Sky Ferreira likes rock’n’roll but doesn’t like being told what to do. Kerry Potter finds the singer, model and muse of Hedi Slimane in a rebellious mood.
“I can be a little destructive at times. I don’t like people pushing me around and I’m not a follower,” drawls 21-year-old Sky Ferreira. So who better to star in ELLE’s Rebel Spirit shoot? And Ferreira walks the walk, as well as talking the talk – she’s certainly no a good-girl, cookie-cutter pop starlet. Our interview gets off to a confusing start when she goes AWOL and we only bump into each by chance in her London hotel lobby. She’s nervy, exhausted after playing a gig last night and says she has some ‘personal issues’ going on. She isn’t big on eye contact and keeps her enormous Prada sunglasses on for the entirety of the interview – only once do I catch a glimpse of her tired, kohl-smudged eyes, as she rubs them absent-mindedly. Her peroxide hair is up-all-night disheveled and she’s dressed entirely in black: a beaten-up leather jacket and boots, both vintage; a chiffon shirt from T by Alexander Wang; a Saint Laurent backpack and the briefest of leather skirts, which gives way to lithe, tanned legs. She looks both amazing and in need of a hug.
It’s hard to believe the weary girl perched awkwardly on the edge of a sofa next to me was once touted as the new Britney Spears. Six years ago, aged just 15, Ferreira landed a major record deal with Parlophone. She’d been spotted via her MySpace profile – making music was an escape for this self-confessed teen loner. Growing up in Venice Beach, California with her grandmother, she hated school and would bunk off and write songs in her bedroom or sneak into gigs with older friends. She honed her voice by taking opera singing lessons and joining a gospel choir, and would sing for a family friend who was in the business. You may have heard of him: “I’d go to Neverland once a week with my grandma as she did Michael Jackson’s hair. It was really fun – there were tonnes of rides. It’s insane thinking about it now but at the time I didn’t think anything about it. He was very supportive of my singing,” she says. When she wasn’t hanging out with Bubbles, Ferreira was, well, misbehaving. Her earliest memory is slathering her grandmother’s red lipstick all over her face (an act of rebellion she recreated in the video for Red Lips) – and that was just the start. “Yeah, I was a little bit of a wild child,” she giggles. “Hanging out with adults, ditching school, sneaking into bars and nightclubs. But I went for the music not to do drugs – I wanted to see bands.”
It may not surprise you to hear that the 15-year-old Ferreira didn’t much like being moulded into a popstar by her record label. “It was like high school but with bigger egos,” she snarls. “There are these old guys trying to tell you what people your age think is cool and they’re wrong.” As a result her debut album was never released and the reluctant pop princess was put out to pasture. Until now. She’s back, signed by Polydor, and finally has an album coming out later this year: “It’s still really poppy, but I get pop hooks and do something different with them.” If the ethereal synth-pop of single Everything Is Embarrassing is anything to go by, it’ll be worth the wait. “I just want to put good music out. I don’t want to have a hit song, become a big celebrity and then it all die down. I want a full career – this is what I want to do forever,” she says emphatically.
Ferreira may have found the music industry tough to navigate, but she has found in a mentor in Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, who co-wrote Red Lips. “She helped me out through a hard time. She always says, Don’t let them mess with you. I can text her if I have a question. She’s very encouraging.” She also has friends in high fashion places. Saint Laurent’s Hedi Slimane shot her for the pre-fall 2013 Saint Laurent campaign and also did the artwork for her EP Ghost. They met through a friend of Ferreira’s who was working on a shoot with Slimane. Ferreira dropped by the studio and so began a firm friendship. “I like that he’s really influenced by music. When you shoot with him it’s just like hanging out, it’s very intimate,” she says. She’s also friends with Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci: “He was one of the first people who booked me to play a fashion party. One of my favourite fashion moments was when I went to one of his shows and wore all-white Givenchy; a long white dress and white heels. It was the total opposite of my normal look, which is usually a T-shirt and combat boots.”
“Laid-back, sloppy, grungy” is how Ferreira describes her style. “I guess grunge is a Californian thing, that’s how we dress – and I was born in the ‘90s,” she says. Her boyfriend certainly fits the aesthetic – Zachary Cole Smith, of Brooklyn indie band DIIV, looks spookily like Kurt Cobain, and has also posed for Slimane. “I’ve always had the same sense of style,” says Ferreira, “I’ve worn vintage since I was young – thrift stores are everywhere in LA. I’d go to thrift stores or garage sales, buy pieces and cut them to make them shorter.” She adores Givenchy menswear, Prada, Miu Miu and Margiela but is also a fan of the high street, especially Topshop, Forever 21 (for whom she’s been in a campaign) and H&M. “I have this one jacket from H&M, a shaggy tan-coloured coat. It’s one of those pieces that people always want to know where’s it’s from – they think it’s Chanel or Saint Laurent.” The short(ish) hair is a new thing, and gives her a Madonna-ish air. Ferreira looks pleased at this comparison. “Early ‘90s Madonna is my style icon,” she smiles. “It was my first proper haircut ever – I’ve always had really long hair. But I needed a change and someone had left bleach on it for too long so it was damaged. I used to hide behind my hair and sing through it when I was on stage. It was a security blanket. It’s probably best I can’t rely on it now – my job requires me not to be shy.” Falling asleep on stage is also a no-no, so Ferreira decides to head up to her hotel room for some much-needed shut-eye before tonight’s show. Not before imparting her style mantra though: “I wear what I feel comfortable in. I don’t let the clothes wear me, you know?” Indeed, they wouldn’t dare.
Can’t-live-without piece: my leather jacket.
Favourite book: I read Role Models by John Waters – it’s essays about his heroes and it’s cool.
Favourite film: Christiane F
Favourite musician: Elliott Smith.
Favourite beauty product: Mac’s Russian Red matte red lipstick.
Best denim: Acne
Best red carpet: Saint Laurent
Best shoes: vintage
Best bags: backpacks. I like my Saint Laurent backpack. I’m not a purse girl and I’m not particularly girly.
Best holiday destination: Anywhere with a beach. I grew up on a beach – we went swimming all the time.
My favourite person on Twitter: Cher.