Shirley Manson is fierce. In a good way. In a black leather jacket, black vest, black cropped trousers and heeled black boots, she looks like a pastiche of Adam Ant. But it’s the under-eye freshener patches stuck like white plasters across her cheekbones that clinch it. It’s early — not quite 8am — and the lead singer of Garbage wants to look her best for the photoshoot. She «doesn’t do girlie», so we have asked her to model this season’s more masculine styles. Manson flicks through the clothes the stylist has selected for her. The room watches in silence. She removes a pair of wide-legged white trousers. «I won’t wear white trousers,» she says in a clipped Scots accent. You get the feeling no one tells Manson what to wear.
The band have only just resurfaced after an absence of four years, but fashion PRs, a notoriously fickle breed, were more than happy to lend their clothes for this shoot. It’s not hard to see why. Manson, 38, looks as good as she ever has. Famous for songs such as Stupid Girl and Only Happy When It Rains, Garbage have sold more than 11m albums. Manson has a camera-friendly, cool indie appeal. Today, with dyed red hair tied back, wearing no make-up, and skin seemingly untouched by the sun, she has an ageless quality, possessing the sort of looks that make for a good model: symmetrical features, great skin, full lips. Still, Manson shudders at the thought of being a model. «I can’t think of anything more boring,» she says firmly.
While trying on the clothes, Manson is refreshingly no-nonsense. A Vivienne Westwood wench top is rejected as «too peasanty», and mannish waistcoats are a no-no. «I did the waistcoat thing the last time around, so I’m uncomfortable with it now.» Striped cropped trousers are labelled as «too Gwen [Stefani]. I like her, but they’re so her, not me.» Manson finally settles on dresses by Balenciaga, Helmut Lang and Jonathan Saunders — labels that produce beautifully cut and thoughtful, rather than too-pretty-to-think, clothes. She reels off other slightly leftfield designers she likes: Costume National, Ann Demeulemeester, Hussein Chalayan, Alexander McQueen «for his tailoring», as well as more experimental houses such as Boudicca and As Four. Manson says she owns a lot of Balenciaga. «It can be quite abrasive, which I like: it’s not frilly.»
Throughout the shoot, Manson is every inch the professional model, patiently waiting for the Polaroids to develop, and proficient at spotting what’s right and wrong with each one. A balcony shot is vetoed as being «too LA» and she’s concerned that the light should fall flatteringly on her «nearly 40 face».
Manson knows what suits her and won’t allow anyone to cajole or flatter her into wearing something she wouldn’t choose herself. She doesn’t use a stylist and often wears her own clothes in the band’s videos. When it comes to make-up, she’s politely, but firmly, insistent about which shade of lipstick will look good — and she’s right. «Ultimately, if I love something and want to wear it, I will. No one else can possibly define what you want to say about yourself,» she says. «At the moment, it seems like the styling of an artist has become more important than the artists themselves.»
When I mention a recent Girls Aloud shoot in which the group modelled high-end French labels such as Lanvin and Rochas, Manson nods agreement that the music/fashion relationship can go too far. She arches an eyebrow: «Clothes themselves do not a stylish person make. If a vessel is vacuous, then it won’t be interesting, no matter who has designed the clothes they wear.» A sentiment with which we couldn’t agree more