Le Grand Strip
I was standing under a lukewarm shower head, rinsing off the icy municipal pool water and debating whether I should just take the five minute car home instead of walking, when I heard her voice. That classic French accent dripping with luxury seemed so out of place in these decaying public baths. But the throaty lilt belonged to known other than CC McGurr, Williamsburg vintage shop owner since before that was a thing, and fashion icon. I had met her 7 years before when I interviewed her for a writing class, and here she was at the Metropolitan Pool.
Naked locker rooms being inherently awkward, it took me a couple more run-ins before reintroducing myself to her. It occurred to me that her story was the perfect tale for Savagecon, and I had just the recipe to go with it.
“Fishing octopus doesnʼt require much. A bikini and a spear, and like a good, nice, warm day. When I hunt for octopus, itʼs like when I hunt for great vintage clothing.”
It is, in fact, a good, nice, warm day at a backyard bar in Williamsburg. I am sharing dried squid and cocktails with CC McGurr, a buxom French blond who sounds like her vocal chords were dunked in honey. She has a way with words that elevates the mundane and ordinary to art and philosophy. We spent the past few hours down the street at her vintage boutique, Le Grand Strip, discussing everything from her childhood in the South of France, to Madonna (letʼs just say she knew her husband) and everything in between.
In a neighborhood teeming with vintage stores, Le Grand Strip is set apart by itʼs cohesive collection, fair prices, and quality garments. Not to mention an overall aesthetic that is both whimsical and sophisticated. Unlike stores where one fishes through racks and racks for that perfect find, CC is the fishmonger and she only displays the freshest selection.
“We are like mini compositions, like messages in a bottle, and I want my store to be the alphabet.”
CC grew up in St. Tropez and fell in love with vintage fashion at the weekend le puces, flea markets, in Lyon where her grandmother lived. There she learned the art of haggling and discovered the craftsmanship of clothing from the turn of the century. The flea market was a revolutionary experience for CC, and from then on she has always bought vintage.
“For some reason I was reconnected with something down deep inside of me, like the past. I was always looking to the past, I donʼt know, itʼs in your DNA or genetic. To me itʼs like these old clothes tell me a story, and I like story telling. That it already existed before.”
Perhaps looking so much to the past is what attracted CC to famed graffiti artist, Futura 2000. They met in Paris. CC hosted an erotic radio program on Europe n° 1 called Classe X. She interviewed prostitutes, transvestites, and “professionals of the red light district” in a late night program that was the first of itʼs kind. One can hear her sultry French filling the imaginations of bedside radio listeners. Seeking to innovate and expand, the station invited a group of emerging hip - hop artists from the US including Afrika Bambaataa, The Double Dutch Girls, Grandmaster Flash, and Futura 2000. Their romance traversed Paris and New York, finally settling state-side with the birth of their son in 1984.
Initially they lived in Manhattan, but soon moved to a large studio loft in Brooklyn. Though now separated after two children and 26 years of marriage, CC has lived in Brooklyn ever since, and describes the neighborhood and its village vibe akin to the neighborhoods in France where she once lived. St. Tropez, Le Marais, the Lower East Side and Williamsburg are all full of young, energetic people who speak CCʼs language. “They are almost like a flower calling to a bee. I have always lived in the hot spots.”
In the heat of the store, a rotating fan rustles a white chiffon slip and a woman enters the shop to have a look around. CC and I are talking about the vintage clothing industry. I had hoped to learn about where the clothes are sourced, but CC is unusually tight-lipped on the matter except to explain how she is drawn to a garment.
“When people ask me what I am looking for, I always say I am looking for the holy grail! I come from the world of beautiful things... I follow my nose.”
CCʼs nose always points her to something “smiley, feminine, and with a wink,” no matter the era from which it came. Like the veiled 1950ʻs summer hat with plastic daisies Iʼd been eying since I walked in. Itʼs resting on a table next to a killer pair of 80s white leather boots. What is most striking about Le Grand Strip is how each piece seems to have a life of itʼs own. CC nods knowingly, “I look at clothes like they are orphaned, separated from their mommy, like a dirty abandoned pet.” For this reason, she refuses partnership in her vintage hunts. She sees an item that most think is too haggard and fears they will talk her out of what she already knows will be a gem, after some cleaning up and loving care.
The customer has emerged from a curtained dressing room and asks if she can interrupt. She would like our opinion on the slip she is wearing as a dress. Itʼs demure and perfectly tailored, just past the knee with a glimpse of decolletage.
“Oh! I cannot sell that to you because it looks too good on you!” CC exclaims.
After some convincing and gentle arm twisting from the both of us, the woman makes her purchase. I know that feeling of having just scored a piece that looks like it was made for you. An item no one else owns but a lifetime of women have owned before you. Or perhaps just one woman with one great lifetime sewn into the seams.
Back at the garden bar, over a plate of dried squid, we have discovered that we both “have a thing for octopus.” That is to say we are both passionate about octopus. We talk of our favorite preparations - a la gallega, with tomatoes and paprika. Raw, swimming in wasabi Japanese style. Or the way her grandmother prepares it, using the cork of the wine bottle in the sauce.
“But you donʼt have a thing for octopus like I have a thing for octopus!” she finally blurts out.
This is true. I donʼt spend my summers in the Mediterranean hunting for them, an activity CC describes with as much gusto as her quests for great vintage finds. The process involves a hand-held spear and a snorkel mask. She patiently swims in depths of six to eight feet for hours while she hunts her prey. An octopus will peer out at her from the crack of a rock with a winking eye. His curiosity leaves him with a spear in his body. He clings to the rock with his tentacles while CC swims to the surface for air, only to dive back down and stab him again, repeatedly in this manner, until he dies.
“No one can identify them in their environment, I am the only one. I have the sense.”
“Who taught you?” I ask, completely amazed at the savagery.
“I taught myself! By being a child of the Mediterranean waters. I know the sun from the seaweed from... I just know. I am a hunter, and I always have the last word.”
At Le Grand Strip, CC has the last word, and the first word, and a few words in between with which to create your fashionable dialogue with the world. She often speaks of the “wink,” which to me is the acknowledgement that you are constructing an image of yourself which is being observed. So why not construct a poetic, playful image. One that brings joy to yourself and all the other fish in the sea.
Find the recipe inspired by the tale HERE.