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Annie Lennox: a style retrospective

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Like David Bowie, Grace Jones and more recently Gaga, Annie Lennox’s signature style is as powerful as it is influential. Stylist meets her on the eve of the V&A show that celebrates both her costumes and her career…

With 30 years of stage outfits in storage, it seems only right that former Eurythmics singer and British style icon Annie Lennox is sharing her fashion and career highlights with the world. It’s taken three years of creative collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum but finally The House Of Annie Lennox exhibition is set to open this Thursday (15 September).

How did this exhibition come about?

Over the years I’ve kept things that were sentimental to me or I felt were interesting and I just didn’t want to get rid of them. The outfits I wore in my videos were so beautiful and I’d only ever worn them once. When a friend suggested I exhibit them at the V & A, at first I thought, ‘How audacious!’ but they wanted to do it and have been absolutely fantastic at bringing it all to life.

Any outfits in the collection with special significance?

The black dress with ringmaster’s jacket from the Little Birds video. I was seven months pregnant with one of my daughters, Tali, at the time. When the V & A mounted the mannequin, it was with the utmost care and attention, so, when I saw this outfit and my pregnancy showcased in it, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

How does it feel being an ambassador for fashion?

Personally, I never think of myself that way. As human beings we clothe ourselves – whether you’re a policeman, a nurse or a sex worker – to tell people about ourselves. It’s just a language. Aristocrats wore the most extreme things; the tallest wigs, the highest shoes, dresses that were insane with padding. Nowadays, we’re fairly conservative actually. I think the most innovative thing in fashion is the ubiquitous pair of jeans and a T shirt. You could be extremely wealthy or the opposite and you’ll be wearing the same thing.

How did you get the inspiration for your stage outfits?

It just comes to me. I can’t explain the actual process of why I would want to wear a sailor’s hat covered in leopard skin other than that at the time I thought it was really cool. I loved the tailoring at the time of the Eighties suits with padded shoulders and nipped in waists. It looked f***ing cutting edge. It was a reaction to the punk ethos of cutting and shredding.

What is your take on the connection between fashion and music?

One is visual and one is oral and people respond very powerfully to both. Fashion designers know this very well and in the Nineties they started connecting well known musicians with their labels. When Elizabeth Hurley wore the Versace dress with the giant safety pins, that was a moment when it wasn’t just musicians anymore; it was celebrity too. I was asked to get involved but I avoided all that.

Who asked you?

Armani. Versace. I’ve been asked by several people and I’ve been very flattered but I didn’t want to be a clothes hanger. I didn’t want it to be about a label that was sponsoring me or that I was modelling their look. It was about me being true to myself; being autonomous; and being free to be an artist.

Recently, Lady Gaga was accused of copying your look with her stage persona, Jo Calderone.

Gaga makes incredible art. She’s exceptional. The parallel was obvious, but whether she was copying me or somebody else doesn’t make any difference. Women have been wearing men’s clothes for centuries. It’s a powerful thing when a woman wears something less feminine. It’s saying; you must look at me slightly differently, I’m not just going to be a sexual object for you. The only thing with Gaga is, she doesn’t move me. I see a lot of commerce in people’s lives; a lot of drive and ambition, but what I often feel is lacking is emotion. That’s what I love about Adele.

So when Adele wears a very paired down look of just black...

It’s so refreshing. People are reminded what it’s about. We want to be touched. We don’t need all the fripperies and excesses. We just want her voice. The problem with Gaga is, the burnout possibilities are very high. It’s like how hard do you have to work to flog that? How hard is it to be different every single day? I wouldn’t want that kind of burden.

What do you think of fashion at the moment?

I don’t honestly know what is in fashion and what isn’t. The only thing I noticed were those incredibly high heels that were in a couple of years ago. They were a bit too geisha for me. Also, I’m quite tall [5 ft 8 in]so if I wear high heels I would be taller than everyone else in the room and I wouldn’t feel comfortable. My daughters are even taller but they don’t care. They totter out of the room. I’m like, “Oh Jesus be careful...”

What designers do you love?

I think Dolce and Gabbana are quite extraordinary. They’re so innovative and such fun and the outfits are so beautiful. I would have loved to have worn them when I was younger if I could have afforded it. And if you were in to haute couture at the time I think Galliano probably has to be King. Unfortunately he has somewhat tottered off his throne now but that doesn’t take away from his tremendous creative abilities.

That goes back to the potential to burn out you were talking about...

Yeah, I think that’s the trouble. There is no excuse for his attitudes but I think he just lost the plot. People become very powerful, they become very isolated, and they lose track with ordinary life. It’s really important to keep grounded and not lose that.

The House Of Annie Lennox exhibition at the V & A runs from 15 September 2011 to 26 February 2012; admission free.

Words: Debbie McQuoid

Picture credits: Rex Features

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