Goldfrapp: Overdoing the Westwood references?

Seventh Tree, the new album from Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, has provoked protestations about the duo’s abandonment of hard-edged pop for the
charms of rusticity and ambient-folk.

//Seventh Tree’s cover. Album title font: Raphael//

This view has been most cogently argued by John McCready in The Word magazine, who makes a fair point when he writes: “Some of us have foolishly invested our lives in Pop. It can be so depressing when those with the ability to realise our impossible expectations suddenly refuse at the fence.”

That being said, the first single A&E is damn fine (despite it’s echoes of Simon & Garfunkel’s April Come She Will as hilariously warbled by the singing pastor in the Coens’ Intolerable Cruelty).

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A&E is accompanied by a clip chock-full of Wicker Man paganisms which drive the previous usage of animal heads, peacock trails and horse-hair tails to a nicely bonkers bucolic conclusion.

But, like McCready’s thirst for out-and-out pop, THE LOOK demands a stylistic feast from its favourite kinky art-directed glam/disco-rocker, and is perplexed at a few unexpected visual mis-steps on Seventh Tree’s release, not least a combo of baldly-played Vivienne Westwood references.

In THE LOOK, Goldfrapp is proudly quoted as saying: “I am my own stylist,” and it’s true that nobody in pop in the mid-Noughties could hold a candle to her sass and sensibilities.

In fact, since 2003’s Black Cherry, she has been ably surrounded by a crack design team including art director Mat Maitland of Big Active and stylist Cathy Edwards, the Dazed & Confused fashion director and contributing editor at Another Magazine who has worked with Brit designer Emma Cook.

Edwards’ has evidently had greater involvement in this album’s visual direction since she receives a bigger credit. Does this explain such decisions as the usage in the sleeve album title of the font Raphael, the typeface identified with Westwood as that of her logo for the last two decades?

When juxtaposed with the cover shot of AG in a tri-corn hat and loose white shift, the impact is that of a pallid version of Viv’s landmark Pirate range of 1981.

//From the World’s End Pirate show 1981//

//Pirate takes to the streets 1981//

Of course, there are visual treats. Goldfrapp does ‘unsettling yet strangely erotic’ so well, as in this shot by album photographer Serge Leblon which has helped serve notice on her Ooh La La disco-dominatrix image and effectively signalled the new direction.

But, as if to put the 17th Century highwayman’s triangular lid on it, another set by Leblon shows Goldfrapp, again in the pirate hat, but this time in a harlequin suit:

These immediately summon up Westwood’s fantastic A/W 89 collection Voyage To Cythera (which, incidentally, took its name from a Baudelaire poem), as modeled by, among others, Westwood favourite Susie Bick (these days Nick Cave’s other half).

//From Voyage To Cythera 1989//

//Susie Bick and Sarah Stockbridge in a catwalk clinch 1989//

The harlequin motif has been around recently; when Miu Miu showed multi-coloured diamond-printed outfits last autumn bearing illustrations by Swedish artist Liselotte Watkins (who’s worked with H&M, Cavalli, MAC and Absolut), there were howls about the fact that not only Westwood but also Gianfranco Ferre at Christian Dior had been there, done that, two decades previously.

//From Mui Mui’s S/S 08 show//

//Kirsten Dunst in Miu Miu’s ad campaign//

But when an artist as exciting and on-the-ball as Goldfrapp allows stylistic reference points to show through so glaringly, THE LOOK, like McCready when it comes to pop, finds it hard to let her off the hook.

Vivienne Westwood is at her most active and high-profile for a very long-time, following the publication of her magnum opus, Opus. She recently showed her latest collection with the aid of seven and eight-year-olds from Nottingham’s Portland School, who drew and painted over the latest designs, having been instructed to imagine they were creating clothes for a society of jungle-dwelling eco-warriors.

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