Through the looking glass: Róisín Murphy reflects on her stylish life

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Gigs, photo sessions, catwalk shows, parties... a busy woman needs a change of outfit or two. Here, the Moloko-singer-turned-solo-star talks us through some of her more memorable fashion moments

My obsession with fashion started with my fabulous grandmother. She was never seen without her red lipstick or without her hair done. In the winter she would parade around in a full-length mink coat with leather gloves. She was matriarch of the family; her husband died early, so she ran three businesses and brought up four children on her own. She always showed to the world an incredible strength in the way she dressed, and that has influenced me to this day.

In Ireland in the 1960s and 1970s there were lots of beauty pageants, and both my mum and my Auntie Linda were beauty queens in their teens. They were also very intelligent women, thank God. They'd sit around and talk about the clothes they wore and the places they went in them. I come from a family that is extremely aspirational and I'm so proud of them for that. My father would say things to me like, "Why would you ever want to be ordinary. Why?" I'm still living off the things they all helped me dream of.

When I was about nine and old enough to dress myself, I would swing wildly from being an absolute tomboy to ridiculous frilliness. At that time my brother was really into this female Irish singer who had a bleached-blonde flat-top. One day, I got my pocket money and went up town and had one done. My brother thought it was great, my mother was bemused and my father started crying. It wasn't an act of rebellion, I just thought it looked good. I didn't realise how extreme it was until I saw my dad's tears. My confirmation was shortly after so I had to do the ceremony with this really hard marine's haircut teamed with a soft peach dress and silk scarf. My mum plonked this awful old-lady's hat on top of it to try and hide it. Awful.

My Auntie Linda was a complete hoarder and her attic was where I played as a child. Her husband was a musician so his clothes were amazing too. He was really skinny and tall and looked liked Donald Sutherland. He had all these tight Levi's jeans, country-and-western belts and plaid shirts, and she had all these little 1960s dresses and gorgeous slingbacks. By the time I had finished in there there was nothing left. God help them.

When I was 12 we moved to Manchester. It was the 1980s and I have to say my mother did like a shoulder pad or two. At around this time my mum took up antique dealing seriously. Prior to that we'd always been wheeler-dealers – selling a lorryload of lead one day and Dutch masters in Christie's the next. She had a fantastic eye. We used to go round all the charity shops and car-boot sales; she'd be getting antiques and I'd be getting clothes. We'd go out to the shops in the posh areas where the Cheshire set live and just scoop the stuff up.

Then I started getting into music. The first club I went to was Isabella's in Manchester. It was 1960s-themed and I used to wear catsuits, pantaloon suits, boots, PVC hats and fake eyelashes with everything. Then, in around 1989, I started getting into house music and so went through more of a sporty phase. The first really expensive fashion item I bought was a sailing jacket. It was a snow-white Henri Lloyd and was absolutely beautiful. It cost £250 and I worked all summer in Debenhams to pay for it. It was Gore-Tex... I've had a bit of an affair with Gore-Tex ever since.

Then, when I was 17, I went to Sheffield to go and live with my boyfriend and got my hair cut short again. It was a proper skinhead. When he saw me there were tears over that one too. But I loved it. I used to wear black PVC shiny trousers and go to this club called the Palais. They used to really mix it up. They'd play funk, soul, house and a bit of ragga. It was around that time that I started to mix things up stylistically as well. I stopped going through phases and started becoming more myself, I suppose.

But it was only when I started Moloko that I realised how powerful the images I was creating could be. Early on I went out and bought a leatherette pencil skirt and a tight black and maroon top. It was extreme and sexy. I wore it in the video for our second single and they played it on Saturday- morning kids' TV and people said to me, "I've never seen anyone look quite like that before on children's TV."

When I'm performing I like a certain amount of structure in my clothes – and in my haircut too. Changing on stage has become a big part of my performance now. I don't know if I'm hiding behind it, but I do get the strength to face the world if I'm wearing hard, blunt edges. Like I said before, I think it comes from my grandma. She'd ' wear masculine clothes, it gave her strength. Also, I do a lot of my own styling so it can be a bit scary as I'm the one making my own mistakes. There's a whole slipstream of the media now that deals with who looks right and who looks wrong now. I've got no right to complain, but it is a bit negative. I do get it wrong sometimes, of course, but the most irritating thing about that is when people say, "What was Róisí*Murphy's stylist thinking?"

The first fashion show I went to was Markus Lupfer, about 10 years ago, I think. It's kind of grown from there and last season I seemed to go to everything. I had just come off stage at the end of September and didn't have anything to do so threw myself into going to shows. The more I did the more I had to do, and people were like, "You must come to this" and "You really must go there". I was changing in the car on the way to places. It was lunacy really.

It is a can of worms, though. I know I have to be careful. I went to Paris Couture a few weeks ago and every single person in fashion was there. But the funny thing was, I was there wondering whether any of these people knew what I actually do? Do they know that I'm a good artist, a good performer, a great songwriter? For me that's what's really important. I need to be a little bit careful. I'm not, for example, going to cancel a studio session to go to a Balmain show. That's not going to happen. I love dressing up and making the images, but it all starts with the music. If there are no songs, there's no point.

Fashion Special

An out-of-this-world outfit

This is the cover of Overpowered (2007). The idea was on the one hand showing me as this extraordinary being and on the other being down-to-earth – drinking, swearing and smoking. It's how I feel about myself, I'm trying to convey that complexity. I'm dressed in something I borrowed from Sandra Backlund. I like the fact that these clothes were not made specially for me. They already exist. They are relevant to the stores you walk into, the magazines you read and the images around us.

High-performance clothing

I think this picture was taken in 2008 but it's hard to tell because I have about 20 of these white bodys. They are made by Martin Margiela and when I perform this forms my base outfit. The reason I ended up in this is because I was shooting a video and the stylist hadn't got me any clothes. So the day before the shoot I went out and bought this outfit. It cost me a fortune but it was worth every penny. Margiela makes extreme clothes but they are comfortable. I can throw myself around and they don't get broke and you don't sweat in them.

Little black dress with a twist

This is me in Preen in New York last month. I went to see [designers] Justin and Thea a couple of days before the show and they invited me to pick out something to wear. I've got to know them over the seasons and they are lovely people. The first big-shouldered thing I ever wore was Preen, it was a rounded, double-breasted black coat that looked very Thierry Mugler. I thought that this was the loveliest dress on the rail.

The allure of couture

This is me last month wearing Alexandre Vauthier at the opening of the Stephen Jones hat exhibition at the V&A. He worked for Jean Paul Gaultier for 10 years and did his first solo show at Paris Couture in January. I provided some of the inspiration for the collection so he asked me to appear on the catwalk and I closed the show in an amazing gold dress. It's very nice being someone's inspiration because it means the whole collection suits me. This is fabulous patent leather and I thought a hat would be too much to wear with it.

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