c.2013 New York Times News Service
c.2013 New York Times News Service
NEW YORK — Kylie Minogue, the Australian pop star known in the United States for long-ago dance hits like “The Loco-Motion” and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” was having tea in the Astor Court of the St. Regis hotel on a recent spring Sunday, unrecognized in a nude-colored Moschino dress (which would have been a long-sleeved T-shirt on most) with a winking face illustrated on the front.
The conversation was of ambition, namely hers.
“I don’t know where it comes from,” she said. “I’m, like, turbocharged in a small package.”
If so, it is a very well-wrapped package. In May, Minogue, a luminous-skinned 45, attended a “Gatsby” screening in New York (in a floral Dolce & Gabbana pantsuit) and the Met gala (again in Moschino) in quick succession.
Then there was Cannes, where she was outfitted almost exclusively in Roberto Cavalli, including a striking ivory cutout gown. (That Minogue does not appear in “Gatsby” nor had a film showing at Cannes seems almost beside the point. The red carpet beckoned and she was there.) In her home base, London, she has become a champion of up-and-coming designers like Richard Nicoll, Gareth Pugh and David Koma, visiting their studios and scooping up pieces early in their careers.
“She’s very happy to lend her body and name to emerging talent,” said Nicoll, who began dressing Minogue from his first capsule collection in 2003 after completing his master’s in fashion at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
Minogue might be a darling of designers, but as the lack of any recognition from fellow diners at the St. Regis suggested, she is far better known by the global paparazzi than by the U.S. public. But she is trying (one more time in a two-decade-plus career) to change that, in part by reframing herself as a fashion icon.
Last week, Running Press released “Kylie: Fashion” ($40), an ode in photographs to her sartorial high points as a performer. It was written with her longtime stylist, William Baker, and has a rhapsodic foreword by Jean Paul Gaultier (“who could forget the gold hot pants and the white jumpsuit with the openings so deep that anyone could feel your pale, delicate skin”).
Along with flamboyant costumes, like Gaultier’s anime-geisha tour outfits from 2008, the book contains examples of Minogue’s cover shoots for the influential fashion magazines i-D (March 1991) and The Face (June 1994), which the stylist Katie Grand has said was the best-selling issue during her time as fashion director there. Minogue also has appeared on the cover of British Elle seven times, most recently in January. (She has never appeared in Elle’s edition here.)
Minogue, who has sold more than 68 million records globally, admits that she has never truly mastered the U.S. market, despite her widespread popularity in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. If she fails to do it this time around, it will not be for lack of trying.
In February, it was announced that Minogue was parting with Terry Blamey, her manager of 25 years, and signing with Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s influential entertainment company, which has worked with Rihanna and Rita Ora. Since then, she has been spending time in Los Angeles, recording tracks with the Roc Nation producers Timbaland and Pharrell Williams.
“I think they feel it’s an interesting challenge to take on someone who has such a history that they had nothing to do with,” Minogue said, although she added, “I don’t know if it’s about taking it to the next level or just another level.”
Being on the Roc Nation roster also means shining up one’s presentation, which Minogue should have no problem doing, although Joe Zee, creative director of Elle magazine, which publishes an annual music issue, said he believes that over the years she has suffered by comparison to Madonna’s “controlled, specific, thought-out image.”
“Kylie is very different,” he said, adding that he’s a fan. “From what I see, her image is much more reflective of who she is. It’s about being fun and sexy.”
(BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.)
Baker said: “She has a lightness about her. She’s like Champagne bubbles — effervescent glamour.”
Minogue certainly has refused to be weighed down in her private life, despite a series of high-profile relationships, including with French actor Olivier Martinez (currently dating Halle Berry) and model Andrés Velencoso, her boyfriend.
“I don’t like being boxed in, in any way, shape or form,” she said.
But she maintained that underneath this up-for-anything exterior lies a certain mystery.
“There’s so much more people don’t know than they do know about me,” she said. “That contract is a good one between me and the public.” It’s a self-protective wisdom she gained from growing up in the business, she said. “I get it.”
Minogue was born in Melbourne, Australia, the oldest of three. Her father, Ronald Minogue, is an accountant; her mother, Carol Ann, had been a dancer.
The family, Minogue said, “worked up to middle class.”
She landed her first acting job at 11, on a short-lived Australian television drama called “Skyways,” through a friend of the family who worked in casting. After graduating from Camberwell High School (“I passed by the skin of my teeth,” Minogue said), she landed her breakthrough role, Charlene Mitchell, a schoolgirl turned garage mechanic, on the hit soap opera “Neighbours.”
She said she loved her 2 1/2 years on the show, driving to work in a “little white Datsun 1200 with a sport steering wheel,” although “I never had a clue what was going on under the bonnet,” she said.
It was at a “Neighbours” charity concert that she performed “The Loco-Motion,” which was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and had been a hit in 1963. In 1987, the song was included in her debut album, “Kylie,” which went gold in the United States and seven times platinum in Britain. Throughout, she was marketed as the girl next door.
“I didn’t know who I was,” Minogue said, pointing out that she was only about 19 when she signed her first recording contract. “I got my lines, I read my lines, performed my lines and then moved on to the next thing. I didn’t make many of the decisions back then.”
(END OPTIONAL TRIM.)
While the success of “The Loco-Motion” faded in the United States, the rest of the world “was going nuts,” she said, referring to the commercial success of her follow-up albums like “Enjoy Yourself.” In 1991, she moved to London and entered a period of self-discovery, spending time in Paris, rebelling against the pop machine and taking more control of her image.
“I got into the club scene, I met all the designers, the ones I still wear today,” she said, citing Azzedine Alaïa, trips to the Clignancourt market and the hot-pants phase to which Gaultier so affectionately alludes. She also met her best friend, artist Katerina Jebb, in Paris.
“I felt, and still feel, so inspired and liberated there,” Minogue said, adding with a laugh: “I speak enough French to get me into trouble and out of trouble.”
With Jebb behind the camera and Minogue in front, they toyed with fashion photography. When Minogue met Baker, then just 20, at the Vivienne Westwood shop in London, where he was working as a sales assistant, he offered to supply clothes for their impromptu shoots.
“I always saw her as kind of iconic,” said Baker, now 39. When styling Minogue, he was initially inspired by the decadent supermodel era and Steven Meisel’s images for Italian Vogue. Minogue particularly credits Baker for introducing her to London’s young designers.
“These were people I socialized and mixed with,” Baker said, pointing out that ties between the city’s “youth culture” and fashion “is really strong.”
In 2001, for the “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” music video, Baker put Minogue in the flimsy white jumpsuit that Gaultier cites in the foreword, designed by the underground London label Mrs Jones.
Baker said, “it was pure but kind of slutty at the same time.”
The neckline was certainly memorable: It plunged below the pop star’s navel.
The single would go on to become Minogue’s biggest hit. Along with the corresponding album “Fever,” which made its debut on the Billboard 200 chart at No. 3, it was the last time she made waves in the United States.
Overseas, though, she might as well be Aphrodite on the half shell.
(BEGIN OPTIONAL TRIM.)
“It was quite a big moment for me,” Koma, a 2009 Central Saint Martins graduate, said of the black and silver chain dress Minogue wore in her “Get Outta My Way” video. “She has worn a piece from each collection since then. For me, this is one of the most important things in fashion: relationships and loyalty.”
There has also been an impressive roster of household names. John Galliano designed plumed showgirl costumes for her 2005 tour; Grand introduced Minogue to Alexander McQueen; and Dolce & Gabbana created a leopard-print catsuit and a black patent corseted dress with a feather mohawk for her. And perhaps some of these signs have been too scrambled for U.S. audiences to process.
(END OPTIONAL TRIM.)
“Kylie has a much more European sensibility,” said Zee, adding that her look has been less focused than the next generation of pop singers like Rihanna, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. “In America, it’s a little more planned,” he said.
Youth, too, tends to be worshipped here more than overseas. But Minogue has reason to feel as if she’s been given a second lease on life. In 2005 she received a diagnosis of breast cancer. After undergoing chemotherapy, she was back on stage the next year. Although she handled press inquiries with an initial terseness (“Cancer is not a sound bite,” she said), she eventually became a spokeswoman for awareness of the disease.
Jay Brown, president of Roc Nation, called Minogue a “hot ticket” with “true fans, who’ll go to all three or four shows in a certain area.”
He does not see her age as a hurdle.
“I don’t know how you can put an expiration date on an artist — that’s up to them,” he said. “When you start getting older, you start enjoying yourself in a different way.”
Minogue pointed to her still-gyrating contemporaries Jennifer Lopez and Gwen Stefani.
“I certainly don’t feel it,” she said of her age. And you wouldn’t see it from her “Timebomb” video, released in 2012 with some 14 million views on YouTube. “Smoke and mirrors baby,” she said.
“You constantly see these stories ‘look 10 years younger’; ‘40 is the new 50,’; ‘50 is the new 60,’” she said. “Who knows. We can’t stop time, so you’ve just got to make the most of what you have.”