Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Unlikely Fashion Symbol

Beth Ditto became the tabloids’ unlikeliest pin-up without ever having to compromise herself or her politics.
The lesbian lead singer of a U.S pop punk bad has been lauded as the coolest person in music according to NME magazine in 2006, is good friends with Kate Moss and she also has her own fashion line. She has been attributed to the support of healthier body types in the media, often being photographed in magazines with little to no clothes on.

In her rise to prominence, at the cusp of major league success, as a visual emblem of new feminine possibility, on the eve of The Gossip’s fourth album, the first that the world has cared about, some interesting things have happened to Beth Ditto. She has remained quite herself throughout them all, changing only the colour of her crop.

The luxurious major label trappings of being groomed for international stardom are most evident in the Mayfair hotel she is staying in – the last time we met, in 2005 when she was headlining a blistering show in a grotty 250-person capacity student union, she was staying in a Holborn B&B – and the scores of shopping bags sitting around her room. In London for only 24 hours, she has already bought an entire collection of the Vivienne Westwood/Melissa flat shoe collaboration in each available colour and an adorable Stella McCartney winter coat. ‘Does it make me look like my own grandma?’ she asks. It doesn’t. Tomorrow, she will take the Eurostar to Paris where she will be V-est of VIPs at a party for the super boutique, Colette.
During the hours you spend lapping up the life of Beth Ditto, incidental stories float in and out that add irresistible detail to her signature Southern belle charm. She only wears Chanel No.5 because she is allergic to all other scents. She is currently reading a dog-eared collection of Dostoyevsky short stories. She is very good at choosing other people’s fancy dress costumes. When she was a nascent lesbian at high school she would wear lipstick in private, so as not to let the side down. She is still not entirely convinced that Lindsay Lohan is gay, though believes that she is in love with Samantha Ronson to some extent or another. ‘I really, really want Lindsay Lohan to be gay. But I don’t know. I think it’s really exciting that they are a couple. We haven’t had the hot young dyke couple before. We don’t really have the hot young boy couple either.’ She thinks about the most famous lesbian coupling in culture for a minute. ‘I have dirt on them, actually.’ she says, though when pressed on it will only dish when the tape is off, at discretion’s whim. The Gossip was not named The Gossip without reason.
Beth is not a drug-literate rock star. She has taken ecstasy once. She says that she won’t be repeating the experience ‘because I liked it too much. It was awesome. So fun. At the end of the night I was kissing people’s heads and saying, “But you’re perfect.” I was saying to everyone, “Please, please don’t change! You are perfect!”’ She has never tried psychedelics (‘I don’t want to see the devil’) and has long since given up a brief pot-smoking phase (‘because I peed my pants on it’). The drug conversation with Beth is a relatively short one, though she concludes it with one minor revelation. ‘You know what I do love? Xanax. Love it. I’m just like, “This is fiiiine.’ It’s worry-free. I love to feel kinda Seventies housewife.’

To record the new album, The Gossip travelled to Rick Rubin’s studio in the pristine Californian celebrity nest of Malibu. He took them for a ride on scooters and showed them the houses of the famous people in the neighbourhood. Still living between the tour bus and the bohemian liberal Americana of Portland, they wowed at the godless glamour of it all. Rubin introduced Beth to some of his charges: first Metallica (she makes a puke face), then Anthony Keidis of Red Hot Chilli Peppers (she looks nonplussed: ‘He was nice, but that’s a weird world that I totally don’t understand’). She expresses some disappointment that an introduction to Neil Diamond (‘who I love’) never happened.

At the start of each recording session, Rubin would stroke his long beard, then extend his palms and invoke The Gossip with the mantra, ‘You’re loved.’ The Gossip and Rubin hugged a lot in their time together in Malibu. ‘I asked him what the process was and he said, “We’ll know when it’s happened.”’ In Malibu, The Gossip made the transition from spiky Olympian shambles to pure Californian Zen. But before all that happened, Rubin sat them down and instructed them with one simple rule for their working together. It is the only wisdom one could possibly hope to impart on Beth Ditto and her musical ballast.

‘Just be yourselves.’

WHile tHE public persona of Beth Ditto changed exponentially after ‘Standing In The Way Of Control’, her home life in Portland became similarly unsettled. The interesting thing about her kind of unguarded fame is not necessarily what it does to the person at the centre of it, but to those around them. As they renegotiated the terms of their relationship to accommodate the third invisible party in the mix – fame – Beth and her partner of eight years Freddie broke up for two days.

What happened in those two days? ‘Just crying. Nothing else. Just crying a lot. Awful.’

Beth had kept Freddie purposefully separate from her ascending fame. She is fiercely protective when she talks of her defining personal relationship. They met when Beth was 19, Freddie 24. She says that Freddie is loyalty personified and once told me a story of him turning up to her work, pre-pop stardom, on his motorbike with a bunch of roses, just because. Beth loves to be treated like a lady – she is almost comically Southern – and Freddie found the role of her butch saviour an easy one to slot into. She always refers to Freddie with the male pronoun, a habit you swiftly and easily fall into in her company. She has a startling and unselfconscious knack of humanising a relationship that comes replete with all manner of complications even before you get into the business of chucking fame at it. She says that if Cheryl Cole had flung her famous insult to Lily Allen, about being ‘a chick with a dick’ at her, she would’ve ridden out the compliment with a chuckle. There is nothing, frankly, that Beth Ditto likes more than a chick with a dick. It is part of what has made Beth Ditto such a staggering generational icon. Not her difference, but her fun manner in normalising those differences.
‘I didn’t bring Freddie over and I didn’t do it on purpose because… Look, I’m really thick-skinned. And I think that Freddie is, too, but I don’t think that you could possibly anticipate what it feels like to have people around you who forget that you are actually a person. I anticipate nothing. I expect nothing. I don’t expect to be loved or hated. I rarely even read the interviews with me that I know are going to be good. It took me a long time to read those things because I was so scared. It’s just an anxiety that I don’t necessarily need. I didn’t feel like the time was right to bring Freddie over to all that.’

But surely the difficulties must start when you go back home with him and he has no real, first-hand conception of this other life that you have been living? ‘It’s hard. Of course it’s real hard.’

They tried living together for six months in Beth’s rented, three-bed, $800-a-month house in Portland when one of her roommates moved out. ‘It was horrible,’ she says flatly. ‘Because we lived with my best friend. We knew it was a bad idea when we did it and it was actually just about it working out for money with everybody. My roommate was moving out and Freddie was like, “Fuck it, I’ll move in.” But it didn’t work out. So Freddie moved out and he turned that extra room into a closet for me. He built my closet and I have a room of wall-to-wall clothes now. Everything’s labelled. So awesome.’

There was an argument about a Mulberry handbag. ‘They sent me a free bag. That was the worst. Freddie was like, “Are you gonna sell that?” and I said, “No, I’m keeping this one.” There was a time when I would have had no choice. And it would’ve been the most money that I have ever had. I said, “No, I am not gonna sell it.” Things like that got real rocky because he felt like he didn’t know me any more. Oh, but he knew me. He just knew me when I was poor.’

Love Magazine issue1 09
Photography Mert & Marcus.
Fashion Editor Katie Grand.
Text Paul Flynn.

Beth Dito's collection for chain store Evans will be available this July for plus size English girls. This is an article I have found in Grazia magazine.

More reading about Beth Ditto's fashion line

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