Celebrating Chow

...a deserving style legacy

by Becky Cope
Androgynous beauty. Statement jewellery. Padded shoulders. Understated elegance and powerful presence. Eighties icon and Warhol-play-thing Tina Chow embodies everything that is being emulated on the catwalks at the moment. A universal style and beauty icon, Chow’s combination of German-American and Japanese ancestry, alongside her innate sense of dress, made her a modern day Audrey Hepburn and an apt ‘replacement’ for Edie Sedgwick in Andy Warhol’s (somewhat fickle) heart.

But who is Tina Chow? Sure, everyone can sort their Edie Sedgwick from their Nico, but this lady was an entirely different kind of Warholite - she was a fashion equal with incredible stamp in a world that often revolved around hero worship and the 15 minutes of fame phenomenon. Sedgwick has recently emerged as a mass icon of the sixties, for her leotard and chandelier earring combos, and Nico has been channelled through sassy seventies echoes on the catwalk (3.1 Phillip Lim). Tina Chow remains on the periphery; but this is something that is starting to change. Enough of the comparisons however, after all, this isn’t a game of 6 degrees of Andy Warhol.

Chow was born in 1951 and had reached the International Best Dressed List by her hey-day in the 1980s. Something of a staple on the New York celebrity scene, she soon immersed herself in the art world of Keith Harring, Julian Schnabel and Mary Boone (as well as Warhol), all of whom were deeply involved in representing social issues of the period through their art as activism; think graffiti street style, avant garde film-making and aggressive neo-expressionism.

In a twist of tragic irony, Chow herself became victim to the social issue of the period; dying of AIDS at the age of 41. Forever spirited however, Chow often answered questions about her illness with the coy response “yes, I’ve been naughty’, referring to the affair in which she contracted the disease with Parisian socialite, bisexual Kim D’estainville. Before her death, Chow had also famously had an affair with it-boy of the time Richard Gere (picture that scene from An Officer and A Gentleman ladies!) A woman after our own hearts in more ways than one; unafraid to embrace life with everything she could. Perhaps this is why she is so important right now, representing a feisty response to adversity combined with classical elegance that is easy to emulate for cheaps!

Alongside her flamboyant social life, Chow was a big deal in the fashion world. Befriending shoe-God Manolo Blahnik and modelling for great photographers Cecil Beaton and Arthur Elgot, Chow tackled the fashion world on her own when she started collecting couture clothing. Demonstrating impeccable taste with her pieces by Balenciaga, Dior, Madeleine Vionnet and Mariano Fortuny, Chow really knew how to celebrate the refined greats; particularly in a period in which Balenciaga in particular had closed its doors. Her jewellery collection was similarly impressive, featuring lucite bangles and other brassy pieces that she was known for in a period that favoured the garish and golden. Chow’s immense collection sold at Christies after her death in 1993.

Like most things eighties at the moment, Chow’s style is quintessentially on trend for the foreseeable future. Her typical uniform took a leaf out of those two great Hepburn’s books; Katherine and Audrey, stealing Katherine’s penchant for the masculine gamine, and Audrey’s classic elegance and grace as well as her pixie crop. Sporting plain white tees glammed up with statement jewellery, matched with flattering trousers, boyish blazers and men’s cardigans, Chow embraced the boyfriend-borrowing trend way before her time – taking the contemporary love of all things androgynously sexy in a direction as of yet unexplored in mainstream fashion.

This wasn’t just about le smoking by YSL or wool suits by Chanel, Chow actually wore men’s clothes without a hint of sexing them up for her gender; allowing her innate feminine grace instead to shine through. In a period which idolised the Amazonian sexpot and made women powerful through masculine tailoring combined with killer bodies and big hair, Chow stood out from the crowd as a real fashion outsider with her pared down chic and delicate beauty.

This is what makes Chow a modern-day icon – her fearless sense of self-expression demonstrated in her simple grace, outstanding taste and refined elegance, with a dash of feisty spirit and devil-may-care fun thrown in for good measure. If anyone deserves to take up Miss Sedgwick’s place in fashionistas hearts this season, I think I’ve made the case pretty strong for Ms Chow.