That Time Grace Jones Cancelled on Yves Saint Laurent

By
Photography Gordon Munro

Published July 22, 2019

That Time When is Interview’s weekly trip through the pop-cultural space-time continuum, where we return to some of the most overlooked moments from issues past. In this edition, we open up our October 1984 issue with cover star Grace Jones: disco diva, rule breaker, and the only person capable of cancelling on Yves Saint Laurent to visit Africa.

Before Madonna, Beyoncé, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Lady Gaga, there was Grace Jones. The Jamaican-American multi-hyphenate—singer, actress, supermodel, and fashion icon—rose to fame on her infectious disco beats, androgynous features, flamboyant confidence, and inner circle of downtown New York cool kids like David Bowie, Jerry Hall, Divine, and of course, Andy Warhol. Jones didn’t play by the rules—she wrote her own. Following the release of her sixth studio album, Living My Life, and amidst a blossoming acting career, André Leon Talley spoke with the queen of Nightclubbing in 1984 to discuss her role in the James Bond film, A View to Kill, her cutting-edge fashion, and the one time she dared to cancel on Yves Saint Laurent to visit Africa.

JONES: I’ve been to Africa. I used to vacation in Tunisia a lot. And Abidjan (Côte D’Ivoire), I worked there for a long time. That was my nightmare experience.

TALLEY: Did you ever eat ants for lunch?

JONES: No, worse than that, they put me in jail. They said my papers weren’t in order and they wanted a payoff. We came in really late with this Italian photographer. It was the first time I turned down a job with Saint Laurent, and he never hired me again until the show you talked about before. I turned it down to go on this gig in Africa, and then I get there and this little creep tells me my papers aren’t in order. They isolated me and put all my clothes back on the plane. I thought I’d take enough Valium so I could pass out in the airport and they wouldn’t send me back on the plane. So that’s what I did. By the time the police came to get me the plane was leaving. I just lay on the floor. They lifted me up like a sack of potatoes and put me right on the floor of the entrance to the plane. The stewardesses came over and they were blabbering away in their African French. The stewardesses decided they couldn’t take me in that condition, so they had to lift me up again. They threw me in this jail for undesirables. I was there one night and some guy tried to rape me in the middle of the night.

TALLEY: And what did you do?

JONES: I spat up all over myself is what I did. I went into convulsions. Finally I woke up crying. Good trick, crying. You cry and you get anything you want. Finally, it all came out who I was and they were asking me to marry them in the end. I went through a whole night of hell. They wanted some money. They were a little jealous. The next day the bosses changed and the new boss was nice. He snuck me out to the airfield.

WARHOL: How long ago was this?

JONES: That was in 1972. Yves got really pissed, saying, “Who does she think she is, canceling on Yves Saint Laurent,” but I said, “I’ll never get another opportunity to go to Africa.” I swear I should have never gone to Africa. I should have stayed right in my house in Paris.

Luckily for Jones, Saint Laurent didn’t hold a grudge, and he chose her to perform for him again in 1978 at Le Palace in Paris. Jones did not disappoint. Clad a golden crown and silver drapes, Jones mesmerized her audience with her voice. At some point, the crowd, whipped into a frenzy, tore Jones’s costume right off her body. Saint Laurent wrapped her naked body in a scarf and carried her offstage. The drama of it all.

At 71, Jones continues to thrive. She owned the stage during Paris Fashion Week, closing the runway for Tommy Hilfiger’s collaboration with Zendaya. And who can forget her iconic New York Pride performance on June 29th, where she jumped around the stage wearing a leather bodysuit, warrior paint, and a colorful Egyptian headpiece. Jones also slayed South London’s ONBlackheath exclusive music festival this past July, and as if that wasn’t enough, the superstar is heading to Brighton, England, to work her magic at the Sunday in the Park festival, this August.