Wardrobe mistresses – Julie Feeney
There are two types of chaos. There is organised chaos, in which items are haphazardly thrown around, in a pattern known only to the auteur of its destruction. Then there is disorganised chaos, a more pure, organic form of chaos …
There are two types of chaos. There is organised chaos, in which items are haphazardly thrown around, in a pattern known only to the auteur of its destruction. Then there is disorganised chaos, a more pure, organic form of chaos in which items find themselves in locations entirely unsuited to their status – a tape recorder beneath a red silk scarf, glass sweets on a plate by the fireplace, a measuring tape lurking beneath an old cup of tea.
Julie Feeney’s chaos is most definitely the latter. In her home, CDs jostle for space with books – opera, cookery, politics – and random knick knacks. Her kitchen doubles as storage space for her instruments; her bedroom is both her sleeping and recording space; the livingroom of her Georgian apartment in Dublin 4 is both relaxing and stress-inducing. There are at least three mobile phones in her home, all of which will, at some point during our discussion, ring. Her publicist – “should I go on The All-Ireland Talent Show? I think it’d be fun” – and another two calls that, for now, go unanswered.
Her style is an ode to eclecticism, and something that fits with any preconceived image of Feeney: a collage of sorts from her appearances at the Meteor Music Awards, in black with a house headpiece; at the Choice Music Prize, like a liquorice allsort, glimmering onstage; on The View in a ballgown composed entirely of paper – the score from her second album, Pages. Then there is the award-winning video to Impossibly Beautiful, in which Feeney achieves the unachievable – mastering blonde, brunette and red hairstyles.
Her wardrobe is no different to anything else: “It kind of becomes a question of, ‘when do you take the costume off?’” she says. “In my life, there’s no distinction between life and performance. This is all I do.” A lime green jacket from Karen Millen – “I love Karen Millen; everything fits me, it just suits my shape so perfectly” – alongside a denim Miu Miu dress and, touchingly, her debs dress. “I had that made for me,” she says. “I just love the fabric.” It is a beautiful, deep, autumnal pattern, with the tiniest silk buttons all the way up the back. It is arguably cooler than most debutante attire; you should not be surprised.
“I would say my wardrobe is completely diverse,” says Feeney, who pulls items – random items, items that neither match nor have anything in common with one another – from her closet with gay abandon (“I’ll take this, and I love this . . . and I love red and this green is just gorgeous and this . . .”). “I’m very much somebody who wears something I feel at the time.”
With Feeney, almost all lines of conversation lead, inevitably and unstoppably, back to the music. “I don’t think I have a definite style. It’s the same with my music – from the first to the second album, you’ll hear themes but they’re completely different. It has to be something I feel, so . . .” As a musician, Feeney puts on a performance; during the day, she says, “I wouldn’t go around really fashionably inside my house. But I love the freedom of being able to wear what you actually feel and not be under pressure. I don’t feel obliged to have to make a statement.”
That said, Feeney admits that versatility is key, and she is loathe to appear, particularly on terrestrial television, more than once in the same outfit. “Even though I’m not Lady Gaga, in that insanely famous way, I still want to keep things fresh – so if I do two TV interviews, I wouldn’t want to wear the same thing. I have to be conscious and think, ‘I wore this one here; did I wear this before?’ You’re checking, constantly wondering, ‘have I run out of clothes?’”
But how does she shop? Does she shop with military precision, writing a list (and checking it twice), and pursuing her goal until it has been achieved, or is she – as one might imagine, gazing around at buttons, headpieces, glitter and sequins everywhere – more of a magpie? “I’m terrible for getting waylaid,” she admits. “I can just be going down the street and see something in a shop and go, ‘oh my God, I have to have that’. But when I don’t have much money, I stay away – I avert my eyes. If I go down a street with clothes, I just won’t look, because I have to really control myself.”
So what items does Feeney view as failsafes? “I have loads of different black tops, in different shapes, with different designs, because they’re so useful – and I have a lot of fitted jumper dresses, which are so versatile. “And I always go for shape,” she concludes, smoothing her fitted, black dress, and looking up, all puppy dog eyes and false eyelashes. “I love things that are fitted. I don’t own baggy things. I know what my body shape is and I know what suits it. I prefer items to be waisted. I go into a shop and the first thing I see is shape. Then colour – colours that give me a nice, warm feeling, where my senses are warm and I feel cosy.”
Then, suddenly, we’re talking music again. “It’s so tied up with my music, where I am in making my music . . .” She pauses, smiles. “I have a one-track mind, it’s unbelievable. I just live, breathe and eat it, so everything leads back to the music.”
Feeney will play in The Model, Sligo, on May 22nd; in the National Concert Hall on May 29th; in the Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge, Co Kildare on June 18th; and, finally, in the Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray on June 19th.
Published in The Irish Times, Saturday, May 1st, 2010
(this is the unabridged version, due to editing difficulties)