Behind the scenes of Amy Winehouse: Beyond Black

Posted on 16 Sep 2021

Naomi Parry, close friend and stylist of Amy Winehouse and curator of ‘Amy Winehouse: Beyond Black’ sits down with Associate Editor Phoebe Lindsley to discuss the ‘Amy worlds’ brought to life for the book – special sets celebrating Amy’s iconic fashion and punk attitude.

Phoebe Lindsley: As Amy’s stylist, how would you describe her style?

Naomi Parry: It was eclectic. She drew inspiration from so many different sub-cultures and eras. Her music was obviously heavily influenced by the 60s, but also hip hop and Lauryn Hill. When she moved to Camden, she really drew inspiration from her surroundings. She had a very punk attitude – she didn’t give a fuck – with the frayed hems and the bra straps on show; her Fred Perry shirt wasn’t ironed and her hair was never perfect.

There were also influences from rockabilly – with the tattoos and beehives – and the indie scene and ska –  with the polo shirts and Reebok trainers. When I started working with her, I bought in an 80s silhouette, but with more contemporary brands and pieces. This was all tied together in her own unique way.

PL: Why did you feel that it was important to create the dressed sets, or ‘Amy Worlds’ in the book?

NP: First and foremost – speaking as her stylist – this book is about celebrating Amy’s style and music. I had access to her archive, which had been in a lock-up for the last 10 years, hidden away from the world. I had always wanted to shoot it, but it was quite difficult, because she is no longer here. I wanted to breathe some life into this archive and show it in a way that really embodied Amy. You put it on a mannequin and it’s just a dress; you put it on Amy and it becomes a whole other thing. I felt like it needed Amy there and if we couldn’t have her physically, we were going do it in another way. So, the idea of the sets came from this desire to show the archive in a way that felt very Amy.

PL: When we were doing the shoots, the clothes just didn’t hang right on the mannequins.

NP: Exactly. The way that she wore the clothes was so important. On the shoot we hitched the clothes up at one side, just to style it so it felt a bit more like her. The clothes didn’t sit in the same way on the mannequins as they did on Amy. I wanted the sets to become more like art pieces, where the observer could pick out the details in objects that belonged to Amy, all in one image.

PL: Have you got any favourite items that ended up in the book?

NP: The Moschino heart bag is my all-time favourite item of Amy’s. It’s from one of the first events I did with Amy – the Brit Awards in 2008. I think that event was when we came into our own, when Amy’s style solidified. We managed to get the full Tina Kalivas outfit from the Elle Style Awards into the book, as well as the Grammy outfits and Vivienne Westwood’s dress. I am so grateful to Vivienne and Tina for loaning those pieces for the book.

PL: How did you bring out Amy’s personality with each of the sets? What role did the different colours, patterns and brands play?

NP: It was a real hodge-podge of stuff, chosen to represent all the sides of Amy’s personality and taste. We had the backstage set with her guitars and Fred Perry collection, which was obviously a nod to her music. The cinema, which was a real 50s-style cinema, a nod to her kitsch rockabilly style. I think everyone thinks of Amy as wearing black all the time, but when I think of Amy I think of her as bold and bright with a real mixture of prints and colours, which is why there are bold patterns running throughout the sets and the book.

I wanted to reflect her approach to style, which was influenced by so many different things in the mix of vintage and contemporary pieces. Obviously with so much from Amara, including their kitsch pieces, such as the candle giving the middle finger and the lion rug, I wanted to get Amy’s fun side across. The sets needed to feel fun because Amy was fun. The finished sets really remind everyone of her house at Jeffrey’s Place in Camden. Even her mum said, ‘Yeah, it really feels like Amy’s house!’

PL: I think the juxtaposition of all the clashing items in the photographs is exactly how you describe Amy’s style.

NP: Yes, and the messy way the clothes are thrown around – that is directly from my experience of walking into her hotel room and clothes being strewn everywhere: all pulled out of her suitcase and bras hanging off the door handle! That was also a nod to the punk element in Amy as well. These sets weren’t supposed to be perfect, they were supposed to be flawed, whether it was a bit of wallpaper ripped off the wall or a knocked-over bottle of nail varnish.

PL: I love all the details in the images: you can see all of her records and books, and all of her influences are hidden within the images.

NP: Exactly, with the prints on the wall as well, we were nodding to some of her favourite films – Vertigo and Coffee and Cigarettes. That sort of thing just embodies her as a real person, all in these little sets.

PL: When you were putting together the sets did you have a process for selecting which items should be included, or did it happen more organically?

NP: It happened very organically. We were really pushed for time – we made the book in less than a year – and because of COVID we had a reduced team and reduced number of days. We had certain spaces that we could use and we styled the sets as we went along. There was not really a great deal of planning. What I liked about it, is that this is exactly how we worked with Amy. I’d go into a press office to find what we could work with; we never did fittings. When I’d go to a job to dress Amy, I would just come with everything and say to myself, ‘We are gonna make this work!’ We would collaborate on each outfit. Having this approach made the shoot feel much more authentic.

Photograph: Phoebe Lindsley

PL: The shoot felt like a manic three-day endurance test! It was amazing to watch you and Andrew Hobbs (the photographer) work: balancing all the shots, deciding which corner was missing something and filling it with a pop of colour from a scarf – tinkering with the picture until it came together.

NP: Absolutely! Andrew and I are friends first and foremost, and we work well together. He completely got the vision. There was no real mood board, mostly because I couldn’t really explain how I wanted it to look. His input was fantastic, creating all the little details that make the picture come alive. The dressing room shot has her real dressing table in it, and the photos and receipts on the Smeg fridge are Amy’s. From the cigarette burning in the tray to the ketchup on the burger, all these touches make it feel like Amy has just walked out the room.

PL: And having all five Grammy Awards together at the shoot was a really special moment.

NP: Yes, because that really shows her achievement. That is what this book is about, celebrating her life and highlighting her achievements. I wanted the book to show her brilliant side and I didn’t want all the darkness in there. As a team, we worked hard to make sure that this book happened. We got through making it during a brutal COVID lockdown, and the driving force of Tristan de Lancey and everyone at Thames & Hudson made this book better than I could have imagined. Every part of this book feels like Amy. From speaking with the contributors, I know that many of them found it a very cathartic process. The book is a love letter to Amy, from everyone involved, and from all the people who have beautiful stories and memories of Amy and have chosen not to speak until now.

Set photography © Andrew Hobbs