazine.com

There is a moment in Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Sophie Fiennes’s monumental new documentary, when Jones sits down to chat with her famed collaborator (and former partner) Jean-Paul Goude. Having just reunited for a photo shoot (for V, no less), Goude asks the 70-year-old icon if she can see herself being alone when she grows old. “I can see myself being alone, but never lonely,” Jones responds. “I have always found plenty of things to occupy myself. I still get a big kick out of staying up all night and watching the sun come up.” It’s a telling glimpse into the interior world of one of culture’s most daring provocateurs. Having spent much of the last five decades alternately revolutionizing and terrorizing the worlds of music, fashion, and film, Jones exists in the popular consciousness as monolith—a figure so powerful and intimidating by design that she seems almost impossible to actually know. Now, nearly 50 years into her storied career, culture might finally be catching up to the real Grace Jones.

In 2015, Jones published I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, a rollicking tour through her life, work, and many loves that shone a particularly bold light on her childhood in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Unapologetic and predict- ably unfiltered, the book includes the requisite behind-the-scenes look at Jones’s infamous Studio 54 days, dalliances and feuds with the then-reigning gods of fashion, and no small amount of drug use. More than a mere tell-all, the book also unpacks how Jones created her own transgressive public identity in the face of misogyny, racism, and a culture that tended to view her outre persona as equal parts thrilling and threatening.

It’s hard to imagine many other living artists who might convincingly write, “I flew on the Concorde so many times I knew the pilots. I knew their families. I could have flown the plane, except I would have wanted to do it naked, sprayed silver, in roller skates.”

In fashion photography Jones’s importance has never wavered—her work with Goude is a shorthand for chic, minimalist severity—but as the pendulum finally swings back in pop culture, suddenly Jones is every- where. As her most famous records and long-form video works (A One Man Show, Nightclubbing, Slave to the Rhythm) get the deluxe reissue treatment, and with the documentary’s release, Jones’s music remains an evergreen inspiration. Her visual aesthetic is legendary but her uncanny ability to metabolize influences—reggae, dub, disco, pop, Argentine tango, French cabaret songs—and morph them into something uniquely her own may be her most enduring legacy.

It’s impossible to see a new generation of creators, so many of whom are either queer, people of color, or both—like SZA, Janelle Monáe, Moor Mother, Serpentwithfeet, and Solange—and not see Jones’s influence writ large. Still, her thorny resilience, and her penchant for artistic generosity and truly giving not a single fuck, might be her most admirable traits. Jones created her own iron-clad identity and has shied away from seemingly nothing in her life. She remains a sterling example of how to be an artist in the 21st century. “I can’t be bought and people hate that,” she told the Guardian in 2015. “Everybody has their price—but not me."

PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG GORMAN, IN ALLIGATOR HEAD JAMAICA, 2015

Credits: PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG GORMAN, IN ALLIGATOR HEAD JAMAICA, 2015

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