Feisty would probs be the best way to describe Vivienne Albertine. Back in 1979, she was a Punk princess in Sid Vicious’ inner circle and guitarist of all grrrl group The Slits, the female equivalent of The Sex Pistols, hence the band name…geddit. She was like the Lena Dunham of her day (but with a better style and wilder hair) – stamping on anti-feminist illusions with her steal-toed DMs. Aggy Deyn and half of east London have Albertine to thank as she was the first to pair those iconic bully boots with pretty dresses, don’t you know. Her recently released memoir, Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys, lifts the lid on what it was like to be a girl at the epicenter of the roughest, toughest sub-culture, so what else could we do but meet Viv for a (surprisingly sedate) cup of tea and hear all about it.
What was it like to be part of one of the coolest girl bands ever?
We were more gang than band. We’d walk down the street four at a time dressed looking like you’ve never seen. Each of us had different coloured teased hair, we were a riot of colour, noise and rebellion. We got attacked, shouted at and abused everywhere and everyday, it was exhausting but because there were 4 of us we felt absolutely invincible. [The drummer] Palm Olive was a very good fighter, [bassist] Tessa was strong as well and [vocalist] Ari was bonkers. Between us we thought we could take on anyone, we would fight to the death if we had to.
Is it a handbook for girls?
I wanted ‘How not to be a Woman’ to be my subtitle because I’ve made so many mistakes and been irresponsible, although its had a consequence. A girl once said to me, ‘take drugs, no judgement’, but I didn’t think that I was likely to catch this or that and fry my brain cells. I felt invulnerable.
Did you always think about the books title (Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys) in that order?
I couldn’t have boys first, obviously. And music would have been too worthy. In The Slits, clothes were a statement. At that time you projected who you were through clothes. A lot of people say they are trivial, like so many of girl’s preoccupations. We wore clothes to shock men, to upset the status quo, to experiment with things – mixing masculine with feminine, fetish and porn wear with skinhead clothes. It hadn’t been done before.
Is it true your combo of miniskirts and DM’s was out of pragmatism rather than subversive?
I used to wear those Vivienne Westwood stiletto boots but when I was hanging out with Sid Vicious he got into terrible fights and I literally had to run for my life. So, I had a brainwave of putting on Dr Martins. But I didn’t think my legs would look great so I put them with tutus and old-fashioned girls party dresses with net layers and little puff sleeves. I thought it was a little Diane Arbus-y mixing up references. It looked a little backwards and spooky like clothes that your parents had kept you in for too long. Now girls wear that everywhere but back then they didn’t even make girls boots.
Did your mum like how you dressed?
Mum loved it. My mum was an ordinary mum, she wasn’t arty, lefty or middle-class, she was completely supportive of how I dressed and the band. She would come to my gigs; it was always mum+1. If your have a mum who supports you, you can do anything in life, and she supported me in all my mad schemes, from crabs to abortions she was with me every step of the way.
Who inspires you?
Vivienne Westwood, she changed everything. I had never come across a working class woman who was so confident and articulate, and the fact that she had this northern accent as well was just fantastic. I think if you can write a song or design a piece of clothing and change how people think you have really done something special.