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28th March 2011

Debbie Harry
She’s been there, done that

Gaga’s meat dress? Debbie Harry did it first.
Underwear as outerwear? She wore it in ’75. As Blondie release a new album, the coolest 65-year-old on the planet tells Grazia why she’s very happy for Moss, Madonna and Gaga to steal her style…

By Francesca Babb
Photos: Jenny Hands

IT’S A SPRING MORNING in a London studio and there are scenes of near hysteria. It is as if Justin Bieber has appeared at Nando’s Lakeside on a Saturday lunchtime – only it’s Monday and the hysterians are Grazia’s photographic crew. The subject of their adoration? Well, I’d rather be in another continent when she finds out I’ve just compared her to the Bieb. This is the Debbie Harry effect. Grown men are blushing; 30-something fashionistas are stuttering. They’re stealing pictures from my bag and asking her to sign them for their bedroom walls (no joke). One eyebrow raised, Debbie is bemused. Of course she is. She may be in her sixties, but she’s still as cool as the day she snarled her way on to a dirty New York stage.
Debbie has flown in to perform at the Royal Albert Hall for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and to promote a new Blondie album. At the gig, she will rock a tiny leather skirt and biker boots. Today, fresh off the plane, she is wearing a tracksuit circa J-Lo: The Ghetto Years. Impossibly, she still looks cool. But then Debbie Harry is perhaps the most stylish, most-copied woman in music. She is not wearing a single stroke of make-up. Her skin is taut and peachy, her hair still white-blonde, but a more rollered, expensive version of the Blondie days. The nips and tucks she has freely admitted to are subtle; there is no solid upper lip or frozen forehead, which means the raised eyebrow is free to roam wherever it likes.
We are here, ostensibly, to talk about style, and her influence on it. But it is almost impossible to talk to Debbie Harry without going off-piste – such as the time I ask her about people’s reactions to her stage outfits, and we spend almost five minutes talking about a party in New Orleans, where everyone was high on Ecstasy and Debbie was wearing a dress made out of razor blades while they all stroked her legs. The usual. But, while she may be modest about her influence on fashion, there is no denying it. Whether it’s Madonna, Gaga or even Agyness Deyn, she is a point of reference people will always come back to. She puts this mostly down to Stephen Sprouse, the New York designer who worked with her from the late ’70s until he died in 2004. But it’s the way she wore things, her attitude, that made her such an icon.
So here is Debbie Harry, on style, Joan Rivers’ face, drugs as a keep-fit device and why Lady Gaga she sew her mouth shut…

It’s almost impossible to talk about ’70s style without discussing you – does that shock you?
I think so. It’s shocking and amazing but, in some ways, I think it’s kind of inevitable. I always felt that I was ahead of the curve. But I’m thrilled about it, truthfully. [At the time] we just felt like we wanted to do something different. We were all very interested in and influenced by the ’60s and that more streamlined look, and what we were coming out against was very flowery and full. So we were cutting it back and ripping up things.

Were there hippies staging sit-down protests at your gigs?
The first time we went to LA, where hippiedom was still in full sway, we did a show to everyone dressed in bell bottoms and coloured shirts. And then the next night, they all showed up in tight dresses. Similarly, I’ve seen a lot of little girls doing the Gaga thing nowadays with very elaborate clothes.

Aha! Like this? (cue picture of Gaga in a Debbie-esque yellow striped dress)
Yeah! Everywhere there are Sprouse knock-offs. And those Mugler shoulders! But I think Gaga is more of a Madonna fan.

Who was essentially a Debbie Harry fan, no?
(Wry smile, arched eyebrow) Probably.

Did Kate Moss steal your style, too?
I love Kate – I’ve met her several times. She’s such a sweetie and she’s so beautiful, my God. I’ve met both Madonna and Gaga, too. Some of Gaga’s stuff is great, and some of it… Like the meat dress. We used to do that at this little club. There were a lot of erotic and S&M things going on in there, and people would wear meat, but they stitched their mouths closed, too. All of that stuff has been around the S&M world for some time. So until she stitches her mouth closed…

Which, let’s hope, she won’t do… Is it not even slightly annoying to be copied so heavily?
I’ve been influenced as well, but I will say the underwear as outerwear is something I did quite early on. It was ’75 and I was wearing bras out as outerwear. I thought it looked pretty hot.

