Debbie Harry: Maven of Cool

May 15, 2006 • Magazine

Debbie Harry: Maven of Cool

Debbie Harry: Maven of Cool

Mon, 2006-05-15 12:00

Ann John

If you were to compile a list of hip, edgy female rockers Deborah Harry would certainly make the cut. This iconic singer fronted the band Blondie, spearheaded the New Wave movement and innovated music by mixing together different genres into her work, all while making men drool over and women copy her style and unique brand of sex appeal. It’s no surprise then that the pop stars of today like Gwen Stefani and Madonna owe a great to this original maven of cool.

Raised in New Jersey, Debbie moved to New York in 1965 where she worked odd jobs and hung out with Andy Warhol’s clique. Her first foray into music was as a back-up singer for the folk band “Wind in the Willows”. After one album, it quickly dissolved, but in 1973 Debbie met guitarist Chris Stein. They formed “The Stilletos” and performed around the city including at the famed CBGBs. They changed their name to “Blondie”, attained a strong underground, and by 1976 had a record deal.

The band scored a string of hits in the early 80s and Debbie emerged as the leader of the group, at times to the point that many mistakenly thought Blondie to be her. Her fame was fueled in part by her strong and fearless presence and sense of fashion. With her platinum hair, curvy body, and striking looks, she reminded fans of a modern day subversive Marilyn Monroe, but one who radiated power instead of vulnerability. Never one for conformity, Debbie was dying her hair blue as a teenager while others were more content wearing flares and parting their hair in the center. “Reactions to how I looked varied. Some people were horrified, and some people were smitten. I was always experimenting; always costuming, creating characters. Most of the things I came up with were out of expedience – I was limited by what I could get my hands on. It wasn’t a time when stylists were a dime a dozen; it was more hit and miss,” she says. This resourcefulness, however, led to her capitulation as a style icon of the 1970s and 1980s. As she says, “I was living with a great friend in the Bowery in New York, in this really funky apartment, but I had no dough. So he used to just pull things out of my wardrobe for me and put them together and then give me a beret or make me wear a trench coat or thigh-high boots, and it just went from there.”

Her clothes at the time were body hugging and flaunted her sexuality, from skinny jeans to slinky jersey dresses, while sunglasses and accessories added a hard edged glam. But she wasn’t merely a pin-up sex symbol. She easily sifted from waif to rebel to glamour girl, often melding all these contrasting together into her own signature style. And always there was a thrown together feel to her outfits that only added to her coolness. A deconstructed mix of punk, mod, disco and her own instincts, her style became a much imitated look. This is all the more surprising when you learn that she was 33 when Blondie had its first hit.

As she has aged, Debbie has not toned down on her eclectic stylings nor her experimentalism, and remains as cool and sexy as ever. Culture writer Gerrii Hirshey has this to say about her, “She’s a game American dame, willing to try anything from cabaret to CD-ROM games as long as they pique her interest and keep her laughing.

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