ARIA-Nominated Emma Watkins Reflects on The Business of Being a Wiggle

She’s a singer, dancer, filmmaker, PhD candidate and a board director of a multimillion-dollar company. It’s clear Emma Watkins is a force to be reckoned with.

Article by Lucy E Cousins

Christopher Esber top, $990, and pants, $690,; and Dinosaur Designs bangles, $260 (top), $245 and $300, dinosaurdesigns. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

For Emma Watkins, staying still for any length of time is near impossible. Even in the momentary pause of a photographer’s shutter, you can see the tension in her body. There’s a hint of muscles straining, feet ever-so lightly tapping, fingers twitching. Then, between shots, she breathes and instantly starts moving, like a statue brought to life. The relief is palpable. This shoot at the legendary Seidler House in the Southern Highlands, New South Wales, isn’t within Watkins’s comfort zone. After all, she spends most of her week in a tutu and bow dressed as Emma Wiggle, the only female member of the hugely successful children’s group, The Wiggles. It’s a character whose personality is so entwined with her own that she sometimes mistakenly signs her name as Emma Wiggle. “It feels natural!” she says.

Today she’s being tested in all kinds of ways. First there’s the expectation she’ll pose like a fashion model. For someone paid to be animated, that’s a big ask. Then there’s the designer wardrobe — “I’m very aware I’m not in a yellow skivvy,” she says — and, finally, she’s without her three male co-stars (and talking dinosaur). “I’ve never been trendy or fashionable, which is why this is hilarious to me,” she says. Fashion shoots are the domain of her sister, Hayley Watkins. “She’s a model, stunning and really into fashion, whereas I just don’t see myself in that world,” she says. And even though Watkins, 31, regularly performs in front of thousands of people — most of them dressed like her — she’s still a little anxious on the set. “Hi, I’m Emma,” she says, outstretching her hand to each person when there is, of course, no need for introductions.

It has been nine years since Watkins was cast as the new Yellow Wiggle and three decades since the group was founded by the original Wiggles, Anthony Field, Murray Cook, Greg Page and Jeff Fatt. As soon as Watkins pulled on that tutu and skivvy in 2012, she essentially married into Australian entertainment royalty. So far, it’s been a long and enduring relationship. When she joined, the original Wiggles had been going strong for 20-odd years. They’d sold out the Theater at Madison Square Garden 12 times, performed with everyone from Kylie Minogue to Shaquille O’Neal and made fans of Robert De Niro, Sarah Jessica Parker and even Jerry Seinfeld, the man famously unimpressed by nearly everything.

Carl Kapp dress, $1,995, Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

They were a well-oiled machine; they could finish one another’s sentences and their shows were famous for their spectacle. It was so overwhelming that Watkins remembers when she saw a live show for the first time, she cried. She was 21 years old. “I was so excited,” she says. “I got into the arena and I saw them rehearsing and I was overcome. At that time, the show was a whole circus rig with a trapeze that spun in the air. It was a whole other level.”

Despite the spectacle, the middle-aged Wiggles were slowing down, filling out their skivvies and looking to retire (except Field, who famously stayed on). So, they decided to bring in a new generation of Wiggles to carry on the name, attract more fans and keep the profits coming. Each of the original members, other than Page, own part of the company and, according to the Financial Review, Watkins and Lachlan “Purple Wiggle” Gillespie also appear to be part owners. It was risky and it was bold. And it could easily have gone all wrong. But it didn’t. Watkins had been performing character roles with the group when she heard of the plan. “Anto [Field] pulled me aside and he told me they were doing a new Wiggles line-up and they’d like me to be in it,” she says.

Though excited, Watkins had her misgivings. “It wasn’t a new band where we could grow together,” she says. “You’re having to replace somebody that already has a massive reputation. So, for me, I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ ” Having graduated from a performing arts high school, Watkins was studying film on a scholarship at Sydney Film School while auditioning for shows. In the lead-up to The Wiggles gig, Watkins, an accomplished dancer, performed alongside Jessica Mauboy, Marcia Hines and John Paul Young, and in India with Bollywood star Bipasha Basu. “I auditioned for everything — ‘Wicked’, ‘Cats’, ‘The Sound of Music’. Anything,” she says. “Then I just happened to audition for The Wiggles, for the role of a dancing fairy.” While on set, Watkins created a behind-the-scenes video that impressed Field so much he asked her to come on the road and film the group. And the rest is well-documented history.

With all the dancing fairies and ridiculously catchy songs, it would be easy to write off Watkins as “just” another children’s entertainer. However, by doing so you’d be missing the real story here. Having been in one of world’s most famous music groups for nearly a decade, she ranks as one of Australia’s most successful female entertainers. And she’s rumoured to be worth $12 million. In addition to playing the drums (which she only learned because Field asked her to, along with dyeing her blonde hair the signature red she sports today), she does ballet, hip-hop, tap, jazz, Irish and Scottish dancing. She also sings, though not as well as Gillespie or Simon “Red Wiggle” Pryce, and is fluent in Auslan and French. On top of that, Watkins is a professional filmmaker and is completing a PhD in sign language, dance and film.

Sportmax dress, $1,390,; Oscar de la Renta ring, $329, pierrewinter; and Christian Louboutin shoes, $1,295. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

She’s also an integral part of The Wiggles’ production team. From a business point of view, Emma Wiggle is the not-so- secret weapon that keeps the brand growing, both in popularity and monetarily. Whether by accident or design, it’s clear that the current Yellow Wiggle is the cast member children around the world gravitate to. “Emma is number one,” Field told the ABC’s “Australian Story” back in 2018. “She’s the Elvis of The Wiggles. You look into the audience, 60, 80 per cent of the children are dressed like Emma.” Gillespie agrees, saying it’s become a bit of a running joke. “There’s so much yellow at the shows it’s actually funny,” he says. “The boys and I laugh because if you’re lucky you get to see a purple, red or blue shirt thrown in there somewhere.”

For Alex Ishchenko, head of licensing and merchandise for The Wiggles, Emma is an easy sell. “Right now, anything with a yellow-and-black bow is pretty popular,” he says. “It ebbs and flows by product category, but I think it would be fair to say 50 per cent of all Wiggles merchandise at the moment is Emma specific.” That includes, he says, about 50 publishing titles, more than a million units of apparel and accessories — including Yellow Wiggle underpants — and “many, many” toys. Last year, Irish multinational toy store Smyths even included Emma Wiggle on the front of its Christmas catalogue, a 300-page publication that reaches six million people.

Her influence is so great that when The Wiggles recently brought out an Emma costume that was marketed at boys, featuring pants rather than a tutu, it ignited gender politics debates in newspapers, women’s magazines and countless Facebook groups. Watkins was perplexed and even, perhaps, a little frustrated. “We encourage children to dress in any way they feel comfortable,” she says pointedly. “Let’s just embrace everybody’s dress-up. We love how children express themselves.”

