It is a rare occasion that you will see Luxor Tavella without her signature blue eyebrows and red and blue smears spread out like wings on cheeks against the backdrop of her face thinly veiled in white paint.
On the occasion it did happen, she quickly disappeared behind a curtain only to emerge moments later fully dressed so to speak. “Ora sono pronta per mio teatrino,” or “Now I am ready for my theater,” she explains with childlike seriousness upon returning, gesturing towards her face and the clothes around. Her eyes sparkle. Her makeup is less a mask than a chosen disposition.
The theater she refers to is her clothing shop on West Broadway, Paracelso, named after the Renaissance alchemist and occultist Paracelsus. Located between a jewelry shop headquartered in Copenhagen and a mysterious set of double doors that lead to a place none other than a wooden floor installation company established in 1923, it has something of an accidental charm and peculiarity. And resilience.
Opened in 1972, it is an unlikely candidate for the same block as international brands such as Emporio Armani (Giorgio Armani S.p.A. founded in ‘75), Diesel (‘78), Missoni (‘53), La Perla (‘54), DKNY (‘84), and Elie Tahari (‘74) in Soho.
With its storefront window of tear-outs, press clippings, newspaper bits and inspirational images taped to the glass, a garment on a hanger here and there, it resembles more of a collage on display for its expressivity and downtown history surrounding Luxor’s bohemian lifestyle than a commercial vitrine.
“There was nobody around,” Luxor says of Soho when she opened her shop in the early ‘70s. She had recently moved to New York to an apartment nearby on Broome Street with her husband Jeffrey Norfolk, an abstract painter she had met at Chelsea College of Arts while studying textiles in London.
By that time, she had travelled extensively, and continued to do so. “I used to go riding in the Sahara on camels,” Luxor offhandedly tells a customer with a slight smile, while describing how she changed her first name Bianca to Luxor after the city in Egypt.
One would have never guessed at her strict upbringing with nuns in Milan on entering her shop. There are clothes everywhere. Vibrant and textured and one-of-a-kind. Everything and anything is a rack. An Afghani faded orange fabric with green-blue and yellow designs is tacked to the wall. A newspaper clipping of a girl on a runway reads “Groovy Baby” on the counter. Another of a smiley face: “Don’t worry, be happy.”
Behind the counter is a collage of assorted ephemera including a sweet crayon illustration of Luxor. Papers, magazines, and little old stereos are strewn about on boxes. There are stuffed animals: a green alligator with a red bow around its neck. There are chairs. You wouldn’t have guessed. Beneath all the clothes are actual things.
Spending days hanging out with her there, it becomes difficult to imagine her against the backdrop of anything else. When you walk in on a quiet day, she seems to emerge from the piles of clothing like a gracious and wise apparition.
She is always wrapped in unusual, colorful layers, from Miyake to knotted, sparkling nets most likely not meant to be clothing. It’s as if the piles of clothing amassed from her travels and orders become a wardrobe for dress up everyday, which she approaches with openness, innovation and joy. But she is not weighed down by the history of these objects: she collects with an all-important vivacious energy.
“I was a flower child with Janis Joplin and the wife of Jim Morrison,” says Luxor. A clipping from Italian Condé Nast Traveler in the window claims David Bowie came to the shop. When asked, Luxor says she doesn’t think so, yet like Bowie she is a shapeshifter, constantly re-inventing herself and building her myth like a phoenix.
In our Kuchar-like film segment, Luxor recounts how people like Warhol, Sid Vicious and Nancy, Agyness Deyn, and Joan Jonas did frequent Paracelso, and her days hanging out at Electric Circus on St. Mark’s.
It is all too easy to romanticize someone like Luxor with her mystifying appeal. Not to be taken lightly, her survival is an impressive feat in an era where all kinds of DIY spaces across New York are closing or relocating. Beneath her exterior veneer is a steely strength and disinterested calm. Hers is a spirit that endures.
Film by Sarah Sitzler