Did you get any say in your styling, or was it mostly Stephen?
He had very strong ideas, but occasionally I might go to him with an idea about something that was fantastic, but not necessarily for me. Like we said to him to copy the Bruce Lee jumpsuit with the stripes up the side, and then he started making jumpsuits. But he was such a great artist. He could do a sketch and it was so uniquely his style, just a few brushstrokes and you could see it right away. Like magic. I’ve been talking about Steve a lot, but he was really a great person for me.

Were you his muse?
Well, you’d have to ask him and he’s dead, so…

Who else has had an impact on your wardrobe?
Well, more recently, I’ve had some pieces made by Michael Schmidt, who did the bubble dress for Gaga on the cover of Rolling Stone. He created the razor-blade dress for me, all made of double-bladed razors, which was fantastic, just beautiful. I have a short one and a long one. It’s like snakeskin, but metal. He was one of the first to do chainmail for Cher and Tina Turner, and so I wore some of that. And he made me a mummy bandage dress that I still have. And a parallel-lines dress out of crystals on black. Very costumey pieces.

There aren’t many 65-year-olds who can wear razor-blade dresses. Do you feel good about yourself?
Yeah, I actually do feel pretty good. A lot of things have really come together for me. I enjoy what I do more, because I’m more relaxed about it. I think I enjoy reasonably good health. I feel quite fortunate about that. The only thing that is bad for me is that most of the men I meet are either married or want younger women, so that’s a little bit difficult. I have to capture them and take them home, tie them up and put them in a room and then abuse them sexually.

Don’t we all? Do you like what you see in the mirror?
Oh no, oh my God, I’ve never felt happy about that – you can never see past your flaws. Aren’t you very critical about yourself?

But I’m not Debbie Harry…
But we’re all the same. Every day is different, and sometimes things change through the transition of the day. You start out going urgh, and you end up going ah!

And there’s always surgery! You’ve had a facelift…
Oh sure. I think a lot of people are open about that now. I mean, look how beautiful Cher looks. She looks absolutely stunning. Joan Rivers is so outrageously funny about it and yet she looks cute and she feels good. She’s in her 70s, she looks fantastic and she has a great time. It makes her feel good.

Would you do it again?
I think so. I don’t know how much more I could do. But I seem to be holding up pretty well.

Have you got make-up on now?
No. Not yet. Moisturiser. I’m lucky, I admit it.

Do you work out?
Yeah, I train. I have a great trainer and he gives me a hard time. He’s so brilliant. We do a lot of core work. Loosening up joints, balance.

Is it something you’ve always done?
I go through stages. In the ’60s I did yoga; in the ’70s I did drugs. And then I went into weightlifting and body building. And then Pilates. Then I went back to a lot of cardio and weightlifting. And now I do [core work]. It’s really smart and futuristic and educational. Everything, no matter what exercise you do, is based on nutrition to some point. And outdoor sports are so much fun.

Are there no men knocking around?
I’d love to be in a great relationship, but I think I’ll have to go to the morgue to find somebody.

But you ‘date’ people, yes?
I do date – it’s a horrible process. But I don’t have a fella – that’s why I keep having to tie them up and put them in my room.

Don’t try in London, it’s a dry pool…
Oh really, oh God.

Sorry about that. Do you have any regrets, looking back?
Of course. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I used to think, you can’t regret, but you do. You think, oh my God, I’m so stupid – and that’s how you learn, I guess.

‘Panic Of Girls’ is available to buy and download on 30 May; for tour dates visit


so book now for London’t hottest. Catch Blondie and Snoop God at the eclectic Lovebox r Jamie XX and James Blake at the ultra-cool Field Day.
Lovebox, 15-17 July, and Field Day, 6 August, both at Victoria Park, London

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