There’s a classic image of Grace Jones that’s so ubiquitous as to have passed into iconic territory: the athletic, eccentric pop singer with the famous high flat-top fade, as shot with a cigarette draped over her bottom lip by Jean-Paul Goude. Jones helped to make androgynous power dressing mainstream, and epitomized the 1980s as much as Sony Walkmans or Max Headroom.
But the Jamaican pop priestess has a legacy that endures way beyond those times: if proof were needed, she’s curating the Southbank Centre’s Meltdown Festival in London this year, an indicator that the artist has ascended to the vaunted position of high art.
Grace Jones helped to make androgynous power dressing mainstream, and epitomized the 1980s as much as Sony Walkmans or Max Headroom.
So perfect was the cultivation of Jones’ public image by her and her then-boyfriend Goude, that it has become embedded not only in our retinas but in pop culture itself. Grace met the French graphic designer, illustrator, and filmmaker at Studio 54 in 1978, and they set about recreating and transforming her image. Goude was involved in every aspect, from record covers to videos. Her early records — recorded in Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound with disco pioneer Tom Moulton — gave way to Jamaican dub records with smart new wave influences and Alex Sadkin at the helm at Compass Point in the Bahamas. A star was born, but not overnight. Here we trace the evolution of Grace, through her sleeve designs.
The title Portfolio no doubt alludes to Jones’ modeling, and the cover artwork was created by Richard Bernstein, the chief graphic designer at Interview. The glamor of the pose undoubtedly reflects the visual identity of the magazine, which Bernstein shepherded between 1972 and 1988, dealing in high camp glossy celebrity portraits, cropped and airbrushed. Through Interview, by extension Jones was receiving tacit approval from Andy Warhol: the typeface even resembles the artist’s signature scrawl.
“In the beginning, Richard [Bernstein] did all her disco album covers,” Long Island brothers Mauricio and Roger Padilha, authors of Richard Bernstein Starmaker, told Another in 2018. “The work was so incredible that Warhol looked at it and asked, ‘Why does the work you are doing for Grace look so much better than the work you do for me?’ Grace told him, ‘I don’t give him any revisions. Whatever he gives to me is what I put on the cover.’ When she told Andy that, he told everyone at Interview, ‘Whatever Richard brings in is what we are running.’” Bernstein introduced Grace Jones and Jean-Paul Goude, and he would become godfather to their son, Pablo.
By 1981, Goude and Jones had already established a strong image for the latter which she described as a “voracious she-centaur emerging from an unknown abyss and confronting people’s fears” in I’ll Never Write My Memoirs (ghost-written by Paul Morley). There was a playful androgyny on display too — a sort of upending of the traditional expectations of gender, inverse to what David Bowie had been doing in the 1970s. The strong shoulder pads, courtesy of Giorgio Armarni, would become a feature of womens’ fashion in the ’80s too.
Nightclubbing fared respectably in the charts and became a cult classic: the image itself has become an icon, too.
For this cover, Goude painted directly onto the photo, entitled Blue-Black in Black on Blue — a direct nod to Vladimir Trechikoff’s famous Chinese Girl painting, which was one of the most popular mass-produced pictures of the 20th century. Perhaps the intention was to do the same with Grace’s mass-produced records — Nightclubbing fared respectably in the charts and became a cult classic: the image itself has become an icon, too.
Slave To The Rhythm (1985)
Jones’ flat-top is impossibly elongated, as is her mouth. It’s a humorous, almost Dadaist trick, ostensibly looking as though it was created with mirrors — and it wasn’t the first time the designer had used it. Goude’s earlier cut-up cover, for Cristina’s 1984 album Sleep It Off, saw him engorge the New Wave pop singer’s neck to giraffe-like proportions. Goude was no stranger to photomontage with Jones, either: he’d already created what he called a “credible illusion” with her body, which became the cover of the Island Life compilation, meticulously cutting limbs to form an impossible arabesque. Furthermore, Goude made good use of Jones’ expanding mouth, directing a popular 1985 Citroën CX ad with similar trickery.
Love Is the Drug – 7” remix single (1986)
Jones’ Roxy Music cover was first released in 1980 with a different image on the front sleeve, but the artwork we’re concerned with was specifically for the 1986 remix. Jean-Paul Goude created the main sketch with a ballpoint pen, a felt-tip, some cut-up paper, and sticky tape way back in 1978 (there are four smaller sketches gathered together in a left hand sidebar by the in-house art department at Island Records).
With its towering shark-fin quiff and geometrically shaded figure, the likeness is very clearly a fashion sketch that was part of their milieu at the time, and more in keeping with Bernstein’s voguish covers. “It all starts with drawing,” Goude once said. “I am obsessed with proportions and I’ve done that all my life to myself. Cutting up pictures, doing sculptures that idealize people.” When this picture was used for the single in 1986, it seemed a world away from the Nefertiti-like image Jones had carefully cultivated for herself, though it helped to remind us that she was already carving out her own legend just nine years into her singing career.
Hurricane Dub (2011)
Jones and Goude’s romantic relationship ran its course by the mid-’80s, though the graphic designer was asked to work with his former muse again for Hurricane Dub in 2011 (a superior version of the 2008 album Hurricane reimagined, as you might have guessed, in dub). The artwork didn’t disappoint, loaded as it is with clues. Grace’s hat doubles up as a disco ball, a nod to the early days; while the addition of the lit cigarette not only references Nightclubbing (unlit in 1981) but also Marlene Dietrich — whom she emulated in photographs throughout her career — see the tilted sailor’s cap portrait on the reverse sleeve of 1978’s Fame.
Jones is older though no less elegant, and given the fact this is likely the final Goude/Jones collaboration, one suspects the shaven skull set against a black background with black glove in the foreground is done with memento mori art in mind. Art references abound, from Magritte’s absurdist bowler hats to Van Gogh’s Skull of a Skeleton With a Burning Cigarette. There are a wealth of interpretations which go hand-in-hand with the scintillating interpretations of her own songs on the record.