Remembering Anita Sarko

 

The vintage store in the West Village where I work as a buyer is an interesting study in the emotional hold clothes can have over us. We get people that come in trying to sell anything from Chanel to their ratty gym clothes. Often we assign different value to the piece than the seller does-either it’s worth nothing to us or it might have more value than they’d realized. That makes it a delicate process of negotiating with someone’s feelings about their belongings. It also reveals the story of their clothes…The meaning they imbue the garments with, the reason it might be time to let go or why it’s hard to give up what is essentially an extension of yourself.

We started getting a new regular, a seller. He would come in with the same battered leather attache case carrying about 15-20 pieces of clothing. Clients have the option to watch as we price their pieces and he always wanted to watch. He would patiently wait his turn and never argued with pricing. He was hard to get a gage on-we had the feeling only that it was difficult for him to sell the pieces. He seemed like a really nice guy.

The clothes were always womenswear. Really avant garde vintage. Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Biba. Obscure or unknown labels that reflected discerning taste. Stuff that made us wonder who this woman was. You knew she was on the fringe, that she had a really offbeat sensibility. There was this kind of language to the clothes she wore. She knew what she was doing.

Curiosity eventually got the best of us and Alma asked the seller where the clothes were coming from. They belonged to his wife. Anita Sarko. She had passed. Slowly he’s getting rid of stuff. There was just too much stuff. We felt for him, this nice, quiet guy who seemed attached to the treasures he was losing. We couldn’t help but want to know more about his story, or her story. So we googled.

She was a big nightlife personality in the 80s. A dj at a time when women didn’t really dj. She worked Mudd Club and runway shows for Vivienne Westwood and was Prince’s personal favorite. She was one of the first to play hip-hop downtown. She introduced Madonna and the Beastie Boys at Danceteria. Once she had ashtrays thrown at her for playing an extended set of African music. She was a pioneer.

We learned that as years passed, fame dwindled. She got fewer jobs. It seemed there wasn’t really a demand for a lady dj of-a-certain-age. Then about a year ago, she ended her life.

If you go to her instagram that her husband now runs, more parts of the puzzle come together. He references “the shitty 80s New York crew” throughout. The fairweather friends and colleagues who eventually wrote her off as washed up or fired her for being irrelevant. It’s one post after another. Enemies are photoshopped to look like a distorted caricature of themselves, or get a caption in angry red letters to say things like, “Fuck David ‘Cheap & Ugly’_____.” Her account is a shrine to her memory but also a shit list of those who wronged her.

One night, Liz, Mattie and Tyler were at Dylan Flannery’s show-Dylan creates this really avant garde music. Anita came up in conversation. What a tragic story about such a cool woman. And as they were talking, they realized-every one of them was wearing the clothes that her husband had sold in. Yet each had a totally different aesthetic from one another and found a way to make her beautiful pieces their own creation. So there they were, at this event to support their experimental art friend Dylan, and in a way they are all boundary-pushers in their time, wearing the clothes of this remarkable woman who pushed boundaries in hers.

Liz posted a photo of Anita on her instagram that night. She’s wearing a red bustier at the turntables. Liz commented, “tfw you realize you’re wearing the clothes of an NYC legend and all-around inspiring woman.” The husband must have seen the post. He must have known that we knew whose things we were buying in. He came in the next day and expressed how touched he was. He was thankful to learn that the clothes were getting the respect that they deserved. Because at the end of her life, Anita didn’t feel respected and that’s why she ended things. As a woman in a sexist, agist industry, she just didn’t get that respect. There’s a powerful message there. For someone so outside the box, who was such a pioneer, she still felt defeated. And no artist or woman of any age should ever have to feel that.

Mattie’s bridesmaids in Anita’s crazy-beautiful Vivienne Westwood corsets
Liz in Anita’s  1930s Chinese dragon-and-Phoenix  jacket and “Wearable Energy” by Frances Colon two-piece (if anyone has any leads on this amazing label, let us know!!!)

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