Bewitched, Bothered and Bedazzled

[Native New York Jewess and longtime art-world resident Sara Rosen (“Miss Rosen” to her fans) knows more about the downtown avant garde than pretty much anyone. As publicity director for powerHouse Books, she’s overseen Autograf (about contemporary graffiti), Martha Cooper’s … Read More

By / March 28, 2007

[Native New York Jewess and longtime art-world resident Sara Rosen (“Miss Rosen” to her fans) knows more about the downtown avant garde than pretty much anyone. As publicity director for powerHouse Books, she’s overseen Autograf (about contemporary graffiti), Martha Cooper’s 70’s-nostalgic We B*Girlz, and a host of other impressive visual offerings. Every so often, Miss Rosen will be sending in shamelessly promotional dispatches about her talented clients. Expect loads of insight into the who, what and where of the downtown scene. Just don't expect objectivity.]

There are two women on the planet I would rather be; Claw Money is one of them. The other? Well, honey, to find out you’ll just have to keep reading my column. I love a good mystery, although that does not justify the piles of Nancy Drew novels on my shelf. Those would almost be embarrassing—if I had any shame.

Which I don’t, as you will soon learn. Life is too short to worry about ignominy. Dignity, darling, is all in the mind, as I’ve learned in my years as Publicity Director of powerHouse Books, an independent art publishing house. Whatever I am hustling, you better believe I won’t blush.

Recently, I launched my own imprint, Miss Rosen Editions—making me both publisher and publicist. And though I promote over 40 books a year, art-direct and edit my own line, curate exhibitions, and run powerHouse Magazine, when Jewcy offered me a column, I couldn’t say no. The idea is simple: I get to profile
my favorite people on the planet—the artists, writers, designers, and performers whose originality inspires me to new heights of style and design. Even though I am publishing the aforementioned Claw Money’s first monograph, Bombshell, this April, I don’t see a conflict. These days, the boundaries between critic and participant have collapsed entirely—believe you me, a girl can be publicist and journalist, publisher and party planner, all at one time.

A leader at the School of Killer Bitches, Claw is an F.I.T. drop-out turned Swindle magazine fashion director; a vintage aficionado whose latest creations combine the bedazzled delights of Ronkonkoma with the edge of Avenue D; and a graffiti bomber who is now tagging t-shirts, tote bags, and panties with her signature icon—a carefree cartoon paw with three lusty talons. Born in Queens, and escaped from Long Island, Miss Claw, whose last name you will never know, is so proud of her heritage she shouts out “Shalom” when she throws up an icon. The rarest of all street art breeds, the female Graff King, Claw has transformed from vandal and scandal to diva with feva. She’s the ultimate Downtown Girl; I’m just waiting for Billy Joel to pen an ode.

For Bombshell, her monograph, Claw delved deep into her archives (a set of shoeboxes carefully preserved in someone else’s storage facility) to unearth a collection of ephemera illustrating her high-toned style and the down and dirty doings that inspired it. We spent months nosing through the boxes, carefully selecting baby photos, fashion spreads, love letters, postcards, stickers, patches, pins, jewels, sunglasses, spray paint cans, markers, black book pages, graff flicks, mix tapes, boomboxes, action figures, and foreign currency for this once-in-a-lifetime look at her one-in-a-million lifestyle. Who else could co-opt Chanel, open a show at colette, and still shop at Victoria’s Secret—for clothes, mind you?

Whenever I enter the vaults contained in her East Village office, I am sure to stick my paws into her drawers. Don’t get any ideas there, kids—she’s got a fiancé. What I mean to say is that unlike everyone else on the planet, she lets me snoop through her stuff, checking out the latest accessories and accoutrements left lying around or hiding in bags under her desk. It is a fiesta of all things sequined, a bedazzler’s palace, a madhouse of passion for fashion. And by fashion I do not mean Seventh Avenue. Not even close. Claw Money Couture is not for mere runways; the New York City sidewalks are the real catwalk. It never fails: I’ll be rocking a Claw garment, and some young buck will come on up, a little giddy and nervous, asking me, “Are you her? Do you know her? What do you write?” to which I answer, “Press releases, darling.”

In fact, it was at a press event in 2004 that we first met. I was working on Autograf: New York City’s Graffiti Writers, the first photography book by Colorado-bred Peter Sutherland, who sought out some of the most notorious vandals in the city. Convinced that his subjects all had their own motives for going out cloaked in the darkness of night to leave their mark on the city’s streets, I pestered Sutherland into giving me their contact information. To flatter myself with a cliché, great minds think alike: Peter Edidin, an editor at The New York Times, asked if I could set up interviews for a feature on the book in the City section. I invited numerous writers, including Claw.

Sutherland had warned me: Claw is a loud talker. Little did I understand just what this meant until she entered our former offices on Charlton Street, in full hit-‘em-high style with the wife beater and white Cazals, fly kicks, and sparkling presence. I was astounded by the quality of the accent (Lawn Guyland, dawling) and the reverberations in the room when she started speaking (like Carole King, I could feel the earth move under my feet). Needless to say, once we began chatting, it was impossible to shut either of us up.

Which reminds me of one of my all-time favorite Claw stories. She was standing in the Los Angeles restaurant, yelling at her boyfriend, when a woman walked up to her and gushed, “Ohh myyy gawwwdd! Your accent! I haven’t heard that voice in years. Where are you from?”

Claw told me this story slowly, building the anticipation. “It was Fran Drescher!” she declared. “I can’t believe it! I don’t sound like her!” she avowed loudly, unmistakable nasal intonations trilling through her sinus cavity. I nodded in disbelief.

Being a publicist as well as a columnist, I forwarded this piece to Claw for review. Though she loved the story, there was one item that seemed to shock her. “I’m a loud tawker?” she said in hushed tones, dark hair slipping over her face as though to shield her from the truth. “I’m soooooooo embarrassed! Do you know, two people have told me I’m a loud tawker since I read this story? I can’t believe it. I never knew.”

“Girl!” I exclaimed in abject disbelief, before catching myself. I switched into one of my favorite accents and said, in the voice of The Nanny, “Don’t worry, dawling. It’s genetic.”

[All images from BOMBSHELL: THE LIFE AND CRIMES OF CLAW MONEY, published by powerHouse Books.]

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