Emporio Armani tuxedo jacket, $1,350, and pants, $710,; and Christian Louboutin shoes, $1,685. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

It’s not the first time Watkins has made headlines, of course. There’s been a constant stream of articles about the Yellow Wiggle, the great majority focused on her 2016 marriage to Gillespie, a relationship that fuelled millions of  mother’s groups conversations around the world. When asked about the romance — miraculously kept secret for two years — and their fairytale wedding ceremony, marriage and subsequent divorce, Watkins is both philosophical and a little weary-sounding. “We actually started as the best of friends. And now we are still the best of friends,” she says, a line that seems rehearsed. “My life is not normal unless Lachy is in it in some fashion.” Gillespie is equally sanguine about the break-up that captivated the parenting nation. “Obviously it was an incredibly hard time for both of us and it was something we’ve learnt from,” he says. “But the fact is we were able [to] stay connected and be friends. We see so much of each other that it would have just been impossible otherwise, but that’s not why we’re still close. We’re still close because we have chosen to be still close.”

Being the best of friends is one thing, but it wasn’t going to stop the gossip when the next instalment of the Emma and Lachy show aired. In 2019, Gillespie announced his relationship with ballet dancer Dana Stephensen (the two welcomed twin girls in December 2020) and Watkins started seeing Wiggles musician Oliver Brian. “We’re such a close-knit group, we end up having to live together so everybody’s in each other’s pockets,” says Watkins. “It’s like being part of a circus, truly. You spend more time with these people than you do [with] your own family. And that’s what people didn’t understand when Lachy and I separated. I was like, ‘By the way, we still see each other every day… and we are happy about that.’ ” The two do seem to genuinely care for each other. When I tell Watkins that Gillespie told me she’s “impressive” and “hard-working” and he can’t quite believe how much she has achieved in her career, she smiles. “He’s too good to me,” she says quietly.

But it’s not just her love life that makes the evening news. In 2018, when Watkins had to take time off for surgery, her endometriosis diagnosis was covered by major news outlets and TV stations. “I became the endo poster girl!” she says. It’s part of the constant interrogation she deals with — even now — about falling pregnant. “By the time I was diagnosed we were about to do a tour, so we had to tell the public and tell the children,” she says. “I knew that if I said, ‘I’m just not going to be on the show,’ people would think I was pregnant. And yes, we were having issues with something related to female fertility, but it’s so not what everyone was thinking.”

Alex Perry dress, $2,600, Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

Even though she has never really spoken of her fertility issues in public, Watkins receives a torrent of social media messages with unsolicited advice on the matter. Well-meaning parents often approach her at concerts and in public, offering suggestions for falling pregnant and being a mother. “There’s a familiarity there,” she says, “and because our characters use our names, I think, all the borders have just gone, so people feel like they know you.”

When I talk to Watkins, she seems to be straddling that fraught line between saying the right thing and being completely honest. I suspect the latter is her true nature but, of course, she’s had media training — she was told she’s too positive, which makes her laugh — and being part of The Wiggles family comes with the expectation she’ll live a “Wiggly” kind of life. That means a life that’s PG-rated. Asked if there’s a Wiggles code-of-conduct manual hidden away somewhere, Watkins denies it with a diplomatic smile. Yet, impressively, over the past 30 years there have been no drunken stumbles, no late-night inappropriateness, no lewd voicemail messages — not even a swear word or a regrettable tattoo. (Well, actually, there may have been one unexpectedly delightful F-bomb during the photoshoot but what happens on a cantilevered balcony stays on a cantilevered balcony, and mere mortals would have said far worse under the circumstances.) Watkins says it’s just not who they are. “Simon, Lachy and I are very joyous, happy, positive people,” she says. “I don’t think that you could be hired as a Wiggle if you didn’t have that kind of general vibe.”

That vibe was undoubtedly tested in 2020, though, when the group wasn’t able to tour — a staple of The Wiggles’ business model. It had a very real effect on the brand financially, leading to a downsizing of staff, not least managing director Paul Field (Anthony’s brother), who left last March after 24 years with the group. “There’s so many people that we just haven’t seen in such a long time, people that sold our merch for us, our crew, our riggers,” says Watkins. “It’s just a different dynamic.”

Maje top, $550,; and Michael Lo Sordo pants, $590, net-a-porter. com. Photography by Pierre Toussaint.

That’s not to say Watkins and the rest of The Wiggles family have been bingeing Netflix like the rest of us. The group has been filming a new TV series, working on partnerships with everyone from Google Nest to Big W and, in a show of civic duty, recording songs about social distancing and handwashing. Meanwhile, their songs have been dominating music platforms such as YouTube, where their videos have now racked up more than 1.6 billion views. Yes, billion. Last year alone, their songs were streamed on Spotify more than 180 million times by 3.9 million listeners in 92 countries.

Watkins admits that, to a certain extent, she actually welcomed the break from the often-relentless touring schedule. “It feels overdue,” she says. “Even though we didn’t stop working, it’s been a great time to step back, in a sense.”  Last year’s event gave Watkins and Brian a chance to settle into the home they share with their 11 animals. Watkins bought the $1.3 million house in Sydney’s Ryde, where she grew up, back in 2019. “It’s like a suburban farm,” she says. “We have two dogs, two cats, two bunnies, two goats and three chickens.” For Watkins it’s an essential haven, offering respite from intense filming in the studio. The group recently shot for 14 days straight, leaving her with a heat rash from her yellow polyester skivvy. But, arguably, heat rash is worth dealing with when you consider the money the group brings in.

The Wiggles empire is big business. It’s estimated that the group generates about $30 million a year and since Watkins became a board director in 2018, her role has become even more important — even if she sometimes attends meetings dressed as a Wiggle due to her filming schedule. It’s not hard to imagine that when Field, who is nearing 60, retires (which apparently, he has no intention of doing just yet), Watkins might step into his large shoes and become the driving force of the group — a role that would fit her like a pair of well-worn ballet shoes. “For me, this [job] is perfect because I get to do everything,” she says. “I get to do my filming, I get to edit, I get to dance. I get to try singing, record albums, film TV series. Every single day is something different. I can see why the originals did it for so long.” And with that, she leans over to see the results of our photoshoot, pushing her styled, Jessica Rabbit-esque red hair out of the way. “Is that me?” she says, laughing nervously in disbelief at the beautiful images. And for a moment, it’s difficult to tell if I’m talking to Emma Wiggle or Emma Watkins.

Photographs by Pierre Toussaint. Styled by Virginia van Heythuysen. Hair by Keiren Street at HM Division. Makeup by Charlie Kielty. Pierre Toussaint is represented by Vivien’s Creative. Shot on location at The Seidler House Joadja, NSW. Lips: Yves Saint Laurent Tatouage Couture Velvet Cream in Nude Sedition; foundation: NARS Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation in Oslo; powder: By Terry Hyaluronic Pressed Hydra-Powder Face Setting Powder; luminiser: RMS Beauty Living Luminizer; concealer: Laura Mercier Flawless Fusion Ultra- Longwear Concealer in 1C, all from

A version of this article appears in print in our launch edition, Page 76 of T Australia with the headline:
View from the Top
Order a copy | Subscribe

Mark Ronson Brings Together the Talents of His Generation

He’s riffed with the son of John and Yoko and recalls speed-writing with Amy Winehouse. Meet the collaborator: Grammy- and Oscar-winning DJ and producer Mark Ronson.

Article by Lance Richardson

Mark Ronson_2The Grammy- and Oscar-winning DJ and producer Mark Ronson. Photography by Jack Bridgland.

