Full of Grace: New Memoir from Grace Jones

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Model, singer, and boundary breaker, Grace Jones defined the disco era. Now with a new memoir, she's back.

Some of the most mannish womenswear looks for fall are no longer "menswear inspired." Transgender model Andreja Pejić is a runway favorite with a cosmetics contract. Recent CDFA-winner Hood By Air just does “clothing.” We posit a spirit animal for fall: the fashion icon who tore through these same cultural barriers with sharp incisors more than 30 years ago. Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Grace Jones. 

“A voracious she-centaur emerging from an unknown abyss and confronting people’s fears.” That’s one of Jones’s self-descriptions in her new memoir, titled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs (Gallery Books, out this month). If you aren’t familiar with the model-turned-actress-turned-singer-turned-Rihanna-before-Rihanna, that’s a pretty apt description.

A 6-foot-1 woman who was raised a disciplined Pentecostal girl in Jamaica and terrorized by her step-grandfather, Jones moved to the U.S. as a teen and signed with Wilhelmina Models in New York. The story goes that Wilhelmina Cooper herself sent Jones to Paris because they would accept her "unconventional" looks. Jones roomed with fellow rookie models Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange, and had a creative partnership (and later, a child) with photographer Jean-Paul Goude. She found her voice, too, releasing three disco albums. But the model roared with 1980’s Warm Leatherette, becoming a performer and fashion muse who blurred stereotypes when we didn’t know they needed blurring. Before Janelle Monáe donned a man’s tuxedo or Rihanna painted her body or Gaga was a sexy nun, Grace was there, and there, and really there.

Revisiting Jones’s style bona fides, it’s hard not to think of today’s click-your-way-to-stardom ecosystem, where the modern day singer-actor-model-Instagram-star must attempt to be daring without looking like they’re trying. As Jones writes, that isn’t real. “I wore what I wore—or didn’t wear—and acted like I acted because it was who I was, and I was making myself into a performance.”

I'll Never Write My Memoirs, $16 at amazon.com.