When a celebrity dies, it’s standard to post wistful tribute pics on social media accompanied by a gushing eulogy. If you happened to meet said celebrity once, that’s even better: you can add your own anecdote about how deeply they touched you that time they asked you for a light. I actually did once “meet” Anita Pallenberg – in a toilet queue at a festival in Cornwall – although I was way too in awe to speak, and so I just stared at the back of her dirty blonde hair, her battered leather jacket and her cowboy boots, thinking “how do you manage to look that good at 69?”
As the tribute pics attest, Anita Pallenberg never didn’t look good, whatever her age. She was Kate Moss before Kate Moss was ever invented (nor is it any surprise that the two were friends). Instagram is currently awash with the most beautiful archive imagery of Anita in the full flush of youthful beauty; Anita in a fur coat and a miniskirt, dangling off the arm of Brian Jones; Anita crossed-legged on the floor in leopard-print next to Keith Richards; Anita on holiday, clutching a wide-brimmed hat in one hand and a wine glass in another. She was stylish, she was naughty and she was truly unique.
Anita Pallenberg and Kate Moss in 2004
Which got me thinking: whatever happened to the It girl? I mean, I know we still *have* them, but never was a noun so misplaced or overused. The term was first coined in 1927 to describe the actress Clara Bow, but didn’t become mainstream-popular until the 1990’s, by which time it had long ceased to mean “chic, sexy and slightly mysterious” and mutated instead into a shorthand for “rich, party-loving, nobody’s very sure of what she actually does”. Although it doesn’t really bother me whether an It girl has a job or not: being fabulous is a full-time job in itself. She may not have worked in the traditional sense, but anyone who met the glorious Tara Palmer Tompkinson on London’s social circuit would have been left in no doubt as to her value. TPT was witty, mercurial and definitely It.
Anita Pallenberg never didn’t look good, whatever her age. She was Kate Moss before Kate Moss was ever invented
Like her contemporary, Paris Hilton, Tara was never defined by her relationships. Both had boyfriends, but they were never cast in the passive role of “muse”. If you were being picky, you might say that Anita Pallenberg was defined a little too much by her boyfriends – this was the sixties, after all – but while she dated a host of famous men, she was never a cipher. She was always her own woman, doing things on her own terms. I don’t want to hate on Kim Kardashian West, but it’s hard to imagine her refusing to write her memoirs because they’d be too scandalous. Kim first found fame on the back of a sex tape: scandal is both her currency and her middle name. By contrast, Anita wore her sexual relationships as nonchalantly her kaftans. “They all wanted salacious… and that’s one reason I’m not going to do it,” she said in 2008.
What a shame we’ll never read those memoirs – not least because the cultural history of the sixties is too often seen through the male gaze. Like all the best It girls, Anita gave great quote. She was both pithy and profound, with a wisdom and a world view gleaned from hanging out with some of the most creative people of her generation. For while it feels like the glory days of the truly, naturally stylish (as opposed to styled by a highly paid professional) It girl are far away, it also feels like the current crop are worryingly beige. With the exception of whip-smart Alexa Chung, who are we left with? Reality TV stars, daughters of famous people and girls who’d rather use their bodies to get ahead than their brains.
Alexa Chung in 2008
“Before you know it it’s 3am and you’re 80 years old and you can’t remember what it was like to have 20 year-old thoughts or a 10 year-old heart,” is just one of the many sage things Anita Pallenberg said. Sadly, she didn’t make it to 80. But you can bet she made it to 73 with few regrets.