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The Sirens of Suspense




Susan Kandel is a former art critic for the Los Angeles Times. She has taught at New York University and UCLA, and served as editor of the international journal artext. She lives in West Hollywood, California, with her husband, two daughters, and dog.



Find Susan on Twitter and Facebook.


item1 My Top 10 Style Icons item1

I may forget to pick up dishwashing soap, but I never forget to pick up the latest issue of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle. Yes, I am one of those women who is unabashedly obsessed with style. Some may consider this obsession a waste of time, but in point of fact, it fuels my writing. In my previous mystery series, for example, my main character, Cece Caruso, was a devotee of vintage clothing, so every time I paged through a fashion magazine or ducked into a vintage shop, I got to call it research. In my new series, the protagonist, 28-year old Dreama Black -- with her lanky frame, perfect bangs, and gap-toothed smile -- is based upon my biggest style icon, sixties model Jane Birkin, for whom the legendary Hermès Birkin bag is named. But Jane Birkin is only one among my personal pantheon. Here are nine more of my favorite fashion-forward goddesses. I will leave it to you figure out which of them should (or already have been) transformed into characters in my books!

10. Tawny Kitaen

Has there ever been a sight more compelling than video vixen Tawny Kitaen writhing on the hood of a Jaguar XJ in a white leotard and see-through, billowing shirtdress in the Whitesnake video, “Here I Go Again?” Yes! That would be Tawny Kitaen on the day she married lead singer David Coverdale (who once famously referred to her as “my whore, my inspiration”) in a white off-the-shoulder confection and bizarre white lace waitress cap perched atop her sky-high raven tresses. In case that isn’t zeitgeisty enough for you, Kitaen played Jerry’s girlfriend on an episode of “Seinfeld” entitled “The Nose Job.” Naturally, she killed it. 

9. Jane Fonda

Two style moments I’m going to recall here, both indelible: Jane Fonda’s shag haircut in Klute (1971), layered and feathered with thick blunt bangs, and currently an obsession of hip girls from Williamsburg to West Hollywood, especially when paired with short shorts and tall boots; and the totally eighties look Jane sported in the infamous Jane Fonda Workout VHS tapes, complete with big hair, big earrings, and high-cut striped leotards and color-coordinated leggings. Aerobicizing has never been the same.

8. Edie Sedgwick

No one has ever worn black tights and chandelier earrings as charmingly as this blue-blooded heiress, socialite and actress who found her way into Andy Warhol’s Factory in the sixties, and became one of his first “superstars.” There is much debate over whether Edie’s silver-sprayed pixie cut was inspired by Warhol’s signature white wig, or vice-versa, though Edie totally wore it better, due, in no small part, to the vulnerability behind those heavily-lined eyes. No debate, however, over the fact that she was the inspiration for two songs on Bob Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde” album (“Just Like a Woman,” and “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”), and for countless skinny-limbed gamines who followed in her wake.

7. Carine Roitfeld

Former editor of French Vogue and current editor of CR Fashion Book, Roitfeld, at 61, embodies everything that is cool about French girl style. Described by designer Tom Ford as “the ideal woman,” and creator of some of the most indelible editorial and advertising images of the last fifteen years (including the infamous Gucci Gs shaved into Carmen Kass’s pubic hair), Roitfeld’s personal style is consistent and fierce: a silk blouse or shrunken tee, narrow pencil skirt, sky-high black pumps, tousled brown hair, and kohl-rimmed eyes. Like her predecessor Coco Chanel, her philosophy is to find the silhouette that works for you, and adopt it as a uniform. So if you think athleisure is an epithet and the ‘natural’ look is for nuns, meet your new girl crush, Carine.

