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Velvet underground singer Nico.

Nico, The Archetypal Femme Fatale


In 1988, while riding her bike down a path in Ibiza in search for marijuana, Christa Paeffgen, better known as Nico, suffered a stroke and died from a violent blow to the head; a paradoxical end to a woman who led a vertiginous and excessive life, surrounded by the most interesting characters of the time: a true femme fatale.

For if there is someone who embodies the archetype of otherworldly vampiresque beauty, that is Nico. She was discovered while selling clothes in a store in Berlin, while she was also modeling for prestigious magazines (she appeared on the cover of Vogue, Elle, Tempo, among many others). Those who knew her describe her beauty as pure, extremely special, hypnotic and androgynous. Her life’s story speaks for itself.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Nico lived between Europe and New York modeling and acted in many films, among these, of course, Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1959). In 1961, she had a romance with French actor Alain Delon, with whom she had a son —Ari— which he always denied was his. His parents, however, raised Ari for most of his childhood.

In London she met The Rolling Stones’ guitarist Brian Jones, with whom she had a romantic affair and with whom she would record the single “I’m Not Saying”, written by a young Jimmy Page: his first serious approach to the glamorous world of music.

When she broke up with Jones, Nico returned to New York and began to sing at the Blue Angel Lounge, where she caught Leonard Cohen’s eye, who, some say, wrote poetry while he listened to her sing. During the same period, the obscure muse had a fling with Bob Dylan, who in turn would introduce her to Andy Warhol. From that moment on she became a staple in the world of celebrities who revolved around the extravagant artist and his studio in The Factory (take, for instance, her leading role in Chelsea Girls).

Warhol introduced Nico to The Velvet Underground ––his protégée band at the time––, and convinced them of making her their singer. This is how one of the best albums in rock history was born: The Velvet Underground & Nico (1967).

Afterwards, Nico kicked off her career as a solo artist and recorded a total of six albums that inspired great musicians —most of them from the punk movement—, such as Siouxie & The Banshees and Patti Smith.

Following her romances with Lou Reed, John Cale, and Iggy Pop, the femme met Jim Morrison, with whom she established a profound creative relation ––she even changed her physical appearance and her approach to music. Morrison, a sort of guru for Nico, was one of the few musicians who always encouraged her to continue to write music.

But, in the 1980s, the panorama changed. Depressed and immersed in a deep heroin addiction, under the influence of the substance she gave a series of concerts until, in 1986, she got clean and moved to Ibiza to live with her son.

It’s funny that a woman whose presence was so important to the development of the 1960s music and art, lives, to a certain degree, under the shadow of the male superstars that surrounded her. Vamp, femme fatale, experimental artist if there ever was one and Andy Warhol’s muse, this rare, androgynous and obscure beauty had an undeniably decadent end. When in an interview she was asked what she would have changed in her life, she —with that mesmerizing and unmistakable voice— answered that her only mistake was having been born a woman (or having been born a femme fatale, to be more precise).

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