marianne faithful

She’s one of the Sixties’ greatest fashion icons and the original rock chic. Ellie Woodward examines the life and style of Marianne Faithfull.

Once every so often along comes a genuine style icon – someone with such originality, such flare that they capture the attention of millions. We’ve had the boho style queens of the last decade – the fur gileted, denim skirted Kate Mosses and Sienna Millers – but their unkempt looks are arguably a direct result of the quirky and immensely influential wardrobe of Marianne Faithfull. With a career spanning four decades and largely shrouded in rock and roll controversy, Faithfull’s life and wardrobe have made her a cultural phenomenon.

Born in December 1946 in London to a college professor and ballerina, it wasn’t until 1964 that Faithfull entered the public sphere when she began to land gigs as a folk music performer in coffee houses. Faithfull was a bright, fashionable and vivacious teenager, immersing herself in the London social scene – an attitude which would later lead to her demise.

It was in 1964 that Faithfull’s career really began when she attended a Rolling Stones launch party and was discovered by Andrew Loog Oldham. Her first major release, As Tears Go By, was, in fact, written by Oldham and Mick Jagger. More hit records followed, including Summer Nights and This Little Bird. It seemed that at this time, Faithfull’s professional and personal life were perfectly in synch as she married John Dunbar in 1955 before giving birth to their son, Nicholas, later that year.

The happiness wasn’t to last, however and whilst the Rolling Stones remain one of the greatest rock bands of all time, their influence on Faithfull’s life was arguably the start of its swift unravelling. Faithful left her husband to live with Mick Jagger. She later told journalists that ‘My first move was to get a Rolling Stone as a boyfriend. I slept with three and decided the lead singer was the best bet.’

In 1966 she and Jagger began a much publicised affair and Faithful herself began using Marijuana. The effect of the two meant that Faithful became a notorious component of the London Swinging scene.

She was found by police during a drug raid on Keith Richard’s house wearing only a fur rug. It wasn’t until 30 years later that Faithful revealed how the incident had left her personal life in tatters: ‘It destroyed me. To be a male drug addict and to act like that is always enhancing and glamorising. A woman in that situation becomes a slut and a bad mother.’

marianne faithful

Faithfull’s life was spiraling dangerously out of control. In 1968, now addicted to cocaine, Faithfull miscarried a daughter before ending her relationship with Jagger and losing custody of her son in 1970 – an incident which caused her mother to attempt suicide.

She lived on the streets in London’s Soho for two years during which time she suffered a heroin addiction as well as the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa. Speaking of this time Faithfull is astonished that she managed to survive: ‘It’s very, very strange to think about it. It was such a degraded moment, to live on a wall and shoot drugs.’

However she claims that it was ‘exactly what I needed at that time. It was complete anonymity. I wanted to disappear – and I did. I wanted out. I wanted out of that world. It’s not that I didn’t love Mick, or I didn’t love the people in my life. I did. But I wasn’t cut out for all that. I certainly wasn’t cut out – although it is a great honour – to be a muse. That is a very hard job.’

marianne and mick

Aside from her successful singing career, Faithfull also enjoyed success in the acting world. In 1967 she starred in the film I’ll Never Forget What’s ‘is Name as well as in Kenneth Anger’s 1969 film Lucifer Rising, in which she played Lilith. In 1969, Faithfull played Ophelia opposite Nicol Williamson’s Hamlet, directed by Tony Richardson and featuring Anthony Hopkins as Claudius. She also starred in numerous television programmes, most notably including The Door of Opportunity and Absolutely Fabulous.

It wasn’t just her addictions and her talents which grabbed the headlines, however. Her relationships with men have been of interest to both fans and critics alike. During a spell in rehab in the Eighties, she began an affair with a mentally ill and drug dependant man, Howard Tose, who later committed suicide by jumping from the window of the apartment that they shared. Despite this, Faithfull later dedicated her album, Strange Weather, to Tose.

Shortly after this, she married writer and actor Giorgio Della Terza but divorced just two years later. Most recently she was linked with François Ravard but they also split up. It seems that Faithfull’s tendency to flit from obsession to obsession – be it drink, drugs, singing or acting – was displaced onto her attitude towards men. Her tried and failed relationships were perhaps the manifestations of her destructive ways of life.

marianne faithful

Her reckless, disheveled style at this time was also perhaps a reflection of her personality. Her iconic look and truly unique style was arguably her saving grace and real appeal – the one constant throughout a turbulent life. Her rich and diverse style captured the fashion zeitgeist of the late Sixties and is still prolific even today. Just last autumn, the catwalks were packed with Faithfull influenced pieces paying homage to the icon, from over the knee pairs of boots to feather festooned hats.

