I have been accused throughout my life of being something of a trend-setter. In fact only a few days ago, someone pointed out that lots of people were wearing steam-punk goggles at the Download Festival. I assure you, this is purely accidental.
The fact is that I’ve always been contrary and wilfully non-conformist. The moment lots of people wear something, I need to wear something different.
As a child I was subjected to my mother’s fashionable whims. She was big on travelling and used me as a kind of global doll, from bright saris, Japanese kimonos to 60s Kaftans. A cross between cute and ridiculous to satisfy her rather warped sense of humour. ‘Day’ wear was often second hand from the auction house. I remember a particularly nasty pair of blue nylon trousers and, perhaps for the first time, put my foot down and refused to wear them.
The big change of course came when I left the clutches and whims of parental influence, when I arrived in England in ’78. At last the rebellious streak which had been simmering for some time was allowed to come to a boil.
My boarding school was remarkably unfashion-conscious. The girls generally lived in jeans and jumpers and the boys didn’t seem to mind. I don’t recall anyone bothering with make-up either. I was quite a tomboy and refused to wear skirts, so this suited me fine. But I still had to do something different! Flairs were still en vogue at the time, so I grabbed needle and thread and sewed my jeans as tight as they would go. Not, in hindsight, the best look for a 12 year old sporting a healthy dollop of puppy fat, but that was hardly the point. Alas, a few months later, flairs were exchanged for drain-pipes. Back to the drawing board and my first taste of accidental trend-setting.
I did try a few rebel fashions after that – I died my hair pink and spiked it up, and even had a parka for a while which I could have camped in. But I was never comfortable being part of a set group of people, and fashions seemed an extension of that. My best friend at 15 was an out-and-out hippy. Beads, bangles and afghan. I remember the whafts of patchouli oil. Me – I just sewed more patches on my jeans and lived in my leather jacket. My step-mother tried to convert me to ‘rich chic’ without success. It was never going to happen.
My naturally curly hair was something I hated too, and whilst most women in the 80s were still getting their hair permed, I crimped mine straight at the first opportunity.
Once I was signed by Sony, the whole question of fashion and image became more important. I gave the stylist quite a head-ache turning down one look after another, until we found a rather striking catsuit. Totally unfashionable, but it worked. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. A range of crazy and loud catsuits followed. At one point they even became ‘in’! For a short while. Again – accidental stylishness.
But however hard I try to dress up on the few occasions where I have to make the right impression, the inner rock-chick shines through any veneer. The truth is – I’m no good at being fashionable or conformist. My whole personality centres on being individual, and I shun social engagements where I cannot be myself.
A good example was whilst organising the marketing for The Last Adventure in 2010. A big shot PR company was hired and insisted I wouldn’t get into any of the magazines without an up-to-date fashionable look. ‘Ok’, I thought, ‘Let’s give it a go.’ I tried on various dresses from a rack supplied by the stylist, and picked out a few for the photo shoot. Now I appreciate that many of my listeners really like these photos! They’re very girly and I have my pins out. All very cute. (See title photo.) But it really isn’t me. And it was a great exercise as it proved that it didn’t work at all. I’ve had far more attention and press coverage with the steam punk style I adopted afterwards.
The fact that steam punk is currently in fashion is, once again, purely accidental. These things come around once in a while and disappear again. Frankly – I wouldn’t know as I don’t read any of the magazines. Only when you tell me.
Ironically, now that flairs are out of fashion again, I rather like them…
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