Undressed to Kill

Being pierced and tattooed used to be about as sexy as a right uppercut. That was before SuicideGirls came along.

The warm California sun drenches the buildings in reds and oranges as another hazy January day comes to a close in Los Angeles. On the rooftop bar of the Standard, a swanky, downtown hotel, you have a panoramic view of the whole city, with the Hollywood sign a distant and blurry beacon for men and women hoping to find fame and fortune. A handful of 20-somethings traipses around the bar, which is decorated in flashy hues of hot pink and red neon. Outkast's "Hey Ya" plays lightly in the background as conversation is punctuated by splashes in the pool. Two young men, one short and plump, the other tall and greasy, sit at the bar, sipping mimosas.

"Did you see all those chicks over there?" asks the plump one.

The taller one, with a gravity-defying pompadour, twists around and takes off his sunglasses. "Yeah, I think they're strippers or something. I heard they were in that video." He casually slips his shades back on and looks down at his drink.

Colby Katz
Clockwise from top: SuicideGirls cofounder Missy; Nixion gets lit before her shoot;  Stormy, an SG burlesque performer, cools off after her set.
Clockwise from top: SuicideGirls cofounder Missy; Nixion gets lit before her shoot; Stormy, an SG burlesque performer, cools off after her set.

Four of the "strippers" lounge poolside in the hotel's art deco waterbeds; large, domed plastic beds that look more like giant Warholian spinning tops. Some are wearing bikinis, some tank tops and skirts. Sitting together, with their tattoos and piercings and industrial hair dye, they look like an unfinished graffiti mural. A young man walks by and asks if he can take a picture with them, and one of the girls grabs another girl's nipples through her thin, white tank top while mugging for the camera. The girl getting the titty twister laughs: "God, you could control me with these things!"

No, these girls aren't porn stars, or strippers, or actresses. They're SuicideGirls, a new post-millennial breed of model/performer. Want to meet them but can't make it into the rarefied atmosphere of a place like the Standard? Catch them online. Like, naked. SuicideGirls appeared on the web in September of 2001, after two decades of punk music that teetered dangerously close to asexuality. The hard-core punk scene of the '80s enforced a rigid and unspoken boys club ideology that turned up its nose at commercial sex. The 1990s were filled with images of Morrissey swimming in a pool of pain, emo boys crying into journals, women coordinating their menstrual cycles at Lilith Fair, Riot Grrls scrawling "slut" and "whore" on their bellies, and Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna screaming "We don' t need you!" with gut-wrenching fury. But just as the frigid '50s gave way to the swinging '60s, the 1990s water broke and Suicide Girls was born.

SuicideGirls offers access to steamy and tasteful images of "pinup punk rock and goth girls"-- real girls with real bodies, tattoos, piercings, and no implants. The name itself evokes an image of a new breed of pissed-off women, combined with a girl-gang mentality. It's all about tight sweaters, machine-gun tits, and a short fuse.

The website is already something of a cyberphenomenon. SuicideGirls gets more than 500,000 visitors a week and 24 million hits a month. The number of models on the site has doubled since its inception, and currently, about 250 are on the site, including six who are now SG employees. Eighteen-year-old Chloe Rice, who goes by the name Nixion, has been on the site for almost a year now. The Boca Raton resident is going to school for fashion photography, and she works part-time at a restaurant. She has flown out to L.A. for the weekend for a photo shoot. It's not her first time. She was there last year to appear in HBO's Real Sex special on SuicideGirls and to be in a video for Probot, Foo Fighter drummer Dave Grohl's side project with Motörhead front man Lemmy Kilmister. But this time, she is going to shoot sets with Missy, the site's photographer and cofounder. This is a big step up in the SG ranks and, in her view, a nice little vacation from the geriatric confines of Boca.

"In Boca, everyone looks the same, talks the same, listens to the same music," she says. "It's hard to stand out. SuicideGirls definitely gave me the boost to want to do fashion photography. I've wanted to do it for a while now; then I came across the site. And I was really expecting it to be horrible, but it was decent! They asked for a photo, and I sent them one of me topless, holding a doll over my chest -- as a joke-- and I guess they didn't believe I was 18. The first time I did a set in front of people was a two-girl shoot for the Real Sex special. There were cameras everywhere, and here I am naked with some girl I barely know. So I was really nervous."


Today, though, is more laid-back.

Nixion's weekend starts among a flurry of scantily clad women and ringing cell phones. Tucked away in the Los Feliz area of Hollywood, up a winding road flanked by palm trees, the SG headquarters is like a set plucked out of The Real World: hardwood floors with a scattering of large leather chairs and couches, some old drugstore signs bought from a garage sale, and a patio that overlooks the tiny lights of the city through a layer of smog. A pool table is strewn with proofs and photos of aspiring SGs. The house serves double duty as a studio and office for the site, and it's also home for 28-year-old Sean, a short, affable guy with dark hair and a goatee who happens to be the cofounder and web guru of SuicideGirls. He and six SGs are in the living room watching the new Probot video for the song "Shake Your Blood," the plot of which essentially is: Girls dance in skimpy clothing, Lemmy acts like his bad-ass self, girls lose more clothing, Lemmy flicks his tongue around like a lizard, a mob of girls writhe around, the end.

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