Newsflash: A shee-la-na-gig isn't just a P.J. Harvey song
A big part of being an Outsider is just getting stuff flat-out wrong. For instance, when I recently received an invitation to the National Arts Club’s upcoming Betsey Johnson lifetime achievement dinner, I thought: “Yippee—an excuse to chat with Stacy Engman again.” (Earlier this year, I wrote about a fairly scandalous art exhibit Engman co-curated with Brigitte Stepputtis, Vivienne Westwood’s head of couture.)
What I should have realized (and didn’t, because I’m prone to cluelessness) is that just because Engman is besties with Stepputtis, and is utterly fashion-besotted, doesn’t mean she had a darn thing to do with the Betsey Johnson bash. She’s NAC’s contemporary art chair, not the club’s fashion chair. Duh times a million.
But since you’re already reading, I figured I’d tell you what I learned last week over Red Bulls in NAC’s plush, famous-painting-stuffed drawing rooms: People—not most people, but groovy ones like Engman and Prince—actually have “personal marks” that they use for all kinds of decorative objets. Engman’s is an adaptation of a shee-la-na-gig, the “pagan female exhibitionist gargoyle” that adorns medieval churches throughout Europe. After collaborating with the graphics firm SuperDeluxe to create her own special riff on the ghoulish gal, Engman has since used the mark for everything from her business cards to scads of earrings, including a pair tricked out with Swarovski crystals. Currently, the designer Mario Moya is creating a duchesse satin jacket covered in sequins cut in the shape of Engman’s mark.
“Because I’m a curator, the exhibitionist symbol just felt right to me,” said Engman, fiddling with one of her snazzy earrings. “It’s like an opening that people can look through to see what’s on the other side, or an eye. It gives you the sense of different dimensions.” Of course, a gal can’t wear punked-out pagan symbolism from head to toe. That’s where fancy Chanel shoes and purses come into play, and lots and lots of Westwood.