Hello Magazine - 15th June 2004
Interview by: Natasha Garnett
Photography by: Gavin Smith
AS BLONDIE EMBARK ON THEIR
DEBBIE HARRY CELEBRATES 30 YEARS AS A STYLE ICON AND POP PHENOMENON
It's 30 years since Debbie Harry first shot to fame. With her trademark white-blonde hair, razor-sharp cheek-bones, berets and thigh-high boots, the Blondie singer became the face of the new-wave punk movement and a style icon.
Three decades later she is looking as good as ever as the band embarks on the European leg of their world tour.
"I'm lucky, really, because I'm in pretty good shape," says the singer, who celebrates her 60th birthday next year. "For years I did that whole gym thing. I was a little gym rat! But I just got so sick of it, so I stopped. These days I stay in shape by doing lots of outdoor sports and dancing, which I love. Fortunately, I get a good work-out doing what I do!"
Debbie, who lives in New York with her beloved dogs, is excited to be back on the road again. "I'm just so thrilled to be doing this, and that the band is so successful still," she says. "I guess the key to it is that we have always remained very true to ourselves. We never got swept away into that big-bad-world, mass-market thing and I think our fans appreciated that. Not everyone can be a huge success; not everyone can be J-Lo or Madonna. We do good shows and we do good music. And what's exciting about coming back is that we have a very unusual audience as far as the age span is concerned because we have our old fans and new ones, too!"
For the first three years after Blondie split up, Debbie devoted herself to taking care of her boyfriend, the band's guitarist Chris Stein, who had been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Fortunately, he recovered, but their 11-year relationship came to an end. Although she was out of the limelight as far as the pop world was concerned, Debbie was far from idle. Her talents led her into jazz, the theatre and films. Then in 1998 the band reformed after a 16-year hiatus. It was a decision that was prompted by far more than pure nostalgia. "What we noticed during those years is that people were catching up on our credibility," explains Debbie. "The people we had influenced as kids were suddenly up there putting out their own music and talking about us, so it seemed the right moment to come back. And since we were all still alive, we thought, 'Why not?'" she recounts with a laugh.
"Seriously, it's really sad but true. There is such a high mortality rate in pop! It's staggering but nearly 75 per cent of the people I came up with are now dead."
While the influence of Blondie on other bands over the years is undeniable, Debbie herself can be credited for launching a whole new look during the 1970s and 1980s. "It's funny," she says, "but it was really quite accidental. I was living with a great friend in the Bowery in New York, in this really funky apartment, but I had no dough. So he used to just pull things out of my wardrobe for me and put them together and then give me a beret or make me wear a trench coat or thigh-high boots, and it just went from there."
These days the woman responsible for putting Debbie's look together is her close friend, designer Melanie Greensmith, owner of the cult Australian label Wheels & Doll Baby. Melanie's designs, which feature bustier tops and slogan T-shirts, are much coveted by A-list stars such as Kate Hudson, Daryl Hannah, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani, Elle Macpherson and Kate Moss. In the past, she has dressed Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and INXS, and even provided Michael Jackson with the studded 1950s-style jacket he wore on his BAD! tour.
Victoria Beckham is also keen to sport the Wheels & Doll Baby label - but only if Melanie can prevent model and TV presenter Jordan from wearing it, too. "It's so ridiculous," laughs Melanie. "I'm thrilled that Victoria wants to wear it but, as I said to her people, I can't stop Jordan from wearing it as she buys it herself - and I won't!"
Despite a famous clientele, there was one woman Melanie always wanted to design for and that was Debbie Harry. They were eventually introduced by Melanie's partner Mark McEntee, of the Australian group The Divinyls. "Debbie and I really hit it off and I started giving her some pieces, then designing more and more for her," she recalls.
During the tour Debbie will be wearing a selection of Melanie's dresses and bustier tops, and combining them with some of her own pieces. "It's really important when you are doing a show to wear something that is well made and comfortable because you don't want to have to think about it all the time. Melanie's clothes are wonderful like that," the singer explains.
"The other thing I love is that they are so feminine. When I was younger my look was quite androgynous but I try to look more womanly now. It's important to act my age."
In a black corset dress, her pale blonde hair fashionably tousled, Debbie Harry may try to act her age but she certainly doesn't look it.