Pop star, model, actor, muse, diva, dominatrix: Grace Jones is a true original. Now 65 years young, she’s always lived life in fashion’s fast lane and shows no sign of letting up.
Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica, in 1948, Grace Mendoza moved to New York as a teenager. After studying theatre, she found success as a model – working for Yves Saint Laurent and temporarily living in Paris, where she shared an apartment with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange. "I was skinny as a rail and had high cheekbones and a very interesting face – or so I was told," she recalled in an interview with Los Angeles Times.
But music was calling her, and so she set about building her reputation as 'Queen of the Gay Discos'. She performed at Studio 54, secured a deal with Island Records in 1977 and released her now signature songs Slave To The Rhythm, Pull Up To The Bumper, My Jamaican Guy and Nightclubbing.
It was also in the late 1970s that she met her future husband, artist Jean-Paul Goude. Together the pair constructed the androgynous image she became famous for – and immortalized by - on the cover of her Island Life album, in which Jones is pictured standing on one leg, limbs shining like burnished mahogany and microphone in hand. Combined with a wild stage persona and interviews that have gone down in legend (she once slapped UK TV host Russell Harty live on air), Jones provoked awe and fear in equal measure. "I think the scary character comes from male authority within my religious family," she told The Guardian. "Subliminally I took that on."
Jones became not only an artist but also a work of art. She was Andy Warhol's muse, Helmut Newton's subject, and Keith Haring's canvas (he painted her body in tribal motifs). The big screen was the next step. She starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Destroyer and as Bond villain May Day in A View To Kill as Bond. More recently she returned to music with the critically acclaimed 2008 album Hurricane.
Although regularly pictured in Azzedine Alaïa, Alexander McQueen and Issey Miyake, and never seen on stage without a Philip Treacy headpiece, Jones is more likely to set trends than follow them. "I’m not fashion, I’m style," she told Vogue Italia. And as well as wearing African fashion (she walked for Malian designer XULY.Bët at New York Fashion Week in 2009), Jones draws on the continent in her music. Previous collaborators include French-Beninois synth player Wally Badarou, and for her next album she's called on the talents of British-Zimbabwean singer Eska and Kenya-born Dave Okumu of The Invisible. "Whatever I dream, I want to do," she told Australian TV show Day By Day in 1985 – and who could stop her.
Words: Carinya Sharples