NEW YORK — Just 21 years old, Lily Allen is already an interesting study in contrasts. The British singer looks and sounds like an angel, a dewy-eyed ingenue with a lilting soprano voice and a penchant for frothy party dresses. Pay closer attention, though, to the lyrics on her debut album, “Alright, Still,” to be released here in January, and you soon realize the girl has some serious demons to exorcise, including philandering ex-boyfriends, an estranged parent and a pot-smoking ne’er-do-well brother.
Masking her scathing musical musings are peppy melodies that swing from Doris Day-like tunes and breezy reggae-tinged numbers to speak-easy raps. It’s a mix that has turned her songs into chart-toppers in Europe.
Allen is also a bit of an Internet phenomenon, thanks to MySpace.com, where she started posting her songs in late 2005. Fast-forward a year, and all that blogging has helped her win a contract with Capitol Records and a huge global fan base. At press time, she boasted 96,975 “friends” on the site, meaning that those fans have linked their home pages to her site. (Madonna has 67,193.) Allen used to respond frequently to her devotees on the site, but these days, because of her schedule demands, she only posts bulletins. Still, that hasn’t stopped her fans from chatting daily about her latest show, her love life and, often, her sense of style.
For months, Allen’s cheeky pairing of pouffed-out prom dresses and distressed sneakers has been chronicled almost weekly in the fashion pages of London’s myriad tabloids. And with spring’s promise of being another frock-heavy season, she’ll continue to be right on trend. “That was the first touch of spring that I’ve actually seen,” Allen said of the looks she wore for the shoot with WWD. “It was great to see all of the dresses I love featuring so prominently.”
She says she’s a major shopper, even if most of her spending now takes place in airport boutiques. “I’m just big into retail, generally,” she admitted. “It’s pretty shallow of me, but ever since I was younger, when I’d get my pocket money, I’d go shopping. I’ve always loved buying the new stuff that no one else has yet.” And she’s always had fun turning the debutante look on its head. “I’d go to the soccer and wear dresses with really high heels,” she said. “Then when I’d go out and all my friends were in dresses and heels, I’d wear a dress with trainers.”
Allen has a mild fetish for collecting sneakers, especially Nike Airmax 90s and Nike Air Jordan IVs with white bottoms. In the brief intermission between press appearances on a recent trip to Los Angeles, she made time to buy five pairs, adding to the 150 or so she already keeps at home in London. That’s not to say she doesn’t appreciate a 5-inch Christian Louboutin heel, though. “They’re really good for dancing in just because they make you hold your body in a completely different way,” she said.
Allen often performs in heels, too. They go perfectly with her on-stage getups — which mirror her offstage looks — of Fifties-style frocks with many layers of crinolines or ruffles. She veers toward the sweeter side of dressing up and favors Marc by Marc Jacobs and Prada. But, “Chanel is probably my favorite label in the world,” she noted. In fact, the songstress sat front-row at the house’s spring show in October. “I’ve always known about Chanel, but I always thought of it as an old ladies’ label,” she said. “Then they invited me to the show in Paris, and it was amazing. Then I went to Madame Chanel’s apartment, which had been untouched since she died. And just looking around and seeing where all of her inspiration came from — the quilting, the camellias — I just think it’s really interesting to have a label that has so much history.”
She won’t divulge any details, but Allen soon may guest design for a store in England. She has toyed with starting her own label, but she’s in no rush to go solo right now. “It’s something that I’ve always dreamed of doing, but I’d have to have a really, really strong name to do something like that, and I don’t yet,” she says.
Still, the call of fashion might be compelling enough someday. “If I didn’t work in music, I’d work in fashion in some way. But first and foremost, designers are the most important part of this industry,” she said. “I really love the creative process. I don’t want to be going to fashion parties and hanging out with models.
I don’t care for that.”