Florence x Elle Italia

Exclusive interview to Florence Welch on Elle Italia, October 2017 (Interview by Adriana Di Lello, Styling by Alberto Zanoletti, Photo by David Burton) 

 

ENGLISH VERSION (Versione italiana nella gallery in fondo alla pagina)

An English rose with an anguished soul. Florence Welch, the flamboyant baroque pop star, singer and leader of Florence + The Machine, is a perfect heroin of our turbulent times. Punk and preraphaelite, sweet and fierce, charismatic and powerful on stage but fragile in her private life. Florence + The Machine’s three records, full of troubled lyrics, made millions of people across the world fall in love with her, especially thanks to the deep and powerful vocals and to the intense, theatrical performances of this 30-years-old Londoner, daughter of a Renaissance Studies professor and an advertising director. Alessandro Michele is one of her best fans: legend has it that the Gucci’s creative director used to listen to Florence’s last record, How Big How Blue How Beautiful, while he was designing his very first collection for the Italian fashion house. Then it was a short step to a true friendship between them – bounded by their mutual love for William Blake’s poetry. Now Florence is an ambassador for Gucci’s jewelry and timepieces, as the ultimate representative of the maximalist and decadent style that made Alessandro Michele the “darling” of the fashion industry.

We met her in Milan just as a Gucci ambassador and she gave an interview exclusively for Elle. Tall, long red hair and pale, wearing a white and blue embroidered blouse, flared jeans with flowers and ants embroidery, a claw pendant and rings with bull and wolf heads (total look Gucci, of course) – she immediately reveals her rock soul. She is very polite, calm and relaxed at times, but you can clearly feel an underlying and incessant anxiety. She moves continuously sitting on a small armchair, changes posture, bursts out laughing and turns serious right after, touching her rings while trying to speak. She gets gloomy sometimes but keeps a classic British aplomb.

  • Why do you like the Gucci by Alessandro Michele?

I think I have never met a designer whose vision matches so perfectly with mine. My lyrics are the result of different influences: poetry, art, conversations, WhatsApp messages. Dog Days Are Over was inspired by Ugo Rondinone’s installation that I saw everyday cycling on Waterloo Bridge. I found this melting pot in Alessandro as well and instinctively identified with it.

  • What of his style do you admire most?

It’s a creative style, his extreme mix seems not to make sense but it does actually, because it’s full of his sensitivity. Mixing Renaissance, Elton John and Blake’s poetry is like a triple somersault but it works perfectly. When he sent silver rings and nail polishes to me for the show I looked at them and found the words “Anger forest” etched inside. It’s a nonsense actually but makes sense in his eccentric aesthetics.

  • How did you meet?

The first time in New York, by chance. We came across on the street, I was wearing red flares and a pompon waistcoat, he was wearing his classic Shakesperian clothes: it was inevitable for us to have a peek to each other, although we both kept walking on our own then. Later we introduced and were like “Oh, it was you!” and immediately bounded and found out our mutual love for imperfect beauty, never too pretty but mixed with dark elements. And for the rings, so many rings.

  • Indeed, you are ambassador for Gucci’s jewelry and timepieces…

I love wearing jewels as talismans, I use to wear the same ones everyday and if I forget them I feel like naked. Gucci jewels are in perfect harmony with me.

  • How would you describe your style?

This look I am wearing today reflects me so much. Since a certain age you become more confident: when I was 20 I was “experimental” and so confused, the spotlight made me feel stressed and I dressed up in varied and eccentric ways to get people’s compassion. Some years ago I finally started to wear what I really like, a style between romantic and bohemian with embroidery, different patterns and printings.

  • Live concerts are really important for you. How much does your stage outfit mean?

A lot. In the past my looks were theatrical, I took out glitter and sequin pieces from a trunk and put them on randomly, running up and down the stage. With my last album the performance anxiety drastically reduced and I felt more free. And then I decided to wear on stage what I wear everyday in my private life. I read up on the easy and confident style of some performers like Nick Cave, Keith Richards, Alex Turner and even Otis Redding who had an insane energy on stage.

  • Is there an item you always wear?

A 70’s orange suede coat I bought in Dallas on tour; I love it so much that it has become the dictator of my closet and every single item revolves around it.

  • So are you not unpredictable about looks?

I am less unpredictable now because I learned to know what makes me feel comfortable. But I also love Gucci and, you know, its style is not so predictable…

  • You studied art at college: which artistic trend do you like most?

I love Jenny Holzer and his Inflammatory Essays, in general murals with lettering, words, phrases. Among young artists, I like Stella Vine and Danny Fox and I’d love to become friend to Unskilled Worker, who collaborated with Gucci as well.

  • What was the last exhibition you visited?

