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Gendermess yeti costume Roisin Murphy

‘What is she wearing?!’: Róisín Murphy on the wildest item in her wardrobe

The iconic musician tells the story of the most meaningful item of clothing she owns – a one-off, Yeti-like fringed suit by avant-garde drag artist Gendermess

Róisín Murphy needs no introduction. The infallibly brilliant musician has spent the last two decades disrupting the mainstream music industry with her unique brand of glittering, electronic-tinged pop, while serving look after subversive look along the way. 

From her appearance as a human disco ball in Moloko’s iconic “Sing It Back” video and turning up to the Met Ball in Comme des Garçons, to her numerous turns in the pages of this very magazine wearing high fashion pieces by the likes of BalenciagaGucci, and (old) Celine, the term ‘style icon’ is thrown around all too frequently – but in Murphy’s case, the label is wholly justified. 

Now, as part of a new series which will see people with a deep-rooted love of fashion talk us through the poignant, meaningful impact specific items of clothing have had on them, Murphy presents the story of a wild, one-off Yeti-like fringed suit she wore throughout her 2015 Hairless Toys tour  as created by avant-garde designer and drag artist Gendermess

“One of the first pieces of clothing to have an effect on me was when I was really young and I found a black stocking somewhere in the house. I put it on and didn't really know why I felt aroused, because at six you don’t really understand things like that do you? My mum didn’t know I had it. We lived in a very big house, so I’d slip it on and prance around in it in whichever end of the house she wasn’t in. Weirdly, it’s not something that’s followed me into adulthood – I’m not much of a stockings and suspenders girl to be honest, they’re so much effort. 

One of the most meaningful pieces in my wardrobe now is an incredible piece by an Australian designer and drag artist called Gendermess. I happened to come across his work on social media and sent him a message telling him how amazing one particular piece was and he was like ‘I’ll send send it to you!” It was this huge, hairy, tinsel-y suit – just totally wild – and the next thing I knew it had arrived in a big box all the way from Australia.

I was very excited to wear it. Of course, it’s a showstopper – but then I’ve worn loads of showstoppers, and this one was a bit different. Sometimes, you feel so privileged to wear certain things, particularly when they go beyond ‘fashion’. There was a sort of thread running through this piece that spoke of where it came from: the fact that it was part of a cultural movement coming from an underground drag scene, and that it was made by this madly talented performer gives it this energy that I could never find in any shop. 

“I love finishing my set at a festival and walking back to the area where everyone’s waiting for me, completely sodden in sweat, and having people’s heads snap back to try to get a better look at it, like ‘Who’s this big lunatic? What is she wearing?!’” – Róisín Murphy

The way it moves on stage is magnificent. It’s kind of muppet-like I suppose. During my Hairless Toys tour in 2015 I’d usually disappear off-stage and return wearing it for my encore. It weighs a tonne and it’s unbelievably hot, but I think it’s worth it. I love finishing my set at a festival and walking back to the area where everyone’s waiting for me, completely sodden in sweat, and having people’s heads snap back to try to get a better look at it, like “Who’s this big lunatic? What is she wearing?!” 

You’d be surprised how much care it actually needs: after shows I’d be getting the nail scissors out to give it a little hair cut and brushing it through to make sure it doesn’t get too tangled up. It really makes me laugh to see my wardrobe assistant, Simon Phillips, running backwards and forwards with weird fashion pieces like this over his arm as he tries to find the steamer. He’s this proper roadie-type guy in black shorts and t-shirts with long hair who used to do tech, but over the years he ended up helping me with my wardrobe. When he’s about I’m usually not the only one turning heads.   

There isn’t really anything specific I look for in a stage costume – it’s more about an instinct or feeling that’s like “That’s it!” I also go through phases. At the moment, my look is quite modern and of-the-moment. I’ve been wearing a lot of stuff by a girl called Camilla Damkjaer – I bought her whole graduate collection a couple of years ago and she’s made a few pieces for this year’s tour in fact. I’ve been wearing these mad green and yellow techno looks, which is a bit of a departure from the last tour when I was going through a vintage phase, or before that when I was going right back to my roots and channelling construction workers. Her stuff is tactile and sculptural, so it really lends itself to the stage. 

Now, the Gendermess suit lives in my wardrobe at home. Unsurprisingly my cupboards are quite chaotic, so I’m not 100 per cent sure where. I don’t know when it will next come out: I guess my daughter might want to wear it when she’s bigger. She’s nine and she loves to dress up – no idea where she gets it from – so obviously I always find her rooting around in my clothes when she thinks I’m not looking. I’m forever yelling at her ‘Get out of there, that’s all my work stuff!’ but one day when she’s big enough, as cliché as it sounds, it will all be waiting for her. 

I don’t own any other pieces by Gendermess, although I still keep up to date with what he’s doing and admire his work from afar. I don’t know if I’d want him to make me another costume – the one I have is so special to me. And besides: when he sent me the one piece I do have, it felt like he’s given me a part of his soul.”