In 2006, Amy Winehouse dropped by Mark Ronson’s New York studio and played him some 1960s “girl group stuff”. The kind of stuff, he says, “that you only hear in a Scorsese movie when they’re beating someone up and throwing them in a trunk”. Winehouse was still a rising star, but Ronson was amazed by her talent. To convince her to stay in the city for a few more days, he sat at the piano and came up with a few chords. She loved the sound, and wrote some lyrics in an hour, including the line, “I died a thousand deaths.” 

Not quite right, Ronson thought: it didn’t fit in the chorus. But when he suggested she change it, Winehouse was shocked. Not because she was offended, but because she was “so pure”, Ronson recalls. It was like asking her to move a birthmark. “How can I do that? That’s how it came out.” She did change it, of course — “I died a hundred times” — and the result was “Back to Black”. 

Talk to Ronson for 10 minutes and this is the kind of tale he will tell you, which is unsurprising given the breadth of his career. The New York-based British DJ has five albums under his belt, seven Grammy Awards and a seemingly endless roll call of artists he has collaborated with over the past two decades: Queens of the Stone Age, Dua Lipa, Miley Cyrus, Lily Allen, Vampire Weekend, Ellie Goulding. 

The smash hit “Shallow”, from “A Star Is Born”, that bagged an Oscar in 2019? “Honestly, we didn’t even know that it was going to make it into the film,” recalls Ronson, who co-wrote the track with Andrew Wyatt, Anthony Rossomando and Lady Gaga (whose album “Joanne” he also produced in 2016). “We had a great feeling in the room, especially when she sang that line, ‘Tell me something, boy,’ ” he says. “I got chills, and I still do when I think about it. But you just never know what the hell is going to happen with a song. You write it, you do your best, and then it’s up to everybody else to decide.”

As a child growing up on New York’s Upper West Side, Ronson would wake in the the night and walk downstairs into his parents’ cocktail parties, instinctually drawn to the stereo speakers, which he would stand in front of with his eyes closed. “It sounds a little overly symbolic,” he says, “but that was the calm in the middle of the storm.”

As a teenager, he played guitar with his friend Sean Ono Lennon (son of John and Yoko), the two teaching themselves riffs by INXS and Led Zeppelin. Lennon was better, though, and Ronson started to look around for his thing, his calling, which led him to discover hip-hop on an underground radio station. “I was like, ‘This is the only music I want to be a part of right now.’ But I was definitely not a rapper. I didn’t know anything about producing at the time.” So he tried his luck as a disc jockey, the only obvious path. 

Ronson got his professional start in the downtown club scene in New York, playing the likes of Chaka Khan and AC/DC, mixing it all together like a potion. His alchemy got the attention of music producers (and Sean “Diddy” Combs, who was full of praise. “I don’t know if he was just buttering me up or whatever,” recalls Ronson) and small gigs graduated to bigger gigs. 

His debut album, “Here Comes the Fuzz” (2003), was a critical success but commercial failure. He was dropped from his label, as Ronson puts it, “rather unceremoniously, like two weeks after the album came out”. Most would be devastated; instead, Ronson formed his own label, Allido, and started signing artists and releasing music independently. This led to another album — “Version”, in 2007, which was considerably more successful than “Fuzz” — and collaborations with the likes of Adele and Solange Knowles.  

To date, his biggest hit is “Uptown Funk”, featuring Bruno Mars on vocals, which Ronson released in 2014, and which boosted him towards the kind of stardom reserved for vanishingly few DJs: Calvin Harris, say, or Diplo, who happens to be his creative partner in the supergroup project Silk City.  

Ronson is also an avid watch collector, and for the past two years he has been an ambassador for the renowned Swiss manufacturer Audemars Piguet, for which he produced a track with Lucky Daye, “Too Much”, in 2022. When we talk, he often pauses to glance at his beloved Royal Oak — a “perfect, timeless design”, he says. The watch has rarely come off his wrist since he picked it up five or six years ago. 

Audemars Piguet is a supporter of the Montreux Jazz Festival, of which Ronson is an enduring fan. “Of course, you have superstars playing there, but it really is about musicianship and performance and talent,” he says. This is why he agreed to curate the closing event, to be held on July 15. The opportunity to bring together his favourite musicians, including multiple members of the Dap-Kings, for one legendary jam session in Switzerland? Who could turn down that? 

“Nobody ever gets to play on stage together anymore,” he says, his excitement obvious. “It is a bit of a one-night-only event.”

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our tenth edition, Page 44 of T Australia with the headline: “The Collaborator”

Musician Jack River Is Playing the Changes

The singular artist and social advocate transforms tragedy and hope into sound and, ultimately, action.

Article by Jen Nurick

Jack River_1The singer-songwriter Holly Rankin aka Jack River. Photography by Laura Smith.

Before and after. These are the temporal axes that punctuate the life and lyrics of the singer-songwriter and activist Holly Rankin, who goes by the nom de plume Jack River. Music has always played a starring role in Rankin’s life and she has embraced its strange duality: first as a skill to master (she learned to play the violin at age five; trombone and piano followed) and then as a form of therapy, which saw her transforming tragedy into art. 

When Rankin was 14, her younger sister, Shannon, died in an accident at age 11, upending an idyllic childhood in the coastal town of Forster in New South Wales. “The grief broke out into songs,” says Rankin. “And at the same time I was obsessed with music, as many people are at that age, so the obsession with music and bands and artistry was a beautiful escape.” At home, Abba and Bruce Springsteen were played interchangeably, the latter priming her ears for the role music can play in “storytelling and culture and subtle protest”. Elton John and the Beach Boys coloured Rankin’s developing soundscape with pop flourishes and piqued her interest in production. Late ’90s and early aughts hitmakers such as the Spice Girls and Britney Spears illuminated the possibilities of curating a picture-perfect veneer irrespective of the reality behind the scenes. Rankin found relief in the shiny, saccharine pastiche their music presented and she relished the opportunity to confect her own teenage dream with her first studio album, “Sugar Mountain” (named after Neil Young’s namesake song), which was released in 2018.

“After a lot of reflection, I realised I was yearning for this Hollywood youth that I never had because my family were in turmoil,” she says. “The difference between my friends having this easy teenage life [and my own] was stark.” “Sugar Mountain” filled that void. In each of the music videos, Rankin harks back to her vision of the ’90s, subverting her sadness into sweet-toothed, technicolour daydreams awash with painterly pink skies, glossy eyelids and glitter baths. Her lyrics on love and loss have a fragility to them, but her psychedelic-pop sound is geared towards dancing. The album, which was nominated for three ARIA awards (including Breakthrough Artist of the Year) and an APRA Music Award, proved a personal revelation. Says Rankin: “It was so fun and wonderful, and by marrying it with the story of what I was going through, so many people really resonated with that — creating an alternate world to process your grief.”

Rankin possesses a unique talent to do so. While many artists may have grief embedded in their core, it takes courage to shore up that kind of sadness and to excavate it in search of raw material. But Rankin has been cultivating the requisite resilience since she was five, thanks to her mother, Donna, an art teacher, who nurtured her creativity. “I started to keep a diary and felt very obsessed with the idea of documenting the world and my day, and writing little stories,” she says of her childhood. “My mum was always expressing herself, too, so I did that as second nature. 

Jack River_2
The singer-songwriter Holly Rankin aka Jack River. Photography by Dane Singleton.

“That gave me that channel of permission to recreate my world in my own way,” she continues. “Now more than ever we need to cultivate that quiet, personal trust in our own approach, our own absorption of the world. And it’s getting harder and harder to find time away from screens to do that.” 

Music is one of many levers she is pulling to incite change. Pre-Covid, Rankin founded Grow Your Own, a festival in Forster-Tuncurry, that spotlights regional makers and musicians, as well as Electric Lady, an all-women musical line-up that she organised in order to amplify female voices in the industry. When the pandemic hit, Rankin launched a podcast, “To Rebel in the Times”, as “an outlet for talking to artists about how they think about social movements and change and political action”. Periods confined to the house hardly deterred her, as Rankin used social media to communicate with her community. She is fiercely outspoken on far-ranging issues, from abortion access to climate action and Indigenous rights. All intersect in her anthemic 2021 track “We Are the Youth”. “I think there’s obviously congruent social movements happening alongside each other that I wanted to express in that song,” says Rankin of the politically charged lyrics. 

She performed at the 2019 School Strike 4 Climate rally in Sydney, an event held to galvanise the next generation through song and to celebrate the strides youth are making. “That was a very tactile, visible [experience] — 80,000 young people with their signs and their emotion and their reality,” she says. “And being the person that got to sing to them, it made it all real. Like, ‘Hey, you’re in this moment now and you’ve got to do everything you can, however big or small your platform.’ ” 

Since then, Rankin has been working on the Voice to Parliament campaign to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders advise Parliament on relevant policies and she has been pushing for broader abortion access. “I worked pretty much full-time on the federal election,” she says. “That was a moment of being able to really put my hands on the issues that I care about and experience not just talking about action and having an opinion [but] being really involved.” Next is motherhood — Rankin is expecting her first child — and there’s a new body of work in the mix, which she describes as “an escapist oasis mirage”, slated for release in 2023. 

Teasing a new song titled “Stranger’s Dream”, Rankin says it’s like “a postcard from a future self or something to say, ‘There’s something for you to look at here.’ ” It’s evident she is still finding ways to make sense of the haunting sadness of the past and channel a brighter future, reconciling what has been with what might come. “Sometimes you write a song and you spend months
or years listening to it to unlock what you’re
trying to internally realise,” she says of her lyrics. Undoubtedly, they will help listeners, each on their own journey, figure it out for themselves, too. 

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our tenth edition, Page 30 of T Australia with the headline: “Playing the Changes”

The Greats: Anderson .Paak

One of America’s most celebrated performers, known for his genre-crossing collaborations and as one-half of the soul-funk superduo Silk Sonic, .Paak is doing nothing less than redefining what a pop star is and can be.

Article by Adam Bradley

Anderson PaakAnderson .Paak, photographed in Malibu, Calif., on July 21, 2022. Dolce & Gabbana jacket,; Judy Turner tank top,; Marine Serre pants,; Dior Men hat,; Cartier glasses,; Vans x Anderson .Paak shoes,; and his own jewellery. Photograph by D’Angelo Lovell Williams. Styled by Ian Bradley

Brodie is a platinum blond, loose curls cascading down the shoulders. Lil Flip is a raven do with ends flipped up just so, flirty and fierce. And then there’s Pee Wee, a mod black bob reminiscent of Ringo Starr’s mop top circa 1966, around the time the Beatles gave up all pretense that they were just four nice lads from Liverpool. On a Saturday night in mid-August, the three are arranged on Lucite wig stands in Anderson .Paak’s dressing room backstage at the Dolby Live amphitheater at the Park MGM resort in Las Vegas. A stylist attends to them while .Paak lounges on a sofa, fuzzy Kangol bucket hat on his head, blacked-out Gucci shades on his eyes, wearing shorts and a short-sleeved button-up shirt open at the chest to reveal a “Hotter Than July”-era braided-and-beaded Stevie Wonder tattoo.

At 36, .Paak seems to have it all figured out: how to have his hair done from 10 feet away; how to pair commercial success with critical acclaim, as he has with Silk Sonic, the soulful superduo he conceived in 2017 with the pop star Bruno Mars, which will be playing in about two hours; how to make music that defies and defines genres, as demonstrated by the multiple collaborations he’s released just this past summer with everyone from the pop singer and actress Hailee Steinfeld to the Haitian Canadian house producer Kaytranada; how to be a married man and father to two young children.

But I can’t stop thinking about those wigs. Anyone who’s followed .Paak’s career since his 2014 studio album debut, “Venice,” or before that, with his direct-to-SoundCloud releases as Breezy Lovejoy during the early 2000s, knows that he has a penchant for hats. He owns hundreds, from thrift-store fedoras to knitted beanies to the bucket hats you’ll often see him rocking today. What began as a practical workaround for the common condition of thinning hair soon became a point of pride. “That’s gonna be my whole thing,” he recalls thinking. “Kids are gonna dress like me for Halloween!”

Then “I realised that every pop icon had a head of hair on them,” he says, in the swaggering yet self-effacing tone he adopts when picking up awards, another thing he’s been doing these days. Visions of Prince and Rick James, Robert Plant and Bon Jovi dance in my head. “I’m [messed] up in the game if I think I’m gonna make it real big as a musical icon and I ain’t got something I can swing,” he says, whipping his head back and forth. Then he goes still and, through smoky lenses, I see his eyes clearly for the first time. “It really was an epiphany,” he says. “I put it on, and it just did something to my soul.”

“Soul” is an essential term for .Paak, so much so that he gave his firstborn son the name. .Paak is a living embodiment of this bedrock Black musical tradition that variously expresses itself in gospel and funk, hip-hop and punk. Soul is the imperative governing all of his music: the will to move the crowd. You can hear him do just that on his 2016 breakout hit, “Come Down.” In under three minutes, .Paak sings, raps and chants. He grunts and he moans. Words are ancillary to feeling, and feeling expresses itself in rhythm. “The way he attacked [the track] reminds me of, like, James Brown,” the Cincinnati-based hip-hop producer Hi-Tek, who made the beat, said in 2017.

Vocally, .Paak is more Sly Stone than Brown, but he shares with the latter a genius for rhythm. Both artists exercise their voices as emotionally percussive instruments. “In my older music,” .Paak says of the songs he released on SoundCloud, “I loved being inside of the beats and just vibing.” Often he was simply “swagging out,” relying on attitude and delivery rather than on vocal arrangement and songcraft. But with “Come Down” and “Suede,” another 2016 song that figures prominently in his rise to stardom, .Paak unlocked a signature style: raspy in its low registers, honeyed in its highs. “[Someone on] Twitter describes it as if Newports could sing,” he says with pride. He raps with rhythmic subtlety, exploring the possibilities within the pocket of the beat, while exercising a melodic impulse by punctuating phrases with artful vocal runs. He sings, often sublimely, as on Silk Sonic’s “Put On a Smile,” by making the limitations of his physical instrument a part of his style, exerting control over volume, timbre and phrasing. His is a voice under pressure that sometimes sounds just this side of fraying. “It’s not pretty,” .Paak says. Voices capable of conveying such depth of emotion rarely are.

Though .Paak is rooted in tradition, he’s not in thrall to it. Rather, he is activating the past in the present to secure a future for Black music. “There’s no way we could make this funk and bring it into the new age without [our audience] knowing that this is where it starts,” he says. Soul music was medicine for a wounded people emerging from the 1960s, confronting the reality that the legal advances of the civil rights movement and the martyrdom of a generation’s great leaders did not deliver unfettered freedom. For our parents and our grandparents, at least some measure of freedom could be found on the dance floor, at the rent parties and discos that gave way to the block parties and basement jams of hip-hop. The music and the movement enacted a ritual of sonic expiation, a freedom born in sound. We need that sweet soul music urgently again today. .Paak is among the few who supply it.

It’s rare to find a picture of .Paak where he isn’t smiling — in family photo albums and fan selfies, photo shoots and promotional images. In August, he hopped on a viral trend, started on TikTok, where users posted their own blackmail-worthy photos of adolescent awkwardness to a pitched-up chorus from the one-hit wonder Wheatus’s 2000 anthem “Teenage Dirtbag.” In the 13-second clip he posted to Instagram, .Paak first appears as his effortlessly cool present-day self, with chunky shades and a straw-coloured beanie. A scrapbook follows: .Paak with his prom date; blowing out candles on a chocolate cake; wearing a pink lei around his neck on high school graduation day. In all the images, he looks well-fed and happy, usually with glasses on — the corrective kind, not the cool kind. The clip is at once self-deprecating and celebratory, embracing .Paak’s past while marking the distance he’s traveled.

“I’ve always been a silly person who likes to have fun and joke around,” .Paak says. “My mom tells me my dad was the same way. But he was from Philly, from one of the hardest places — his [twin] brother, too. And I don’t see no pictures of them smiling,” he says, then pauses. “Maybe those years of hard living from ancestors meant that I could finally smile because they couldn’t.” He considers this, and the way that he’s dressed. “People died in order for my smiley ass to come out here and carry a Gucci purse.”

.Paak was born Brandon Paak Anderson on Feb. 8, 1986, in the city of Oxnard, Calif., a coastal community 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. His mother, Brenda Paak Bills, of Black and Korean heritage, was adopted from a South Korean orphanage by a Black American couple who lived in Compton and then in Oxnard. His father, Ronald Anderson, relocated from Philadelphia to Southern California after joining the Navy. The couple met at a nightclub in 1982, married in 1985, then had .Paak seven months later, and his sister Fielding two years after that. (.Paak is the second youngest in a blended family of nine siblings.) Brenda had a hustler’s mentality; .Paak recalls her working all the time during his childhood, building a strawberry farm business that eventually had her wholesaling to grocery stores and restaurants. Ronald held things down as best he could at home, though he suffered from addiction and was in and out of rehab.

One summer evening in 1993, a 7-year-old .Paak and his 5-year-old sister witnessed their father confront their mother as she came home from work. He threatened her with a gun and began strangling her in the middle of the street. Charged with attempted murder, he was sentenced to 14 years in prison, of which he would serve six and a half. He died in 2011. A decade after the assault, .Paak’s mother — who had remarried, moved the family to a sprawling home in the foothills of Ventura and given up the strawberry business after consecutive harvests ruined by El Niño — engaged with her husband in a series of business dealings that caught the attention of the Ventura County District Attorney’s office. She pleaded guilty to 22 counts of securities fraud and spent seven and a half years in prison. When she was released in 2011, .Paak was 25 years old. He’d been homeless for a time, during which he relied on friends for shelter.

Listen closely to .Paak’s songs from his solo projects and you’ll hear an autobiography told in fragments. Pieced together, the lyrics present a mosaic of a fractured life made whole through the sustaining love of family — both biological and chosen — and the restorative power of art. On “The Season/Carry Me,” a two-part, nearly six-minute-long song from .Paak’s sophomore album, “Malibu” (2016), he makes it plain: “Your mom’s in prison / Your father need a new kidney / Your family’s splitting, rivalries between siblings.” Later in the song, he offers a summation without self-pity: “When I look at my tree, I see leaves missing / Generations of harsh living and addiction.” The chorus of “Carry Me” voices a searching question, left unanswered: “Mama, can you carry me?” Two years later, on “Saviers Road,” titled after a well-known street in Oxnard, .Paak recounts one of his most memorable hustles — processing marijuana plants: “Trimmin’ flowers in the Marriott with little cuz / Send ’em off to Arizona, let ’em build a buzz.”

In 2004, the recordings that .Paak, who had just graduated from high school, was making in his bedroom and posting online began to attract the interest of labels. He resisted, however, their plans to package him and constrain his sound (“I didn’t have anything they could really market,” he told the comedian Marc Maron on his podcast in 2019. “This is in the height of crunk music” — up-tempo, club-oriented hip-hop — “and that’s really what they wanted me to make”), so he turned down those opportunities and even considered quitting music for a time. But over the next decade, he established himself as a fixture in the Los Angeles music scene, along with his band, the Free Nationals. Through his 20s and early 30s he was a session player, a onetime drummer for the former “American Idol” contestant Haley Reinhart, a successful touring performer and an eager collaborator with artists across genres.

It was shortly before a 2015 meeting with Dr. Dre that he decided he needed a different name; he just couldn’t introduce himself to the rapper and producer as Breezy Lovejoy. The “Anderson” is self-explanatory. “Paak,” which he gets from his mother, is an accidental corruption of “Park,” the third most common surname in South Korea. As for that period, he explained it most clearly to an NPR interviewer back in 2016: “The dot stands for ‘detail,’” he said. “I spent a lot of time working on my craft, developing my style and, after I came out of my little incubation, I promised that I would pay attention to detail.” In the years since he signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment label in 2016, .Paak has won eight Grammys, half of them on a single night (April 3, 2022) for a single song (Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open”). Together, making their way to accept the final award of the night, for Record of the Year, .Paak and Mars struck a choreographed pose, then strutted up to the stage. “Listen, listen, listen,” .Paak began. “We are really trying our hardest to remain humble at this point. But in the industry, we call that a clean sweep!” Then he flipped his wig.

.Paak’s bravado, his love of fashion, his whole persona — from the wigs to the red-carpet antics (witness him at this year’s Met Gala affecting an English accent) — all place him in the long vernacular tradition of the trickster. In 1958, making the case for the jazz legend Louis Armstrong as the epitome of the archetype, Ralph Ellison offered a description that could also apply to .Paak: “[H]e emphasises the physicality of his music with sweat, spittle and facial contortions; he performs the magical feat of making romantic melody issue from a throat of gravel.” As different as they are, Armstrong and .Paak both transform personal pain into public joy through feel-good music that issues from its proximity to, rather than its distance from, suffering.

Sometimes when he is alone, like on a long flight, “I just break out and start crying randomly,” .Paak says. “I’ll just be watching a random thing on TV and I’ll start sobbing. Even watching a blank screen and just sobbing.” The smile on his face is both a genuine expression of joy and a way to master pain. “I smile when I’m happy, smile when I’m angry,” he says, “smile when I’m hungry, smile when I’m full.” The smile, like the wigs, helps free him to make art out of even his most brutal experiences.

.Paak is in a period of reconciliation now — with his past, and with what he wants to do next artistically. He has grown increasingly close to his mother, who lives in Atlanta these days in a home he bought for her. He and his wife, the South Korean-born musician Heyyoun Chang, have two sons (Soul, 11, and Shine, 5). During quarantine, when touring stopped, .Paak seized on the opportunity to connect with his family, especially with his older son, who was interested in building his YouTube channel. .Paak went to work, filming skits for Soul. The channel grew even as his son’s interest shrank, and .Paak has gone on to direct lush and cinematic music videos for himself and others, including Leon Bridges (“Motorbike”) and DOMi & J.D. Beck (“Smile” and “Take a Chance”), the first artists signed to his new label, Apeshit, Inc. At June’s BET Awards, .Paak was named Video Director of the Year. And he’s signed on to direct and star in his first feature film, a dramatic comedy called “K-Pops!,” in which .Paak plays a washed-up American musician who travels to South Korea and discovers he has a son (played by Soul) who is part of an up-and-coming K-pop group. What begins as a calculated attempt to restart his career on the back of his estranged son’s burgeoning fame becomes a story about fatherhood and redemption.

Yet what still brings him the most solace — and inspires the most fervour in fans — hasn’t changed. The “closest I get to meditation,” he says, is playing drums. “That’s the closest I feel like I am to God.” The history of popular music has only a handful of drummer-lead singers, though among them are some of the greats. A few choose to step away from the drums when moving to the front of the stage, like the Eagles’ Don Henley and Genesis’s Phil Collins, while others continue to do double duty, like Sheila E. and the Band’s Levon Helm. .Paak began drumming out of necessity; he and his band couldn’t lock the right drummer down and, besides, it was “one less person to split the money with.”

But .Paak was also made for the drums. He heard rhythms in his head before he knew what to do with them. In elementary school, he would tap on tabletops and try to beatbox. “The teachers started calling me saying that Brandon was disturbing the class because he was noisy,” .Paak’s mother told the ESPN reporter (and her former Oxnard neighbour) Dwayne Bray, who in 2021 published an account of .Paak’s family life. When .Paak was in middle school, his stepfather bought him his first drum kit; his mother, recognising her son’s talent, encouraged him to play along to soul music: Archie Bell and the Drells, lots of James Brown. By age 12, at the prompting of his godsister, he began attending a Baptist church, where he learned the importance of paying dues. “I was there every day just in the pews, waiting for my chance to play,” .Paak recalls. “I couldn’t play that well, but I got better and better. Before I knew it, I was playing every song.”

Drumming in church taught .Paak versatility; he had to switch up the rhythm at the whim of the preacher, the singer, the congregants or all of them at once. It also taught him humility; as a musician in service to the Lord, he had to accept his role as God’s vessel. He started playing drums in school, too, learning about jazz and funk, rock and punk. When he attended punk shows, .Paak noticed an unlikely connection between how kids moved in a mosh pit and how worshipers did in church when struck by the spirit. “It’s just energy,” he says. “It’s all based off different breaks in the music, right?”

Black American music inhabits the intersection of the sacred and the profane. .Paak’s signature call of “Yes, Lawd!” is born of hundreds of hours spent in service to the spirit. It helped prepare him for secular stardom. Soul and gospel share a language of supplication, for a lover or for the Lord; singers brought to their knees in carnal passion or in prayer. Performing for a Silk Sonic audience in Las Vegas, .Paak says, is “like playing for a bunch of Black church people that are singing the songs with so much energy.”

The sold-out Saturday night concert I attend is Silk Sonic’s 30th since February, after an early summer hiatus during which .Paak played for 100,000 fans a night while opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in Europe. It seems like an unusually diverse crowd for a Vegas show: a plurality of Black women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, but people of all ages and races, too. In my section alone, I talk to a young Black father and his 11-year-old son; two 20-something Korean couples; a white husband and wife in their 70s.

.Paak and Mars are unlikely musical partners. Given their adulation for all things 1970s — the poster for their Vegas residency features Mars in a bell-bottom leisure suit and .Paak in a wide-collared satin shirt — you might consider them as an updated version of TV’s Odd Couple: Mars as the fastidious Felix and .Paak as let-it-all-hang-out Oscar. When working in the studio, Mars obsesses over songcraft, exploring the possibilities in pre-chorus and chorus, verse and hook, whereas .Paak favours a vibe-driven approach. In their collaboration, which they developed when .Paak was opening for Mars during a 2017 tour of Europe, they’ve found something that neither could achieve alone. “My ears are different now,” .Paak says.

About a half-hour before curtain, I’m asking .Paak what it’s been like to share the stage with Mars, one of the most accomplished showmen in entertainment. Does he ever feel overmatched? “That’s the fun of it,” he responds. “To be with one of the best, man. He has such a good understanding of entertainment because he’s been entertaining since he was a —”

As if on cue, the door flies open and it’s Mars. Instead of a greeting, he starts singing: “Cut my life into pieces!”

.Paak, still lounging on the couch, jumps up and belts his response: “This is my last resort!”

Mars grunts some power chords (“Junt-dunt. Junt-dunt”), accompanied by a mean air guitar. I recognise it as the opening bars of the nu-metal band Papa Roach’s 2000 hit, “Last Resort,” an old song not yet burnished by nostalgia. But .Paak and Mars embrace it without irony, performing an impromptu 30-second cover for an intimate audience: me and .Paak’s longtime photographer and videographer, Israel Ramos.

“They got that and, uh: Do you have the time …” Mars sings.

“To listen to me whine,” .Paak responds, answering the call of Green Day’s 1994 hit “Basket Case.”

“Now do the harmony,” Mars commands.

Their voices intertwine, with .Paak taking the main vocal line and Mars singing high harmony: “Sometimes I give myself the creeps.”

“You gotta say it like ‘crepes,’” Mars says, smiling like a schoolboy.

“Sometimes I give myself the crepes. / Sometimes my mind plays tricks on maaaay!”

“Start a mosh pit!” .Paak says.

Anderson Paak 2
Another rare image of .Paak without a smile. Celine by Hedi Slimane jacket, pants and glasses,; Judy Turner tank top; Vans x Anderson .Paak shoes; and his own jewellery. Photograph by D’Angelo Lovell Williams. Styled by Ian Bradley.

On his way out the door, Mars turns to make eye contact with me and with Ramos: “What up, y’all?” Then he’s gone. The whole thing lasts two minutes. It tells you all you need to know about Silk Sonic: the spontaneity and play, the rigour and craft.

Theirs is a show fit for the Las Vegas stage, with an eight-piece band; big, brassy horns; sequinned suits; tightly choreographed dance moves; just the right amount of pyrotechnics. Mars’s vocal runs, his steps and slides, are flawless. Meanwhile, .Paak does most of the patter, teasing the crowd, exhorting them. Twice they roar simply because he takes off his sunglasses. The rapport between the two men is irrepressible; their repartee might be the most vintage part of the evening, harking back not to 1970s funk and soul but to the vaudeville of the 1910s.

Later that night, around 12:30 a.m., at a club called the Barbershop, .Paak, in a blue Gucci suit (Mars once teased him for being a “Gucci whore”) with Brodie on his head, and Mars, casual in a short-sleeved shirt with crisply pleated white pants, red Solo cup in hand, rip through a set of new rock standards — including the well-rehearsed “Last Resort” — in a surprise show. Then, around 1:30 a.m., they make their way to the Main Room, part of a speakeasy called On the Record at the Park MGM, where .Paak (as D.J. Pee .Wee, but with the Brodie wig still in place) spins vinyl for hours with the Las Vegas D.J. and promoter Eddie McDonald by his side pulling albums from the walls. Mars dances most of the time, clinking cups with whoever’s at arm’s length, as .Paak plays Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).

Back when .Paak was still just Brandon, he frequently went with his mother and some of his friends to Las Vegas when she and his stepfather would gamble. He and his friends would explore, starting from the family’s comped suite at Caesars Palace and stretching out across the Strip. “I just loved going to restaurants, going to the pool, [ordering] room service and seeing shows,” he recalls — the entertainers Siegfried & Roy, the illusionist David Copperfield, the magicians Penn & Teller, the comedian Carrot Top. He saw Earth, Wind & Fire, even Wayne Newton. “I think that set the standard for me, as far as entertainment goes,” he says. “Vegas is a place where you can’t be out here and have a bad show.”

When his mother walks the Strip now to go watch her son perform, she can see him projected 30 feet tall against the sides of buildings. “It’s crazy, man,” .Paak admits. He still carries the underdog inside of him from all of those years of work and struggle and perseverance. If Mars is a celebrity in a traditional sense, .Paak is one in a different mold — the wigs, the glasses, the hats: All of them help him maintain some anonymity. “I’m hiding in plain sight,” .Paak says. When he cracks a joke backstage about being on billboards but still having to talk his way into clubs, I catch a glimpse of the kid on that Oxnard street 30 years ago. Then he delivers the punchline, which is also the truth: “That’s me!” he says, pointing to the sky. “That’s me right there.”

Billie Eilish Wants You to be Happy

At 20, she is already one of the most influential pop stars on the planet. Here, Billie Eilish talks to T Australia about her foray into fragrance, leaving a legacy and encouraging people to do what they want.

Article by Victoria Pearson

Eilish_Billie_Bottle3 (1)The multiple-award-winning singer-songwriter Billie Eilish, who admits she struggles with self-doubt.

It is after 9pm on a Tuesday and Billie Eilish is floating around Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena in a cherry picker. The sold-out stadium is brightly lit by the phone torches of Eilish’s 20,000-strong multigenerational audience. “I love you, Billie!” screams a fan during a musical interlude. Eilish smiles sweetly, her XL face beams down on the audience from giant screens, and she begins to sing. Despite her lyrics’ inclination towards the macabre, Eilish’s brand of live performance favours kindness over shock and awe, and at just 20 years old she’s in total — and seemingly effortless — control of the worshipful crowd. 

Control is key when you’re one of the most popular performers on the planet, having inadvertently gone viral at the age of 14 thanks to an early SoundCloud upload. That track, “Ocean Eyes”, led to a deal with Darkroom/Interscope Records and in 2017 Eilish (full name Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell) released her critically admired debut EP, “Don’t Smile at Me”. At 18, she was commissioned to write and record, with her brother and regular collaborator, Finneas, the theme song for the 25th James Bond film, “No Time to Die”, joining the ranks of fellow 007 contributors Madonna, Adele, Chris Cornell and Duran Duran. The track earned her an Oscar for Best Original Song, a golden statue that keeps company with seven Grammys, six MTV Video Music Awards and two American Music Awards (all these gongs have also landed her
two Guinness World Records). Plus, Eilish remains the youngest person to headline both Glastonbury and Coachella festivals.

All of which is to say whatever Eilish is doing is working — no-one would blame her for coasting on her success to date. Skating by, however, isn’t on the cards. 

“I have a really strong nose,” she says of a recent addition to her professional portfolio: her debut fragrance, Eilish by Billie Eilish, released in November 2021. The artist is curled up, feet tucked beneath her, on a purple lounge at Universal Music Australia’s office in Sydney, just hours before she is due to step on stage at Qudos Bank Arena. “I have thousands of candles and thousands of fragrances and lotion and body things,” she continues. “One of my favourite things in the world is scent.”

In an interview with The New York Times in 2021, Eilish confessed to owning “probably” 100 bottles of perfume, each vessel labelled with paper to remind her of its olfactory significance. “Some are very specific,” she told the reporter, “like, ‘This one smells like a ballet class I used to be in,’ or ‘This one smells like that one day we went to this person’s house and this person said this,’ and some are more vague, like, ‘This Hawaiian Punch perfume I got at CVS [pharmacy] for $1 smells like 2015.’ ”

When a segue into the fragrance industry was first suggested, Eilish was dubious. “When you get famous, you do this and you do this and you sell this,” she mimics. But the idea percolated, then stuck. A perfume would provide an opportunity for the singer-songwriter to indulge in a lifelong passion. All she needed was a partner. 

Eilish found her collaborator in the international fragrance manufacturer and distributor Parlux, which specialises in designer perfumes and has created celebrity scents for the likes of Paris Hilton and Jason Wu. “It was just everything I wanted to do,” says Eilish of the experience. “These were my favourite calls. These were the only calls I cared about.”

Eilish by Billie Eilish eau de parfum, $96;

When it came to concocting her eponymous scent, Eilish mined her personal archives. An admittedly nostalgic person (“I have a song where I say I’m not sentimental, and that’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told. I’m extremely sentimental.”), she has never been able to shake the smell of a childhood friend’s home in Glendale, Los Angeles. “It always smelled like vanilla in there,” says Eilish. She recalls a wooden chest belonging to her parents that echoed the Glendale residence’s scent profile. “It smelled a little bit Eilish, before Eilish was real. And I would stand in there and be like, ‘Ugh, it smells so good. What is that?’ ” 

Eilish chased the scent for years to no avail. She was searching for warmth: vanilla with notes of cocoa, red berries, musk and wood. She talked at length with Parlux about the smell that contours her memories, learning from the team about how perfumes are blended, balanced and bottled. When Parlux sent Eilish the initial edit of fragrance samples, she sniffed the first formulation and knew immediately it was hers. “It almost brought tears to my eyes,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is what I’ve been looking for.’ And that’s Eilish. We went with that exact one.” 

Her first scent (Eilish recently released a follow-up, named Eilish No. 2) is an amber gourmand that opens with notes of mandarin, sugared petals and berries before giving way to creamy vanilla, spices and cocoa, all grounded by base notes of sleek woods, tonka bean and musk. The bottle was also constructed under Eilish’s discerning eye. An amber-bronze-coloured bust, it’s a homage to the artist’s favourite parts of the body: the neck, chest and collarbones.

Inclusivity was important to Eilish. “It’s for everybody,” she says in a promotional clip for the perfume. Of equal importance were ethical ingredients. Eilish is vegan and regularly uses her platform and social media audience (Instagram clocks her follower count at 106 million) to
advocate for issues that matter to her. Her song “TV” is a melancholic reflection on a difficult relationship, with lyrics that also touch on political events: “The internet’s gone wild watching movie stars on trial / While they’re overturning Roe v. Wade.” Eilish is particularly vocal about the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. In June she co-presented the inaugural multi-day climate conference Overheated, held at London’s O2 Arena, and she is the executive producer of the eponymous climate crisis documentary directed by Yassa Khan in 2022, which includes appearances by Dame Vivienne Westwood and the Cuban-French musical duo Ibeyi. For Eilish, it was non-negotiable that the fragrance reflect her values, and it is labelled vegan and cruelty-free.

Clearly, perfumery is a genuine passion project; a vehicle as personal and cathartic for Eilish as music. The ingredients list of her debut fragrance is just one example of how it’s difficult to untether the pop star from the scent. How, if at all, do the two Billies intersect? “It’s funny, because when I started this, people would ask questions about how they’re related,” she says. “I’m essentially using my name for clout. Part of me is like, ‘I only got where I got just so I could make a perfume one day. That’s the only reason I’m here.’ ” 

She’s speaking wryly, but it invites rumination on what message, or legacy, she wants to imprint on the world. If she were one of those 100 fragrance bottles with their paper label reminders, how would she choose to be described? “The older I get and the more eyes that are on me, I lose that confidence I used to have,” she says in a moment of vulnerability. “I used to have no care in the world. I just was living my life, happy-go-lucky. I was just like, ‘Yeah. I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this, and I don’t care what anyone thinks, and I’m just going to wear this and say this, and I don’t care.’

“I didn’t even realise that I had it until I lost it,” she continues. “I’ve been trying to get that back. And I think that if there’s something I want to be remembered for, it’s encouraging people to do what you want.” 

Later that evening at the first of her Sydney shows, Eilish looks out at the enraptured crowd. “I want you guys to know that I stand with you and everything that makes you who you are,” she says. “I support you. I love you so much and I hope you feel comfortable to be yourself here — and safe.” 

Eilish wants you to do what you want. She wants that for herself, too.

For This Luxury Group, Australian Crocodiles and Blockchain Are The Way Of The Future

As the CEO of LVMH Metiers d’Art, Matteo De Rosa is one of the world’s leading experts in raw materials for the luxury market. T Australia spoke to him about the Australian market and how we should all be thinking about blockchain.

Article by Phoebe Tully

Verifying the size and thickness of the skins. Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

What is savoir-faire? In literal terms, it means “know how”. More elusively, it’s the French je ne sais quois of a neck scarf tied just so or a wine paired just right. At LVMH, a company that sees itself as “custodians of an unparalleled heritage”, it’s the expert craftsmanship that’s passed from generation to generation. For Matteo De Rosa, Chief Executive Officer of LVMH Metiers d’Art, it’s a shared vision of unparalleled excellence.

Launched in 2015, Métiers d’Art is the luxury group’s hub for sourcing high-grade raw materials – such as leather, exotic skins, precious metals and silk – and for nurturing exclusive craft skills. It was created to “protect and foster the [group’s] fashion labels’ ability to access first-rate raw materials and know-how,” and support LVMH’s top suppliers in the process.

CEO of LVMH Metiers d’Art, Matteo De Rosa. Photography courtesy LVMH Métiers d'Art.
Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

De Rosa brings to his role a wealth of experience in the luxury industry, including, most recently, as president of Dries Van Noten. Previous roles have included nearly six years at Chinese-Canadian ready-to-wear label Ports 1961, and head of Fashion & Lifestyle and Commercial Director for the Kennedy Luxury Group in Melbourne. Before his executive roles, de Rosa founded leather goods label Sartie.

“We have to be entrepreneurs to understand the field work our farmers, partners, tanneries are doing every day,” said De Rosa when asked about this entrepreneurial past. “In order to protect and develop [LVMH’s] access to the raw materials and superior savoir-faire they require, [we have to provide] long-term investment and support for its best suppliers. There is a specificity in our trades.”

T Australia recently had the opportunity to speak with De Rosa about the triple bottom line, his predictions for the Australian market and how we should all be thinking about blockchain.

Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

Métiers d’Art has a strategy to enrich the “transmission of savoir-faire” – what does this phrase mean in your own words?

LVMH Métiers d’Art federates and supports the best suppliers of fashion and leather goods, who want to ensure exceptional know-how and materials are part of the world of tomorrow. Its mission is to promote the sustainable development of extraordinary know-how [savoir-faire] and materials, with a permanent concern for innovation and transmission. [We have] a vision of excellence, which believes in the capacity of manufacturers and craftsmen – tanners, printers or metal parts manufacturers – to transform the material to create beauty and arouse emotion.

Where is the potential for technology, including blockchain, in the fashion industry?

For years, luxury could be perceived as a conservative industry that essentially relies on its roots and its history to grow. Yet, even though you have to respect the history and the legacy of the maison and the designers, innovation is key to enrich the history of a maison and make sure you create the most sustainable and desirable products.

On top of that, we also rely on technology to accelerate changes. We launched our own blockchain with Richemont and Prada, Aura Blockchain, to offer a tailor-made solution for luxury maisons. The blockchain offers us a vast potential of utilisation, especially in traceability, authenticity, and warranty. We are currently investigating those applications within our own ecosystem to find innovative solutions that would bring added value to our customers.  

Placing the template perfectly. Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

The Métiers d’Art division has become a hub for sourcing high-grade raw materials, but also for the dissemination of exclusive craft skills. How are these functions connected or intertwined? 

Métiers d’Art invests in the best in class producers and manufacturers of the world. It has an active approach by pushing them to best practices, delivering excellent products while promoting investments to make our operations as sustainable as we can, to drive innovation and remain relevant in the world of tomorrow.

Métiers d’Art promotes the adoption of new technologies; sponsors new materials and advances research in every field of competence while favouring operational synergies between the companies it has invested in. Contamination, innovation, and synergic exchanges are at the base of the savoir-faire transmission to new generations.

How does the Métiers d’Art integrate with the rest of LVMH? How do you work together on a united purpose?

Métiers d’Art is part of LVMH; it overlooks the strategic investments of raw materials in the wider supply chain for our maisons. It has been created to sustainably secure the precious and unique resources our products depend on and it acts on our maisons’s demand with the ultimate aim to support them and deliver the best products to our clients. We ensure the utmost respect for people and animals through the certification of all our operations, hence working closely with [the sustainability department].

Shaping the handle. Photography courtesy Louis Vuitton Malletier Piotr Stoklosa.

Are there upcoming projects you could tell our readers about?

We are currently investing in state of the art farming facilities in our crocodilian filiere. In both Queensland and the Northern Territory, our production sites will begin their transformation in the coming months.

You have spent some time in the Australian market – what is unique about our fashion industry, and the way we need to respond to sustainable and circular supply chains?

As a raw material producer, Australia has a unique opportunity to create a new alliance between nature and creativity by educating and promoting a new generation of designers to new ways of conceptualising and creating products.

As you know, LVMH is not just a fashion group. When you are a farmer, designer, manufacturer and distributor at the same time, it’s our key priority to make growth and sustainability synonymous. But when you implement good practices – for example, working on the purity of water – it becomes beneficial both to the customer (animal welfare, good quality skin) and to the environment. That’s our philosophy and what we try to do for every project. Sustainability is a three-fold commitment: respect of the environment, welfare of the people and well-balanced economy.