6. Stevie Nicks

Princess in the tower meets Victorian streetwalker? Lady of Shalott meets California dream girl? Sort of. Almost. But not really. Better to leave undefined the fevered, bohemian rhapsody that is Fleetwood Mac front-woman Stevie Nicks’s personal style. Florence Welch, Courtney Love, and even Lana del Rey keep the dream alive, and so, too, can you. Just pop into the West Hollywood shop of the under-known Margi Kent, the stylist/designer who collaborated with Nicks back in the seventies to create that witchy woman magic.

5. Iris Apfel

Known for her bug-eyed black-rimmed glasses, boulder-sized candy-colored beads, and take-no-prisoners attitude, this 95 year-old, self-proclaimed “geriatric starlet” gives hope to us all. In 2005, the Met’s Costume Institute premiered an exhibition about her personal style, and in 2014, Albert Mayles completed a documentary about her. In-between this late-blooming former interior designer headlined ad campaigns for everyone from Kate Spade to Aussie fashion label Blue Illusion. “I don’t expect to find inspiration,” she said. “It just sort of comes. Sometimes you step on a bug and you get inspired.” All it takes is chutzpah, and maybe a little marabou.

4. Peggy Guggenheim

Since we’re on the topic, I’m going to give a shout-out to Iris Apfel’s ancestral goddess, she of the butterfly and batwing eyeglasses, the amazing Peggy Guggenheim. One of the heiresses of the Guggenheim fortune (her father went down with the Titanic), Guggenheim became the greatest art patroness of the 20th century, renowned for giving first shows to figures such as Mark Rothko, Wassily Kandinsky, and Jackson Pollock (though she apparently despised Pollock’s wife, Lee Krasner). When it came to style, she was a high priestess of eccentricity, and enamored of the shocking gesture. She shaved off her eyebrows in high school, starting a trend that lasted decades, and was one of the pioneers of plastic surgery, though her nose job was apparently so painful she had the doctor stop in the middle, and never bothered going back for a redo, having figured out that beauty isn’t a fixed commodity, but rather a way of being. When you visit her former palazzo in Venice, Italy, you can see how she displayed her fantastical earrings on the wall as art. And when you think of her, remember her two iron-clad rules: dogs are accessories, and put on another necklace before you leave the house.

3. Beyoncé

I am too awed to find the words, so I’ll just conjure a single image: Beyoncé Carter née Knowles, on May 20, 2017, at her Africa-themed baby shower in Beverly Hills, festooned with ropes of tribal jewelry; wrapped in a stunning African wax-printed headscarf, bikini top and tiered skirt; her majestic belly covered in a plethora of henna tattoos. The Instagram photos of this push party to end all push parties were posted the next day, and conjured the black and white studio work of the great Malian photographer, Seydou Keita, reminding us that Queen Bey honors the past as much as she defines the present and presages the future. Sidebar: I was driving down Sunset Boulevard that day, and saw the band walking back to their cars, dazed from having stared directly into the sun.

2. Daphne Guinness

Her boyfriend, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, said of her, “She is no longer a person, she is a concept.” I have no trouble buying into this, having once ridden up in an elevator with the pair of them at the Carlyle Hotel in NYC, and been struck dumb by the delicate beauty and other-worldly style of this Guinness brewery heiress turned Alexander McQueen muse turned artist turned rock star. If you want to know how to recognize her, look for the woman in a Cruella De Ville hairdo, an extravagant  Phillip Treacy headpiece, a rainbow silk kimono or dominatrixy pinstriped suit, and, of course, those sky-high, platform, heel-less shoes. Favorite quote: “I’ll eat when I’m dead.” Other favorite quote: “Uncomfortable is the name of the game.”

1. Jane Birkin

The one, the only. It’s not just the straw basket, the white bell-bottoms, the flawless bangs, and the whole Serge Gainsbourg thing. It’s a sexy insouciance that’s never been equaled, and never will be.




WHO IS YOUR STYLE ICON? TELL US or leave a comment on the blog below or on our Facebook page and you’ll be entered to win a copy of DREAM A LITTLE DEATH! (US entrants only, please.)



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