There’s a reason Viv Albertine arrived at the title ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys’ for her 2014 memoir: her mother ushered the chant – followed by “that’s all you ever talk about” – when she would return home from school every day as a teenager.
Beyond this though, the three themes remain universal, especially for women in music (even today, post-Albertine, Lauryn Hill, Karen O and the rest). “I’ve given up on becoming a pop singer since Dad told me I wasn’t chic enough,” reads a diary entry from 16 year-old Viv circa 1970; it says a lot about what most people thought a musician should be.
“Music and fashion are really closely related,” advises Delilah Holliday in 2015, when quizzed about the merging of the two, “I think it’s good to have a relationship with it; it’s all creative.”
Skinny Girl Diet, the three-piece she sings and plays guitar in, are sat opposite Clash not far from the Olympic stadium. South Africa are playing the USA in the Rugby World Cup and our chat is adorned by shouts of approval from across the water.
Along with her sister Ursula (drums) and second cousin Amelia Cutler (bass), in a few hours Delilah will play a Boiler Room set in conjunction with denim brand G-Star Raw, the debut of the pair’s RAW Sessions series.
“I guess, if a brand likes your music then it’s cool, it’s a good thing to have,” observes Ursula of the more commercial areas of the industry. Three young women producing a sound that owes its energy to punk, the band has already been tapped by the more sartorial erring publications and been dealt by some, the style over substance card.
“There was an article that said we dress like, what was the quote?” asks Delilah. “It was in The Guardian and they were like ‘oh, if only they could focus more on their music’ or something,” responds Ursula. “If only their sound was as slick as their look,” remembers Amelia.
“It was so heartbreaking,” says Delilah. “And we literally wear that fucking stuff all the time,” confirms Amelia.
“We like the juxtaposition of looking glamorous and playing fucked up music, like that’s our image I guess, and we like it,” Delilah continues. “It’s kind of commentary on how you’ve got to have this grunge aesthetic and punk aesthetic, which is kind of dead anyway.”
“And which is a fashion thing in itself,” retorts her sister. “Exactly!”
Clothes as communicators have come under much scrutiny in the music industry both for women and men, but it’s no doubt the former who’ve bore the brunt of the conversation’s more negative associations. The recent Twitter campaign from music journalist Jessica Hopper has seen the misogynistic side of the industry brought to the fore; add clothes to the equation and you can imagine the word ‘shallow’ being bandied about with gusto.
Commented then NME editor Neil Spencer in the early 80’s, “I think image is so important to rock bands…. It is as much a part of their appeal as their music quite often.” While the footage exists here, the context is photography and the rise of video in particular; the observations remain relevant 30 years later.
“I think society is very looks conscious so, you’ve kind of got to succumb to it, and having a good look is part of what people see before they listen to your music,” offers Delilah. “It is sadly a part of music – what you look like – and if you’ve got a certain style people like that because it’s something new I guess.”
“It (by default) makes you more memorable as well,” adds Amelia. “I think there shouldn’t be (a focus on women’s looks), but yeah. You can get successful male groups who aren’t particularly attractive… How often do you get that with female groups?”
“Exactly, they can go on stage in their pyjamas,” laughs Ursula. “The weird thing is,” Delilah replies, “if you’re into fashion and you’re in a girl band, people often chastise you for it because they’re like ‘no they’re style over substance, they can’t play their instruments right, they’re just a fashion band’, and I think, as a woman in music, you come under a lot of scrutiny whatever you do.”
It’s this whole notion, of judging a book by its cover, which of course informs (the early rounds of) The Voice model and makes a certain brand of click bait sadly so popular; ‘this girl looks like this but when she opens her mouth…’.
“I don’t think there is a punk way to dress either, I think that’s a common misconception, that punk is a look,” decides Ursula. “It’s like, punk started out as just expressing yourself; if you wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe in the 70’s and go to a Sex Pistols concert you could. I feel like so many people have these lists and tick boxes; just wear what you want and if people chastise you for it, then they’re dumb, it’s how it is.”
Plenty of musicians boast close associations with the fashion industry – Grimes has collaborated with Saint Laurent, A$AP Ferg has a clothing line, Kim Gordon has a close relationship with Marc Jacobs, the list goes on – but like the art world’s arm’s reach link with the latter, music often likes to play the serious, more respected partner with the ‘authentic’ credentials.
For their part, Skinny Girl Diet have performed for Dilara Findikoglu (at Findikoglu’s SS16 presentation as part of London Fashion Week last month), and played the starring role in a short for Claire Barrow's hook up with Matchesfashion.com, below.
“It was actually a really fun experience because it was the first time we’d been on a slick set with make-up artists and hair, it was like a whole new world we were in,” Delilah confirms of the latter, “It was nice to promote Claire’s stuff too, because we like it.” Elsewhere they name Ashley Williams as a favourite designer.
Not completely unfairly the trio have been tagged with the Riot Grrrl label, presumably on account of their feminist principles and loud sound, but it’s not something they’ve taken to kindly. Why so? “Because if you just look back, then you’re just going to copy,” Ursula suggests.
“In a bad way,” adds Delilah, “it’s your own interpretation because you weren’t living there at the time.” “And you can’t influence the past, you can’t change anything about the past whereas the future is something you can be a part of, something you can shape,” says Amelia, “Just focusing on the past solely, makes you a bit irrelevant doesn’t it.”
“And usually it’s not the truth anyway, so you’re actually just looking into stuff that was a minor thing that happened and you’ve made it into a big trend,” Delilah adds. “I’m sure the next generation is going to look back on ours and see stuff that wasn’t really there,” says her sister.
“I think it’s alright to be influenced by the past, because that’s what you learn, it’s when you let the past only be what you’re about without thinking what you’re doing and how you want to be as an individual,” observes Amelia, “you’re not original if you’re just stuck in the past basically.”
On the subject of then versus now, what’s the deal with Instragam? The most revered social platform in the fashion industry and the go to for much of music’s players, the three women aren’t collectively involved: strategic?
“Instagram’s really hard because there’s so many different profiles,” replies Delilah, “there’s either really glamorous accounts, like they promote hair extensions and stuff like that, or there’s… I don’t know, we try and not to be so vacuous and narcissistic, because I think it’s a dangerous game to play and it consumes you.”
Counters Amelia, “I think there’s nothing wrong with posting selfies. But when it becomes all you post that’s when it becomes a bit like ‘alright we get the message’.”
“We did try to make an Instagram account and, it was very much like our Facebook page of just posting stuff about gigging,” remembers Delilah, “And it’s like, what more can a band do on Instagram, except for posting instruments? It’s just pretty pointless. If you leave people wanting more then they’re obviously going to be a bit more intrigued then posting a picture of you in a toilet doing a shit.” “Bathroom selfie,” giggles her sister.
“Like, do you actually think people care?” Delilah continues. “I think people like it, like if you think about the Kardashians, people love seeing inside their houses; I think that might be a generational shift,” responds Ursula.
“I don’t know,” says Amelia, “’cause you’ve always had tabloid papers, why do people buy them? Because they want to know about the fuck ups of these celebrities.”
Unlike the moniker the Holliday’s first outfit took, Typical Girls (their debut gig was supporting Albertine’s solo project, natch), the three women of Skinny Girl Diet represent a female elsewhere not currently catered for, and they’re happy to look better than you as they do it, just don’t rebuke them or assume aesthetics come first. (They come naturally, actually).
Words: Zoe Whitfield
Watch Mollie Mills' full RAW Sessions film here.