STYLE NOTES

Rina Sawayama’s Ultimate Style Icons? Women in Their 40s


Rina Sawayama wears a Paco Rabanne dress; Bijou Van Ness hat; Bulgari necklace. Photographed by Tim Walker in March 2020. Styled by Sara Moonves.

On Monday, February 14, the musician Michelle Zauner, better known as Japanese Breakfast, could be seen at the Coach fall 2022 runway show fangirling over Rina Sawayama. Just four days after Sawayama dropped a music video for her track with fellow Brit pop artist Charli XCX, “Beg for You,” the singer had jetted to New York City to attend the fashion week presentation—and Zauner couldn’t be more excited. “Rina!,” she hissed in a stage whisper outside the show space. “Oh my god! I was just about to walk up and say hi to youuuuu!” After a few squeals of delight, Sawayama turned to me and gushed just as hard about the “Be Sweet” musician. “I love her, honestly,” she said. “I’ve never cried at a book as much as I have [at] Crying in H Mart. It’ll destroy you.”

Although Coach’s front row was fairly stacked on that frigid afternoon—Megan Thee Stallion, Angus Cloud, Rickey Thompson, and Tommy Dorfman were all in attendance—Sawayama was still the object of showgoers’ attention. (Dorfman, who sat next to her during the show, affectionately played with her hair and slung her arm across Sawayama’s shoulder while the models walked.) The Japanese-born, London-based musician’s debut studio album, Sawayama, released in 2020 to widespread acclaim, making her an industry—and fashion—favorite. (Coach took notice, putting Sawayama in its Pride campaign that year.) Now, Sawayama said she is working on her follow-up album. “We’re really at the final stages,” she added. “We’re thinking about creative treatments and album cover art. I couldn’t travel for my first record at all—some of it was written on Zoom—and all of it was done in London. But somehow, I made it work.”

Below, Sawayama shares her fashion history (a love for Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8r Boi” heyday), current style obsession (pop stars in their forties), and why comfy clothing rules her world.

Are there any particular pieces from the Coach fall 2022 collection you want to get your hands on? Something you could see yourself wearing on a red carpet, or an upcoming concert look?

Yeah, there’s actually this two-piece waistcoat and trousers that’s got a Canadian tuxedo vibe; it’s got the Coach monogram all over it. I was like, I need that. The trousers are almost like jeans.

You’ve got some jeans on today—jean shorts!

Today, I’m just keeping it casual. I just wanted some boxers showing a bit, it’s a feminine-masculine mix. It’s casual, but also a little bit dressed up.

Courtesy of Coach

Congratulations on your song “Beg for You” with Charli XCX. I read the music video went from concept to execution in just five days. What was on the mood board, style-wise, for the video?

It was actually all Charli’s idea—she mood boards and she storyboards a lot of her videos. Throughout the whole process, Charli and I were talking about being in a cult and the idea of a cult leader’s look. So when she was like, What do you think about this? I was like, Hell yeah. Chris Horan, who was the stylist, got some custom pieces made by the up-and-coming designer LeMÀine. It was really snatched, really sexy, kinda culty. We filmed in Lancaster, California, which is just outside of L.A., where the last scene of Se7en was shot. I’m sure in the summer it’s really hot, but while we were filming, the weather was only a little bit warmer than [New York in winter]. It was so windy, we were dying—but the clothes were sick.

Onto the Style Notes questions. Describe your style in three words.

Comfy, fun, and sometimes snatched.

Snatched when you’re in a music video with Charli XCX.

Exactly. I just love being cozy, always, over everything. And a lot of fashion isn’t cozy and comfy! Especially in this cold weather, I just love layering and wearing quite baggy t-shirts, I would say.

Photographed by Tyler Kohlhoff for Coach

What’s the best fashion tip that you’ve picked up on set?

[During a photoshoot,] always have a mirror in front of you, set up behind the photographer, when you’re posing. I heard that’s what Paris Hilton does, and I think she told that tip to Kim Kardashian, so they both do it. It allows you to save so much time because you’re not guessing about what you’re looking like.

What’s the most prized possession in your closet?

I have a black vintage Balenciaga Motorcycle bag, from that era in the early 2000s when Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan were always wearing them. It’s so annoying, because the plaque inside that says Balenciaga is now gone, so there’s no way of proving—but it is real. My dad gave it to me as a gift when I turned 20, which is the big, adult age in Japanese culture. I actually need to oil it, because it’s looking really dusty.

What’s your favorite fashion moment from pop culture?

Lady Gaga and Nicola Formichetti’s work together: Bad Romance, Telephone, the McQueen boots, all of it. I’m still obsessed.

Courtesy of Coach

Do you have an ultimate style icon?

At the moment, I’m really into women in their forties, which is such a broad vibe—but specifically, Madonna in her forties, and Kylie Minogue in her forties, and the music they were making back then, as well as the fashion. It was kind of utilitarian, quite understated, but also so cool. That’s what I’m into right now: women in their forties looking super powerful and strong.

What’s your daily uniform?

Baggy jeans or sweats. Some Nikes, usually a baggy vintage t-shirt, and lots of jewelry.

Do you have a go-to brand for sweatpants?

I love Aries, a lot. They have lots of great sweats that I always wear. Ader, which is a Korean brand—they do great coats as well as jumpers and t-shirts.

What was your style like as a teenager?

As a teenager, I went through a proper Avril Lavigne phase: a tie with a white tank top, Punkyfish trousers. I really made an effort because my school had a uniform, so on the weekends I would dress up. Then sometimes, it was a bit Mod because there was a big indie rock movement at the time.

Do you have any fashion regrets?

Probably the Avril Lavigne phase. I wore my school tie with the white tank top when I think I could have made more of an effort. I could have gone to a thrift shop or something. But I was too young!