I tried to visit the David Hockney exhibition but was too crowded so I fell back on some masterpieces at the Tate Britain, like Three Crucifixions Studies by Francis Bacon. I love preraphaelites, which I have often been connected to. Every time I go to the museum, my manager says “Are you going and visit your friends?”

  • Your mother is a Renaissance Studies professor. Did she inspire you?

Yes, a lot. I spent most of my childhood with her in Florence, she took me to visit Medicean churches and chapels. She also wrote a book about fashion in the Renaissance and, even if she always wears black, she passed down to me the passion for clothes.

  • Your Instagram is full of hand-written quotes. Why?

I’ve got a lot of notebooks, full of personal thoughts and drawings. I don’t tweet much but I have an aesthetic vision that I love to share. I’m not so good with technology, I don’t even know how to open a Word file and if something happens to my smartphone I get in panic.

  • During the interviews you look smiling and calm but your lyrics are very troubled. Who is Florence?

Oh it’s funny, nobody ever told me I am “calm”. But one of my favorite books is Legend of a suicide by David Vann, a dark and terrible story. I met the author once and he looked like a peaceful person. I had self-destructive tendencies in the past but I’ve been lucky because music saved me; I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t have music. But yes, maybe there is an optimist part in me, like someone who is still able to get amazed by life.

  • So is music your psychoanalysis?

Yes! Sometimes songs I write are wiser than me, I use to read them again after months and find reasonable endings I hadn’t think of. It’s like my subconscious come out with my lyrics, more linear than my everyday life.

  • How do you prepare for a concert?

You must surrender to another part of yourself on stage, leave your rational side on stand-by and let instinct and impulse guide you.

  • How do you feel when you come back home after a tour?

Very bad in the past, I was so absorbed by the record that I almost didn’t exist anymore and coming back to the everyday life was a shock. It got better with my last album: when I came back home I was electrified by two years of pure adrenaline incessantly coursing through my body and I couldn’t sleep but then I wept for days. But it was a small thing compared to my past crisis.

  • How do you relax?

I have practiced transcendental meditation for three years and it changed my life, it’s a great therapy for anxiety. I often watch TV, especially crime documentaries and series like The OA; I used to feel guilty once, then I read M Train by Patti Smith and found out she does it too…

  • You said that “chaos is inspiration”. What does it mean?

That was the old Florence. There was a moment I didn’t manage to find an order and thought that the hangover was an essential part in the creative process. But then I figured out that I can do it without it and creativity is not affected.

  • Do you feel like blessed by talent?

Not really. There are things I can do, like singing, but I am a bumbler with many others – mostly practical. I have to get better. I’m slowly making it.

 

How Big How Blue How Beautiful 1/6/2015 – 1/6/2017

Buon secondo compleanno How Big How Blue How Beautiful! 

Per l’occasione vi riportiamo la recensione dell’album scritta da una nostra admin il 1 giugno di due anni fa.

 

Florence è tornata sulla terra. Lo avevamo capito dall’artwork del nuovo album (l’unione dei simboli alchemici dell’aria e dell’acqua) e dal video teaser, dove riesce finalmente a liberarsi del suo doppio. Ce lo hanno confermato i videoclip della sua odissea, in cui porta ripetutamente le mani alla bocca e apre le braccia al cielo nella sua disarmante nudità. Ed è proprio il cielo di Los Angeles ad aver ispirato il titolo del suo terzo album. Un titolo che suggerisce serenità – quella serenità che, traccia dopo traccia, Florence cerca di conquistare. Avrebbe potuto scegliere un titolo che rispecchiasse il frullatore di emozioni che questo disco è, ma, alla fine, l’ottimismo ha avuto la meglio. La leader della band londinese ha dichiarato che How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful è nato cercando di imparare a vivere ed amare in questo mondo piuttosto che scappare da esso. Ha detto che questo disco è il frutto di un periodo difficile e devastante, e in effetti ogni traccia di questa opera lo dimostra. Alla fine di Ceremonials Florence lasciava simbolicamente il suo corpo. E altrettanto simbolicamente la prima traccia di How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (Ship to wreck) si apre con l’immagine di comuni sonniferi. Florence non si nasconde più dietro conigli o fantasmi. È umana. Questo disco trasuda vita, oltre che fiumi di alcool. È il suo lavoro più intimo e personale, è tutto ciò che non ci si aspetterebbe dopo l’entusiasmo eclettico di Lungs e la sontuosità spettrale di Ceremonials. La sua Machine è decisamente più rock e fluida, con una maggiore presenza di chitarre e la magistrale entrata in scena dei fiati. Palese l’influenza dei Fleetwood Mac, con la voce di Florence che spesso si trascina in lamenti desolanti senza mai esplodere (Various Storms And Saints, Long & Lost, St. Jude). Ma quando poi esplode, lo fa davvero. Ship To Wreck, What Kind Of Man, Queen Of Peace, Third Eye, per non parlare dell’epica Which Witch dell’edizione deluxe, sono bombe di suoni. Florence è sempre maestosa. Ascoltare questo album significa ascendere in dimensioni altre ed essere scaraventati al suolo alla traccia successiva. Si viene risucchiati dal caos che regna nella mente di chi l’ha partorito. Si passa da inni di speranza a lamenti di rassegnazione e ci si sente personalmente lacerati da questi altalenanti stati d’animo.

