Book Review: Edie: An American Girl

You’ve probably already heard some version of events of the life of this stylish socialite. In late 2006, a film about Edie Sedgwick was released. Entitled Factory Girl, it had Sienna Miller playing a wide-eyed Mary Sue of sorts, who could tame horses and make even the surliest of weak Bob Dylan impersonators fall in love with her. Her downfall and drug addiction was sparked by the treatment of the Big Bad Andy Warhol, leading to her eventual death.

The almost cartoonish biopic of the famed sixties socialite, while rooted in the truth, favours the more salacious aspects of Sedgwick’s legendarily sensational life. Her biography, Edie: an American Girl, does not take such a dramatized view of Sedgwick’s life, but it doesn’t marginalize this perspective either. Jean Stein compiles her story entirely from other people’s memories of the icon: her family members, peers, doctors, and pretty much everyone else who had any sort of contact with her during her brief lifespan (including Mr. Warhol himself). The editor retains many of Sedgwick’s more human traits – the good and the bad – rather than elevating her to the goddess-like status she had in the movie. Every memory of her is meticulously recorded, often producing contradicting points of view from different people. For instance, we quickly see the difference in how Sedgwick is perceived by her siblings. Her eldest sister, Saucie, sees her as a narcissistic bully, whereas Suky, her youngest sister, completely idolizes Sedgwick, looking up to her as the single most creative being on the planet.

The rest of her biography is peppered with these directly opposing points of view. Depending on who was asked, Sedgwick was either a junkie or the life of the party, a kind soul or a jealous wreck, a free spirit or a victim trapped by the boundaries of her lifestyle. The book declines to make judgements and never really gives an exact account of whose perspective is the most trustworthy, leaving Sedgwick’s true persona something of a riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped in black tights and a cropped silver haircut.

From a fashion perspective at least, Sedgwick’s status as a style icon is clear. Her clothing choices, which were remembered as much as the woman herself, reflected her party girl persona – inventive, over the top, and a bit ridiculous. She was a true original when it came to getting dressed, unafraid to take risks when colouring her hair or donning dramatic leopard print coats. She would joke with her friends at the factory about how she wouldn’t wear underwear, or would go out in public wearing a fur coat with nothing underneath. Her appearance was always one of her biggest priorities; she often bought clothes that she could not afford.

The book includes several black and white pictures, including stills from her screen tests and modeling shots from Vogue (Patti Smith claims that one particular Vogue photo shoot with Sedgwick posing on her bed in front of a picture of a horse was hugely influential to her as a teen). It’s easy to see how Sedgwick’s fashion influence remains strong, particularly in today’s hipster counterculture – with her waifish figure, heavy eyeliner and black tights she would not be out of place on

Whether she was an artistic revolutionary or just a glorified Paris Hilton-esque socialite is up for debate, but there is little doubt that Sedgwick led an intriguing life filled with intriguing people. Her biography is an interesting read that sheds light on some of the darker details of her life – sans the cringeworthy Bob Dylan portrayal.

by Jean Stein and George Plimpton, 1982
reviewed by Anna Fitzpatrick

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Edie: An American Girl

  1. I always wonder just HOW MUCH we romanticise the past. I’ve had a lot of convos about this era with fellow art schoolers & we always seem to think just how awesome & wild those times seemed. But it probably had a lot of downsides too… For every threesome Lou Reed had, there were probably five supposed idols emptying their insides into a near-by loo.

  2. I remember discovering Edie for myself in the early 90s and being completely floored by her sense of style. (I read a biography – I think it was called Ciao Edie). I remember her husband – the man she was married to when she died – saying she was “obsessed with the weight of cigarette smoke in her lungs” or something to that effect, and that he could hear her breath rasping when she slept. She wasn’t even 30. That always stuck with me, somehow.

    I think part of the reason that people were drawn to her was that, even when she was at the top of her game, she seemed so lost. (Everyone wants to save the lost, pretty ones.) That’s a discussion for another day. I always had the impression that she was neither terribly clever nor especially self-aware which might have been her tragic flaw. She seemed to want people to approve of her so badly. And though I admit Factory Girl was not the greatest biopic in film history, I do think Miller nailed that quality – and I think the scenes of her descent were appropriately unglossy. (That slow and painful decline of her hair could have been a film unto itself.)

    But oh! The Youthquake Vogue shot is still one of my favourite images of all times!

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