Neneh Cherry: ‘A lot of the best looks can happen by accident’

The singer recalls the outfit she wore for the cover of her 1989 debut album Raw Like Sushi and the ‘privilege’ of working with the stylist Judy Blame

I think a lot of the best looks can happen by accident and this was a coincidental look. The picture was taken by Jean-Baptiste Mondino in Paris in 1989 and styled by Judy Blame. We had done a photo session for my single Manchild, with the boxing bandages and the jewellery, and when we needed to shoot the cover for my debut album, Raw Like Sushi, we thought: “Let’s work some more with that.”

We had a bunch of rails with things to wear, but Judy and I had been to Printemps – like a French version of Marks & Spencer – and I had bought a nice bra, and I was wearing leggings, which were from Pineapple or somewhere. I went out to test the light and Mondino was like: “Don’t put anything else on. Maybe some more jewellery.” Then we did the picture that ended up being the album cover. In the same session I wore some BodyMap shorts, which are in the pictures that ended up on the back and the inside, but it was a really non-wardrobe thing in the end.

I have always felt that visuals are a very important part of telling a story. For a woman, this was quite a male visual. The boxing wraps were a metaphor for being here to fight the fight.

Working with Judy was a privilege, although, for me, it was never like work; it was a deep exchange and companionship. It is almost two years since he died and the hole is bigger now because he’s absolutely irreplaceable. The recent Dior show that was a tribute to him was very moving. I feel him all around but I miss him so much because we were family. On a creative level, it was lawless – taking high fashion garments and mashing them up with Adidas Superstar trainers and jewellery that was just cheap tat. The craftsman behind Buffalo style was [the designer] Ray Petri, who introduced me to Judy, and I became a sort of honorary Buffalo. I was influenced by the idea of mixing the resilient and the classic, using urban street style with classic items like a bomber jacket or cycling shorts. It’s pointless putting something on unless you’re going to wear it! You have to dare to possess the clothes.

In 1988, I had just come back from Jamaica when I performed on Top of the Pops while seven months pregnant. I wore some dollar-sign earrings I had bought while I was there and snakeskin trainers. Judy would pull things out for me to wear – people like Rifat Ozbek. He always had his hand on the pulse. Clothes are funny because you can put something on one day and feel great in it, and the next day it’s like: “Nah, this is imposing on my vibe.” Clothes should lift you.

The 30th anniversary Raw Like Sushi reissue is out now on UMC Virgin Doemestic


As told to Leah Harper

The GuardianTramp

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