Kim Gordon, rock goddess extraordinaire, stands in front of me in a stunning party dress. We’re in a quaint vintage boutique on Oakland, California’s Piedmont Avenue. The store, Mercy Vintage Now—just a mere two blocks from my Victorian flat—is selling 146 pieces of her clothing in the store, beginning with this Friday-night preview, and online, starting 8 a.m. PST on Saturday, September 1.
“I was cleaning out my closet, and I didn’t want to go the eBay route,” Gordon explains in a quiet, humble voice. “I still have so many more clothes to get rid of, besides these. A lot of it is from my X-Girl clothing line. I don’t know if anyone is interested in it, though.”
The Sonic Youth frontwoman, artist, and riot-grrl heroine might be underestimating her influence. Nearly everyone I know wanted to go to this preview, where the young, hip, and stylish are cramming into the store like sardines. We grew up enraptured with her disaffected husky alto, her experimental art-rock bass noodling, and her bad-ass feminist attitude.
Mercy Vintage Now co-owner Karen Anderson, in orange tie-dye, talks with guests at the Kim Gordon clothing sale preview. Photo by Megan Bre Camp.
Now, thanks to this limited-time clothing sale, dubbed “KG4MV,” anyone can buy a wearable piece of rock’n’roll history. “She is a strong creative force for women,” says Karen Anderson, who co-owns the Mercy with Jenny Velte. “She was always someone I looked up to because she’s such an extremely well-spoken and talented icon.”
Co-sponsored by Refinery 29, the sale will only last two weeks, closing Sept. 15 at 9 p.m. PST. The items are priced between $78-$450, a little bit higher than Mercy’s normal prices. The blouses, dresses, skirts, trousers, skirts, and coats range between sizes 2 and 8; and most of the shoes are 8.5 or 9.
“Most of it is designer stuff,” Anderson says. “A few pieces are true vintage, and the rest is more current and high-end designer. We just priced each item in terms of what it was, more so than who it belongs to. I don’t think Kim was really interested in that.”
On the rack, I find the cute vintage-y teal moire dress with lace at the waist that Gordon wore in the 2006 Sonic Youth video, “Incinerate.” The frock, like many at the preview, was designed by Jane Mayle—an obvious favorite of Gordon’s—who sold her vintage-inspired clothing out of a New York City boutique between 1999 to 2008. Priced at $425, it’s out of my league.
Then I spy the Mod-print purple-and-orange Miu Miu baby doll dress ($275) and tiny hotpants ($225) that Gordon wore onstage at the 2005 ArthurFest in Los Feliz, California. Plus, there’s a frankly hideous green polyester vintage ’70s blouse with ruffles down the front that actor Vincent Gallo gave Gordon as a present. Online, Mercy is also selling the patent leather and raffia wedges Gordon only wore for her small role in the 2007 film “Boarding Gate.”
So how exactly did Gordon’s duds end up hanging in a small, unassuming vintage boutique in Oakland, of all places? Well, Mercy employee Rachel Cubra traveled to Gordon’s home in Northampton, Massachusetts, this summer to visit her good friend, musician and poet Elaine Kahn. A former Bay Area resident, Kahn befriended Gordon’s then-husband, Sonic Youth frontman Thurston Moore, through the music scene some years ago and worked for him at his printing press. Kahn, who was in the band 50 Foot Women and plays solo as Horse Bladder, has been living with Gordon and her daughter, Coco, at their family home for two years.
“I went and stayed out there this summer, and Kim Gordon mentioned she wanted to get rid of some of her clothing,” Cubra says. “And so I proposed she sell it through Mercy, so that she won’t have to put it online, and so that we do all the work for her. And she could just come to the party and reap the benefits.”
Store co-owner Karen Anderson says Gordon’s look is definitely ’60s influenced, and her Mercy sale does feature a few authentic vintage items. The store has two pairs of her ’70s knee-high boots—in tan suede and snakeskin—and a gorgeous fur shrug with a vintage label “Arctic Fur Shop,” priced at less than $100. The label dates the shrug before 1959 and indicates it was made by the same company famed for Davy Crockett caps.
Online, Mercy is also offering Gordon’s 1960s black moire coat with marabou on the collar and cuffs. There’s also a plain black California Girl dress from the ’60s and a vintage ombre denim shirt by Wrangler.
