She turned down the role of Pepsi Girl, but not a job with Versace. Saffron, vocalist with hit band Republica, is an independent kind of woman. Sheryl Garratt reports. Styling by Sophia Neophitou. Photographs by Orion Best
"To be honest, I don't know that much about designer fashion." Saffron Spanckling is calling by mobile phone from the middle of a field in Holland. Her band, Republica, are about to go on stage as part of the annual Pink Pop festival, but she wants to talk about her first pictures as a fashion model, shown on these pages.

Recently, Republica were part of the Versus catwalk show in New York. The label's designer, Donatella Versace, saw them on MTV and phoned personally to ask them to do it. "A gig, obviously," says Saffron in the same broad, south London accent she uses to sing. "I didn't model. I'm a bit short for the catwalk. The models walked down as we were playing: Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss. It was terribly exciting - especially for the boys! - but also a bit daunting. The front row was, like, Courtney Love, Lou Reed, The Fugees, Prince. I got up there and thought, 'Oh, shit!' All those people staring up at me. But it was good, I enjoyed the experience."

Saffron is in that shiny, new phase of fame when everyone is interested in her and she isn't yet bored or irritated by the attention. Born in Nigeria but brought up in Britain, her happy mixture of Hong Kong-Chinese, Portuguese and English blood gives her the kind of looks that make her seem a natural for stardom. But, despite the fact that her band were hardly spoken of here at the start of the year, success not come overnight. Now 28, she has been in a Tokyo production of Starlight Express, toured Italy in The Rocky Horror Show, and, after getting involved with the early acid house clubs in London in 1988, she went on to work with bands such as N-Joi, S'Express, St Etienne of great credibility, if not popularity. Her memories of that time are largely good, although by 1992, a friend of hers had died and she was sick of hearing about the scene's casualties: nervous breakdowns, violence, people getting sucked into hard drugs. "Which is why I stopped going out and started channelling that energy into writing songs instead."

Republica's male members have a similar professionalism. Between them, they've worked with Flowered Up (briefly celebrated as London's answer to Manchester's Happy Mondays), Adam & The Ants, Malcolm McLaren's post- punk project Bow Wow Wow, Soul & The Family Sensation, Bjork and even Julio Iglesias.

Combining dance beats with rock guitars, and power-pop hooklines with lyrics attacking suburbia and blokes, whilst promoting an assertive female sexuality, Republica had something America wanted, and Republica have endeavoured to give it to them: they have played more than 60 live shows there in the past year. The British media disagreed, of course. They thought America should buy Britpop, or at least the more credible dance acts currently flirting with the fringes of rock and being sold in the USA as Electronica (The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers etc). Which is why the pop press here were a little indignant when, without their permission, Republica took over MTV and started out-selling Oasis with their catchy first single, "Ready To Go".

New York's ice-hockey team now use the song to make their entrance. It was even played on Baywatch, the ultimate accolade. Now their latest single, "Drop Dead Gorgeous", has been chosen as the theme to Wes Craven's horror comedy Scream. Both singles have been huge on MTV and in the American and, now, British charts. The Spice Girls, Shirley Manson from Garbage, Saffron - America seems ready for British babes with attitude, women who are upfront, but also sexy and fun. "I think it's got a lot to do with five years of testosterone-laden, suicidal, let's-slit-our-wrists lyrics," says Saffron. "People in America are sick of self-indulgent male rock."

But does it annoy her that reviewers call her "scary"? She laughs. "It's weird, because people who meet me before they've seen me on stage and people who meet me after act totally differently. I find that strange. Your stage persona isn't how you are in real life - it certainly isn't for me. Obviously, I like being thought of as a strong female, but scary? I don't think I am."

Republica have also been accused of being contrived. Like the Spice Girls - a band no one would have imagined succeeding two years ago - it all seems so clear in retrospect. But, if Republica really were just there for the money, they wouldn't have turned down the new Pepsi Max commercial. "It was funny, we were sitting in a hotel room in Boston, and I remember feeling so tired, the most knackered I've ever felt. We'd just done a 14-hour overnighter. And someone's giving me these figures and I'm like, 'What!' First of all, it was just total disbelief that anyone could ever offer us that amount of money. But then we realised they wanted me in the commercial drinking the drink And I thought, 'I didn't work my bollocks off to be the Pepsi Girl!' It was a hard decision. We didn't say no straight away. But we'd worked too hard to throw it away".

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