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Amy Winehouse: Unplugged
Even from a distance, and despite the fact that she is really very small indeed, Amy Winehouse, 27, is unmistakable. I recognize her instantly: that diminutive frame adorned with the beehive of black hair, the big mouth (which, in the tradition of Mick Jagger, seems designed to draw attention to the very point of Winehouse: her big and beautiful voice), and the pronounced curve of her bosom, which may or may not be cosmetically enhanced. (Winehouse has not commented on the rumors of breast-augmentation surgery that surfaced in October of 2009, but the bosom certainly appears much larger than it did a few years ago.)
The singer fiits about the minimalist shell of the Harper's Bazaar photo-shoot location in London, barefoot, extravagantly tattooed, and dressed in only a cotton halter-neck sundress—part of a collection Winehouse has created with the British brand Fred Perry. Today she's modeling the clothes for rock star turned photographer Bryan Adams.
They are partway through the shoot when I arrive; Adams has taken a break to eat some food. He's trying to convince Winehouse to eat too by offering her vegan rice balls. "No, Bryan!" she says grandly. She is very loud and very theatrical. "I need protein, Bryan!" She dispatches a member of her not-inconsiderable entourage to track down a Pret A Manger crayfish salad. Also: "A cucumber, so I can hit Bryan with it."
She drifts off to get changed for the next shot. So this is my inaugural experience of Winehouse. She seems a little demanding, a little given to drama, but equally focused, disciplined, eager to get the job done, funny, and fun. When I discuss the experience of working with her with Richard Martin, a marketing manager from Fred Perry, he tells me that she has been a delight—bright, passionate, and dedicated, with strong ideas of exactly what it was that she wanted from the range. "Detailing, fabrics—she was all over it," he says. "All over it."
Could Amy Winehouse have turned over a new leaf?
It's been a tough three years for the artist. On one hand, she has garnered international fame with the Grammy-award-winning album Back to Black. On the other, she has become infamous. Thanks to her tumultuous marriage to former music-video assistant Blake Fielder-Civil and rumors about violent rages, drug use, and multiple trips to rehab, Winehouse has become associated with the darkest, trashiest, most tabloid-friendly type of celebrity.
But recently, her life has seemed calmer. In July 2009, she and Fielder-Civil were granted a divorce; since then, she's maintained a lower profile in the tabloids that once obsessively recorded her every step. A nascent relationship with film director Reg Traviss has stirred up some press interest, but she has generally avoided both trouble and unsympathetic media coverage.
Just before Winehouse goes to change for the next shot, I see her gulping down a big glass of wine. "Not," she says aloud, "that I'm a rock-star alkie."
I have no idea what prompted this, but I can say that 45 minutes later, she is changed. She is physically unstable, wobbly in high block heels. Soon, she begins a chorus-girl routine for the camera—complete with cha-chas and pirouettes. "Hurry up, Bryan!" she shouts. "This is like a three-hour-long blood extraction!" She hikes her black-and-white-checked miniskirt up and shakes her hips.
The shoot wraps, and Winehouse walks unsteadily from the set.
I find her sitting on the edge of a white-quilted bed in her dressing room, slurping noisily from a pot of soup. One of her representatives tells me that she will sit in on our interview.
I want to ask Winehouse many things. Is she happy? Healthy? Working on new material? In love? How is her relationship with her father, the outspoken London taxicab driver, Mitch? Does she miss Blake? Does she want marriage? Children? But, I quickly realize, I am unlikely to get any answers. She is just not ... present. She is distracted and vague. My most straightforward questions confuse her.
How are you? I ask.
She slurps more soup.
"I'm all right. How are you?" Her voice is breathier, girlier now; her syntax is childish. She either pronounces words with great care or slurs them into one barely intelligible syllable.
I'm fine, I say. Were you getting tired of shooting?
"I'm not very good at it."
"'Cause I'm a musician, I'm not really good at posing and being a model, like, modeling."
Do you enjoy it at all?
"Hmmmm ... I enjoy ... it depends on who you are with."
But you like Bryan?
"Yeah! I-like-him-a-lot-he-is-a-very-nice-man," she says. Her words run together.
Tell me about the Fred Perry project. It seems like you really knew what you wanted from it.
"Ve'y much so. Ve'y much so. And that's been the whole thing. We've pretty much done like up to autumn/winter 2012, and I'm like, 'Have we?' Yeah!"
It was easy?
"Mmm-hmmm. Yeah, yeah, it was not hard at all, not hard at all, because, like ..."
Someone hands her a crayfish salad and removes the empty soup pot from her hands. "Thank you, baby!" she says to the provider of the salad. She turns back to me.
"I knew exactly what I wanted. And I love Fred Perry so much. I was honored that they would even, like, 'Do you want to come and do a line?' Me? Like, me?" She stabs a finger into her chest. "Yeah!" she adds.
I attempt to move our discussion on. How is work generally?
"Um, writing loads. Just ... writing loads."
Her management representative interrupts: "What are you asking her about?"
The rep says Winehouse cannot talk about her album; she's here to talk about Fred Perry.
"Yeah," she says with gusto. "Just-about-Fred-Perry."
And then: "I'm aware I'm being recorded," Winehouse says. "Just so you know. I am aware of that."
Okay. Do you consider yourself a style icon?
"A style, like, what?"
A style icon, I repeat.
"Style, like ... ?"
"No, of course not!"
But you are! People have altered the way they look as a consequence of your look. Tattoos have gained new currency; heavy eyeliner is widely imitated.
"Uh-huh. I don't think that's true. I just dress like ... I'm an old black man. Sorry!" she says. "Like I'm an old Jewish black man. I just dress like it's still the '50s."
Who inspires you? I ask. But Winehouse is distracted. She has dropped a bit of crayfish on the bedding beneath her.
"I just got prawn on Bryan Adams's cover," she says, aghast. She dabs at it with a napkin.
He'll forgive you.
"Do you reckon he will, though?"
"What are my inspirations ... ? Elizabeth Taylor."
You want to look like Taylor?
"Not really. She had purple eyes. That's weird. Um ..."
She pauses, then warms to a line of thought: "Thelonious Monk. Charlie Mingus. Miles Davis ... Thelonious Monk again, and then rappers that are around right now, like Nas, um, um, Busta Rhymes, and Mos Def."
Any style inspirations?
"I don't know." She seems exasperated. "I like ..." She reaches around for a fashion reference. She finds one. "Chanel."
I decide to blindside her with a big question and see what happens.
Amy, are you happy?
She squints suspiciously at me.
"I'm happy about this salad."
Do you wake up and feel happy?
"I don't know what you mean." A pause. "I've got a ve'y nice boyfriend. He's ve'y good to me."
Are you in love?
"I hardly know ... yet. We've only been together three and a half months."
The time scale invoked would suggest she's talking about Reg Traviss.
And do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
"Nope!" she says. "If I died tomorrow, I would be a happy girl."
OCT 14 2010, 4:00 AM EDT