“I can tell you from what she’s given us that her style has a ’60s vibe,” Anderson says. “But I’ve seen her mix it in with a more contemporary look. She’s definitely more contemporary than I thought she was. Her stuff is really beautiful, and pretty tailored. She has such a good eye. But her clothes aren’t fussy or over the top. There’s a simplicity to them, and they’re extremely wearable.”
Cubra agrees. “Though it does have a simplicity, everything has interesting details, like cute little buttons, or some tiny tailoring aspect,” she explains. “When I met her in real life—you know, she’s a mom and she’s working all the time—she was in nice jeans, nice sandals, and a nice top. You can tell she’s on the go, but she still looks really put-together. She seems to have a very relaxed style, like she’s confident in it.”
While most of the sale clothes might not date back to the ’60s, even Gordon’s ’80s and ’90s pieces are treasures: After all, Gordon was one of the biggest style icons of the alternative-rock era. A pretty blond bombshell who seemed to have steel at the core and eyes that could see right through you, she brought back Swinging Sixties looks: skin-tight shifts, go-go boots, and fur-lined hippie vests.
Wearing thick black eyeliner, a black leather bikini top, and a leopard-print mini in 1990’s “Kool Thing” video, she coos, “Hey, Kool Thing, are you going liberate us girls from male, white, corporate oppression?” Cubra explains that Mercy has a belted black-leather trench-style jacket Kim says she wore in this video—which celebrates ’60s radicalism while mocking LL Cool J—but Cubra, Anderson, and Kahn have watched the video several times, but can’t find the jacket.
“In the ’90s, she was out there, wearing what she wanted to wear,” Cubra says. “She’s always had feminine vibe, but she’s got such a strong personality that she never came off as overly girly.”
Between 1993 and 1998, Gordon even launched her own fashion line, X-Girl, with her friend, stylist Daisy von Furth, as a sub-brand of X-Large, the L.A. men’s skateboard apparel company. Actress Chloë Sevigny, director Sofia Coppola, and R.E.M.’s Mike Mills all worked with Gordon and von Furth on X-Girl before the brand was sold to a Japanese firm.
“In the ’90s, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon brought back Swinging Sixties looks: skin-tight shifts, go-go boots, and fur-lined hippie vests.”
In Paper Mag, Gordon says she and von Furth “were always going to thrift stores and looking for like the perfect ’70s 517 Levi’s cords.” But when they had a chance to design clothes, they rejected the ’70s look that was so popular then. “We wanted to do clothes that were fitted and casual. Stuff that was a little Mod-ish, more like ’60s meets preppy; A-line skirts and A-line dresses, which was what we thought would flatter the most body types.” Apparently, though, the clothes were never made to Gordon and von Furth’s satisfaction in regard to fit and cut.
Obviously, Gordon loves fashion. And she probably has a sense of humor about being such a clotheshorse, given the lyrics to Sonic Youth’s 1988 riff on consumerism, prostitution, and addiction, “The Sprawl,” where she seductively chants, “Come on down to the store. You can buy some more, and more, and more, and more.”
In 2009, Gordon collaborated with Marni, which put out T-shirts, tank tops, and canvas handbags featuring Gordon’s visual artwork. Cubra says Mercy is also selling 10 of these Marni shirts, the only items that don’t come directly from Gordon’s closet. That same year, Gordon created a line of clothing for Urban Outfitters called Mirror/Dash. Earlier this year, she worked with Surface to Air to put out a line of 12 wardrobe basics.
Other collectible pieces at her Mercy sale will be a high-end Prada leather trench coat and a Prada spring 2000 Lips Collection skirt, which has watch gears appliqued all over it. “When you first look at it, you think these could be sequins, and then you realize, okay, these are watch parts,” Anderson says. “Then, it has small lips grommeted onto it as well.”
At the preview, I find a less glamorous but adorable lavender Mayle dress, just missing one button at top. This is one of the “very good” but less-than-perfect items Mercy will sell at the store; only items rated “excellent” in condition will be available online. It’s $135. Do I blow all of my disposal income for the month to have a designer dress Kim Gordon wore? Perhaps I will! Alas, it fits at the waist but not the top.
My friend and photographer Megan Bre Camp takes to some sexy buckled heels by Loeffler Randall. They’re a little tight, but they fit well enough. Megan decides they’re worth it, to take a walk in her heroine’s shoes. She buys them, and immediately puts them on. On the short walk home, we can’t stop smiling.
Mercy Vintage Now is located at 4188 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, CA. Hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays. Visit the store web site to find out more about the KG4MV sale.