The Kills’ guitarist has learned a thing or two about clothes, even if he did have to find out the hard way (see: elasticated jeans). He shows Esquire inside his wardrobe:
My mum used to make my jeans. Elasticated ones without a fucking fly on them. I grew up in Africa, and no one cared what brand of jeans you wore. She would knit things, too. It was just what people did. My sister probably suffered more than me, because what can you make a boy, really? Jeans. Then I moved to a council house in Reading, went to a comprehensive school and got bullied for it. I realised, “Oh, things aren’t like that. Your mum doesn’t make your jeans.”
No bands came to my town [Woolton Hill, Berkshire] when I was growing up. When I was about 13, 14, I’d hitchhike into Newbury and go to the record shop, Music Market. I’d buy records on the strength of the covers and what the band looked like. That was my first point of excitement, seeing a band like The Stooges. That was the point where fashion and music crossed over for me.
I picked up the guitar after finding The Jam’s All Mod Cons at Music Market. There’s this picture where The Jam looked amazing. Now when I look at it, it’s a bit of a cod mock-up of vaguely Sixties pop art surrealism: Paul Weller’s on one leg with a wood saw and there’s a fridge with some drumsticks in it. But it was really amazing seeing him with that buttoned-up collar and beautiful suit, trousers deliberately too short.
That was a big thing when I was at school. Trousers too short. It came from the Jamaican kids: they were dressing in hand-me-down clothes and then grew out of them, so the suits would be too tight and too short. I love it when you find things like that out.
My first proper suit was one that I picked and pleaded for. It was three-button, two-tone, bluey-grey, but you’d move and it would go gold. My mum got it for me out of the Freemans catalogue, so I definitely wasn’t on the cutting edge. It was the tail end of the mod revival. It must have been the tail end — Freemans had taken it on. But I was dead excited about it.
We had a uniform at school. Royal blue V-neck jumper, white shirt, claret and blue tie. I turned the tie the other way round, and by the fourth year I was wearing black jeans, winklepickers and I’d shaved the sides of my hair into a Mohawk. People were so uptight about it; I realised that fashion could actually kind of change the path of your life.
I’m pretty hard on clothes. When I like something, I wear it into the ground, then really regret it. I used to be really stupid with it. When I was 17, I used to get Dr Martens and think the heels were too chunky and bulbous, so I’d cut them off with a bread knife and make them really thin and useless. Then they’d fall apart.
When we started The Kills, Alison [Mosshart, singer] was 19 and had come over from Florida. She’d spent way too much time in her teens being in this skate-punk scene. Fun, but you look at her photos and it’s like, “Babe, you had a crew cut and cut-off shorts.” I’d been squatting for years, so my wardrobe had basically become like the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. So we’d go to a charity shop and buy some furs and sew some shit on them. We made this effort to be a bit flamboyant.
It’s kind of embarrassing when you look back, but I really liked that moment when you’re really lost in the bubble of things. It’s the same bubble that made Gary Numan paint his face white or David Bowie do a lightning bolt and wear women’s clothes. It’s this exciting idea that you’re really standing at the edge of something. I love that, and I think it’s sad that later on you get the piss ripped out of you for it.
Alison’s much better at dressing up when we’re performing. You can be so brilliant if you’re a girl. You’re not quite afforded the same luxury if you’re a guy, especially not if you’re a 43-year-old guy. I’m probably quite practical when I’m on stage. I start off with a leather jacket, and then get too hot and take it off. I don’t think too much about it.
I’d say I own 30 leather jackets. The leather thing came to me fairly recently because before that I spent two decades not wearing leather or wool or anything. I was completely vegan. And then the world of leather opened up to me…
I’m fond of a pair of boots. I love a scarf. I love a belt. You know [stylist] Katy England? She thinks I’ve got a good eye for a belt. Really, I just buy the same belt over and over again. A certain kind of fatigued leather with a square buckle. Brass.
I feel uncomfortable describing my style. I just know what I like. I love that real old English thing, like Richard E Grant in Withnail and I. What a brilliant look — a high-waisted girl’s coat with pleats!
There are things I could never wear. Hoodies. Can’t do that. Trainers. I can’t wear trainers. They look good on the shelf, but as soon as I put on a pair of trainers, I’m disgusted.
The last few records we’ve made in this place called Benton Harbor, this rotten old town about three hours from Detroit. When we go there, I find myself making up a regime to keep me sane. Every Sunday, I come down clean-shaven with a new suit on and a crisp shirt and tie. “It’s Sunday!” I do my normal thing, record some songs, but with a vengeance; you just get a different attitude. You dress up and somehow it just burns away the last tired six days.
It was [former head designer at Yves Saint Laurent] Stefano Pilati’s idea to do my wedding suit in light blue. I wanted to do it in a goldy-green, but he said, “It’s a really difficult colour because it might look a bit military.” I said, “I don’t mind that.” He said, “You might look like a gardener.” So I said, OK.
I love the pleasure-seeking aspects of the fashion world; there’s always going to be something fun with that crowd. But the show thing I find awkward. Why am I sitting there in the front row, unless I’m with my wife [supermodel Kate Moss]? If I’m sitting on my own it taps into my uptight male side, where it’s like, “What am I doing here? It’s fucking stupid.”
I’ve got an old Vivienne Westwood “Seditionaries” jacket that apparently belonged to Johnny Thunders. That’s not the reason that it’s precious to me; it’s just about the first thing Kate bought me. It’s black leather with a skull and crossbones on the back. I never wear it, but I do love it.
I went to an auction once and bought Edie Sedgwick’s rabbit fur coat. It’s a blondey-brown, a tiny, tiny thing. I’ve still got it. But it’s kind of a private photo moment. Kate’s worn it and I’ve taken pictures of her. That’s probably my most precious thing.
Lucian Freud was the most stylish man I knew. He always looked immaculate. We went to see him when he was ill in bed, and even then, at the age of 80-odd, and in just his pyjamas, he still looked completely incredible.
A new book of photographs of The Kills, Dream & Drive by Kenneth Cappello, is out now
(Top image Black wool tuxedo jacket, £2,030 for suit; blue/grey cotton polo shirt, £375; black denim trousers, £275, all by Yves Saint Laurent. Boots, scarf, jewellery, all Jamie Hince’s own)
(Black snakeskin bomber jacket, £4,610; silver/blue silk scarf, £150; black denim trousers, £275, all by Yves Saint Laurent )
Photography by Dan Burn-Forti
Fashion by Catherine Hayward
Interview by Miranda Collinge