These up-and-coming artists combine a standout sound with stand-alone style.
Just how big a role does fashion play in The Puppini Sisters’ act? “Let’s put it this way,” says Stephanie O’Brien, one-third of the London-based close harmony trio. “We go to do radio interviews dressed like this. We never let our glamour fade.”
This story first appeared in the August 30, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Puppini Sisters’ particular brand of Old Hollywood glamour translates to carefully curated retro ensembles topped off by pin curl coifs, matte makeup and luscious red lips. O’Brien, a willowy redhead, shares the spotlight with the petite, raven-haired Marcella Puppini and blonde bombshell Kate Mullins. Creating matching Big Band-era cocktail dresses, suits and gowns for three such different figures got to be too much for Puppini, a former designer at Vivienne Westwood, so the trio now enlists the help of a stylist to cull matching items from high street stores, vintage markets and Agent Provocateur. A seamstress, meanwhile, whips up coordinating looks to complement each singer’s shape.
“There’s so much work involved with things like sourcing fabrics that I’d rather stay home and work on the arrangements,” says Puppini, who founded the group with her fellow Trinity College of Music alums three years ago after seeing “The Triplets of Belleville,” an animated film that features a Forties-style harmony group.
Accompanied by an all-male gypsy-swing trio they also met at Trinity, The Puppini Sisters perform classics such at The Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (of Company B),” “Mr. Sandman” and “Jeepers Creepers.” But the true showstoppers are the band’s own arrangements of modern classics such as Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” and Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights.”
“We’re not a typical girl band because we do a lot of work people wouldn’t even know about unless they read the credits on the back of the album,” O’Brien says. “We spend a lot of our time writing the music, arranging the songs, playing the music, rehearsing the music.”
The group’s flawless sound and all-out glamour won them a deal with Universal’s Verve Records and a celebrity following that includes Kate Moss, Stella McCartney and the British Royal Family. Produced by “Belleville” music director Benoit Charest, The Puppini Sisters’ first album, “Betcha Bottom Dollar,” made its debut at number two on the U.S. jazz charts in May and led to a residency at The Oak Room in New York and an appearance on “The View.” After wrapping up a 10-day tour of the U.S. this week, the girls are back at home, preparing to promote their second album, to be released in the U.K. in early October.
The new record will include five original songs — and no Andrews Sisters. “The sound is edgier and there’s a lot more variety,” says Mullins.
Audiences also can expect some fresh costumes. “We tend to get bored and then we discard,” Puppini says. “A particular outfit means a particular period in our history as a band, and after a while, it just doesn’t belong anymore.” — Libby Estell
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THE SINGING BEE
At 14, Keke Palmer has built quite a résumé. After appearing in a host of TV dramas and small-screen movies, she starred in last year’s “Akeelah and the Bee,” winning best actress at Show West and taking home the 2007 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture for her breakout role. Now Palmer is taking on a new role as a singer-songwriter with her debut R&B-pop album, “So Uncool,” hitting stores Sept. 18 on the Atlantic Records label. Palmer calls music her “first love” but isn’t looking to give up her acting career just yet. She is set to costar in “The Cleaner” this fall with Samuel L. Jackson and has several TV roles lined up. Here, Palmer, a self-described fashion lover, dishes about what’s in and what’s “So Uncool.”
— Julee Greenberg
How is your stage style different from your street style?
My stage style is retro Eighties. I wear a lot of high-waisted shorts, knee socks and Converse. My street style is more current.
What would you never wear?
I would never wear high-water pants. Those are so over. Time moves on and, in my opinion, there is never time for that.
Who are your style influences?
I love the way Pharrell [Williams] dresses, but I want to be different than everyone else. I want to be the one starting the trends.
What would you do if you weren’t a musician?
I would be a hairstylist. There’s a lot of hairstylists in my family, my grandmother did it, my aunt and my cousins all do hair. I’ve been around it all my life and I know how to do a lot of stuff with hair.
What’s your favorite wardrobe item at the moment?
I have a necklace that my choreographer gave me. It’s a little ice cream cone and I love it. I wear it with everything and it seems to match everything I have.
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Perched front row at the Chanel couture show in July, Ayo proved a convincing ambassador for her just-released debut album, “Joyful.” Decked out in a tropical bandana and a canary yellow cardigan dress from Chanel’s Paris-Monte Carlo collection, the leggy 26-year-old songstress greeted cameras with a sunny grin rarely seen among runway regulars. The German-born singer, whose real name is Joy Ogunmakin, was raised in both Germany and Paris by her Nigerian father and Romanian mother. Fusing soul, R&B, folk and Afrobeat, Ayo has already gone platinum in France and opened for Joss Stone. Now Karl Lagerfeld is said to be creating a guitar strap for the stylish star.
