John Ovans

Maripol and her Polaroids

At Station, Jisr el Wati


We’re wrapping up the interview, and designer, stylist, and Polaroid artist Maripol wants to take my picture. I stand against the wall sheepishly. I’ve never been in a natural in front of the camera—once Ivan Rodic, aka street style blogger the Face Hunter, photographed me in London, and I could only grimace my way through it.


Maripol grins at my awkwardness, and ruffles my hair. We’re surrounded by her Polaroid portraits of Madonna. Andy Warhol. Grace Jones. The sound of Debbie Harry’s voice is sifting out through the soundsystem. It’s a surreal context, thanks to an exhibition currently on show at the recently opened space the Station, which according to Maripol, ended up here only by coincidence, after owner Nabil Canaan visited her loft in New York. The era of New York’s kaleidoscopic downtown nightlife in the ‘80s depicted here is legendary, and Maripol herself is something of a fashion legend. Her trademark jewellery, rubber bracelets and crucifixes became as iconic as the company she kept.


‘It’s weird that people only relate to me in the past, when I still do new work [Maripol is currently working on a book of polaroids and poetry]. I have to put an end to this, because this is not really a retrospective work, it’s me bringing it to a young generation. In terms of images, they’re timeless.’ She was given her first Polaroid camera in 1977 by her boyfriend at the time, Edo Bertoglio, a photographer. ‘What I liked about it was the instant,’ she says simply enough. I comment that Polaroid as a medium seems, conversely, instantly nostalgic. ‘As soon as something ends it’s nostalgic.’ And then, flippantly, ‘and Polaroid folded!’


As if a permanent reminder of who I’m talking to, Madonna in a pink wig is ogling me over Maripol’s shoulder. It’s her work with Madonna that Maripol is most famous for: styling the video and single cover for ‘Like a Virgin’, dressing her in lace, leggings, and rosary beads. I’m almost reticent to broach the clearly well-worn subject of their relationship but both personal and journalistic curiosity demands it, and after all, here, it’s definitely fair game. Maripol jokingly rolls her eyes. ‘Madonna is somebody who is hard to reach… how many children does she have, four? Last time I saw her, she was so enthusiastic, showing me pictures [of them]. I see her really by pure coincidence. I was going to interview her for the Keith Haring film, but, you know, casual conflicts. She pauses for a moment. ‘I’m not as close with her as I used to be, no. And I do miss that ‘baby Madonna’ and the intimacy, but that’s life, you move on.’


The intimacy is in evidence around us: that’s the beauty of a Polaroid. Raw, unedited, of the moment (and for the record, I’m pretty certain I blinked in mine). ‘Well thank god I didn’t put the sex ones up,’ she deadpans. ‘Nowadays you have all these stars sheltered behind managers and agents. There’s the big wall around them.’ In the modern era, celebrity, music and fashion all work together like a well-oiled machine. While not in the traditional mould, Lady Gaga living proof; it’s what she calls ‘artpop’. Her relationship with stylist and art director Nicola Formichetti was a super-sized version of that of Maripol and Madonna, fashion and music making statements together via wack factory Haus of Gaga. How does Maripol view the singer? ‘I think I would be careful if I was her. Like everybody who’s reaching big success, she’s being criticized. But Lady Gaga is a great thing, bottom line.’


Maripol’s approach to fashion was very much rough-and-tumble, an aesthetic that characterized ‘80s clubland on both sides of the Atlantic. ‘Back then it was more of a do-it-yourself kind of thing,’ she says. ‘Designers take a lot from the streets. In my case, I was kind of a young, punk girl who was making my own clothes and accessories because I couldn’t find anything that I liked. And that’s why a lot of the Polaroids, actually, are about advertising my stuff too. These days fashion is actually on the edge of perfection, because big fashion houses have a lot of money so they’re able to do amazing craftsmanship,’ she says. ‘I believe it’s really good for the industry not to lose the ancient ways. I’m talking about Vuitton with the leather, and lace with Chanel. This is an industry that’s based on little hands, when you think about it.’


She says this tugging at her hot pink, punk necklace, which she made and wore in protest to a local paper referring to her as ‘la grande dame de la bourgeoisie Libanaise.’ It seems an odd description, and Maripol smiles mischievously as she tells me. Then she whips out her camera, and blinds me with the flash.  


For more details about the exhibition, you can visit the Facebook event page here.

Maripol Polaroids (image courtesy of Station)

“Designers take a lot from the streets. In my case, I was kind of a young, punk girl who was making my own clothes and accessories because I couldn’t find anything that I liked."