Jones entered the fashion world in earnest on her return to New York, when she signed with the Wilhelmina modelling
agency at the age of 18. Moving to Paris in 1970, she was warned by one agent that “selling a black model in Paris
is like trying to sell them an old car nobody wants to buy”. Undaunted, Jones proved them wrong. She runway-modelled
for YSL and Kenzo, appeared on the covers of Elle and Vogue, and entranced fashion high-society.
Sharing a flat with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange, she dazzled at Le Sept (the epicentre of European disco) and
befriended Giorgio Armani and Karl Lagerfeld.
Already a totemic figure in fashion, Jones signed a record deal with Island Records in 1977 and crossed over to the
music industry with a joyous club cover of Edith Piaf’s LaVie enRose.
It was the perfect calling card for the new star of New York’s disco scene, which revolved around Andy Warhol’s
Warehouse parties. Jones became so immersed in it that when she was expecting her son, Paulo, Warhol and Debbie
Harry threw her a baby shower at Studio 54.
As disco faded out of fashion in the early eighties, Jones finessed a sleek new musical style that drew on reggae,
funk, post-punk and art pop. Her 1980 album, Warm Leatherette, was a characteristically imaginative fusion
of old and new. Collaborating with Jamaican masters Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, she covered recent classics,
like her shimmering take on Roxy Music’s Love Is the Drug. My personal favourite is her
reinterpretation of Jacques Higelin’s Pars, a bewitching blend of reggae and French balladry.
Jones’s next album, Nightclubbing (1981), is generally considered her masterpiece. There were the usual
louche artful covers (like Bill Withers’ Use Me), but an even greater range, a Prince-worthy mix of
speak-sing futurism (Walking inthe Rain), anthemic eroticism (Pull Up
tothe Bumper), and wistful ennui (I’ve Done It Again).
Even more experimental was Slavetothe Rhythm (1985), a concept album
with Frankie Goes To Hollywood producer Trevor Horn. Subtitled ABiography, it consists of
eight different interpretations of one title track, a musical twist on Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in
Style. It’s a circuitous, dreamy soundscape littered with echoes and patches of dialogue, like British actor
Ian McShane’s mellifluous introduction to the opener, Jonesthe Rhythm.
Jones’s own film roles had a pop-art kitsch, avant-garde kinks Trojan Horsed into blockbusters. She starred as the
bandit warrior Zula in Conanthe Destroyeropposite Arnold Schwarzenegger. Most famously, she played
May Day, the henchwoman to Christopher Walken’s arch-villain Max Zorin, in the 1985 James Bond film A View
to A Kill. Jones is magnetic, sparring with Zorin on the gym mats one minute, the next evading Roger
Moore in Paris via parachute and speedboat (in one of the funniest chase sequences in the Bond canon). Her taste in
parts was intriguingly wacky: she turned down the lead in Blade Runner but accepted a role in
Vamp, a comedy-horror in which she plays a vampire stripper who performs in whiteface.
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