Whether it was chubby jackets, disheveled tunics in royal colours, black satin trousers, tasseled boots or cute scarves worn as belts, Faithfull was master of rock chick chic. With her messy hair and oversized sunglasses, it looked as though her outfits were assembled according to whatever was strewn over the floor after a night of debauchery. Hung-over mornings aren’t usually conducive to fashion, but her look was tousled, random and astonishingly original. Her flamboyant accessories – whether it was a feather boa or fur coat – were the perfect finishing touches which set her apart from fashion victims.

Her ability to pull off traditionally manly clothes – trench coats and brogues, for example – meant that she managed an interchangeable look with her legendary beau, Mick Jagger, slipping into his  and hers versions of skinny suits and large hats.

Her unkempt and yet simultaneously beautifully styled look has arguably paved the way for many imitators from Kate Moss (who Faithfull described as a style ‘vampire’) to Alexa Chung, who recently revealed that “People are always eager to know who my style icons are. I find it the easiest question to answer (it’s at least preferable to being interrogated about my relationships) and a roll call of names come to mind: Chloe Sevingy, Patti Smith and Marianne Faithfull.” The clothes in Faithfull’s wardrobe ooze the kind of effortless cool which has clearly transcended generations.

It seems that this season it will be easier than ever to steal Faithfull’s style – she was one of the first to glam up the messy bohemian look, teaming patterned dresses with vintage bags. Similar pieces can be found in any high street shop, with several similar moodily coloured tea dresses in this season, which teamed with thick black tights and little boots will last throughout the winter. Faithfull also had a penchant for daring, tight leather– a look made easy to emulate in contemporary wet look leggings.

Statement features like big bows or large brimmed hats were staples in Faithfull’s wardrobe and similar pieces are perhaps best found in vintage and charity shops or on eBay; it was the unique, quirky combinations of unusual pieces which, when teamed together really shouldn’t work but somehow did, which was the biggest appeal of Faithfull’s disheveled wardrobe.

marianne faithful

Perhaps my favourite of Faithfull’s ensembles is a gorgeous cream dress with billowing sleeves and bead detailing around the neckline and cuffs. It seemed that Faithfull managed the art of deception in her style – the pretty white dress created an illusion of purity when in fact her life was in messy disarray. But the innocence of the dress was perfectly offset with heavy dark eye make-up and tousled hair giving her an edge. The same goes for the ruffle fronted pretty blouse which she artfully teamed with black leather trousers. Her clothes were a dual voice of the innocence she longed for and the experience she had.

And so, having just turned 60, finally sober and recently surviving cancer, Faithfull now feels ‘more than ever the preciousness of life. I’ve been feeling the preciousness of life for many years, since I got off drugs and came to my senses. Still, turning 60 and having a scare like that – you either get it or you don’t.’ She now has a new lease of life – a life which was once so marred by addiction. ‘I want to see my grandchildren grow up. I want to be there for my friends. I want to be able to love the person in my life. I want to work. I want to do something I’ve never done, which is save money. I’ve never bought  anything. I have nothing.’

There was a time when she really didn’t have anything but now, with her life back on track and an enviable wardrobe to boot, things look brighter. ‘My story is really an affirmation of my strength and my luck.’ It is this strength and this fighting spirit which has meant that Faithfull has remained a true icon of our times. Well, that and a killer pair of knee high leather boots and an oversized hat.

5 Responses

  1. Sheila Brady

    One of my all time Idols….a beautiful girl, a beautiful woman. Her sense of style was so hers and I just love her singing and speaking voice. With all of the foregoing together with her bravery she was and still is my Icon! Rock on Marianne!!!

  2. poorfoolinhisprime

    Musically, this lady puts me to sleep. Her fame comes from hanging out with The Stones. Thats it really. Overrated.

  3. lindsay

    marianne faithfull is definently a fashion icon and had the typical sexy swingin 60s look (with the miniskirt and thigh high boots) down pat BUT i have to say that alot of the looks you talk about in the article that you say marianne faithfull popularized, brigitte bardot actually popularized like the tousled, messy hair and thick black eye makeup. not only that, but kate moss and sienna miller have both publicly stated that brigitte bardot is their style icon. but im not saying that marianne wasnt influential because she absolutely was! i own “girl on a motorcycle” and i watch it all the time. she was gorgeous!

  4. Catherine

    Marianne is one of my favorite 60s girls and have many of her pictures pinned to my clothing inspiration board.I remember reading in her book that she never really liked shopping or clothes! but i guess hanging around Brian Jones and Anita would have given her an eye for the theater and pomp of clothing and may have translated to her wardrobe unconsciously