At first glance, the tiny crimson book (only slightly larger than an iPhone) would not invite you to assume you’re looking at a memoir that is taboo in nature. Upon speaking with Kim, I learned that its simple typeface and compact size calls back to Olympia Press, a Paris-based publisher that specialized in erotic fiction and avant-garde books in the 1960s. “They published a lot of banned books in English because they discovered that these books were censored elsewhere,” Kim told me. “They could get through in Paris because French courts could not judge a book written in English.”
Kim is a seasoned participant in the worlds of fashion, art and culture. Her late partner, Malcolm McLaren was a major disruptor of all three. He can be credited with the creation of “Punk” as we know and understand it as an aesthetic, a musical genre and an ideology. As punk was blooming stateside, McLaren took a liking to one of the movement's key figures and style pioneers—Richard Hell—who is cited in the book as “the first to wear torn clothes held together with safety pins and a choppy, spiky haircut while yelping away.” Richard's the very same “Mr. Hell” with whom Kim was involved in a romantic affair. A Year On Earth With Mr. Hell is the result of an ongoing, intimate and intense correspondence between the two.
“The book came about because he asked me to write something after the first night,” Kim says. “And since I like writing journal entries, I wrote down everything and decided this was kind of interesting. I’d only had so many meetings with him and so I decided to write that all down. I really enjoyed it and continued to write it in a way that I would write for myself.”
As Kim was completely enveloped into McLaren’s many worlds, music being one pillar of his legacy, it wasn’t far-fetched that she and Hell’s paths could cross. The two met in 2015 as Hell was to present an award in honor of McLaren, who had passed in 2010. Hell made an impression on Kim that shook her senses. He was a former rock star with an unwavering sex appeal and attractiveness well into his sixties: A nihilist with great taste and a penchant for dirty sex. Many months after their first night together, which Kim describes as “delicate, exquisite and intense,” (I’m scratching a very thin surface, here.) Hell requested that she detail the sexcapade in writing. For Hell, the “dirty writing” seemed to be a byproduct of who he was. For Kim, the recounting of their affair had “inadvertently unleashed something in her” artistically, intelligently, emotionally and of course, sexually.
Kim has situated her love of clothes and knowledge of brands so beautifully and climactically throughout the story whether she’s setting the scene of one of her encounters with Hell. But Hell, who claimed to hate fashion, consumption and materialism, ironically, has been stylish and lauded for his style throughout his career. He proved a stark contrast to McLaren, who “literally wouldn’t get out of bed without the right outfit.” Here, she poetically describes what she wore to one of her initial meetings with Hell:
“I unbuttoned my coat and casually revealed my dress to him: panne velvet with an Art Nouveau-style print in burnt orange, black, white, pink and pigeon grey that friend who had grown up in Moscow had crowed was like a Russian fairy tale–Baba Yaga. It had puffed half sleeves, a peplum and most important–which I knew was a deliberately suggestive touch–a long exposed zipper with a big glossy silver pull down the front of the dress from the neck to hem at my knees. I wore heels that looked like they were covered in gold leaf to match it and the coat and a pair of clicking and glittering earrings shaped like dark red blossoms and leaves.”
By the time the two have reached the peak of their romance, one of their adventures finds them at The Standard, High Line, where “Everything is designed for sex,” according to the author. “I just think it’s a seductive place! Everything is dark, the lighting is great, it’s all extremely romantic and extremely sexy. The rooms have big open bathtubs with giant windows looking out to incredible views. A hint of exhibitionism with those windows...who knows who could be looking in?”
A Year On Earth With Mr. Hell is a perfect summer read that details lust, travel, high-fashion with a bit of history from the worlds of art punk rock. What started out as a writing exercise has established its own lane in creative nonfiction.
“I think that people should know that you can find things that you can take great pleasure in anywhere. You don’t know when it can come and it can happen to anyone. I think people should enjoy as much as they can, you know? Just take great pleasure for their lives as much as they can,” she says. You’ll find A Year On Earth With Mr. Hell is a testament to that.