— Katya Foreman and Emilie Marsh
How has your cultural background influenced your sound?
My dad was a DJ in the Seventies. I grew up with Afrobeat and reggae music, so those colors and layers are in my music. And my mother is a gypsy. She was gone a lot, always on the run. My mother’s influence is as important as my father’s, just in different ways.
How would you describe your style?
It’s a mix of different things, just as I am a mix of things. My style can be bohemian in a way, yet still be classy at the same time.
Who are your favorite designers?
I really love Chanel. I like Dolce & Gabbana as well, but I always find my own way to wear things. For example, there was a dress from Chanel that I wore back-to-front.
What would you never wear?
I’m not a big fan of showing too much skin. Plus, I have very long legs. When I wear something even slightly short, I’m already showing enough skin.
What would you do if you weren’t a musician?
Some people have suggested I could model, but I’m so clumsy. That would probably be the worst thing that could happen to a designer!
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MOTOR CITY MAVENS
Imagine if the Ronettes had married the Ramones. The stylistic and sonic union between the harmony-loving girl group and upbeat punks would have given birth to the Gore Gore Girls, four femmes so cool that they don’t blink a heavily blackened eyelash at the thought of combining peppy clapping with a grungy guitar solo, not to mention doo-wop backups with a badass bass and slick go-go boots.
“It’s not easy pulling it off,” says Amy Gore (née Surdu), the band’s founder, singer and guitarist. “You get hot playing emotional, visceral music like ours.”
Gore’s fondness for matching minidresses and big hair dates back to her childhood collecting records by The Crystals and The Marvelettes in Detroit. Compared to other contemporary rockers who also emulate the fashion finesse of classic girl groups, the Gore Gore Girls — which includes Cathy Carrell on drums, Liane Castillo on bass and Marlene Hammerle, also on guitar — aren’t as squeaky clean as The Pipettes, nor as feral as The 18.104.22.168’s.
Yet, upholding the Motor City’s reputation for frenetic rock music, the Gore Gore Girls play with a ferocity that sometimes results in a broken guitar string for Hammerle, a feat that garners the band even more street cred from the tough dudes who bang their heads in the front row. And a glimpse of the sequined boyshorts worn under the musicians’ ultra-short frocks sends the crowd screaming for more songs from their recently released fourth album, “Get the Gore.”
With the exception of Carrell, who beats her drums in cotton Ts and capris, the band has its getups made by Yvonne Spampinato, who works at the shop Lost and Found Vintage in Royal Oak, Mich., and by the bassist’s mother, Barbara Castillo. Vinyl is the fabric of choice, for its shine and easy cleanup. But the matter-of-fact Midwesterners are unapologetically high maintenance when it comes to the glitter makeup that catches the light as they sway in unison.
Just don’t expect to see the Gore Gore Girls drop their instruments and shimmy like the dancers from the 1972 grindhouse movie that inspired their name. “I like the shorter dresses because I can do my rock ‘n’ roll kick,” Hammerle says with a snarl.
— Khanh T.L. Tran
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THE ACCIDENTAL POP STAR
Rejected from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in April 2006, then confined to home by a broken foot, 20-year-old Londoner Kate Nash began playing electric guitar to cheer herself up. Soon after, she booked a few local gigs and then created a MySpace page that continues to draw a fan base, including Lily Allen. In June she released her second single, “Foundations,” which reached number two in the U.K. in July. Her first album, “Made of Bricks,” dropped in the U.K. Aug. 6 and swiftly rose to number one. Now “Foundations” is set for a Sept. 18 release in the U.S., to be followed by the album in early 2008.
— Tara Bonet-Black
Would you take a film or TV role if offered one now?
I think now that I’ve been given this opportunity, I want to dedicate my time to making a few albums before I think of doing anything else.
Who are your musical influences?
Regina Spektor is a big influence on me. Also The Beatles, indie bands like The Strokes and Cat Power and punk music. I’m into a lot of English punk bands like the Buzzcocks and The Adverts.
You wear mostly vintage, but do you shop in any retail stores?
If I want to get staples, American Apparel is always good. For cheap tops and stuff like that I go to H&M. I just prefer vintage because I like when no one else has it. I love the Fifties look and it fits my figure, it’s much prettier.
What turned you on to vintage?
I think I just wanted to dress like Marilyn Monroe.
You’ve had such rapid success in the U.K. How do you feel about crossing over to the U.S.?
I’m nervous because America’s so big. But it’s going to be amazing and beautiful. I think traveling is education and that’s really important. The more people who hear my music, the better.
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