Florence + The Machine lead singer and solo artist Florence Welch sat down with WWD at Redbird restaurant after Gucci revealed her as its new timepieces and jewelry ambassador. Just before the 58th annual Grammy Awards tonight, where she is nominated for five awards, she dishes on creative director Alessandro Michele, her worst outfit ever and how she’s getting ready for the show.
WWD: Are you amazed when you see how far you’ve come in eight years?
Florence Welch: What’s nice about it is I’ve always felt very free to express myself with the music I’ve wanted to make, the videos, the shows. I always feel very grateful for that because it’s a really personal part of me, and that’s a risk putting yourself out there. This was the most personal record I ever did [writing about the end of a relationship] and for it to have been nominated for five awards is kind of amazing because I felt uncomfortable releasing something so close to my heart. You do the record and then you go, “Oh no I’m going to have to talk about it.” And there were a few interviews when I started crying and I’d have to stop.
WWD: How are you feeling now?
F.W.: Time is a great healer. Now coming to the end of the album cycle and seeing where I am and how I feel about stuff it’s so nice because the title — “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful” — I called it that before I knew the happy ending. I was going to call it something that represented being angry and disappointed and hurt and I’m so glad I didn’t because it changed the whole record for me; it made it about hope.
WWD: When did your love of fashion begin?
F.W.: I was an awkward kid and I was always looking for ways to enhance reality. That’s when I first was drawn to fashion and dressing up and I still take such pleasure in it. I’m a very visual person and have always been drawn to textile and fabrics but growing up I went through all the really crazy phases.
WWD: What was the worst one?
F.W.: You know when you’re allowed to come to school in your own clothes? I must have been about 10 and it was around the time of The Spice Girls and No Doubt so I thought, this is it, the outfit that’s going to make me so cool: an enormous gray Simpsons jumper, with purple crushed velvet flares, those big Buffalo boots with huge wedges and Björk topknots and brown lipstick. I still wear purple flares now but The Simpsons jumper — I have no idea where my head was.
WWD: Is it nice to have developed a signature look as a performer?
F.W.: It’s funny when people can just draw a cartoon of you and you know what it would be like: the outline of red hair with a fringe and a pair of flares, then there’d be a hat on it.
WWD: How has your style evolved?
F.W.: I experimented so much stylewise in my 20s. When we first started touring we were given 10 pounds [about $14.50] for food and we’d go to the charity shop and buy random things. I did a clear out at home and all of the dresses were super flammable. They are all covered in beer and dirt and been rolled around in fields and festivals and you really have to be rough and ready. But I always had certain things I loved, which was like a good blouse, a waistcoat, a good pair of trousers. My first boyfriend gave me a load of his dad’s old waistcoats when I was 17 and that was the beginning of my waistcoat fixation. You get so scared as you start getting famous that you almost use outfits as a way to hide. Now I’m getting older and more comfortable with myself. The stage and personal stuff is becoming more intertwined, which is quite liberating.
WWD: Why have you been taking dance classes?
F.W.: With this album I’ve been so much more interested in movement; it’s required a different way of wearing clothes on stage. The classes I’m taking because I became really obsessed with Pina Bausch and modern dance and we worked with Ryan Heffington on a couple of ideas. I wanted to add a different element to the stage. You always want to feel like you are getting better.
WWD: What was the 2011 tour like wearing the Gucci costumes?
F.W.: What was great about the dresses is the fabric was like a whole performance of its own; it would just be out to here. We were touring with U2 and they had these enormous stadiums and Bono said I could use his ego ramp, so I’d be running around the stadium in these things. I looked like a psychedelic banshee.
WWD: What do you love most about Alessandro Michele?
F.W.: I feel like he’s a real kindred spirit. We are drawn to a lot of similar themes — the Baroque, the Renaissance, Greek mythology. These things that are essentially quite pretty but there’s a darkness to them, which is something I always strive for in music. Nothing should be too happy. It has to have an element of sadness; no light without darkness, no beauty without an element of something unsettling.
WWD: What else?
F.W.: He makes clothes you want to wear, but it’s not like each collection is suddenly different so you couldn’t wear this with this. He’s just creating a world. I love the iconography that’s based in nature — the flowers, all the little animals, even the bamboo and the horseshoes and snakes really appeal to me.
WWD: How are you feeling on the eve of the Grammys?
F.W.: I’m quite nervous but I’m actually relieved to not be performing because I would be extra nervous. Live TV performances are so terrifying. You know if you fall over it could be a YouTube clip played over and over again. I’ll just try not to fall over on the red carpet. The heels in the show look super high but they are quite easy to walk in because the platform’s big. I practiced.