L’album si apre con l’impetuosa Ship To wreck, un urlo di autodistruzione da hangover in cui, tra visioni oniriche di squali, balene killer e topi dagli occhi rossi, è la terra stessa a farle da letto. What Kind Of Man, primo singolo estratto dall’album, è l’energico canto di una morbosa devozione verso un uomo di cui fa fatica a liberarsi. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful è una ventata di ottimismo e la voce di Florence è accompagnata da un’elegante ensemble di trombe che alla fine sembrano dissolversi nell’universo. Un delicato insieme di archi e di trombe, che sembra quasi sancire simbolicamente la fusione tra il vecchio e il nuovo sound, apre Queen Of Peace; ma la quiete lascia presto spazio alla tempesta, un tripudio di frustrazione condensato in “What is it worth when all that’s left is hurt?”. Arriva poi il pezzo più intimo e toccante, Various Storms And Saints, in cui non è difficile sentir risuonare Patti Smith. La voce di Florence è stagliata su un background sonoro scarno e incede sofferente col suo dolore, per lasciarsi andare a un accenno di speranza nella conclusione. Delilah è un canto danzante di rassegnazione, l’attesa infinita di una telefonata. Nel bridge la voce è stridente, al contempo algida e sensuale: “Too fast for freedom/Sometimes it all falls down/These chains never leave me/I keep dragging them around” (sembra far capolino il demone di Shake It Out). Ideale proseguimento di Various Storms And Saints per l’atmosfera più sommessa è Long & Lost, una perla di raffinatezza e un manifesto di umanità: Florence è persa nella nebbia e desidera soltanto tornare a casa.

 

La ballata per eccellenza dell’album è Caught: stavolta la cosa più difficile da fare non è scrollarsi demoni di dosso ma semplicemente trattenersi dal fare una telefonata. “I was trashing on the line somewhere between desperate and divine”: è una delle frasi più incisive e illuminanti della nuova direzione di questo disco. E poi irrompe Third Eye, un trionfo di entusiasmo in cui viene letteralmente urlata la dimensione terrena di How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful: “You don’t have to be a ghost here amongst the living/You are flesh and blood!”. Tutto l’album è condensato nella ripetizione compulsiva e gioiosa di “I’m the same/I’m trying to change!”. Ci avviamo verso la fine. In St. Jude, dove il nome del santo protettore delle cause perse coincide con quello di un temporale che colpì l’Inghilterra due anni fa, Florence inizia a capire. “I’m learning so I’m leaving/And even though I’m grieving/I’m trying to find the meaning/Let the loss reveal it”. Florence è caduta e l’ultima traccia chiude idealmente il cerchio. Mother, un concentrato di blues e sensualità, è lo sfogo ultimo e definitivo. È la degna conclusione di un album profondamente intriso di materialità: Florence chiede alla madre – quella vera o Madre Natura? – di diventare albero, nuvola grigia, uccello. Chiede disperatamente di farsi natura. “Leave on my knees/‘cause I belong to the ground now and it belongs to me”.
L’edizione deluxe contiene altre suggestive tracce decisamente incalzanti, oltre che le demo versions di Third Eye e How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful: Hiding, Make Up Your Mind e soprattutto Which Witch, un pezzo corale, catartico, potentissimo.

 

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful conclude un’ipotetica triade dialettica hegeliana. La tesi è rappresentata da Lungs, un’opera frenetica e viscerale: Florence cantava divertita e irriverente di sacrifici, di bare, di occhi cavati. Ceremonials è una sacrale antitesi a quella sfrenatezza, è una solenne trascendenza, uno scenario onirico di demoni, fantasmi e rituali. Ed ora ecco arrivata la sintesi, il ritorno inevitabile in questo mondo. Il sangue non sporca più i suoi piedi mentre cerca una possessione bestiale ma scorre caldo nelle sue vene; lei non si perde più in cimiteri immaginari ma nella nebbia, mentre cerca di far ritorno a casa; non lascia più il suo corpo ma si incarna del tutto, in una comunione totale con la natura. Bentornata, Florence.

Ileana Costabile