Jill Di Donato is an editor, fashion blogger, professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, and sexpert, which means she has “lots and lots of sex. Just kidding,” she jokes. “But I do write about my dating and sexual experiences to shed light on what can be exciting and often confusing moments in our lives.” And now she’s a debut novelist with the publication of Beautiful Garbage, a portrait of an ambitious artist in 1980s downtown Manhattan. We know all about Basquiat, Haring, and Scnabel, but what about their female co contemporaries? Di Donato’s novel chronicles the rise and fall of a fictional female artist in an era when art and consumerism were at their apex. Filled with sex, drugs, secrets and a glimpse into the lives of art whores and elite call-girls, Beautiful Garbage takes readers on an erotic, sometimes disturbing ride. GALORE chats with the writer.
Congrats on the novel! What was your vision in writing Beautiful Garbage?
I wanted to write about the notion of the artist — it’s allure, devastations, and clichés. The book is somewhat a satire of the art world, combining real and fictional artists, collectors, and dealers and the world of scandals, parties, wheeling and dealing that goes along with the industry. But the story is built around power dynamics — status, sex, and money, and how those dynamics affect how we perceive ourselves. The protagonist is fiercely determined and at once incredibly fragile. She makes you ask, how much of yourself would you be willing to sell to get what you want?
The characters in the novel, the protagonist especially, are not traditionally likable characters, though they are fascinating to read about.
There’s a tradition of writers from Nabokov to Lena Dunham who defend the idea of writing about flawed characters. Jodi, the protagonist, might not always be likable, as she’s a broken person who makes morally questionable decisions. Still, I think readers want to root for her, maybe more so because she is so flawed.
The novel is filled with so many fabulous fashion nods — the gold lamé Mackie jumpsuit, boned Victorian Vivienne Westwood crinoline, PVC pants, pastel make-up, white lace thigh-highs, Gucci doctor’s bag, and of course, the Warholian wig. What are some of your favorites?
I do name drop a lot of designers (it is the 80s) but I try to describe the fashion so that people other than industry insiders will be able to visualize the care these characters put into outfitting themselves. I love the sheer materialism and extravagance of 80s fashion where everything is a statement as opposed to the effortless minimalism that’s so popular today. Iconic 80s fashion is so much about “the costume” and every little detail is a blatant creation. I like the metaphor that sets up. But to answer your question, my favorite reference is the cover art, which is a neon drawing of Kate Moss. Insiders will recognize her, but to many people, she’s just a beautiful girl.
New York City was a very different place in the 1980s — why choose the decade to this story?
As a native New Yorker, I miss the old New York. The streets were a lot more raw and gritty, and you would never imagine a luxury condo going up on Ludlow Street or in Williamsburg, which historically, were places that artists inhabited. Of course I was just a child in 1980s New York, but I have flashes of the scenery — Chinatown, SoHo, Times Square. And the subways! Such a different world. But change is inevitable, especially in a place like New York, where there’s the best of everything, from nightlife to cuisine to art and fashion. Every generation sees a change — the house I grew up in, which is in Park Slope, used to be a commune in the 1960s. My parents found coffins in the basement; today the neighborhood is overtaken by stroller moms. On a personal level, I guess my novel pays homage to an era where I wanted so badly to be grown-up and play around with all the danger and desperation, which seemed so glamorous and exciting at the time.
Sex seems to be a through-line in all your work.
It’s funny because I was having lunch with an old friend from middle school, and she joked, “So, are you surprised you turned out to be a ‘sexpert’?” The answer is no, because I’ve always been very open with my sexuality. And I’ve always felt that being a girl comes with a special set of obstacles and dilemmas that you can choose to keep you down or shake you up. In life, I’ve gone both ways, but in my writing, I’m all about seeing sexuality as something empowering for women. Sex is so primal and uncontrived that I think it frightens people. Whether in my book or columns, I try to handle the subject of desire in a thoughtful and reflective way. I know people judge me; but people have always judged me, like when I started “developing” before everyone else in junior high or when I went on national TV and admitted to having an affair with a married man. But I own myself, because I don’t want to ever feel shamed for who I am or what I do — flaws, mistakes, and all. The novel is really about owning your choices, whatever they may be and being able to sit with them.
the book is now on amazon
Photo Credit: FURKA