Deborah Anne Dyer, better known as Skin, is the frontwoman of the British indie rock band Skunk Anansie, which came to prominence in the 90's, and she does not understand popular music's current obsession with merch.
“I’m annoyed with merchandise," she said at the Afropunk music festival this past weekend in Brooklyn.
Skin, 49, sat cool and calm on a couch flanked by her bandmates of 25 years, Martin "Ace" Kent, Richard "Cass" Lewis, and Mark Richardson, who were all dressed in black and white. It was their first time performing in the U.S. in 15 years, the occasion being Afropunk and release of their eighth album, Anarchytecture.
"I like merchandise that doesn’t look like merchandise," Skin continued. "But apparently I’m the only one, because whenever I design merchandise, it never sells. So, I’m just taking myself out of the whole thing and not getting involved. When people go to a gig now, all they want something with names and a logo on the front. I just want a cool t-shirt, man. Why don’t people want to wear cool t-shirts?!"
Skin — who doesn't look a day over 35 — wears a “wicked hat” (her words), by her favorite milliner Nate Webster, on her cleanly shaven head, plus platform shoes by Jamie Wei Huang, and a top by her friend Di Liborio of the Italian label Liborio Capizzi. This is not Skin's stage look, however. "I just look good," she said with a laugh. "No, I'm pissing myself," she said, using an easily misinterpreted British-ism.
Her bandmates shook their heads: "No she's not."
Skin's motley crew of 90's movers and shakers includes Grace Jones, Naomi Campbell, and the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen. Pieces from her personal wardrobe were even included in the McQueen retrospective at the Victoria & Albert museum in London this past summer. Skin's collection is such that she requires a separate storage locker across the street from her London flat, complete with an inventory book with photos — like an analog Clueless closet for her statement pieces.
"I like to actually wear this shit," Skin said. "I don’t wear it once and then move on like Gaga. I work with the designers and develop things."
Skin describes her personal style as part "yardy," (a British phrase referencing those of Jamaican descent), part rocker, part androgynous, plus a "little bit" classic. "I saw Blondie when I was 10 years old and thought, 'I want to look like that,'" she said.
When it comes to the Afropunk vibe, however, she and her band has long identified with it — even when there wasn't a word for it. They've never ascribed to labels of any kind, however.
To Skin, Afropunk has and always will mean "playing punk music and having an afro," she said with a laugh. She wasn't being flip: The festival was originally founded in 2005 by black artists and fans frustrated by the exclusionary, predominately white punk rock scene. Since then, it's expanded to feature black musicians of all genres.
"I think black people get stereotyped into lots of different things. In America, it’s R&B, rap, and hip-hop, and I like the way that this festival promotes people like us, who are doing nothing like that," Skin said. "If you’re white and do something that’s perceived as black, it’s really lauded. But the other way around is not always so positive. When you have black people doing rock, it’s not as well loved. This festival promotes and shows the much broader spectrum of music."
As they walked around the festival on Saturday, Skin and her bandmates were struck by the signage: "No sexism, no racism, no ableism, no ageism, no homophobia, no fatphobia, no transphobia, and no hatefulness."
"It’s the spirit of individuality," Skin went on. "The spirit of something fresh and new, something contemporary. It’s forward-thinking and open. We really identify with that."
Watch W's most popular videos here: