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Celebutantes: Life in the Slow Lane

NEW YORK — It’s been just over 30 years since the death of Edie Sedgwick, whose overdose from barbiturates at the age of 28, in 1971, closed the chapter on New York’s most out-of-control Sixties celebutante.<br><br>But during her...

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Juliana Sohn

NEW YORK — It’s been just over 30 years since the death of Edie Sedgwick, whose overdose from barbiturates at the age of 28, in 1971, closed the chapter on New York’s most out-of-control Sixties celebutante.

But during her brief life, Edie single-handedly raised the bar for untenable party deb behavior to an almost forbidding level. There’s been a spate of articles in the last month about the current crop of celebutantes: GQ struck gold last month with its exposé of the fake “Marriot sisters;” the August Vogue featured the straight-laced daughters of Keith Richards; and the Hilton sisters continue their reign of terror over the magazine world, appearing recently in such diverse publications as FHM and Tatler. But the antics of today’s party girls lack Edie’s unscripted intensity and brazen self-destructiveness.

The scion of a genteel Stockbridge, Mass., clan, Edie’s corrosive celebrity began in 1965 when she met Andy Warhol and began appearing in his underground films. She quickly became one of the prestige strays at Warhol’s Silver Factory and, for a while, Andy’s favorite party companion and accessory. While Andy and ‘It Girl’ Edie dominated gossip columns and Edie graced the pages of Vogue, she also imbibed the Factory’s near-mandatory regimen of exhibitionism and drug abuse. “What Andy had there was essentially a halfway house,” recalled George Plimpton, who edited the cult oral-history book “Edie: American Girl.” “Some people like Malanga and Morrissey made something of themselves, but others couldn’t handle it,” added Plimpton. “Edie herself was just incredibly unlucky.”

After burning down her Sutton Place apartment in October 1965, Edie relocated to the Chelsea Hotel. There, she burned down at least one more room before management placed her in Room 105, just down the hall from the room where Sid Vicious would one day allegedly kill Nancy Spungen. After fleeing the filming of “Ciao! Manhattan” in 1967 to hang out in California with Nico and Jim Morrison, Edie returned to New York essentially homeless and, by early 1968, was repeatedly institutionalized in mental hospitals until her death three years later.

Compared to Edie, the would-be transgressions of today’s party girls seem positively tame. While some might applaud the current vogue for ‘clean living,’ others view it as just another sign of overall cultural decline since the Sixties. “If there’s something missing among today’s celebutantes, it’s nothing that a good jolt of heroin wouldn’t clear up,” intoned even that icon of Ivy League preppiness Plimpton. But despite Plimpton’s admonition, there’s precious little heroin on the horizon for rich girls aspiring to be famous as an end in itself. In the following media survey, WWD used a Sedgwick Scale of transgression ranging from 0 (intentionally spilling a mojito on someone at Bungalow) to 10 (destroying your career and scaring away all your friends by ripping off your bra and dancing on the table at Spa).

This story first appeared in the August 27, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Frenchie Marriot”:

8 out of 10

When GQ needed to cast “Frenchie Marriot” for its August parody article of the Hilton sisters, they picked notorious Click model Ashley Marie Smith. Though only a faux celebutante, Smith most closely approximates the Sedgwick model in her affinity for substance abuse, frequent disappearing acts and generally unstable behavior. “I used to be a big-time party girl,” the 19-year-old Smith said while downing her third Southern Comfort at the Royalton Hotel lobby bar. “And now I, um, still am.” While publicizing the GQ article, the striking Texas-born Smith got to live out her dreams of ersatz stardom on GQ’s tab. “I think people have done a pretty good job of exploiting me so far,” Smith said of the GQ experience. “At this Invicta party they gave me my own watch with ‘Frenchie Marriot’ engraved on it. Then I saw Donald Trump and thought about squeezing his ass — but moved onto someone else. That’s me: I’m loud, obnoxious and I always get my way.”

Jim Miller, who wrote the Marriot sisters article for GQ, admitted that Ashley’s appetite for destruction became apparent during the photo shoot. “She’s a wild, beautiful girl,” said Nelson. “And I’m really worried about her.” Joey Grill, president of Click models, has gotten used to Smith’s behavior over the years. “She’s been this way since we signed her at age 12,” he said. “She’s the kind of girl who’ll disappear at 3 a.m. from the hotel where we put her up, be AWOL for three weeks, then show up out of nowhere at 3 a.m. and demand her bed back from whoever’s sleeping in it.” Grill can’t predict whether Smith will ever come in for a landing. “Up to now she’s had this rare knack of knowing just when to disappear and reappear,” Grill said. “But you also think she’s the kind of girl you’re going to read about in the papers one day — in a bad way.”

The Hilton Sisters:

3 out of 10

Devoting any more copy to the Hilton sisters will only make the problem worse.

The Sheer Blonde Twins:

2 out of 10

In no way related to Ashley Marie Smith, Sheer Blonde Twins Alex and Brittany Smith have shunned the Edie route by studiously avoiding underage drinking, rowdy behavior and the Manhattan club scene in general. Instead, the twin daughters of John Frieda president Gale Federici revealed in the September W that their driving ambition is to become ‘serious’ rock stars. “My guitar teacher started me with Hendrix,” said Alex. “So I got heavily into Jimi and started wearing bandanas around my legs.” Rad. Alex also flirted with the idea of getting a belly ring. But is she truly prepared to accessorize like Hendrix by placing 16 hits of LSD under her headband while performing? Probably not.

Theodora and Alexandra Richards: 1 out of 10

The two daughters of Keith Richards and Seventies model Patti Hensen have adopted what could be called the ‘Ab Fab’ approach to non-rebellion. Mimicking the relationship between Saffy and Edina, they rebel against their debauched parents’ rebelliousness by being clean-cut and normal. Those expecting Keith to have produced a Bijou Phillips-type offspring will be sorely disappointed. In its August profile, Vogue terms them “the goody-goodies.” Like the Sheer Blonde Twins, the Richards daughters only emulate their father in the most cosmetic ways. “I used to take scarves and wear them across my head like my dad,” said Alexandra. “And then I would wear my leopard dress with leopard leggings.” But, unlike their dad — and to the probable dismay of George Plimpton — neither one of these rock progeny seem inclined to cave into their genetic propensity for excess.

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