When Blondie burst onto the scene in the mid-Seventies, we couldn’t imagine that designers would be interested in us. We had no access to that world. Most of our fashion choices—ripped-up fishnets and pinned-together things—were economical, what we could afford. Blondie arrived at the crossover between glam rock and the deconstructive period of punk and New Wave. In fashion, in music, in art, everything was broken down and ripped apart. We were all so influenced by Warhol’s deconstructive cinema. Certainly Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren brought a lot of power to the scene. I remember Malcolm came to visit us in a rented station wagon with boxes of rubber clothing and we all went completely crazy. This fabulous, basically fetish clothing. Oh, the rubber! Oh, that slimness and tightness!
In those days I always did my own hair and makeup. We didn’t have enough money for anyone else to do it. Sometimes I didn’t have time to bleach my hair, so the roots were just there. And the brown in the back was because I couldn’t see back there to do it. I wore black high-waisted, peg-leg pants and men’s tuxedo shirts, or underwear as outerwear. Sometimes I wore a bridal gown and ripped it up as I was wearing it. But my style changed after I met Stephen Sprouse in about 1975, when he moved into my apartment building on the Bowery. Steve was horrified by the things that I would try—like a red Forties dress with white cowboy boots. But I was just wearing what I had.
Since Steve was working with Halston, there were all these slip-dresses available in matte silk jersey. I had a black trenchcoat, and Steve put it together with a pair of thigh-high boots and a little black dress and a beret, and I felt completely cool. That was one of my best-known looks. He also gave me a pair of Courrèges boots that I’d wear with fluorescent pink stretch pants. There was a real sense of play. New York City was bankrupt and garbage was all over the place, so you could always find fabulous things that people were throwing away. Or people were being evicted and the landlord would just heave-ho their stuff onto the street.
Rock ’n’ roll started out with music being the total thing. It wasn’t what it’s evolved into now, where the visual presentation is so important. Now it’s pretty grandiose. The women are actually showgirls who do music. They might hate me for saying so, but they are definitely produced. I’m sure they make their own choices about what they like to wear, but they are packaged. Our style was more self-contained, not applied by an outside machine. But we didn’t have the Internet, so we didn’t have to worry about being overexposed.
That’s one of the things I love about Gaga. She’s completely mad, and she and her people choose some really frightening images. I remember years ago going to the club Jackie 60 and seeing people wearing meat clothing and doing all this really grisly fetish stuff. It all works its way into fashion—counterculture gets absorbed by the mass culture and feeds what’s going on. I loved fashion magazines back when I was starting out, but it was painful at times because I couldn’t get any of that stuff. But a good trenchcoat is a staple. It’s always on the list.